California High Speed Rail

In a state careening towards 50 million population, completing California High Speed Rail System is essential to future mobility. Its high speed, high capacity and high-frequency mode of travel will enable Airports, Highways, Amtrak, Commuter Rail, Metro Rail, Intercity Buses and Bus Rapid Transit to optimize in a balanced 21st century transportation network. That balance is needed in the epic war against traffic congestion, smog and greenhouse gases — Thomas Dorsey

California Population Growth Straining Transportation Infrastructure

Our federal government never invested much in intercity passenger rail. That was a non-issue for California through 1980, when its Airport and Highway infrastructure matched population well. Travelers could arrive at SFO or LAX airport, purchase a ticket, breeze through security, board, fly to SFO or LAX, de-board and walk to rental car centers in 2.5 hours. Ditto for other intra-state air travel connections. Or, travelers could drive 400 miles between Downtown Los Angeles and Downtown San Francisco in 6 hours with a 15-minute rest-break.

Despite economic, population and urbanization growth, since 1981, our government leaders started investing lower percentages of the federal budget on Rapid Transit infrastructure. Nor did they increase Amtrak’s budget for infrastructure improvement.

By 1990, population growth, as measured in millions by Statista and forecast by Public Policy Institute of California, started exceeding the capacity of the state’s transportation infrastructure. Though rounds of airport and highway expansion/widening have since completed, pre-pandemic traffic congestion kept getting worse. The state also began subsidizing Amtrak California operations, but 2-track upgrade and over/underpasses funding has been very small compared to highway and airport projects.

California Population Growth, California High Speed Rail

By 2020, California air & highway traffic congestion was felt most in 5-county Greater Los Angeles that swelled to 19 million population and 9-county San Francisco Bay Area that approached 8 million. World-class attractions continued making Los Angeles and San Francisco two of America’s most visited cities. That attractiveness contributes to LAX and SFO being the 2nd and 7th busiest airports in America, respectively.

Pre-pandemic flights between Los Angeles-San Francisco was the 2nd busiest route in America, transporting over 8 million passengers annually. Pre-pandemic, airlines to/from San Francisco Bay Area and Greater Los Angeles were also shifting other routes to bigger jets and long-distance flights for higher profits.

As the pandemic shutdown draws to an end, Greater Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay Area freeways & airports are heading towards pre-pandemic congestion in 4Q 2021. Even if it takes more time for the office market to recover from the pandemic, people are driving & flying again.

LAX & SFO Airports allocating more gates and runways to big jets for long-distance trips

LAX Airport allocates more runway slots for long-distance flights using big jets; (c) Soul Of America

California Freeway Widening Has Become Fool’s Gold

Residents and visitors took 361 million annual intra-state trips via all modes of travel in 2010. California intra-state travel is forecast to increase to 545 million trips annually by 2040. Since most trips are by automobile, some people assume freeway widening is the answer. Let’s examine that assumption.

California freeways average 1.223 Driver Occupancy Per Vehicle — mostly Single-Occupancy Vehicles. Freeways have maximum lane efficiency at 2 lanes each direction — 4 Standard lanes. Widening to 6 Standard lanes in metro areas increases freeway capacity enough to counter-balance some loss of lane efficiency. Then highway engineers increased rider capacity by adding 2 High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes to 6 Standard lanes. That approach counter-balanced the reduction of lane efficiency. As a result, 2 HOV + 6 Standard lanes can be thought of as “Maximum Capacity-Lane Efficiency” for freeways.

Due to economic and population growth, freeway widening in Greater Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay Area reached Maximum Capacity-Lane Efficiency by 1985-90. Ditto for San Diego by 2000 and Sacramento by 2010. Beyond those dates, each freeway widening to 2 HOV + 8, 10, 12 and 14 Standard lanes significantly reduces Capacity-Efficiency Per Lane. The mathematics of Queuing Theory explains why Greater Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay Area taxpayers get diminishing return on investment for each freeway widening.

Translating that Queuing Theory application to shorthand, for each added freeway lane beyond 2 HOV + 6 Standard lanes, drivers spend more time adjusting speeds and lane-changing lateral motion that reduces forward motion per hour. The more lanes added, the more speed adjusting, lateral motion, congestion and accidents increase. Furthermore, when added lanes temporarily decongest a freeway, they induce more Single-Occupancy Vehicles. In 2-3 years, highway congestion reproduces.

Hence, 2 HOV + 8 Standard lanes has worse capacity-lane efficiency than 2 HOV + 6 Standard lanes. Similarly, 2 HOV + 10 Standard lanes has worse capacity-lane efficiency than 2 HOV + 8 Standard lanes, and so forth. It’s like loosening your belt to treat obesity.

The average voter, not considering urban population growth, declining Capacity-Lane efficiency and induced single-occupant driving, thinks “Just add more lanes.” Politicians anxious to score easy points with uninformed voters cater to their wish. They mislabel each freeway widening project beyond 2 HOV + 6 lanes as “Congestion Relief.” Voters fall for temporary relief and repeat the congestion cycle, followed by more lane widening.

That statement is backed up by INRIX research firm, cited in US News & World Report. In 2018, INRIX proclaimed Los Angeles and San Francisco 2 of the 5 most highway-congested cities in the world. That is true despite Greater Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay Area having most of the widest freeways in 2010 America and more widenings to come by 2023.

One proxy to gauge the drop in Capacity-Lane Efficiency is to examine Average Freeway Speed during Rush Hour. A University of Southern California transportation study measured the drop in Capacity-Lane Efficiency on speed since the 1980s. Pre-pandemic, Greater Los Angeles freeways dropped to 21-25 mph Average Speed during Rush Hour. Average speeds in San Francisco Bay Area freeways were equally bad.

Post-pandemic, SR-99, I-5 and SR-152 freeways in the Central Valley get mild congestion.

Sunny days, fertile soil and canal water make California Central Valley one of the world’s great agricultural regions. Economic bounty from freight rail and freight trucking transporting agriculture, and three major universities helped Central Valley towns sprout into metro areas ranging from 100,000 to 1 million population. The U.S. Census Bureau forecasts Central Valley metro areas (Stockton, Manteca, Modesto, Turlock, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Hanford-Visalia-Porterville, Bakersfield, Palmdale) to add 10 million people between 2010-2040. Without California HSR, SR-99 would likely experience Rush Hour congestion by 2030. Ditto for I-5 and SR 152 freeways by 2035-40.

Yet, airlines to Greater Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay Area airports are skipping over the Central Valley for long distance flights. Since flights are a vanishing option, more drivers to/from the Central Valley contribute to freeway congestion. Intra-state driving is a significant contributor to traffic congestion that costs California residents $28 billion/year in lost time and wasted fuel.

California Transportation Greenhouse Gases Contribute to Climate Change

California acquired the nickname “Golden State” due to sunny days tanning brush on its majestic mountains. Since 2000, California has seen rising temperatures produce more frequent drought conditions. They in turn, create an abundance of dry brush fuel for wildfires.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that Transportation Sector remains the largest contributor to Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions in America. Oil is the basis for gasoline and diesel fuel. In Transportation, oil-powered freight trucks, regional flights, cargo ships, cars & small trucks produce the most GHG emissions.

This EIA chart illustrates state-by-state Carbon Dioxide numbers. As the two most populous states, Texas and California emit the most Carbon Dioxide from Transportation Sector. Note however, that California has significantly larger population than Texas, but does a better job limiting GHG emissions.

Energy-related CO2 emissions by state, 2016

The Union of Concerned Scientists sounds the alarm bell that America must cut GHG emissions by 56% from 2005 to 2030 or we’ll be responsible for more frequent droughts, wildfires, floods, hurricanes and rising sea levels from Climate Change.

The good news is Transportation Sector is where California, Texas and all states can make huge GHG reductions by 2030, 2040 and 2050, while improving economic productivity during travel.

Transportation Smog & Particulates Have Lowered, But Not Enough

Smog has bedeviled Los Angeles since automobiles rose to prominence in 1943, then spread to other California cities as they grew. Particulate emission from burning Diesel fuel contains elemental black carbon, which is many times more toxic than organic black carbon from wood smoke. Diesel fuel burn from trucks, trains, ships and agricultural equipment are the main causes of Smog & Particulate matter. Particulate emissions from burning Diesel fuel contains elemental black carbon, which is many times more toxic than organic black carbon from wood smoke. It is the main cause of Asthma.

Like GHG emissions, the South Coast Air Quality Management District confirms that most Smog & Particulate in Urbanized LA is transportation-related. In 2014, 5.2 million people nearly 14% of Californians have asthma. So this is a major health issue for the state.

Changes to reduce Smog & Particulate emissions have helped to a degree. Excluding wildfire days, the air in Greater Los Angeles is no longer brown.

Despite the decrease in Capacity-Lane Efficiency, some parts of California keep widening freeways that induce more Single-Occupancy Vehicle. Most cars & trucks will continue burning oil for decades. Hence, California cities still dominate the American Lung Association list of metro areas suffering the nation’s worst Smog (ozone) & Particulate pollution. High smog levels trigger higher levels of asthma and other lung diseases, particularly within a mile of freeways, airports and seaports. California’s black and brown communities are closest to freeways, airports and seaports.

Central Valley has additional conditions tormenting air quality. Agricultural equipment, diesel freight trucks, diesel freight trains moving agricultural products feed a nation, but produce airborne emissions. Clouds from the Pacific Ocean climb over the westside mountain range. When those clouds combine with airborne emissions and warm temperature, inversion layers trap smog over the Central Valley between westside and eastside mountain ranges. As California’s average heat level rises, inversion layers hover longer.

California Needs Electric, High Speed, High Capacity Transportation

In 2008, voters addressed California’s passenger rail opportunity in the war against traffic congestion, Smog, Particulate and GHG emissions. State voters authorized a $9.95 billion bond measure to kickstart an electric high speed rail system. In 2009-10, the Obama Administration granted $3.5 billion as well. The system will draw electricity from hydroelectric, nuclear, wind and solar energy. It is being constructed by California High Speed Rail Authority in two phases:

Phase 1: 520-mile (San Francisco-SFO-San Jose-Gilroy-Madera-Fresno-Hanford-Bakersfield-Palmdale-Burbank-LA-Anaheim + Merced spur)
Phase 2: 280-mile (Merced-Modesto-Stockton-Sacramento & Los Angeles-Ontario-San Bernardino-Riverside-Escondido-San Diego)

A related HSR project from Las Vegas to Victorville in Southern California starts construction in 2H 2021. Being privately built by Brightline West, Phase 1 of that electric HSR project has 40 miles in Nevada and 130 miles in Southern California. It will eventually benefit from California HSR by connecting at Palmdale Station. Construction start for California HSR Phase 2 will not be identified until Phase 1 has a high-confidence opening date.

California California High Speed Rail and Brightline West HSR

California HSR & Brightline West HSR Environmental Clearances by 2022-end; credit California HSR Authority

At start-up, California HSR Authority had lawsuit delays and made rookie mistakes underestimating costs and land acquisition schedules. Nevertheless, environmental reviews, engineering design and enough land acquisition completed for the mega-project to break ground in 2015.

By 2017-18, new management was brought in. California HSR Authority transparency increased. Experienced HSR consultants were hired to implement the respected industry practice of risk modeling for hundreds of construction scenarios via Monte Carlo Simulation.

Though lengthy Central Valley viaduct is the most costly component of California HSR Phase 1, long mountain tunnels are the most challenging because they have so many unknowns. Underground rivers, uncharted mines, unmapped utilities, surprise geological conditions and buried historic artifacts can undermine cost estimation and scheduling.

California produces some of the world’s best geologists and civil engineers. To reduce unknowns or as they say, “de-risk” this mega-project, geologists took deep core samples of alignment alternatives in those mountains. Civil engineers studied older rail tunnels in the same mountain ranges planned for California HSR tunnels. Swiss tunnel engineers who worked on the longest rail tunnels under the Alps were also consulted. The 2020 California HSR Business Plan includes their findings, consultations and Monte Carlo Simulation to reduce construction unknowns and prepare for all likely outcomes.

HSR consultants also revealed that early Phase 1 construction should have two northern spurs: One previously planned spur at Carlucci Road pointing towards Gilroy; a second spur to Merced, rather than wait for Phase 2. Together they form what’s called the “Merced Wye”.

That spur up to Merced was glossed over by many critics who claimed that Phase 1 had another unnecessary cost increase. I’ll explain why that claim was false. In fact, it was smart for California HSR Authority to extend the spur to Merced in Phase 1.

There are 119 miles of California HSR construction underway in the Central Valley and enough state funding extending that to 171 miles between Merced Wye and Bakersfield. The Merced Spur enables Amtrak San Joaquin Oakland & Sacramento connections to California HSR Merced Station 2-3 years sooner than California HSR San Jose to Bakersfield service. Note these California HSR Phase 1 and Amtrak target completion dates:

• Open Merced-Fresno-Bakersfield California HSR rides & transfers to Amtrak San Joaquin Oakland & Sacramento by 2028-29
• Open San Jose-Merced & San Jose-Bakersfield California HSR rides & & transfers to Amtrak Capitol Corridor by 2031
• Open San Francisco-Merced & San Francisco-Bakersfield California HSR rides by 2033

Amtrak San Joaquin trains will continue at 80 mph from Oakland and Sacramento to Merced. Once Merced-Fresno-Bakersfield segment opens, Amtrak San Joaquin riders can seamlessly transfer at Merced Station to enjoy California HSR at 220 mph. Since more patrons will be attracted to shorter trip time, the state will pay less money subsidizing Amtrak San Joaquin Oakland & Sacramento trains. Fewer single-occupancy drivers will congest SR-99 Freeway.

California High Speed Rail Cost & Capacity Advantages

Population size and growth rate in California eliminates the “No Build” Transportation Alternative. The state must add high-capacity transportation solutions for urban & intercity passengers to keep the economy humming. Let’s examine how the Highway-Air Alternative compares to California HSR for intercity passenger transportation.

Increasing airport capacity for regional flights was the easiest alternative to dismiss. Seven of the nine largest California airports have no open land. The eighth (OAK Airport) would have to bay-fill for another runway. But citizens don’t want further shrink of San Francisco Bay for environtal reasons. Nor do they want jet noise and smog emissions introduced or increased over their communities. Only Sacramento Airport has open room to expand.

Building another Central Valley freeway between San Francisco Bay Area and Greater Los Angeles is equally bad. It would require wide highway tunnels and massive earthmoving through San Gabriel and Pacheco Pass mountain ranges. In a report commissioned by the California High Speed Rail Authority, having access to State of California highway and aviation data, the cost of adding equivalent capacity from freeway lanes and airports is estimated to be double that of California HSR. Even California Department of Transportation says the highway cost & capacity numbers are accurate based on historical evidence.

HSR Construction Cost Advantage over Highways & Airports

HSR Construction Cost Advantage over Highways & Airports; credit California HSR Authority

In the unlikely event that land could be acquired for another north-south freeway, Greater Los Angeles, San Francisco Bay Area, Sacramento and San Diego metro areas have already converted freeway medians to lanes. Their Capacity-Lane Efficiency is dropping, Average Speed for Rush Hour is slowing, and Rush Hours are lengthening. Inducing more Single-Occupancy Vehicles from another north-south freeway would only make highway congestion and average speeds worse.

Some media have suggested that Autonomous Vehicles (AV) are a good alternative for passenger rail. That is simply not true.

First, you have to convince 60-70% of the population to drive electric cars before you can cost-justify dedicated lanes for electric-powered AV. Given the millions of oil-powered cars owned by Californians and consumer adoption rates, that AV adoption percentage is unlikely to happen before 2050 — even with more electric charging stations.

Second, you have to convince Californians to yield driving freedom to a “Big Brother” AV company. If you think the fight over Gun Rights is rough, try separating most Californians from driving freedom.

Third, to increase Capacity-Lane Efficiency, AV needs dedicated highway lanes to run within 5 feet spacings of each other at 60-75 mph. Unfortunately, technology occasionally breaks. When you have thousands of vehicles per hour sharing an AV Highway, the probability of things breaking goes up. Combine those technology breaks with close vehicle spacing and the results could be deadly.

Fourth, Dedicated AV Lanes will be expensive and take decades to implement. Even if sufficient Dedicated AV lanes exist by 2060-70, they can never match the Capacity-Lane Efficiency, Average Speed and Safety of electric high speed trains.

California HSR is a high-capacity bonanza. It will start at 3 trains per hour and expand to 12 trains per hour when needed using the same rail, electric and communications infrastructure. It can grow from 9 to 12 double-deck passenger cabins. California HSR is better prepared for population growth than alternatives, which will yield a greater return on investment to taxpayers.

California High Speed Rail Environmental, Health & Safety Advantages

Even California HSR’s first 21 years operating from 2029-50 will significantly reduce Greenhouse Gases, Smog & Particulates. That difference will be felt most in the Central Valley and other freeway corridors near California HSR route that have high asthma rates. BTW, California HSR Authority has captured or avoided more than 180,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions through planting more than 6,000 trees and other forest projects.

Massive CO2 Reduction by California High Speed Rail; source California HSR Authority

Massive CO2 Reduction by California High Speed Rail; source California HSR Authority

The French HSR system runs TGV up to 200 mph and by 2023, up to 224 mph. TGV speed gets the accolades, but its safety deserves equal billing. Since 1981, the TGV has transported over 1 billion riders, yet never had a fatal accident in commercial operation. No other high-capacity transportation mode can make the same claim. As a result, the French experience less social & economic cost due to people killed or injured by auto accidents.

The French do it with complete over/underpasses & street closures, high-speed-only tracks, a proven system application for train spacing, next-generation brakes, and drivers expertly trained on realistic simulators. California HSR is being built to the same safety standards as the TGV system.

Riding any modern HSR system is an order of magnitude safer than driving any distances. Once you’ve driven through fog or slippery conditions on California I-5, US 101 and SR-152 freeways, like this author, that HSR safety advantage has personal value.

California High Speed Rail Door-to-Door Travel Time Advantage

Going from Los Angeles Bookend to San Francisco Bookend via HSR in 2 hours 40 minutes has more benefits. Workers on mobile devices enjoy productive trip time using large seat-back tables, power sockets and more dependable WiFi than airplanes and intercity buses. Restrooms are larger. Train travel is also more relaxing because riders can walk to the cafe car and restroom whenever they please.

HSR Travel Time advantage over Cars and current Amtrak trains

HSR Travel Time advantage over Cars and current Amtrak; credit California HSR Authority

There will be time savings between many different city pairs in California. For example, riders will transfer from California HSR San Jose Station to Amtrak Capital Corridor trains headed to Oakland and Berkeley. California HSR riders will transfer from Anaheim’s intermodal transportation center to Amtrak Pacific Surfliner headed to Oceanside and San Diego. Riders will also transfer at California HSR Merced, Fresno, Hanford and Bakersfield stations to low-emission shuttle buses that visit California national parks.

By 2025, Millennials and Generation Z adults will control over 50% of U.S. income — a percentage that will only grow. Born after 1981, American Millennials and Generation Z prefer High Speed Rail, better Amtrak, better Commuter Rail and more Metro Rail for cost savings, time savings, convenience and lower air pollutants.

Symbiotic Relationship of High Speed Rail, Amtrak, Commuter Rail & Metro Rail

To meet California HSR’s 2 hour 40 minute San Francisco-Los Angeles travel time mandate, trains will run 220 mph through the Central Valley, but that’s not enough. The Northern Bookend (San Francisco-SFO Airport-San Jose) and the Southern Bookend (Burbank Airport-LA Union Station-Norwalk-Fullerton-Anaheim) also need to run 110 mph. A lot more work is required in the Bookends.

They need at least 2 main tracks and a 3rd siding track in select areas for snow or parked freight trains to pull aside. High-activity segments combining HSR, Amtrak, commuter rail & freight rail require 4 tracks and and a 5th siding track in select areas. Both Bookends have upgrade programs underway.

Caltrain Modernization of the Northern Bookend is further along than Metrolink Modernization of the Southern Bookend. Caltrain already runs in 2-4 track route and its train electrification completes soon. But the Northern Bookend also has 37 railroad crossings used by Amtrak, Caltrain commuter rail and freight rail. Even if street closures reduce that number to 33-32 places needing railroad over/underpasses, they cost $100 million each on average. That would be $3.3 billion in 2021 dollars.

The Federal Transit Administration, California State Transportation Agency, California Air Resources Board, counties and cities are jointly funding additional California HSR segments likely to complete by 2033. About 39-40 railroad crossings should be eliminated by then.

In the Northern Bookend, San Francisco’s Salesforce Transit Center is open for Intercity Buses and Bus Rapid Transit. Its underground level is pre-built for Caltrain and California HSR trains. In 2022, Caltrain commuter rail converts from diesel trains to electric trains that do not emit air pollutants. Since electric trains accelerate & brake faster for higher average speed and cost less to maintain, Caltrain will increase train frequency to give commuters a better alternative than driving US-101 Freeway.

Caltrain currently operates on 51 miles between San Francisco and San Jose, but stops 1.3 miles short of Salesforce Transit Center. By 2028-29, the Downtown Tunnel Extension into Salesforce Transit Center is slated to open. That will enable more transfers between Caltrain, Intercity Buses & Bus Rapid Transit within the center and to BART (Metro heavy rail) and Metro light rail one block away. Later, when California HSR arrives in Salesforce Transit Center, those transfers will boost again.

SFO Airport Intermodal Transportation Center hosts patrons from SFO Airport, Caltrain, BART, shuttles and standard buses. Though details are sketchy at the moment, its station area will be upgraded to intermodal transportation center with travel amenities to accommodate California HSR riders.

Amtrak Capitol Corridor is limited to 80 mph Top Speed and takes 3 hours 3 minutes to travel 131 miles in San Jose-Oakland-Sacramento corridor. Despite only 15 daily roundtrips, it is the nation’s fourth busiest Amtrak line at 1.8 million annual riders. Capitol Corridor also has speed and frequency upgrades planned. By 2040, Amtrak Capital Corridor plans to run electric trains up to 125-150 mph and deliver 36-40 daily roundtrips.

That speed and frequency will attract more Amtrak transfers in San Jose, which is upgrading Diridon Station to an intermodal transportation center. This preliminary design of San Jose Diridon Intermodal Transportation Center illustrates how California HSR, Amtrak Capitol Corridor, Caltrain, ACE commuter rail, BART (Metro) heavy rail, Santa Clara (Metro) light rail, Intercity Buses, and Bus Rapid Transit will handle nearly 75,000 daily riders by 2040.

The 44-mile Southern Bookend needs funding for over/underpasses & street closures at 20 railroad crossings. Due to the high number of passenger and freight trains, it needs mostly 4 tracks and train electrification. California HSR Authority must also build or upgrade 5 intermodal transportation centers in the Northern Bookend.

Palmdale is moving a new intermodal transportation center project closer to environmental clearance. Burbank Airport plans a replacement terminal north of the current one by 2026-27, plus underground intermodal transportation center near the replacement terminal to host California HSR and Brightline West HSR and possibly, Metro Rail. Once Palmdale-Burbank Airport HSR segment is funded, Burbank Airport will will build that intermodal transportation center to open by 2033-35.

Los Angeles Union Station is already one of the busiest train stations in America. It features 3 Amtrak lines, 6 Metrolink commuter rail lines, 2 Metro heavy rail lines, 1 Metro light rail line, Intercity Buses, Bus Rapid Transit, and a growing office-resident population in DT Los Angeles. Its biggest shortcoming however, is that trains must currently pull in & back out of the station. Los Angeles Union Station will have a magnificent makeover and run-thru tracks before the 2028 Los Angeles Summer Olympics. Track upgrades in LA Union Station-Anaheim segment will also increase top speed from 80 mph to 90 mph by 2028, before reaching 110 mph around 2035.

By 2040, Los Angeles Union Station will handle well over 200,000 daily riders of electric trains, electric buses and low-emission buses.

The Southern Bookend has related improvements that benefit Amtrak, Metrolink commuter rail and freight rail too. Their trains currently share too many sections of only 1 or 2-tracks. They have too many level railroad crossings in 128-mile Los Angeles-Norwalk-Fullerton-Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine-Mission Viejo-Oceanside-San Diego corridor. Those infrastructure constraints limit Amtrak speed to mostly 80 mph top Speed. As a result, Amtrak Pacific Surfliner has a sluggish 2 hour 56 minute LA Union Station-San Diego trip time. Current track and freight rail limitations also constrain Pacific Surfliner to 13 daily roundtrips.

Despite those shortcomings, Amtrak Pacific Surfliner is the nation’s third busiest Amtrak line at 2.9 million annual riders. Good performance despite severe limitations is a credible indicator that ridership can triple with sufficient upgrade investment. Metrolink and San Diego’s Coaster commuter rail will benefit from the same upgrades.

Burbank Airport-LA Union Station-Norwalk-Fullerton-Anaheim corridor segment is on pace have 4-tracks, all needed over/underpasses & street closures by 2033. In preparation for eletric California HSR, that segment should also feature electric Metrolink service up to 110 mph.

By 2035, 95% of Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine-Mission Viego-Oceanside-San Diego corridor segment will have 2-4 tracks and 95% of needed railroad overpasses & street closures will complete to support 40 mph along the beach, 90-110 mph elsewhere. With 28-30 daily roundtrips and 2 hour 30 minute Los Angeles-San Diego trip time, Amtrak Pacific Surfliner and Metrolink will exchange more transfers at Burbank Airport, LA Union Station, Norwalk, Fullerton and Anaheim intermodal transportation centers.

By 2040, 100% of Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine-Mission Viejo-Oceanside-San Diego corridor segment have 2-4 tracks, a time-saving San Juan Capistrano rail tunnel in southern Orange County, and route electrification will extend from Anaheim to San Diego. About 98% of needed over/underpasses & street closures in San Diego County will complete. Amtrak Pacific Surfliner will run 36 daily roundtrips in the Los Angeles-Anaheim-Oceanside-San Diego corridor at 40 mph along the beach, 110 mph elsewhere in urban area and 125 mph through Camp Pendleton for 2 hour 15 minute trip time.

If a two more rail tunnels are built in southern Orange County and northern San Diego County by 2050, they can eliminate gated railroad crossings. Amtrak Pacific Surfliner’s LA Union Station-San Diego trip time will drop to 2 hours.

Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center

Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC); (c) Soul Of America

All stations shared by California HSR, Brightline West HSR, Amtrak Pacific Surfliner, Amtrak Capitol Corridor, Amtrak San Joaquins, Caltrain and Metrolink will have platforms level with train floors for faster boarding/unboarding. Greater LA Commuter Rail & Metro Rail network will share five or six stations with California HSR. San Francisco Bay Area Commuter Rail & Metro Rail network will share four California HSR Stations.

Once Federal Funding Steps Up, Big Private Funding Follows

As property values around the Transbay Transit Center escalated to build surrounding office-hotel-retail-residential skyscrapers, San Francisco captured that value to help pay for the $1.9 billion intermodal transportation center. In San Francisco, Salesforce is paying $110 million for 25-year naming rights over Transbay Transit Center. Downtown Tunnel Extension into Salesforce Transit Center will seal the deal, enabling Caltrain and California HSR to enter the heart of DT San Francisco.

Anticipate hotel-office-retail construction in & around LA Union Station to help pay for that transportation center’s $2.4 billion spectacular upgrade.

SFO Airport, San Jose, Merced, Fresno, Bakersfield, Palmdale and Burbank Airport also plan privately funded office-retail-hotel-residential development in & around their intermodal transportation centers.

Private High Speed Train Operators, Transportation Oriented Developers (TOD) and their Big Investors demand lower risk to believe that revenue streams will deliver a good Return On Investment. Today, enough of them believe SalesForce Transit Center along with Texas, Las Vegas-Southern California and Florida HSR projects have low-risk worthy of $27 billion investment.

They know California HSR ridership potential is higher than all of them combined. TOD around SalesForce Transit Center and ticket revenue streams from Oakland-Bakersfield and Sacramento-Bakersfield rail corridors will be a nice start. But they need to see more construction underway to sufficiently “de-risk” California HSR for big investment. California HSR needs $36 billion more federal funding to build:

• San Francisco-San Jose ($1.6 billion, 43 miles)
• San Jose-Carlucci Road ($13.6 billion, 88 miles)
• Palmdale-Burbank Airport ($16.8 billion, 13 miles)
• Burbank Airport-LA Union Station ($1.4 billion, 13 miles)
• LA Union Station-Anaheim ($2.9 billion, 31 miles)

This construction sequence builds the two tunnel-heaviest segments (San Jose-Carlucci Road and Burbank Airport-Palmdale) to de-risk California HSR mega-project. With the Palmdale-Burbank Airport segment publicly funded, anticipate Brightline West HSR raising another $5 billion in private funds to close the 53-mile Victorville-Palmdale HSR gap.

Brightline West HSR would then enlarge its revenue stream for Las Vegas-Victorville-Palmdale-Burbank Airport-LA Union Station. Once that happens, California HSR can anticipate raising $16 billion from a private High Speed Train Operator, Transportation Oriented Developers and Big Investors to close the last California HSR Phase 1 segment:

• Bakersfield-Palmdale ($15.7 billion, 79 miles)

If those things happen, 2050 California will have this eye-popping network of electric HSR, Amtrak, Commuter Rail, Metro Rail & Bus Rapid Transit options coupled with low-emission Amtrak Long-Distance trains and Intercity Buses. Millions of daily riders will enjoy great mobility without adding highway congestion or emitting air pollutants.

2040 California HSR, Amtrak, Regional Rail, Metro Rail & Intercity Bus Map

2045-50 HSR, Amtrak, Regional Rail, Metro Rail & Intercity Bus Map; credit California State Transportation Agency

The Politics of Federal Transportation Infrastructure Funding

An Amtrak rider since 1971, President Biden has the well-earned nick-name “Amtrak Joe” for riding trains back & forth between Washington and his home town in Wilmington, Delaware. Biden wants to go big on Amtrak-HSR, Transit and Highway modernization projects to create millions of jobs fast. Biden currently proposes $87 billion for Amtrak-HSR and $85 billion for Transit within his job-rich Infrastructure Proposal. Congressional Democrats would like him to go higher. Congressional Republicans would like him to go lower.

Biden knows that he and Democrats must deliver a million Transportation infrastructure jobs promised during the 2020 Election. The Northeast and California-Las Vegas have the most “Ready-to-Build” and “Near-Ready” HSR, Amtrak, Commuter Rail and Metro Rail projects to create over 250,000 jobs in 2021-22.

Vice-President Harris is a former U.S. Senator from California and HSR advocate. Harris reminds Biden that California HSR needs at least $20 billion Federal HSR funds and $3 billion Federal Transit funds in route to be shared by HSR, Amtrak, Caltrain and Metrolink. The California governor is doing his part with a to help complete those over/underpasses and related commuter rail projects.

We won’t know Federal HSR and Federal Transit funding amounts until June/July 2021. If California HSR and related California Amtrak-Commuter Rail projects get $40 billion in federal funds, that would convince Big Private Investors to jump in sooner. California HSR Phase 1, Brightline West HSR Phase 2, Amtrak & Commuter Rail upgrades can complete by 2035.

If California HSR and related California Amtrak-Commuter Rail projects only get $23 billion in federal funds, it will take longer to convince Big Private Investors to jump in. California HSR Phase 1, Brightline West HSR and crucial Commuter Rail & Amtrak upgrades would likely complete by 2040-41.

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2 replies
    • blue says:

      This mega-project lost 10 years of federal funding since 2011. If Congress and President Biden fund the two big tunnels in 2021, private funding will also contribute, like it has in Florida, Texas and Las Vegas. Under those perfect conditions, California HSR Phase 1 “COULD” complete by 2033. We’ll be tracking its progress.

      California HSR Phase 2 extensions to San Diego and Sacramento will not start until California HSR Phase 1 nears completion.

      Reply

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