California High Speed Rail
By building California High Speed Rail along with complimentary enhancements to Amtrak Regional Rail and Rapid Transit, the nation’s most populous state will lead our epic war against traffic congestion, smog and greenhouse gas emissions. Milestones of their infrastructure progress are coming in 2024, 2028, 2031, 2033 and beyond. — Thomas Dorsey, Soul Of America
California does big infrastructure.
Golden State cities have above average Car Ownership Per Household in a state with the largest population. So state leaders championed the world’s most comprehensive freeway system. California is one of the most visited regions on Earth. So state leaders built what the FAA describes as 3 Large Hub and 5 Medium Hub Airports. California ranks 1st in Industrial and Agricultural products. So freight rail companies built America’s 2nd largest freight rail network in California.
Though California’s Highway and Aviation infrastructure are impressive by any productivity metric, they are swamped with traffic congestion and produce too much smog and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions because federal, state, county and city leaders underinvested in Amtrak Regional Rail and Rapid Transit. They were also late funding California High Speed Rail.
California Freeway Widening Has Become Fool’s Gold
In 2018, a US News article proclaimed that Los Angeles and San Francisco as 2 of the 5 most highway-congested cities in the world. San Diego wasn’t far behind. At first take that seems odd because Los Angeles Metro Area, San Francisco Bay Area and San Diego Metro Area, have several of the widest and best designed freeways in the world.
When Los Angeles Metro Area and San Francisco Bay Area freeways widened to 2 HOV + 6 Standard lanes, they reached what most highway planners would call “Best Lane-Capacity-Efficiency” in 1990. Ditto for San Diego Metro Area in 2000. Beyond that number of HOV & Standard lanes, each widening reduces Capacity-Efficiency-Per-Lane more than it helps traffic flow.
The mathematics of Queuing Theory helps explain why. For each freeway lane beyond 2 HOV + 6 Standard lanes, drivers spend more time adjusting speeds and lane-changing lateral motion. That increases traffic congestion.
Other factors denigrate traffic flow too. The population of California’s large metro areas is increasing despite rural populations decreasing. The state’s percentage of car ownership increased. More people drive from deeper suburbs to work, school and play in the city. The urban planner at City Beautiful has plenty of videos that explain this factor well. Considering all those factors, 2 or 3 years after each widening, freeways re-congest.
Since most California voters were unaware of those congestion factors, naive politicians convinced Los Angeles Metro Area, San Franciso Bay Area, and San Diego Metro Area citizens to fund freeway expansion to 2 HOV + 8 Standard lanes under the same false notion of “Congestion Relief.” If politicians stopped at 2 HOV + 8 Standard lane freeways to fund better Amtrak Regional Rail, more Rapid Transit, and dedicated Bikeways, congestion would not be out of control.
When congestion returned 2 or 3 years later, politicians used the same misleading hype to justify widening freeways to 2 HOV + 10 Standard lanes. Some freeways widened to 12 and 14 Standard lanes. Yet congestion is slowing Rush Hour speeds and lengthening twice-daily commutes on freeways. Even the breathtaking 21-lane freeway junction in San Diego gets congested because its exorbitant lanes are NOT capacity-efficient.
Further freeway widening is like loosening your belt to treat obesity.
Intra-state driving is another component of traffic congestion that costs California residents $28 billion/year in wasted time & fuel. Yet California intra-state travel is forecast to increase from 361 million annual trips in 2010 to 545 million annual trips by 2040.
California Hub Airports Swamped, Airlines Skipping Over Central Valley
Sunny days, fertile soil and canal water make California Central Valley one of the world’s great agricultural regions. Economic bounty from freight trains and freight trucks transporting agriculture, state government, and five major universities helped Central Valley cities sprout into metro areas (Sacramento, Stockton, Manteca, Modesto, Merced, Madera, Fresno, Tulare-Kings, Bakersfield) ranging from 250,000 to 2,400,000 population. The U.S. Census Bureau forecasts Central Valley metro areas adding 10 million people between 2010-2040.
With the exception of Sacramento, airlines are skipping over the Central Valley and cutting short flights to all small & midsize cities because they barely break even. They tolerate 45 to 90-minute flights like LA-Las Vegas, LA-San Francisco Bay Area, San Francisco Bay Area-Las Vegas, LA-Sacramento, San Diego-Las Vegas, and LA-Phoenix because, in the absence of High-Speed Rail competition, their flights have high passenger load factors.
Flights are a vanishing option to/from most of the Central Valley, so more drivers, in mostly Single-Occupant Vehicles, contribute to intra-state highway congestion, Smog & GHG emissions.
California Striving To Cut Greenhouse Gas Emissions From Transportation
California acquired the “Golden State” nickname due to sunny days tanning brush on its majestic hills and mountains. Since 2000, California has seen rising temperatures produce more frequent drought conditions. They, in turn, create an abundance of dry brush that fuels wildfires.
The increasing number and severity of droughts and wildfires are two of many reasons America is a Paris Climate Agreement member. The members’ primary goal is to limit Global Warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) higher than pre-industrial levels by 2050. To accomplish that goal, every advanced and emerging nation must slash Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions in all economic sectors, particularly Transportation.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports that America is the world’s second-highest GHG emitter. Unlike the rest of the world, Transportation Sector is America’s largest GHG emitter. In descending order, the largest Transportation sector GHG emitters are:
1. Oil-powered Cars & Small Trucks
2. Freight Trucks
3. tie Regional Flights
3. tie Cargo Ships
5. Freight Rail
By far, Texas, California and Florida are the largest GHG emitters and have the most cars & small trucks. Aware of the need to lower emissions, Californians are purchasing 7 times more Electric Cars than the next 10 states combined.
Airplanes are getting more efficient and slowly switching to greener Sustainable Aviation Fuels. LAX Airport was the first U.S. airport committing to large-scale use of Sustainable Aviation Fuels (SAF).
California seaports imposed regulations against GHG & smog emissions while ported. Cargo ships and ferries are implementing Sustainable Maritime Fuels and new technologies to cut GHG and smog emissions as well. That is reducing GHG and Smog emissions in the large seaports of Los Angeles-Long Beach, Oakland, and San Diego.
That’s good news for California. But oil-powered cars, small trucks, and freight trucks will be around for decades. The more electric cars & small trucks enter highways and boulevards, the more they slow oil-powered cars, small trucks & freight trucks with traffic congestion.
Furthermore, electric airplanes are not practical for large commercial use. Since the power-to-weight ratio of batteries is much smaller than that for SAF, batteries would have to be larger and heavier, particularly for long flights. Since airplanes must weigh less to maintain an efficient power-to-weight ratio, big airplane makers and airlines are pursuing the SAF approach to reduce GHG and Smog “emissions per mile of flight.”
I explicitly stated “emissions per mile of flight” because at best, Aviation GHG & Smog emissions will only stabilize because longer flights in greater numbers are coming.
Transportation Smog Lowered, But Not Enough
Diesel fuel burn from freight trucks, cargo ships and freight trains also emit Smog particulates that contain elemental black carbon — the main cause of Asthma.
South Coast Air Quality Management District confirms that most Smog emissions in Los Angeles Metro Area is transportation-related. In 2014, 5.2 million people or nearly 14% of Californians, had asthma. That remains a health issue of some magnitude for the state.
California regulation for cleaner gas and catalytic converters cut automobile-related smog. Excluding wildfire days, the air in Los Angeles Metro Area is no longer brown. Don’t pop the champagne yet. California cities still dominate the American Lung Association list of metro areas suffering the nation’s worst Smog conditions.
The American Lung Association also reports that high Smog levels within 1 mile of highways, airports, and seaports trigger higher levels of lung diseases. Black and brown communities live disproportionately closer to highways, airports, and seaports.
California’s Central Valley has more conditions tormenting air quality. Its diesel-powered agricultural equipment and high concentrations of diesel-powered freight trucks and freight trains moving agriculture produce high levels of Smog emissions. When clouds from the Pacific Ocean climb over the western mountain range they are trapped in the Central Valley by the eastern mountain range. Those clouds combine with warmer temperatures to trap Smog inversions.
As Global Warming increases average heat level, Smog inversions last longer and more Central Valley residents develop breathing problems. Since Central Valley workers produce one quarter of America’s food, this is a health problem of national significance.
California HSR Authority Vision, Rookie Mistakes and Underfunding
California is agressively building zero-emission, high-capacity, high frequency transportation infrastructure. Counties containing Los Angeles Metro Area, San Francisco Bay Area, and San Diego Metro Area are funding massive expansions to Rapid Transit systems each year through 2050. They in turn, will transfer increasing numbers of passengers to/from California HSR System as it opens in two phases:
Phase 1: 494-mile (San Francisco-SFO-San Jose-Gilroy-Fresno-Bakersfield-Palmdale-Burbank-Norwalk-Fullerton-Los Angeles-Anaheim)
Phase 2: 300-miles (Merced-Modesto-Stockton-Sacramento and Los Angeles-Ontario-San Bernardino-Riverside-Escondido-San Diego)
Phase 2 lists approximate mileage until its southern alignment is selected in the Environmental Clearance process years from now.
In November 2008, California voters passed the HSR bond measure in the same election President Obama promised stimulus grants to states that have HSR plans and contribute matching funds. In 2009, Obama granted California HSR a $3.5 billion down payment. Political drama in Washington prevented further federal HSR investment. The lack of steady federal funding became the biggest obstacle to securing more property, material, and labor at lower costs over 2011-21.
California HSR Authority also made many rookie mistakes that hindered the mega-project. Using data that originated in 2001, they underestimated the 2002 Base Cost Estimate of $42 billion. The authority did not effectively correct news media from publishing that same Base Cost Estimate in 2009.
California HSR Authority did not shape an “Accurate Construction Start” narrative for the public. Many news media outlets thought construction would start in 2011 or 2012. Mega-projects of this scale must typically overcome 4-5 years of legal challenges, which slows the Environmental Clearance process required before major property acquisition and engineering design. An experienced HSR authority would have framed expectations for construction start as 2013 if all the stars align, but most likely 2014.
The authority did not adequately explain that costs rise with each year of lawsuits and property delays. Nor did California HSR Authority complete enough environmental clearances and engineering designs for construction to break ground until 2015. The underestimated Base Cost combined with 15 years of inflation increased the Base Cost Estimate to a more realistic $68 billion in 2016.
California HSR Authority also had bad luck. No one could predict that the 2011-20 Congress would NOT invest more funds in any HSR project. No one could predict a 2020-22 pandemic triggering supply chain delays and more price hikes. The Pandemic increased the cost of every infrastructure project worldwide.
It’s fair to criticize the California HSR Authority’s 2002-2016 mistakes. But many “Haters” or naive journalists overplay the “Troubled, Over-budget, Delayed Again” project narrative. If journalists want fresh material to criticize, they should focus on certain members of Congress and state legislators who want to continue excessive freeway widenings.
Despite rookie mistakes and bad luck, early California HSR Authority management should be commended for their vision and guts. Their plan for 220 mph trains through Central Valley cities to generate higher ridership, lower intra-state drives, lower Smog & GHG emissions, and sub-3-hour San Francisco-Los Angeles trip times is brilliant for many reasons.
California High-Speed Rail Project Reboots
Since 2017, California HSR Authority has grown a bigger brain. They brought in new management, increased public transparency with a new comminucations team, and hired experienced geologists who took deep core samples of mountain alignments. They consulted Swiss tunnel engineers who worked on long rail tunnels under the Alps. Other experienced consultants implemented the respected industry practice of risk modeling hundreds of rail construction scenarios via Monte Carlo Simulation.
Though stalled federal funding and inflation have driven the Base Cost Estimate for Phase 1 to $88 billion, the 2022 California HSR Business Plan includes more best practices to minimize project unknowns and exploit opportunities. One early opportunity is that experienced HSR consultants revealed that California HSR Phase 1 should have two northern spurs, rather than one:
1. The previously planned spur towards Gilroy
2. A new northern spur to Merced
Together, the northern spurs form what California HSR Authority calls the “Merced Wye”. The state has Environmental Clearance status (“Ready-to-Build”) and secured enough funds to extend the construction to 171 miles from Bakersfield to the Merced Wye.
At present, Amtrak San Joaquin has two 60-80 mph lines that run from Oakland and Sacramento, respectively, to Bakersfield. There are 119 miles of California HSR under construction in the Central Valley. Once that 171-mile segment opens in 2029, Amtrak San Joaquin trains will stop at the California HSR Merced Station for easy transfers to high-speed trains. Since more people will ride Amtrak San Joaquin trains to Merced, that will lower state subsidies to operate them.
Salesforce Transit Center in San Francisco is an architectural tour de force. It has an amazing rooftop public park, plus attractive retail space that will fill as ridership builds. The transit center is open for Bus Rapid Transit, Intercity Buses, Standard Buses, Uber/Lyft/Taxis, and Kiss & Ride drop-offs. It has a pre-built underground level that’s wide & long enough to host 6 passenger trains at a time.
Caltrain runs in the dense urban area between San Francisco and San Jose. But currently stops at a small station 1.3 miles short of Salesforce Transit Center. Metro Heavy Rail (“BART”) and Metro Light Rail have stations 1 block from Salesforce Transit Center for walkable transfers. San Francisco Ferry Building is only 3 blocks away.
In May 2022, California HSR Authority approved Environmental Clearance for Merced Wye-Gilroy-San Jose segment. By July 2022, anticipate the San Francisco-San Jose segment receiving Environmental Clearance for a remarkable 442 miles of California HSR Phase 1 Under Construction or Ready-to-Build. A highlight is that the rail tunnel into Salesforce Transit Center will be Ready-to-Build.
In 2024, Caltrain commuter rail converts from diesel trains to electric trains that accelerate & brake faster. As the number of over/underpasses increases this decade, Caltrain will boost to 90 mph top speed for higher train frequencies per day. Californa HSR trains will use the same electric infrastructure between San Francisco and San Jose.
In 2029, San Francisco’s rail tunnel extension to Salesforce Transit Center opens. BART Metro Rail will bring thousands of new riders to San Jose Diridon Station each day. California HSR opens stations in Gilroy, Merced, Fresno, Tulare/Kings, and Bakersfield. Amtrak San Joaquin riders will transfer at California HSR Merced station to experience 220 mph journeys between Merced and Bakersfield.
In 2031, California HSR San Jose-Gilroy-Fresno-Merced Wye segment is slated to connect with Merced Wye-Fresno-Tulare-Bakersfield segment. Millions more residents and visitors from San Jose will sample California HSR service.
California HSR Safety & Environmental Advantages
California HSR’s 2029-50 operations will significantly reduce corridor Smog and GHG emissions.
In France, HSR infrastructure called “Ligne à Grande Vitesse” (LGV) enables “Train à Grande Vitesse” (TGV) to safely achieve remarkable speeds. Since 1981, the TGV has transported 2 billion riders on LGV without a single fatality in commercial operation.
France is also building nextgen LGV certified to let high-speed trains operate at 249 mph (400 kph). Current TGV run up to 199 mph (320 kph) on them. The French train-maker Alstom builds (“Avelia Horizon, a nextgen high-speed train certified for operations up to 249 mph“) with 20% lower energy costs tha current TGV at the same speed. My guess is TGV will run Avelia Horizon at 211 mph (340 kph) during the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics. I anticpate TGV increasing to 217 mph (350 kph) this decade when more wind & solar energy lower electricity costs.
California HSR infrastructure is being built to similar construction standards as French HSR. Operating high-speed trains at 220 mph (354 kph) in the Central Valley should be a piece of cake.
California HSR Door-to-Door Travel Time Advantage
Most people choose modes of intercity travel based on affordability and time savings. California HSR Authority promises fares competitive with airlines. Train travel from Los Angeles to San Francisco will be less than 3 hours. California HSR infrastructure is designed for trains to run at 97-98% schedule reliability without padding typical of airline schedules.
In contrast, Total Air Travel Time for regional flights in California typically averages 4 hours. That time includes taking Uber/Lyft/Taxi or family drop-off at the airport and arriving at least 75 minutes before the domestic flight, security-check, waiting to board, boarding, runway taxi, 50-55-minute flight, runway taxi, de-boarding, walk to curbside/baggage claim, and taking Uber/Lyft/Taxi to the city center. Longer than 4 hours travel time occurs when you rent a car offsite from the airport, then drive to the city center.
High-speed trains have many more benefits. People who download tickets on smartphones often arrive only 15-20 minutes before train departure because security-check is a breeze. Larger stations have cafes, lounges, and shops for those who choose to arrive early. Passenger platforms level with train floors make boarding & offboarding with luggage fast. Lost & delayed luggage is no problem because you self-store it above or near you.
With more dependable WiFi than airplanes, modern passenger trains enable productive ride time using large seat-back tables, power sockets at each seat, and better seat lamps. Leisure travelers can watch a movie, gaze through large windows at passing landscapes, or nap on smooth rides. Everyone enjoys walking to the cafe car and restroom at their leisure.
HSR, Regional Rail & Rapid Transit Symbiosis in the Bookends
Running 220 mph through the Central Valley would NOT be sufficient to meet California HSR’s 2-hour 40-minute San Francisco-Los Angeles trip time mandate. The Northern Bookend (San Francisco-SFO Airport-San Jose) and Southern Bookend (Burbank Airport-Los Angeles-Norwalk-Fullerton-Anaheim) must also enable trains to run mostly 110 mph by 2040.
The larger challenge in Northern Bookend is 37 railroad crossings currently used by Caltrain and late-night freight trains that represent safety, train frequency, and schedule reliability challenges. Among those level railroad crossings, 5 need inexpensive street closure, but 32 need over/underpasses whose average cost is $100 million each. The same selfish NIMBY arguments to slow Rapid Transit construction slow railroad over/underpass construction.
In the Southern Bookend, the city of Palmdale is moving a new intermodal transportation center project closer to Environmental Clearance. It will evenually host California HSR and another HSR line called “Brightline West” that will run from Las Vegas to Victorville in Southern California.
Burbank Airport plans to build a replacement terminal north of the current terminal by 2027. Once Palmdale-Burbank Airport HSR segment is funded, Burbank Airport will help coordinate construction of an underground transportation center to host California HSR, Brightline West HSR and possibly LA Metro Rail in the future. Trains will be short walking distance to/from the Burbank Airport Replacement Terminal.
Los Angeles Union Station is the 6th busiest train station in America. It features Amtrak Pacific Surfliner, 2 Amtrak Long-Distance lines, 6 Metrolink commuter rail lines, 3 Metro Rail lines, Intercity Buses, Bus Rapid Transit, Taxis, Uber/Lyft, and a dedicated Bikeway into fast-growing Downtown Los Angeles.
The biggest shortcoming of Los Angeles Union Station is that it was built as a terminus rather than a run-thru station in 1939. Trains that need to go through Los Angeles Union Station must Pull-in & Back-out out. That adds 6-10 minutes to train schedules.
Modernization of Los Angeles Union Station, called “Link US”, includes run-thru tracks to eliminate the Pull-in & Back-out process. That project is on pace to complete before the 2028 Los Angeles Summer Olympics. Transportation-Oriented Developers (TOD) will also build an onsite hotel and retail establishments that help pay for Link US project.
In 2014, Anaheim opened its intermodal transportation station with extra retail space inside and hotels nearby. New or upgraded SFO Airport, San Jose, Gilroy, Merced, Fresno, Tulare/King, Bakersfield, Palmdale, Burbank Airport, Norwalk, and Fullerton intermodal transportation centers can also anticipate TOD hotel-retail investments to pay some of the costs.
By 2033, the 44-mile Southern Bookend (Burbank Airport-Los Angeles-Norwalk-Fullerton-Anaheim) is slated to have 4-tracks, electrification, and enough over/underpasses, street closures, and fencing for passenger trains to 90-110 mph.
California High Speed Rail Cost & Capacity Advantages
In case you’re among the critics and naive journalists who think California HSR is a boondoggle, let’s examine how the Highway-Airport Alternative compares to California HSR Alternative. Increasing airport capacity for regional flights was the easiest alternative to dismiss.
Eight of the nine busiest California airports have no adjacent open land. Only Sacramento’s SMF Airport has open land to expand. SFO Airport and OAK Airport would each have to bay-fill for a runway addition, but voters have repeatedly stood against further shrinkage of San Francisco Bay due to environmental impacts on marine life. Voters also object to more jet noise & smog emissions over nearby communities. More recently they notice sea level rise is impacting San Francisco Bay coastline.
Building another north-south freeway between San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles Metro Area would have been an unmitigated disaster. A north-south freeway would have required 3 to 4 times more land-takings than California HSR. It would require wide highway tunnels and gargantuan earthmoving through two large mountain ranges and be twice as costly as the California HSR Alternative.
Initially, California HSR Authority plans to license a high-speed train operator for 54 trains in a 19-hour workday. The Central Valley spine is designed for 12 trains/hour in a 19-hour service day. San Francisco-Los Angeles segment will have 6 daily Non-Stop roundtrips at 2 hours 40-minutes trip time and 16 daily Every-Stop roundtrips at 2 hours 56 minutes trip time. The longest Phase 1 segment, San Francisco-Anaheim, will have 32 Limited Stop roundtrips in 3 hours 15-minutes trip time.
Amtrak’s nextgen high-speed trains in the Northeast Corridor feature an 8 single-deck cabin + cafe car configuration that seats 386 passengers. If California HSR trains start with a similar configuration, they would double the Boeing 737 or Airbus 320 regional plane capacities of 162-192 passengers. They can also expand to a 10 double-deck cabin + cafe car configuration seating 650-660 passengers in the future without new infrastructure and business disruption.
Las Vegas to California by HSR
A privately funded 170-mile HSR project branded Brightline West HSR has Environmental Clearance between Las Vegas and Victor Valley in Southern California.
Phase 1 of that project consists of 40 miles in Nevada and 130 miles in Southern California. It is Environmentally Cleared with construction start planned in 2023. Brightline West will use electric-powered High-Speed Trains compatible with California HSR System. In May 2022, San Jose-Merced Wye segment Environmentally Cleared. By July 2022, San Francisco-San Jose segment is likely to receive Environmental Clearance. The next version of the map below will indicate “422 Miles Environmentally Cleared” and “72 Miles Projected to be Environmentally Cleared in 2023.”
In 2023, all 494 miles of California HSR Phase 1 will be Under Construction or Ready-to-Build. Metrolink already has a commuter rail line from Palmdale to Burbank and Los Angeles. Palmdale will pass the last hurdle to break ground on a new larger Palmdale Multimodal Station to host Metrolink commuter trains, intercity buses, standard buses and future high-speed trains.
Once Palmdale-Burbank Airport HSR segment is publicly funded, Brightline West HSR will likely raise more private funds to extend its line 53 miles from Victor Valley to Palmdale Multimodal Station.
Regional Rail & Rapid Transit Complement California HSR
All Amtrak trains and California commuter trains will soon have low-emission diesel-electric locomotives capable of 125 mph. They run up to 90 mph in a few stretches, but mostly 60-80 mph because too much rail infrastructure is only 1 Track with many level railroad crossings.
Yet in 2019, Amtrak Pacific Surfliner was the nation’s second-busiest Amtrak route at 2.8 million annual riders, mostly due to journeys between Los Angeles and San Diego. Over 5 million more people rode Metrolink commuter trains serving Los Angeles & Orange Counties and COASTER commuter trains serving San Diego County on the same southern route as Amtrak Pacific Surfliner.
“Regional Rail” service lets passenger trains run at least 34 daily roundtrips in a 17-hour service day. To riders that means, a train in each direction every 30 minutes. One class of Regional Rail trains for commuters makes many stops, like Caltrain, Metrolink, and COASTER. Another class of Regional Rail trains makes limited stops on the same route, like Amtrak Pacific Surfliner and Amtrak Capitol Corridor.
Regional Rail status requires at least 2nd Main Tracks, intermittently placed 3rd Track (called “Siding Track”) for freight trains to pull aside, better signaling, a number of railroad over/underpasses, street closures, and some fencing to achieve 90 mph. Entering 2022, 77% of the Los Angeles-Anaheim-Oceanside-San Diego corridor had 2-4 tracks.
Planning for the 2028 Los Angeles Summer Olympics has attracted more federal, state, and local funds to transportation projects. Consequently, Metrolink’s commuter rail SCORE program to upgrade all 7 of its commuter rail lines and similar upgrades coming to COASTER commuter rail in San Diego County is increasing pace of construction.
By summer 2028, there will be Los Angeles Union Station run-thru tracks, 90% of the Burbank Airport-Los Angeles-Anaheim-Oceanside-San Diego corridor will have 2-4 tracks, more Siding Track, more railroad over/underpasses, and better signaling to reach 90 mph in a lot more mileage. Amtrak Pacific Surfliner trip time between Los Angeles and San Diego should reduce to 2 hours 35-minutes.
Nevertheless, 13 miles in the corridor will remain a chokepoint due to 1-track for 2 miles in San Juan Capistrano, followed by 2-tracks for 4 miles in Dana Point, then 1-track for 7 miles of San Clemente between Capistrano Beach and Trestles Beach. That 13-mile stretch will still limit Amtrak Pacific Surfliner to 17 daily roundtrips, Metrolink to 17 daily roundtrips, and both train services to 60-80 mph.
The next class of Regional Rail has higher speed, higher frequency, higher on-time performance, and higher safety to run 110 mph. It requires a near-sealed corridor with fencing, many over/underpasses, tunnels & viaducts, street closures, level platforms for faster boarding/offboarding, electric trains that accelerate & brake faster, and more sophisticaled train control. For simplicity call this “Electric Regional Rail.”
Caltrain converts to Electric Regional Rail by 2024, though it needs a lot more railroad over/underpasses and street closures. The State Rail Plan calls for Amtrak Pacific Surfliner, Metrolink, and COASTER commute rail conversions to Electric Regional Rail before 2040. Metrolink commuters in the congestion-heavy Burbank Airport-Los Angeles-Norwalk-Fullerton-Anaheim-Santa Ana-Irvine-Laguna Niguel corridor want and need Electric Regional Rail sooner.
Upgrading train control & signaling, adding level platforms, and fencing is the fast & cheap part of Electric Regional Rail. Building electric infrastructure, maintenance facilities, and over/underpasses take 4-6 years while tunnels & viaducts require 8-12 years. It’s why the 44-mile California HSR Burbank Airport-Los Angeles-Norwalk-Fullerton-Anaheim corridor segment is not scheduled to complete until 2033.
Depending on the size of additional federal and state funding, Electric Regional Rail infrastructure could extend 21 miles from Anaheim to Laguna Niguel by 2033-34. Electric Metrolink trains could then run up to 110 mph for 65-miles and 34 daily roundtrips in the Burbank Airport-Laguna Niguel segment outlined in lime-green on this map:
Higher federal & state infrastructure funding from 2022-2028 is also good news for San Diego County and the BNSF freight rail company. They were already adding 2nd Track, Siding Track and more fencing in Oceanside-Carlsbad-Poinsetta-Encinitas-Solano Beach-Sorrento Valley-Old Town-San Diego corridor segment .
San Diego’s Santa Fe Depot features beautifully restored Spanish-Colonial architecture inside and out that has attracted skyscrapers around it. Pacific Surfliner and COASTER patrons also enjoy this transportation hub with a San Diego Trolley station footsteps away and the San Diego Cruiseport only 1 block away.
Since the Los Angeles-Anaheim-Oceanside-San Diego segment carried 8 million annual passengers pre-pandemic, the Anaheim-Oceanside-San Diego portion should easily qualify for $3 billion/6 years of federal and state funding between 2022-27. Orange and San Diego counties will contribute about $1 billion/6 years towards railroad over/underpasses, level boarding platforms, and other station upgrades. Freight Rail companies will contribute about $1 billion over 7 or 8 years for extra Siding Track in that segment.
Amtrak Capitol Corridor and ACE commuter rail) in the San Francisco Bay Area also make a compelling case for more federal and state funding. Capitol Corridor is the 3rd busiest Amtrak route and shares its regional route with ACE from San Jose Diridon Station to a small existing Fremont Station. Most of Amtrak Capitol Corridor route is also shared with Amtrak Coast Starlight long-distance trains.
Without federal funding, Capitol Corridor’s South Bay Connect Project will add more direct 2 passenger-only tracks to Oakland, 1 overpass, and upgrade the Fremont Ardenwood transit center for trains by 2027. ACE has a similar upgrade project advancing. In both cases, freight rail speed and on-time service would improve.
The state and related counties have already committed $1.65 billion to Amtrak Capitol Corridor and ACE Regional Rail upgrades. Given the recent boost in infrastructure funding those plans can be upscaled. They should receive $1.5 billion in federal matching funds and more freight rail company funds for Siding Track. If so, Amtrak Capitol Corridor, Amtrak Coast Starlight, and ACE trains should reach 90 mph. Amtrak Capitol Corridor could reach 20 daily roundtrips. Amtrak Coast Starlight will double to 2 daily roundtrips and, ACE would double to 10 daily roundtrips by 2028. Freight trains would experience fewer delays too.
By 2031, California HSR, Caltrain, Amtrak Capitol Corridor, ACE, Amtrak Coast Starlight and Metro Light Rail will transfer several million passengers at San Jose Diridon Station each year.
Funding the Most Critical Segments Now
The 2022 DRAFT California HSR Business Plan identifies enough funding for the 171-mile Bakersfield-Merced Wye corridor segment. Construction continues apace.
California needs $29 billion more in federal, state, county, and freight rail funding to open or upgrade six difference-making HSR & Regional Rail corridor segments between 2031-33:
Northern California HSR Contiguous Segments
• San Francisco-San Jose ($1.6 billion, 43 miles)
• San Jose-Merced Wye ($13.6 billion, 89 miles)
• San Jose-Fremont-Oakland ($1.5 billion, 38 miles)
Southern California HSR & Regional Rail Contiguous Segments
• Burbank Airport-Los Angeles ($1.4 billion, 13 miles)
• Los Angeles-Fullerton-Anaheim ($2.9 billion, 31 miles)
• Anaheim-Oceanside-San Diego ($3 billion, 96 miles)
Funding for California HSR Palmdale-Burbank Airport ($16.8 billion, 38 miles) and Bakersfield-Palmdale ($18.4 billion, 79 miles) segments can be identified later.
The Politics of Federal & State Funding for HSR & Regional Rail
President “Amtrak Joe” Biden signed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) in 2021. It allocates $66 billion/5 years for Intercity Passenger & Freight Rail projects. Since $30 billion is earmarked for Amtrak Northeast HSR & Regional Rail projects, $36 billion remains for other Federal Railroad grants.
The BIL also allocates $39 billion for Transit infrastructure. Caltrain, Metrolink, COASTER & ACE commuter rail agencies will apply for those grants. President Biden is pressing Congress to increase the annual USDOT budget (next begins in October 2022) for Federal Railroad, Federal Transit, and Federal Highway projects because we need to do more work than the BIL fund. Part of Federal Highway grants is intended for roadway overpasses over transitways and railways.
Though Governor Newsom was underinformed when he first spoke about California HSR in early 2019. He is clearly more informed and supportive of HSR’s apex role in the state rail plan now. Newsom knows that the state has no better alternative. That is why he proposes to channel the remaining $4.2 billion HSR bond money to the Central Valley and several billion more dollars from the state’s General Fund to Regional Rail and Rapid Transit projects to compete for more Federal Railroad, Federal Transit and Federal Highway grants that could benefit passenger rail.
Amtrak Pacific Surfliner, Amtrak Capitol Corridor, Caltrain, Metrolink, COASTER, and ACE Regional Rail upgrade projects rate highly in USDOT grant formulae based on state population and pre-pandemic ridership. California’s HSR & Regional Rail projects may receive up to $23 billion from multiple federal agencies over 2022-27 based on several more factors:
• California HSR & Regional Rail projects have the most Ready-to-Build mileage
• California has the most state funds to match USDOT grants
• California HSR & Amtrak are eligible to compete for $57 billion in 6 categories of BIL grants
If the next big round of Infrastructure funding occurs in 2028, the California HSR & Regional Rail projects should qualify for enough federal and state funding to construct dozens of tunnels, viaducts, over/underpasses, and electric infrastructure. By 2040, Amtrak Pacific Surfliner, Amtrak Capitol Corridor, Caltrain, Metrolink, COASTER, and ACE should all have Electric Regional Rail status. The 13-mile San Juan Capistrano-San Clemente segment should have a tunnel & viaduct to relieve the chokepoint.
Trains every 5-30 minutes and shorter trip times would be a gamechanger. About 30 million residents and visitors would shift from cars to intercity passenger rail each year.