California High Speed Rail Moving Forward

Rather than counting on outdated approaches to intercity transportation problems, political leaders are building California High Speed Rail system for the 21st Century. Since powerful critics of the system abound, its worthwhile to understand why its needed, why it takes two decades to build and why its versatility will pay huge dividends to Californians and visitors.

According to the respected Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard, America’s roadway congestion delay for the average person in 1982 was 18 hours, costing the nation $42 billion. In 2014, roadway congestion delay for the average person ballooned to 42 hours, costing the nation $160 billion. The growing congestion delay problem is most profound in California. It’s three largest metro areas rank in the National Top 10 for Most Roadway Delay Hours:

• Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana
• San Francisco-Oakland-San Jose
• San Diego

Without land annexation, the City of Los Angeles added 1.4 million residents from 1960-2015. Over the same timeframe, San Diego, San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland and Orange County anchor-cities (Santa Ana, Anaheim, Irvine) added many residents as well. Population in them is still growing, which partially explains why freeway congestion is worsening.

Flights between Los Angeles and San Francisco are the second busiest in America and most delayed in the country. One of every four flights are late. Los Angeles-Las Vegas flights are also 9th busiest in the nation. Delay at these large airports ripples across the nation and globe.

Most ozone smog in California and Las Vegas is transportation-related. Measures have already been taken to reduce freeway, airport and seaport smog. Yet, California and Las Vegas still dominate the America Lung Association list of metro areas suffering the nation’s worst ozone pollution:

1: Los Angeles-Long Beach-Riverside
2: Visalia-Porterville
3: Bakersfield-Delano
4: Fresno-Madera
5: Sacramento-Roseville
8: Modesto-Merced
9: Las Vegas-Henderson
14: El Centro

Its no surprise that Los Angeles, Orange County, San Francisco Bay and San Diego metro area populations are growing. You may be surprised to learn however, that the U.S. Census Bureau forecasts California Central Valley cities to add 10 million people between 2010-2030 – a population the size of Chicago metro area. Many of California’s Central Valley (Sacramento, Modesto, Fresno, Stockton, Merced, Bakersfield, Palmdale) residents commute to Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay metro areas. Travel between them is normally heavy, but gruesomely congested during holidays.

That scale of population increase and travel demand is why Republican and Democratic governors of California since 2000 have understood that a “No-Build Transportation Option” does not exist. Wisely, those governors solicited and received voter support to build the California High Speed Rail system now under construction. In open flat land, top speed for this HSR system is slated for 220 mph.

The latest cost estimate from California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) is that Phase 1 (San Francisco-San Jose-Fresno-Bakersfield-Palmdale-Burbank-Los Angeles-Anaheim) will cost $64 billion. Critics say, “That’s too high. We should expand freeways and airports instead to meet growing transportation demand.”

10-lane LA Freeway cutting through a mountain pass common to the region

10-lane LA Freeway cutting through a mountain pass common to the region

You might think adding airport runways will reduce flight delay. Think again because 8 of the 9 largest California airports and Las Vegas airport have no adjacent open land. Due to their existing burden of smog and noise pollution, adjacent communities in Los Angeles, Orange County, San Francisco Bay, San Diego and Las Vegas metro areas reject taking more land for airport runways. Imminent Domain is no longer imminent. Only Sacramento International Airport has land to add a runway.

Freeway medians through Los Angeles, Orange County, San Francisco Bay and San Diego metro areas have already converted to traffic lanes. Once current freeway widening projects complete by 2018, there will be no easy freeway expansion projects. Adjacent communities reject taking more land for freeway widening and double-decked freeways, because urbanized Californians have learned that freeway expansion only invites more traffic congestion, smog and noise pollution two years later.

Every HSR, Freeway or Airport build alternative attracts lawsuits. Even runway expansion in Sacramento would attract a mega-lawsuit for increasing noise and smog over existing communities. Additional land-takings for freeway expansion to meet population growth would generate an order of magnitude more lawsuits. At best, high litigation equals delay that explodes construction costs. At worst, projects never finish, like 50 years of incomplete I-710 Freeway and incomplete State Route 2 Freeway in auto-happy Los Angeles.

In contrast to airport and freeway expansion, California High Speed Rail uses a large chunk of existing railroad and transit Rights Of Way. Unlike 8 lane freeways that also require 2 emergency shoulder lanes, HSR only requires 2 lanes plus extra land around a handful of stations. Electric-powered trains do not emit smog or greenhouse gases. In urban areas, sound walls around HSR track will mitigate noise, they same way they mitigate noise around freeways. Those features enable the project to minimize lawsuits. And in each lawsuit thus far, judges have ruled in favor of California HSR.

Most of all, critics don’t want you to know the cost of their Freeway & Airport Expansion alternative versus California High Speed Rail. In a report commissioned by the CHSRA, the cost of building equivalent transportation capacity in airports and freeways (without accounting for lawsuits) is estimated to be:

$119 billion for 4,295 new lane-miles of freeway
$ 39 billion for 115 new airport gates & 4 new runways
================================================
$158 billion for Freeway & Airport Expansion
versus
$ 64 billion for California HSR, Phase 1

Hence, California’s two Build Transportation alternatives became as clear, as they are diametrically opposite:

A. Spend less taxpayer funds with some private investment for 2 track lanes for California High Speed Rail thereby, REDUCING oil consumption, freeway & airport traffic congestion, smog, and greenhouse gases with less lawsuits.

OR

B. Spend far more taxpayer funds without private investment for another 8-lane freeway & airport expansion, thereby INCREASING oil consumption, taking of land, freeway & airport traffic congestion, smog and greenhouse gases with more lawsuits.

As California’s coal-powered electric plants switch to wind and solar energy in the year’s ahead, HSR patronage will further decrease greenhouse gases and smog.

California has also embraced rapid transit expansion in Los Angeles, San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego and Sacramento.

To handle more rapid transit-to-train commuters San Francisco Bay and Los Angeles metro areas are upgrading (adding rail overpasses/underpasses, adding overhead electric wires, adding sound walls & fencing, new signaling) “Blended Track” to be shared between commuter rail and California High Speed Rail. New or dramatically expanded Intermodal Transportation Centers in San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim will host California HSR, Amtrak and commuter rail in San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim.

Generating over 1 million job-years along the way, California High Speed Rail System is completing multiple segments over two phases:

2015: Intermodal Transportation Center opened in Anaheim.

2018: Transbay Transportation Center opens in San Francisco.

2023: San Francisco-San Jose Blended Track upgrade for commuter rail completes.

2025: San Jose to Bakersfield California High Speed Rail service begins along with BART Rapid Transit extension to expanded San Jose Diridon Station.

2029: Phase 1 (San Francisco-San Jose-Fresno-Bakersfield-Palmdale-Burbank-Los Angeles-Anaheim) California HSR service begins to expanded Los Angeles Union Station.

2033-35: Phase 2 (extensions to Sacramento, San Diego & Irvine) California High Speed Rail completes.

When California High Speed Rail opens, millions more people will have Rapid Transit connections to Intermodal Transportation Centers, allowing them to leave cars at home. If population stayed the same, the combination of California HSR and Rapid Transit expansion would reduce traffic congestion. Since population is growing, the combination can only prevent traffic congestion from getting much worse.

Here’s an analogy. Just before the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system opened in 1974, San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge had significant traffic congestion and San Francisco parking space was a mild issue. If BART disappeared today, a second Bay Bridge would be needed, but there would still be traffic congestion, more smog, more greenhouse gases and the parking issue in San Francisco would be twice as bad.

California High Speed Rail Map - March 2015

California High Speed Rail Map – April 2016

California High Speed Rail looks exciting, but where is the money to pay for it? The first thing to understand about Phase 1 is that building 500 miles of grade-separated (overpasses/underpasses) track from roadway and tunneling through several mountains, yet will cost less per mile than a grade-separated Metro subway route.

The second thing to understand is that its $64 billion price tag is based on Year Of Expenditure pegged to the Phase 1 2029 completion milestone. CHSRA President, Jeff Morales says $16 billion of inflation is factored in. Viewed another way, if all funding was committed in 2013, it would have cost $48 billion and simultaneous project construction would have shaved 4-5 years from the completion date. Since that opportunity has past, the next best case scenario is 2017. If the 2017 Congress commits a larger sum of funds in a short timeframe, taxpayers can realize billions of dollars in inflation savings and shave up to 2 years off the completion date.

Third, CHSRA is committing $10 billion from a voter-approved state HSR bond and California has already received the first $4 billion in federal funding authorized by President Obama. Transit agencies in Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay metro areas own the Blended Track Rights-of-Way to be shared with California High Speed Rail. Between now and 2029, that permits federal, state, county and city authorities to contribute at least $5 billion in Transit funding for Blended Track in Los Angeles and San Francisco Bay metro areas.

Fourth, California is contributing many billions more from its Cap & Trade Auction. Though not indicated on the map, California recently committed Cap & Trade funds to extend construction from Fresno to San Jose. That means only $35 billion of additional funding is needed to complete California HSR Phase 1.

Around the world, 186 mph-HSR systems connecting large population corridors have proven that they generate profit or help fund HSR system expansion. Many of those HSR corridors are being upgraded to 199-224 mph VHSR corridors to transport more patrons per hour and attract more private development on civic property that increases taxes for government and profits for private investors. As a result, private companies are bidding to run their trains on 186-224 mph routes, extend HSR/VHSR routes and build new intermodal transportation centers on civic land that incorporates private development. This Public-Private collaboration is similar to airlines upgrading their wing of an airport terminal and hotel chains building hotels on airport property.

In pursuit of similar profits in California, private companies have contacted CHSRA about potential investment. But given the current GOP-led Congress hates HSR investment, private investors are waiting on the sidelines until several major California HSR milestones occur. By 2023 or sooner, SoulOfAmerica estimates that these major milestones should be sufficient for private investors to jump in:

• San Jose-San Francisco Blended Track segment completion
• San Jose-Bakersfield segment approaches completion
• Burbank-Los Angeles-Anaheim Blended Track segment well underway

That’s not fairy tale thinking. We already see $7 billion of private investment in XpressWest, which is targeting Las Vegas-Victorville HSR service by 2022.

Since California HSR Phase 1 will replace at least 3 times more regional flights and single-passenger drives than XpressWest, we can reasonably estimate that private investors will contribute up to $15 billion towards California HSR Phase 1 completion. They will feel reasonably confident that $20-25 billion more will come from federal and state funding to close the California High Speed Rail gap between Bakersfield-Palmdale-Burbank and possibly, more funds to close XpressWest’s Palmdale-Victorville gap. Ultimately, XpressWest backers want a single-seat ride on their trains in the Las Vegas-Victorville-Palmdale-Los Angeles corridor.

California-Nevada High Speed Rail Corridor map

California-Nevada High Speed Rail, Commuter Rail & Amtrak Corridors Map

There is a realistic political scenario to attract $20-25 billion more federal railroad funds. President Obama, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump agree on one thing. America must invest a lot more money on HSR and Rapid Transit. Regardless of 2016 Election outcome, the next President will pressure the next Congress to increase High Speed Rail and Rapid Transit funding. California deserves a fair share of that funding.

In the last 40 years, California taxpayers have given far more than they receive from the federal government.

California has been the biggest tax donor to the federal treasury for decades. It gives far more in taxes than it receives in federal funding. On that basis alone, California deserves $25 billion more federal railroad funding. Its a matter of getting the next Congress to agree with the next President on congestion-reducing, job-creating transportation infrastructure. If Congress commits $2.5 billion/year over 10 years beginning in 2017, California HSR Phase 1 and Las Vegas-Victorville-Palmdale ExpressWest can complete by 2027 for these public benefits:

San Francisco-Los Angeles ==> 2 hours 40 minute travel time
San Francisco-Anaheim =====> 2 hours 57 minute travel time
Los Angeles-Las Vegas =====> 2 hours 50 minute travel time

If federal funding falls short of $25 billion, then Californians can stick with the California HSR 2029 Phase 1 open date.

CALIFORNIA BENEFITS FROM HSR-VHSR EXPERIENCE ELSEWHERE

Transporting over 6 billion passengers through earthquake country since 1964, Japan’s Shinkansen HSR system has never experienced a deadly accident due to technology or operator error. Transporting over 1 billion passengers since 1981, France’s HSR system has never experienced a deadly accident due to technology or operator error. Their technology and operational experience are transferable to California HSR and XpressWest.

In the mid-1970s, the Brussels-Paris-Lyon-Marseille corridor had 16 million people, good airports and a good intercity tollway system. That is when 186-mph (300 kph) French-Belgian HSR construction began, then opened in 1981. Today, that 19-million person corridor transports 70 million passenger rail patrons/year. The French TGV now reaches 199 mph on 4 lines. Ditto for the Paris-London Eurostar and several of Japan’s Shinkansen trains. By world standards, any speed at 199 mph (320 kph) and above is considered Very High Speed Rail (VHSR).

Existing Next-Generation high speed trains like the Zefiro, Velaro and AGV are capable of safely operating at 224 mph (360 kph). Their top speed is only limited by the speed rating of each route. As more European and Japanese routes upgrade in the next 5 years, high speed trains will run up to 199, 206, 211, 217 and 224 mph. In other words, California HSR will benefit from benefit from a decade of France, Belgium, Spain, Italy, Germany and Japan VHSR experience before it enters service.

Inter-train VHSR distances are so tightly computer-controlled, that French, Belgian, Spanish and Japanese authorities can safely run up to 15 trains/hour. But like the French TGV, California High Speed Rail will initially run 6 trains/hour between 5am-Midnight with 97-98% punctuality. Maintenance of VHSR systems usually occurs between 12:30am-5am. Based on NextGen technology, California High Speed Rail System can be configured for 4,200 passengers/hour during 14 high-demand hours/day, then taper demand the other 5 hours/day to transport 24 million patrons/year.

California HSR also has versatile capacity. When patronage exceeds 31 million patrons/year, the CHSRA can increase number of train cabins to support 7,000 passengers/hour. They can switch to bi-level trains for 1,000 passengers/train X 10 trains/hour for 10,000 passengers/hour like the French TGV does today. California HSR can further increase to 15 bi-level trains/hour for 15,000 passengers/hour. This versatility helps train operators expand capacity while containing costs for attractive ticket prices, yet remain profitable.

That versatile capacity will come in handy. By 2035, Los Angeles, San Francisco Bay, San Diego, Sacramento and Las Vegas metro areas will total 40 million population – twice that of Brussels-Paris-Lyon-Marseille HSR corridor. They will have comprehensive rapid transit systems collectively used by over 3 million daily patrons. Many patrons will carry-on luggage for rapid transit rides to Intermodal Transportation Centers, then conveniently transfer to California HSR or XpressWest. Those savvy travelers will experience less traffic congestion without contributing to smog, greenhouse gases and parking hassles.

For context on the larger role California High Speed Rail and XpressWest will play nationwide, read Interstate High Speed Rail Progress.

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