Note: commenter calwatch, a member of the Technical Working Group for the LA - San Diego segment of HSR, kindly contributed to the research for this post.
We recently discussed plans to completely remodel the overburdened Lindbergh Field airport and before that, the possibility of extending HSR to Mexico, because the SD Trolley Blue Line to the border is so busy.
Of course, both of these presumed that the planned HSR spur from LA Union Station to San Diego Santa Fe depot - or perhaps, a new multimodal transit hub at Lindbergh Field - will actually be built as intended. This requires that the starter line attract enough ridership to generate an operating profit that will permit the sale of non-state bonds to raise capital for phase II, which also includes extensions to Irvine and Sacramento. It also requires that CHSRA secure a suitable right of way, which will not be easy and needs to be done now, more than a decade before phase II construction will even begin.
Here is a map showing the principal railroad rights of way in Southern California (and their owners) plus several of the currently unused freeway medians. Despite appearances to the contrary, it does not represent a smorgasbord of options for HSR - the majority of them are already reserved for freight (expansion) and local/regional transit. At least the risky maglev project through the Inland Empire appears to have shrunk to just a gleam in a number of politicians' eyes: Sen. Harry Reid, Gov. Schwarzenegger and Gov. Gibbons. Rapid transit service between Anaheim ARTIC and Ontario airport via hwy 57 might be more easily implemented via a sexy bus styled by an F1 aerodynamicist and running at elevated speeds (90-150mph) on dedicated lanes and possibly even batteries. HSR is great, but it's not always the most appropriate option.
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Passenger rail service between LA and San Diego is currently provided by the popular Amtrak Pacific Surfliner that runs through Orange County and down the San Diego county coast. The trip takes about 2 hours.
HSR would cut that to 1h 15m, even though CHSRA has selected a preferred route via Riverside county that adds around 30 miles. There were three reasons for this preference:
- LAWA desperately wants to relieve California's largest airport LAX, where a project to add a third runway had to be canceled after protests from nearby communities. That is the primary reason why the HSR network includes both Palmdale and Ontario airports.
- San Bernardino, Riverside and other inland towns are currently only connected to LA via Metrolink, if at all. However, none of lines has a stop next to the airport terminals, the nearest large airport in the region.
- An HSR alignment along the coast ROW was ruled out because that is too narrow to support four tracks south of Fullerton in Orange County, because of the visual clutter an overhead catenary system would bring to San Clemente and Del Mar in particular and, because of concerns about weather-related and geological hazards that NCTD has had to deal with in the past. CHSRA recommended an upgrade to 110mph diesel-based service be considered but did not pursue the corridor any further.
The preference for a detour past Ontario airport and Riverside introduces several critical ROW issues:
- CHSRA is proposing expensive run-through tracks (zoom in on LA please) for a new upper deck at LA Union Station. We have already discussed several alternatives that would require fewer eminent domain takings on this blog. For a variety of reasons, most commenters insisted that HSR trains should stop at Union Station, not at any separate station connected by a local shuttle service - especially one anywhere near the new State Historical Park. Any run-through tracks for HSR would be separate from the ones already planned for FRA-compliant Amtrak/Metrolink equipment on the lower deck. The objective is to secure alignments that allow trains to run from SF/Sacramento to both Anaheim and San Diego without having to waste time reversing direction in LA. Note that there are no plans for direct HSR service between Anaheim and San Diego because Amtrak Pacific Surfliner already serves that market.
- Securing a ROW from LA Union Station to Riverside
- Securing a ROW from Riverside to San Diego
- Avoiding ROW conflicts with freight capacity expansion in Southern California. Fortunately, analysis to date suggests that a combination of expanding conventional rail freight and adding dedicated truck lanes on selected freeways would be a lot more more effective than an inland port served by a bleeding-edge electricity-guzzling freight maglev system in dealing with congestion and even air quality problems that are constraining growth in shipping volume.
This last point is really important, because 1 in 7 jobs in LA county depends on the ports. The majority of all manufactured goods imported from Asia into the US flows through the container terminals there and to point east via the Inland Empire. Already, rail freight up to Redondo Junction near downtown Los Angeles has been consolidated via the fully grade separated Alameda Corridor, freeing up old rights of way for projects such as the Harbor Subdivision Transit Corridor.
The success of freight consolidation has spawned a sequel dubbed Alameda Corridor East, with phase I already in progress. Its scope are improvements to 39 grade crossings the UPRR rights of way in the San Gabriel Valley between Redondo Junction and Pomona. The grade separation projects already completed did not anticipate the construction of HSR tracks, something CHSRA's consultant engineers HNTB (also selected for the SF peninsula) are aware of. Later phases will address the eastern section of the UPRR corridors out to Colton and beyond as well as the "91" corridor owned by BNSF, which CHSRA has identified as the preferred corridor between Redondo Junction to Fullerton. South to Anaheim and Irvine, the ROW is narrow and owned by Metrolink.
San Gabriel Valley
At this point, it looks increasingly unlikely that CHSRA can obtain land on the preferred UPRR Colton/Riverside and Colton ROWs for the purpose of constructing HSR tracks. The ROW choice is very much in flux, but right now leading candidates for alternatives out to Riverside appear to be, in no particular order:
- I-10 median on an elevated alignment. The section between LA Union Station and El Monte is already occupied by a single track used by the Metrolink San Bernardino line. The most likely route would therefore involve air rights over UPRR's Colton/Riverside ROW between Redondo Junction and the I-605/hwy 60 interchange, then cutting up to I-10 alongside I-605. The all-essential connecting transit to cover the ~1/2 mile to the three Ontario airport terminals would likely be implemented either via shuttle buses or an elevated people mover.
One big problem is that there is no easy way to cut across from Colton to the I-215 median, the preferred route down to San Diego. Colton, San Bernardino and Riverside all very much want a station in the area, but residents near March AFB in Moreno Valley are objecting. Note that Metrolink has plans for a new service out to Perris, Hemet and San Jacinto.
An alternative would be to cut across to the I-15 median just east of Ontario instead, perhaps even via the long-term parking lot at Ontario, S Haven Ave and a short section of UPRR's Colton/Riverside ROW (e.g. via air rights). The alignment would then continue south to Murrieta via Corona and Lake Elsinore. An intermodal station with Metrolink might be possible if the existing one for Corona were moved about a mile east.
- Hwy 60 median east of the 710 interchange. It is still unused all the way out to Riverside UC and connected to the preferred route down to San Diego via the I-215 median. Reaching it from Redondo Junction would be difficult if UPRR refuses to cede at least air rights on its Colton/Riverside ROW . Moreover, there are two competing applications for the hwy 60 median: the Eastside Light Rail project and, dedicated truck lanes to haul freight out of the LA/LB ports (though other freeways are also under consideration).
For HSR, a bigger issue with this option is that hwy 60 runs a couple of miles south of Ontario airport. However, a sufficiently fast high-capacity shuttle bus service or people mover up S New Haven could link the HSR station, the East Ontario Metrolink station, the long-term parking lots and all three terminals. A suboptimal solution, but better than nothing.
Both the I-15 and the I-215 medians are more easily reached via hwy 60 than via I-10.
Note that both solutions involve obtaining some co-operation, e.g. air rights, from UPRR to proceed south-east from Redondo Junction. The same safety/liability issues that railroad raised in the context of a serious derailment with debris fouling an adjacent HSR track also applies to air rights. What if a derailment were to damage a support column or portal? How would the accident be communicated fast enough to avoid a potentially catastrophic follow-on accident involving a high speed train with hundreds of people on board?
Earthquake safety may be more manageable, though land would be needed to install the support structures. That could prevent UPRR from laying down another track and/or jeopardize the safety of its employees hanging off railroad cars. UPRR may be a crufty old-fashioned railroad compared to BNSF, but they are profitable and they have been in operation for 146 years. They've almost certainly forgotten more about day-to-day railroad operations and off-design conditions than CHSRA's board members will ever know.
HSR isn't being built in a vacuum, it is being introduced into the pre-existing US railroad ecosystem (for lack of a better term). If it has not yet done so, CHSRA would be wise to retain the services of a recently retired senior railroad operations manager, because neither civil engineers like Mehdi Morshed nor foreign HSR vendors nor foreign HSR operators will be able to bring local knowledge of (antiquated) operating practices to bear in CHSRA's negotiations with the freight rail companies and FRA. You can't reach consensus until the other side is persuaded that you fully understand the concerns they are raising. Operations guys tend to trust their own, because nothing focuses the mind on safety like an injury or death on your watch.
I-15 Managed Lanes
Unfortunately, getting past Ontario is only half the battle. SANDAG is already constructing additional managed lanes in the I-15 median that CHSRA was counting on in the 20-mile stretch between Escondido and south of Miramar. This video animation shows how this "freeway within a freeway" will be accessed via high overpasses. To date, no provision has been made to accommodate HSR. One option now under consideration would use even taller overpasses to permit tracks running on an aerial alignment.
A third option would rely on a covered trench below the center lanes, supported by columns in the middle. If this visually and mechanically more appealing variation is chosen, it would be prudent to anticipate those future trenches now rather than destroy nearly 40 lane-miles of perfectly good freeway lanes later on. One option would be to deploy prefabricated concrete slabs that could be removed during and re-installed after HSR construction. Another option would be to bite the bullet now and construct those trenches sans tracks in anticipation of HSR construction a decade hence. Worst case, HSR does not happen and they would be re-purposed for some other transportation application (zero emissions lanes? water pipes?) The question is: who would pay for digging trenches now rather than later? Note that the spaces between the on- and off-ramps would serve as emergency access points every few miles, eliminating the need for a service tunnel. The Escondido station should probably be sited north of where the managed lanes begin.
Note also that might be possible to obtain land just west of I-15 to avoid having to deal with the managed lanes complication, but 20 miles is a long stretch.
Miramar, Lindbergh Field and beyond
Further south, yet more pitfalls await our intrepid HSR planners. There is as yet no easy solution for cutting over from the I-15 median to the existing railroad coast ROW owned by the San Diego Northern Railway. The closest approach is at Miramar, a Marine Air Corps Station. County voters rejected a proposal to ask the Marines to leave so the field could be converted to a new airport far from downtown.
That ROW is wide enough for four tracks near Lindbergh Field, of which two are already in use for FRA-compliant equipment operated by Amtrak, NCTD and BNSF. The other two are used by SD Trolley, i.e. light rail. Unless FRA grants a rapid rail waiver along the same lines as the one that will be needed in Orange County, the HSR tracks will most likely have to run on an aerial, see slide 22 of this presentation. It seems highly unlikely that this would introduce any clearance problems for aircraft if wind conditions force them to take off to the east or, that wake turbulence and jet exhausts would even be noticeable to HSR trains. However, the authors appear to have include HSR at the last minute as an afterthought: there is no 400m (1/4 mile) island platform for the HSR trains nor any pedestrian overpass to reach them - three would be needed. Fixing this at a later date would require a massive change to the transit terminal's signature wave roof, so it should be elevated some 25-30' before the architectural plans are finalized.
Otherwise, CHSRA will have to stick with plan A and somehow site its station at the beautiful historic Santa Fe Depot near downtown or else further south, e.g. near Petco Park.
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Finally, HSR will need a yard for overnight train storage, perhaps even maintenance. If BNSF are amenable to the idea, one possible location would be all the way down in near the salt ponds near Main St/I-5 in Castle Park. That location would double as an HSR station for communities near the border.
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