Monday, December 8, 2008

HSR To Mexico?

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports this morning that San Diego officials want the HSR project to extend its route to the US/Mexico border instead of terminating as currently planned at the Santa Fe depot downtown:

Cindy Gompper-Graves, chief executive officer of the South County Economic Development Council, thinks running the rail to the border would have a positive ripple effect on the region and beyond.

“It's imperative to us that the train continue to South County and not just stop in San Diego,” Gompper-Graves said. “We see it as an engine for economic growth.”

Backers of a South Bay station, perhaps in the San Ysidro or Otay Mesa areas, say it would ease traffic and trade along one of the nation's busiest border crossings.

“Economically, it makes a lot of sense,” said Jim Janney, mayor of Imperial Beach.

Gompper-Graves favors connecting the system to a possible cross-border airport terminal and perhaps running it parallel to state routes 905 and 125.

Quentin Kopp is quoted in the article as being open to the concept, but doesn't want to add too many new stations - the current cap is 24. Obviously a border extension would require new planning efforts and identification of financial resources, and since the San Diego extension itself is still in drawing board stage, not scheduled to open until after 2020, there is time to work out the details.

At first glance this seems like an idea worth studying. The San Diego Trolley does currently serve South County and the border crossing - which is the busiest land crossing in the entire world - but can't bring the capacity that HSR trains could. The extension could boost HSR ridership not just on this segment but on the whole route. Several bus companies make a nice profit providing service from California cities to Tijuana, thousands of potential HSR riders. Cross-border commuters could also be a significant revenue base for the system.

That being said, does this segment have to be served by HSR? Or could it be served by a version of what Rafael has been calling "rapid rail" which might provide faster trains at a reduced cost?

And what would the route look like? One suggestion quoted above was to run the tracks parallel to the 905 and 125 out to the Otay Mesa crossing, which could help relieve San Ysidro and potentially help serve a cross-border airport to relieve Lindbergh Field.

There's a lot to consider here, especially as the San Diego route still has some overall uncertainties - especially since Caltrans has taken up a lot of the ROW along the I-15 corridor that the CHSRA was hoping to use for high speed trains.

Still, the concept is worth a further look, and probably worth an actual study. We shouldn't build a Tijuana extension just because we can, but if the routing is feasible, if the riders will be there, if we can find financing, and if it's made clear that only HSR can best serve this corridor, then we can revisit the concept in a few years' time.

Finally, it's great to see regions of the state looking at HSR and thinking about how it might help them grow and prosper.


bossyman15 said...

no! we don't need another way for illegals to get in USA!

fix illegals first
HSR second

Andrew said...

Thanks, bossyman. I was figuring idiots were going to scream about this being a vector for illegal immigration. Don't forget about drug trafficking as well!


Matt said...

If the illegals are riding the HSR they are already in the country. Secondly most illegals would not ride the HSR, since it is not cheap. Sure a few will, but there are much, much more legal crossings than illegal and we shouldn't punish all th

BBinnsandiego said...

Before spending more for dedicated HSR tracks to the border why not extend the current Amtrak service first. The tracks are already in place. With the Trolley service and Amtrak I doubt HSR would be needed as both connect directly at the proposed SD station.

Peter said...

It makes perfect sense to me. We really should be looking at the way the French built the TGV network: have a main high-speed line that is fed by a lower-speed network. The lower-speed portions give you the full network effect have having lots of destinations, while the shorter trunk line gives you the long-distance speed.

In this case the main high-speed line would go to downtown SD. From downtown SD to the border there already are tracks running along I-5. Simply electrify those tracks, improve the crossings a bit (no need for full grade separation), and call it a day. If there ends up being real demand for more traffic on that stretch then upgrade it latter to full grade separated 4-wide tracks, but in the meantime you get the benefits of an expanded network for a minimal investment.

luis d. said...

I second what Andrew said. This would be a good idea.

Mexico is (Last time I heard) planning their own high speed rail one that extends from Mexico City to Guadalajara, and one leg to the Mexican border to Mexicali wich borders Calexico on the USA side and is very close to Tijuana, about an hour's drive east of Tijuana. If we could get them connected in the future that would be awesome.

Driving around Mexico's highways is difficult enough right now with the Drug wars going on but if you didn't have to and rode HSR then it would be a lot safer for the traveler.

Brandon in California said...

Yes, linking illegals to HSR is ridiculous. As a San Diegan I see that there are a lot of people living in Mexico that commute into the US for their jobs, legally. Or, to visit family here, legally. Or, for vacation, legally.

There is also plenty of commerce between Tijuana and San Diego... they have over 1.5 million on their side of the border when there are 3 million in San Diego County.

I'll add much more later... I find this very interesting... but limited time right now.

James said...

Whatever system is used, HSR or electrified rail, with the border control issues it seems reasonable that the Federal Government should pay for all of the cost of connecting SD to Tijuana without taking anything away from federal support or the CHSR system. Similarly, Nevada and Las Vegas should contribute to the LA to LV line (and forget about maglev, make it HSR)

Loren said...

The distance to the border crossing from the Santa Fe Depot along the San Diego Trolley line is about 16 mi.

That is roughly comparable to the separation of the stations planned for the LA-OC and the SF-SJ areas, so a Tijuana station is reasonable as an extra station.

That reminds me of some of the discussion in the Facebook groups on California and Pacific Northwest HSR plans. Some of them talk about making the CA HSR system go to places like Phoenix/Tucson, Las Vegas, Reno, and the Pacific Northwest.

Phoenix/Tucson - one can get there by following I-10 (323 mi) or the UP line (405 mi) from Riverside; the latter runs near Yuma. Construction: easy. Politics: needs support from Arizona.

Las Vegas - there's already a plan for it: the Victorville-LV DesertXPress, which will follow I-15 and the UP line (198 mi). Construction: easy. Politics: needs support from Nevada.

Reno - one can get there by following I-80 or the UP line over the mountainous Donner Pass (132 mi). Construction: difficult. Politics: needs support from Nevada.

Redding - one can get there by following I-5 or the UP line (160 mi) from Sacramento. Construction: easy. Politics: Redding is rather small.

Eugene (southern end of proposed PNW HSR) - one can get there by following I-5 or the UP line (318 mi) from Redding through the California-Oregon mountains. Construction: difficult. Politics: needs support from Oregon and possibly also Washington.

Further eastward from these places is even worse.

Rafael said...

I don't know if it makes sense to run trains down to the border, I think they should terminate in Tijuana at a special terminal accessible only via US/Mexico immigration booths. It should be no different than going through immigration at any international airport - legally.

For various reasons, the spur from LA to San Diego is classified as HSR even though the maximum speed will be on the order of 125mph. IMHO, that's really rapid rail, which is fine. The difference is that rapid rail corridors would be available for rapid freight if and when FRA figures out how to allow mixed traffic.

Note that rapid freight is European-style light/medium freight, i.e. relatively short consist, single container per flatbed car etc. to compete against trucking within the state of California (possibly Las Vegas as well).

High speed cargo is allowed on both true HSR and rapid rail. It is based on bullet trains without interior.

Any spur off the California system to Las Vegas would have to be funded as a separate effort led by the state of Nevada. One alternative would be a true HSR spur off Mojave via Barstow to Las Vegas. This would allow Nevada to avoid the cost of constructing a new relief airport near Jean, since Palmdale would be just 1:10h away.

The other would be rapid rail (diesel) from Victorville to Las Vegas (Desert XPress). In that context, California should consider constructing rapid rail from San Diego via I-5, the upper level of Anaheim ARTIC, hwy57, Ontario airport and San Bernardino to Victorville. A short loop just east of ARTIC would allow trains to descend from the upper to the lower level, enabling direct service from San Diego to LA.

The HSR leg via Riverside UC would be scrapped in favor of rapid rail from LA to LV via Ontario airport and San Bernardino. In addition, a new Metrolink line from Anaheim to LA serving Disneyland (underground), Cypress, Artesia, Paramount and Huntington Park would be possible. A spur south from Paramount could run to an underground loop serving the terminals of Long Beach airport.

Rafael said...

Sorry, I misspoke a little. Instead of running the tracks across the border into downtown Tijuana, it might make more sense to hook east at the border and follow it to the terminals of Tijuana airport. A special building housing US/Mexico customs and immigration would straddle the border, such that Tijuana would effectively become the relief airport for Lindbergh field.

Brown municipal airport is also nearby, but its runway is only 5/4 miles long, not enough to support large civilian aircraft. There are also three military airports in San Diego county (Miramar, Coronado, Imperial Beach) plus two further north (El Toro in Irvine and March in Moreno Valley)

Rafael said...

See RR to US/Mexico border map for details on how to leverage Tijuana airport to relieve Lindbergh Field. Co-operation by Mexico would obviously be a prerequisite.

Note the loop to Chula Vista harbor, this is where rapid rail differs from true HSR.

The Tijuana airport scenario is only possible if the rapid rail link to San Diego runs through the Santa Fe Depot. For details on the option involving I-5 and hwy 57, plus much more besides, please see the RR in SoCal map.

BruceMcF said...

Would it be possible for a rapid rail solution to run from Anaheim? If so, it would be possible to have a rapid rail service from Anaheim through San Diego to the border and/or Tiajuana Arpt. when the HSR stage 1 reaches Anaheim.

Once the San Diego HSR line is in place, the rapid rail would trail the HSR heading south (of course w/more stations) and lead the HSR into Anaheim with the HSR continuing north.

Unknown said...

San Diego to San Yisidro is already electrified for the San Diego Trolley. Further, the documents show trains running in the 150-200 mph range from Riverside to Escondido, so to consider that a "Rapid Rail" corridor is a bit insulting to San Diego.

Rafael said...

@ BruceMcF -

rapid rail of the kind I think woul make sense cannot happen until FRA defines a regulatory path to permitting mixed traffic on a given set of tracks.

To my mind, it is perfectly possible for a rapid rail corridor to become an HSR corridor at a certain interface point. The only thing you'd have to make sure is that there's somewhere for light/medium freight trains to go instead. Rapid rail passenger trains would be permitted on true HSR tracks if they are

(a) crash compatible with bullet train rolling stock and,

(b) capable of accelerations and cruise speeds that match those expected of bullet trains in that section.

For example, if a given rapid rail trainset has a top speed of 150mph and the local speed limit is 140mph, that's fine. If it's 200mph, that trainset must not use the HSR tracks. The basic idea is that true bullet trains must not be slowed down by other traffic.

@ Michael -

sorry, my bad. I thought it was 125mph or less along the entire spur. I wouldn't put freight on tracks where passenger trains are suppose to run faster than that.

Note that the trackbed and overhead catenary installed for light rail may not be suitable for bullet trains.

Of course, even at 125mph, the straight shot up the I-5 median to Anaheim would get passengers to LA than the detour via Riverside UC proposed by CHSRA. Afaik, the main point of that was to run trains directly past Ontario airport.

This would be achieved equally well by San Diego - San Bernardino via the medians of I-5 and hwy 57, plus LA US to Pomona. This option would also create the option of an extension to Victorville and from there to Las Vegas someday.

Rafael said...

For reference, here's an official PDF doc showing speed range by HSR network segment.

Unknown said...


There was a plan circa 2004 to upgrade the Amtrak line along the coast to allow for "high speed diesel" train services along it from San Diego to LA, in addition to the inland corridor (apparently there would have been too much opposition due to overhead catenary wires ruining views and some notably long and expensive tunneling required (Del Mar, San Celemente). However, this was dropped as it was incompatible with the rest of the system and redundant.

Most people traveling from San Diego to LA would use I-5, however, and it does serve a population corridor better than the inland empire route does. Running the train up the I-5 median would be extremely difficult due to limited ROW most of the way, meaning a very significant portion of it would be on aerial structures. Upgrading the LOSSAN corridor is definitely a necessity (double track the whole length, straighten curves, etc), and in truth would probably better serve San Diego than the Inland Corridor HSR route will. However, for the cost savings and huge community resistance that will be found in Orange County along the rail corridor, it probably does make sense to go from the Inland Empire, even if this does add ~20 minutes to San Diego-LA travel times. 1 hour 18 minutes is still less than half the time of Amtrak right now, and about an hour shorter than driving.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Rafael, as I understand it, the idea being kicked around by South County officials, including Cindy Gompper-Graves, is to use Tijuana Airport in precisely the way you suggest - as a reliever for Lindbergh Field. The seeming collapse of the Miramar concept would make this all the more sensible a solution.

Michael, 1 hour 18 minutes is also significantly better than driving considering the traffic that one frequently encounters along the route.

Alon Levy said...

I think they should terminate in Tijuana at a special terminal accessible only via US/Mexico immigration booths. It should be no different than going through immigration at any international airport - legally.

They could do that... the current rail border crossings in North America, between the US and Canada, involve the train stopping at the border for two hours while immigration and customs officials go over every passenger. That compares with a one-hour immigration line at JFK, which is extraordinarily long by international airport standards.

Anonymous said...

I'm sorry but I have to disagree with the prospect of extending HSR to Mexico. Maybe it might have some economical benefits, but when we're trying to close a border with a country already flooding us with illegals, the last thing we need is an additional connection to Mexico(regardless of what the odds are of illegals using it effectively). In fact, when I was in the Thalys train going from Paris to Amsterdam, immigration caught some dozen or so illegals on that train alone. So its not like they won't be willing to use it as a means to cross the border.

Having the rail line crossing borders will also create more of a legal hazard than what the line is probably worth. Keep in mind that Mexico has a whole other set of laws and regulations in regards to railroads and building a system that has to comply to both the US government and the Mexican government will be no easy task.

Rafael's idea of having the station terminate on the US side of the immigration point is probably the most practical idea but it wouldn't be advisable (nor would it be popular) to attempt to establish such a transportation link with Mexico.

James said...

@ nikko

I recall the US and Mexico have been sharing rail traffic for more than 100 years. I think they can coordinate a modern HSR system.
Think of HSR like an airliner. We fly aircraft international to Mexico every day.

Alon Levy said...

we're trying to close a border with a country already flooding us with illegals

What do you mean "we," native-born boy? As far as I can tell, nobody, not even hardcore racists like Joe Arpaio and Tom Tancredo, wants the border with Mexico closed. Even they just want the border sealed against illegal immigration. That's stupid, but not nearly so stupid as closing the border outright, which only happens in times of war.

Robert Cruickshank said...

I'm going to ask that we try to keep comments on-topic. Concerns about undocumented immigrants using HSR to enter the US are way overblown at best - we don't close down highway links or bridges over the Rio Grande. There seems little reason to drag that issue into this conversation.

As I understand it, the Amtrak Cascades has innovated a way around the border issue. Travelers leaving Pacific Central Station in Vancouver BC for the USA get their customs preclearance for entry into the USA done at the station, obviating the need for a long stop at the border.

Unfortunately there doesn't seem to have been a reciprocal arrangement worked out with the Canadian authorities. In fact, the Canada Border Services Agency has been blocking the construction of the fully funded double-track and siding at the Blaine crossing, which is necessary to start running a second daily Cascades train to Vancouver from Seattle.

Obviously the way around this with California HSR is to not build across the border - to have a station very near a Port of Entry, or in a cross-border airport terminal.

Anonymous said...

@James --

That's only freight rail traffic. And even that in itself is extremely limited. Even in the past 100 years up until about a decade ago, Mexico-US freight rail traffic was effectively negligible. Since NAFTA, an American short line RR (whose name escapes me at the moment) and Kansas City Southern have increased freight traffic to the level of mediocre. That's not to say that it doesn't exist, its just not a railroad powerhouse source of traffic.

Yes, they do fly airplanes to Mexico every day, but even that is a source of illegal immigration. But that doesn't justify adding another connection at our expense.

@Alon Levy: 'We" means the "United States".

Believe or not, illegal immigration is a problem. I am not proposing shutting down the border altogether (don't be ridiculous) but we need to altogether shut the tap on illegal immigration before we should be pursuing ambitious passenger rail connections with them. Maybe once our government can get their hands around the problem can we consider an HSR extension to Mexico plausible.

Anonymous said...

@Robert --

I can recall two memorable border crossings on a train -- the first being the Thalys trip to Amsterdam I mentioned earlier and the second being an Amtrak Cascades train to Vancouver.

In the first, an illegal was running down the Paris platform attempting to board the train with the police chasing after him (he tried to get on the train but I 'accidentally on purpose' blocked him). Later, before we crossed the border from France, immigration officials boarded and went through the train checking for passports. They caught about a dozen people and took them off at Rotterdam. While I applaud the efforts of the immigration to keep these guys in check, it still shows that illegal immigration on HSR trains is a legitimate issue.

On the Cascades trip, we pulled into Pacific Central Station where the AMTK train occupied a single platform which was gated off from the rest of the station by a 20-foot high chain link fence. They checked our passports before we were allowed past the gate. *If* they were to extend passenger rail to Mexico, I would hope that would be how the conduct the immigration procedures. The catch is that you can only have one station in the opposite country for the system to theoretically work.

The idea of ending the train at the US side of the border is not so bad. But its still a cause for concern for illegals to be using it as a means of fleeing.

@Alon, we're discussing transportation immigration policy, don't pull the race card in here.

Unknown said...

I live in Chula Vista and I was surprised to read this in the paper this morning.

When I attended the HSR meeting in San Diego a few months ago Jerry Rindone, Chula Vista councilman about to be termed out, was the most supportive San Diego area politician.

Anyway, I would love this. BUT realistically I seriously doubt this idea will even be considered even for a study.

Getting HSR through downtown is going to be the hardest part of all the HSR route. From Santa Fe there are three tracks headed south, two for the trolley and only one for freight. The freight tracks go past the military bases and shipyards to the car import docks, then the tracks end. The Trolley lines run parallel to the I-5 for the majority of the way.

The Chula Vista part of the Bay is Nature preserve, then marina and warehouses, then a power plant. All of which would be very difficult to get approval for a HSR train route. The Chula Vista bayfront has been in the news as the largers area of undeveloped West Coast land, a larger convention center and hotel was proposed but plans went down in a steaming ball of infighting among local developers and city council. A Charger stadium is proposed where the power plant is currently, but nothing has progressed even an inch in 3 years of talks.

Selling a cross border pedestrian access for Mexican air passengers to US train passengers is a tough sell politically, in terms of security (immigration..), and complicates the state project with international aspects. How many transportation transfer centers have an international border to cross?

The CA HSR system as it is now is going to be termination a meer 16 miles from the border anyway. I personnally believe that the Lindberg option is the best way, with downtown Santa Fe being the second best option.

Maybe a line to the border could work with the airport connection and the Otay area could be used as a depot with all the maintainance facilities there. But I believe, being a South Bay local, that the effort to make that happen will be far greater than the end benefit of a Tijuana Airport/HSR station.

San Diego Downtown + Chula Vista Bayfront + US/Mexico Border = worst 16 miles for HSR to fight for imaginable. But then again I'm all for it!!

Unknown said...

@ Nikko

What do you mean an illegal in europe? You mean Illegal in that they didnt have a ticket? It not like someone illegally in Europe would run to train station to escape capture. Thats like a fugitive running to an airport so he wont get caught. You obviously missed something, and assume alot.

Alon Levy said...

'We" means the "United States".

No, it means "Native born Americans who aren't Hispanic or Asian." The problem is that the average nativist can't make the distinction between that group and the United States as a whole.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Francis, Thanks for the on-the-ground perspective. Obviously it's a very different form of mass transit, but how heavily used is the San Diego Trolley line out to San Ysidro?

The obstacles in the South Bay do seem to be considerable. Have there been any other rail proposals in the region - commuter rail, new trolley lines - or is HSR breaking new conceptual ground?

Rafael said...

Lots of xenophobes here ... troubling. What I suggested was a new border crossing inside a building with controlled access points. Only air passengers would be able to use it at all. Everyone else would have to keep using the one at the freeway.

From the passenger's perspective, the setup would be exactly the same as at any international terminal at any airport in the US or Mexico, for that matter. The only noticeable difference would be that announcements would be bilingual. So what.

The trains would remain on US soil in the scenario I proposed. On the Canadian border, things could be handled differently. For example, if there were interest in running HSR/rapid rail passenger trains from New York to Toronto or Montreal or, from Portland/Seattle to Vancouver BC, passengers would handle security, customs and immigration at the station of departure, board the train and their car would then be sealed until it had crossed the border.

Sealing rail cars isn't a new idea, the Germans did it between the wars for trains passing through the Gdansk corridor en route to the exclave of East Prussia. In principle, a similar arrange would be possible today for Russians traveling to and from Kaliningrad or, for non-Russians traveling to or from Finland via St. Petersburg. I don't think these sealed corridors exist in Europe today, though.

@ Michael -

Regarding running tracks down I-5: I based my suggestion on satellite imagery on Google Maps. It's possible that I got the wrong impression of an available median (I consider sacrificing carpool lanes for train tracks a reasonable policy).

If need be, the I-5 section could be limited to San Juan Capistrano to San Onofre. The existing single track along the beach there is literally mere feet from the water's edge, which is unacceptable for electric traction anyhow. Plus, there's no room for a second track.

The hwy 57 median had been reserved for maglev to Las Vegas for some time, but it does look as if part of that has also been used for traffic lanes by now. I saw some carpool markings, though. The 91 interchange appears especially problematic, Caltrans has built a special connector for the carpool lanes there.

Andrew said...

I think that if it's to be done at all, it needs to be done the way Rafael suggested: an international terminal in central Tijuana with both US and Mexico customs and immigration facilities on-site and passport-controlled boarding areas, just like an international airport. Taking HSR only to have to walk across the border anyway makes no sense.

Where exactly in Tijuana the station should be I'm not sure. I've only been there once when I was very young and am not familiar with the area.

As far as Mexico's own HSR plans are concerned, as far as I know they only include a line from DF to Guadalajara which is a far cry from the US border, and are in limbo at this point anyway. Though cool-sounding, I wouldn't hold out any hope for trans-North American HSR on that scale.

BruceMcF said...

@ Rafael

Rapid rail of the kind I think would make sense cannot happen until FRA defines a regulatory path to permitting mixed traffic on a given set of tracks.

This gets to the question of what makes sense, which gets to the question of what freight mode share capture from trucks to rail is targetted, which gets so far afield of San Diego to Tijuana that I'll just drop it.

I shouldn't have to ask, since I've walked across them, but the trolley tracks are light rail only tracks, right?

It would seem that unless that specific Trolley could be upgraded to a Tram/Train, extending the existing corridor north would be a difficult proposition ... so never mind.

And then there is the political controversy from those who imagine that the number of undocumented migrants is primarily determined by the ease of crossing the border. Politics being politics, the surface plausibility of the sentiment is more important than its underlying foolishness.

Rafael said...

@ Andrew -

my idea would be to run the tracks along the US side of the border for a couple of miles and not cross it at all. Only passengers would do so. See satellite view.

I don't think anyone is thinking about connecting to any putative HSR network in Mexico. This is about relieving Lindbergh Field.

@ BruceMcF -

the freight component of rapid rail would in this case related to trains distributing imported cars that are landed at the Chula Vista port. I'm not suggesting that the rail line be used for air cargo arriving in Tijuana.

The route I suggested uses the existing freight ROW down to Castle Park. That's where trolley service would have to be terminated to make its ROW available for rapid rail. The last 4 miles of light rail tracks and catenaries to the border would have to be ripped up.

The trolley service has lots of stops, whereas rapid rail would stop only at Otay Mesa and then on the US side of the border, immediately opposite the Tijuana airport terminals.

And btw, this border crossing would not be accessible to all and sundry, only departing and arriving air passengers. I honestly don't see what the fuss is about, this is an airport, i.e. a building that anyhow has strict access controls to certain areas. It's not as if you're opening the floodgates to migrant peasants, that bridge across the road would be an enclosed walkway, integral to the airport structure.

As for some right wing nutjobs getting the wrong idea, well, they always do anyhow, don't they?

James said...

If they dismantled 4 miles of light rail they should be able to reuse the components to install about 4 miles somewhere else to extend another line.

Unknown said...

Just for reference, San Yisidro (the border) station is the busiest station in the San Diego Trolley System, and the line from downtown to the border carries half of the total riders, some 50,000 daily. It really is a workhorse segment of the San Diego transit system, and anything that does not work to improve service on the actual trolley while implementing a high speed rail line along side is not in the best interest of San Diego

Brandon in California said...

Wow! I said I was going to write more on this in an earlier post b/c I find this quite interesting. The fact is, I've been too busy... and am probably too busy to make this single diversion. If this subject is still rolling along in a couple days... maybe I'll speak more to it. I'll try and be brief with what I have to say now.

One, I think Kopp's comments about introducing additional stations defeating the purpose of the system being quick is not applicable to an extension. The trip time to San Diego from points to the north is unchanged.

That was probably obvious.

Two, interesting is serious consideration of the airport being the "San Diego" station rather than the previously preferred location downtown at Santa Fe Depot.

I can understand possible reasoning... much has occurred immediately adjacent to Santa Fe Depot since the CHSRA picked it as the preferred station location!

The 2x4 block size, with SFD occupinging 2 blocks by itself, has had 2 towers completed on it, 2 more under construction, 1 more approved, and another currently undergoing design review. There seems to be very limited horizontal space to create a 4 platform station for trains that could be 1,200 feet long, particularly at the north end when the approaching tracks need to branch into platform sidings, and still provide 'some' platform space.

Btw, the older CHSRA docs indicate that 4 platforms would be needed at this terminal.

Right now I have trouble envisioning it unless those platforms are stacked vertically; 2 above and 2 below. Or combination of 3 and 1.

I also have trouble envisioning neighboring properties being agreeable to a airial structure less than 50 feet out their windows; 2 of the towers are higher-end residential... with 3 more going to be.

Having an underground station appears more practical here, despite the probable high cost.

I can also understand the reasoning why the airport is considered because of local efforts to 'fix' San Diego's airport problem; its insufficient in size to handle larger planes, more planes, and Harbor Blvd traffic being considered congested. Locally, there are efforts to plan/consider terminals and a transit terminal on the northeast side of the runways... basically between Pacific Highway and I-5... Palm to Washington (or thereabouts). Direct connections to I-5 are also considered. And, because the Trolley is there, with HSR on the horizon... hey, let's look at the airport being a terminal and then we don't have to deal with the constrained space at Santa Fe Depot.

But, philosphically, I do not support an airport station. Airports are not destinations. And, although tourist HSR travelers may be indifferent, it appears the commute market is not served. Rhetorically, how many riders will choose NOT to use the system b/c they will be required to transfer at the airport to the Trolley to go the final mile to their work site in downtown San Diego? Too many in my opinion. Additionally, the airport site has nominal transit connectivity whereas a plethora of services are already downtown.

And how large is the average daily tourist market anyway? I believe it is lower than the average daily commuter pool.

Btw, downtown San Diego has 80,000 employees with a community plan anticipating 80,000 more; all of which is suppose to fit in a planning are the size of 2 square miles.

Now about Mexico...

On the face of it I am not opposed to an HSR extension to the border. But, what utility would it have? Also, how the heck does it get there?

About the utility... The South Bay group wants connectivity for economic development and are trying to argue additional merit by hitching the idea onto connectivity at the border airport.

Now... the planned system wide HSR network is intended to meet the needs of statewide travel. A border connection 'could' reduce cross border auto traffic that impacts areas to the north of San Diego. Maybe a bit? But, how much utility would that connection really have to the state, AND to the San Diego region?

I'd argue that with the San Diego region that it would be nominal. And, that is because a train starting at the border would next stop in downtown San Diego, then UTC, then Escondido. At least for northbound travelers, like from TJ, they don't go nearly that far. A large portion only go as far as Chula Vista. The rest then to various locations. That is the Trolley experience.

So, I do not see a lot of local travelers using the HSR system to get to or from the border, particularly if you're from the south side.

Then, factor in the frequency of service that would be provided. Or, not be provided. It wouldn't be at any level sufficient enough to accommodate easy use and thereby be attractive.

An airport location would be worse. One, airports are not destinations. Airport employees are the only ones destined to airports... and then travelers, which really are not that many. Airport employees will be by and large already on that side of the border and will not use the HSR system to get to work. Travelers... well, the numbers do not seem sufficient enough to justify an extension.

And then, how would you physically have the alignment get there anyway?

For those not in the know, the current Trolley already links the border; from San Ysidro to Downtown. It takes a little time, about 35-40, to get to Santa Fe Depot, but it operates very frequently and is among the most heavily used in the country. Over 60,000 people ride the Blue Line every day; mostly on the segment between the border and downtown. The San Ysidro station alone is the most heavily used station in the entire Trolley system; over 20,000 riders there a day. Standing room only on the trains is the norm through much of the day. Therefore, any plan to use the ROW that the Trolley uses is DOA if it negatively affects Trolley service. By the way, the transit systems owns the corridor.

But, I think additional rail service to the border, and maybe that airport has merit. but, not as HSR.

I think an ideal system, or at least one closer to being ideal, would be something like a BART or WMATA style system with at least 15-minute service and an alignment somehow along I805 corridor in the north-south direction, with stations spaced every 2-3 miles apart or so... and then entering downtown via a SR94 alignment and serving Broadway and ending near Santa Fe Depot. The southern terminus ideally should be at San Ysidro, to help with capacity problems on the Blue Line.

That is all I got for now... much more than intended for this time and hour.

ian said...

if this was europe they'd just have border guards to check documents that ride between the two stations straddling the border and (as i witnessed), it's very hard to escape border guards on either end of a train, coming towards the center, when all you can do it run up and down the aisle...

unless you're james bond, that is.

Spokker said...

Finally, my passions for high speed trains and smuggling drugs in my rectum are together at last.

Spokker said...

"One, I think Kopp's comments about introducing additional stations defeating the purpose of the system being quick is not applicable to an extension. The trip time to San Diego from points to the north is unchanged."

This is what I thought.

Kopp just doesn't want to pay, and he probably doesn't think San Ysidro or San Diego or anyone else will either.

Andrew said...


Yes, but before you suggested servicing Tijuana Airport you suggested directly serving Tijuana, which I think is a really good idea.

As far as relieving San Diego Int'l Airport, it's biggest routes are to and from Los Angeles and Oakland, no? So merely bringing HSR to San Diego from points north should provide it a good deal of relief.

Oh well, this is all really far off anyway.

luis d. said...

@ spoker

lmao, Your a funny dude! thanks for a good laugh!

BruceMcF said...

@ Rafael

Brandon in San Diego: I think an ideal system, or at least one closer to being ideal, would be something like a BART or WMATA style system with at least 15-minute service and an alignment somehow along I805 corridor in the north-south direction, with stations spaced every 2-3 miles apart or so... and then entering downtown via a SR94 alignment and serving Broadway and ending near Santa Fe Depot. The southern terminus ideally should be at San Ysidro, to help with capacity problems on the Blue Line.

This is a much better fit with a Rapid Rail service ... a local alignment at the extreme end of the route, and periodically dropping in the Rapid Rail as an Express to San Diego and then continuing on.

@ Brandon: But, philosphically, I do not support an airport station. Airports are not destinations.

For transfers, they are origins for inbound passengers and destinations for outbound passengers, but San Diego is not a main hub airport ... the HSR in San Diego would be more replacing use of San Diego airport than using San Diego airport for combined trips.

That is, I'd think you want your hub airport terminal(s) closer to the middle of the route system, and you'd want them to be hub airports.

Loren said...

I fail to see how a Tijuana airport would be very useful for American domestic flyers. International ones, yes, because they will have to pass through customs anyway, but why should domestic ones have to go through customs?

And even there, one would have to negotiate some sort of special passing-through status for the Tijuana airport, since it is in Mexican territory.

BruceMcF said...

Why would a passenger from the US catching a flight bound for the US have to pass through customs? The idea mooted was for the platform to connect into the airport in the transfer terminal side ... only the people originating or terminating at Tijuana would have to pass through customs. Just like flying from Sydney to San Francisco via Taipei, there's no need to pass through customs in Taiwan unless you want to leave the terminal during the layover.

Brandon in California said...

Well, I think the whole idea of an extension to the TJ airport... however interesting it is... is moot.

The original idea was forwarded by a South Bay economic group... which has been historically interested in... I believe... advancing business opportunities for the border area (American side). And, they have always had a disconnect with how to fund improvements of whatever idea they come up with... deferring to the region or state.

With this idea... there appears to be insufficient utility to the state or the San Diego region as an HSR model.

If the idea were forwarded in a different model and having more utility to the region without duplicating the function of the Trolley or negatively affecting Trolley service... then maybe that would be an idea to forward.

But, whatever that is, it probably is not HSR and being that this is an HSR blog... well, there's not much to speak too and it's all shits and giggles.

Anonymous said...

I don't see why you couldn't have stops at BOTH Tijuana AND the Otay Mesa Airport, both on the US side of the border.

This way you get the commuters who cross over from TJ daily AND you solve the airport problem for San Diego by pushing the problem across the border.

There could be a bridge across the border in both locations, with customs agents staffed at both sites.

Rafael said...

Thx for all the clarifications on this. Apparently, the objective of the folks who proposed this is to increase capacity from the existing border crossing at San Ysidro to Chula Vista and San Diego, in addition to gaining access to transcontinental/intercontinental flights out of Tijuana.

Note that any flight from Tijuana airport to a US destination would be considered an international flight, i.e. US citizens would have to go through immigration just like anyone else. That's because the arrangement will only make sense to Mexico if its own residents can share such flights with US residents.

I've adapted my map accordingly. Note that the rapid rail alignment now uses the I-5 median for the last few miles to the border.

Btw, a feasibility study on a cross-border terminal has apparently already been produced. Rapid rail passenger service would greatly increase utility.

BruceMcF said...

"Note that any flight from Tijuana airport to a US destination would be considered an international flight,

That is true ...

i.e. US citizens would have to go through immigration just like anyone else."

... this only follows if the train station accesses the airport on the counter side rather than the gate side.

The complication if the train accesses the airport on the gate side is that people would have to be cleared for their final destination on boarding the train, which is not something that the CAHSR system should have to bother with. That is something for a dedicated airport rail line, like the one I used in Malaysia, where you can check into your flight and check your luggage when boarding the train.

Rather than providing access to a spill-over airport, what the CAHSR system ought to be doing for San Diego is eliminating demand for airport capacity, by eliminating as many of the smaller, short-hop flights as possible.

Brandon in California said...

Yep, border activity is much talked about in San Diego. There are several layers to it.

Tijuana has 1.5 million people and San Diego County over 3 million. Not only is there a lot of synergy between the two regions, San Diego is the port of entry for many goods coming into the country, and vice versa.

San Ysidro is the most used port of entry on the planet. Vehicular and pedestrian traffic NEVER ends. There is ALWAYS a line.

Because of this demand, and the recognition that the border is a choke point and retards economic growth, there are efforts to expand existing facilities and pursue additional border crossings. Vehicular and Freight is much teh focus.

As mentioned before too... much of the pedestrian and personal vehicle crossings... largely are contained within 5-10 miles of the border. Maybe 15 miles. Beyond that, personal/private traffic from the border crossings are marginal, especially beyond downtown San Diego.

By the way, and I forward this rhetorically I think... what interest wold Mexico or Tijuana have in permitting flyers land in Mexico and immediately exist the airport terminal, let alone airport, without first providing the opportunity for travellers to spend their money in Mexico? What is in it for Mexico/Tijuana... other than a few more jobs at the airport?

Rafael said...

@ BruceMcF -

I was referring to flights departing from Tijuana and landing at the international terminal in e.g. New York. There's no reason for Mexico to permit an arrangement that would effectively reserve some number of gates at Tijuana airport for passengers hailing from the US.

The runway at Lindbergh Field is too short to accommodate large aircraft like the 747s and A380s. There is no room to extend it. Once the HSR spur to San Diego is built, Ontario will be available as a relief airport that can handle large aircraft. I just suspect that most San Diegans would prefer something less tentative and also closer to home, especially if the economy in the Southland can be boosted in the process.

@ Brandon -

Tijuana benefits because by itself it is not an attractive destination for intercontinental flights to Asia and Europe.

Making those flights easily accessible to US residents as well would allow them to attract more of those flights, giving Baja California a chance to attract more inward investment.

Unknown said...

Thats a good point, Mexico doesnt stand to benefit very much besides increased flight revenue and a few jobs like you said.

The Lindberg option is the most appealing for me.

- First it would be about a mile from downtown so that makes close enough to not discourage people that are would use the HSR for commuting purposes as opposed to the Santa Fe Depot. Maybe HSR passengers get 1 hour of free trolley ride.

- Second a Lindberg HSR station could be built like a Grand Central Station for San Diego. SD has no central transit hub which many cities use because of economies of scale reasons, increasing ridership through efficiency and availability. Airport, HSR, Amtrack, Trolley, Interstate 5, and buses could all be centrally located by downtown which would be awesome.

- Third airports are destinations for more than just employees. Anyone just picking someone up from the airport makes the airport a destination; thousands of people daily. But the biggest benefit to SD from an aiport station would be the number of people taking trains to other californian cities and not taking flights. Lindberg is at about 90% capacity, and about 1/3 of flights I believe are within California. Many intra-California flights would be cancelled to make room for longer national flights and international flights, which make more money for the city and airport. Also people could fly to SD and take the train to cities on the HSR line if they wanted.

If they want to go to mexico they can use the trolley. Which is one of the busiest transit lines in the country (downtown to san ysidro).

Anonymous said...

The attacks against me are troubling. I am not a xenophobic. I am simply supporting policy that discourages illegal immigration. Granted, HSR in its own right doesn't change all that but its paradoxical to try to do this while trying to cut off illegal immigration.

And for the record, I'm Asian.

Anonymous said...

@Francis and Robert --

The guy running down the platform did have a ticket. Not sure what exactly he did that got the police on his tail but they did. Maybe he wasn't an illegal.

The other dozen guys I mentioned were illegals. Their passports were checked on the train and they were promptly arrested before our first stop in the Netherlands.

Anonymous said...


Illegal from where? Paris is many miles from any EU "border". Like hundreds or thousands. There is no gate or check to pass through to get on the Thalys, and I assume it's the same for other trains traversing the three countries between Paris and Amsterdam. (Eurostar excluded)

Where do you think these people were illegal from? Do you realize that the train would also pass through Belgium before the Netherlands? There are NO BORDER PATROLS on trains in the EU.

From traveling a lot in Europe, all by train, your story doesn't hold water if I am to believe that illegal immigration is the cause of the ruckus you saw. I'm not arguing that you saw something, I have no way to contest that, but I do know that border inspection issues haven't been an issue for years.

timote said...

I think TJ/Mexico would still be interested in the concept, even if the majority of the US passengers are bound for US destinations (and that process would have to be streamlined to make it worthwhile to the US passengers, IMHO, otherwise it is probably good for mostly international flights where you're already dealing with customs. Or, the airport experience would have to be SO much better than SD in order to offset the customs hassle when you land). The reason I think they would still be interested is cause airports are businesses - they charge fees, they attract employment, they sell stuff, etc. You might not think about it cause the cost is buried in your airplane ticket, but there is plenty of money going to the airport and into the local economy for every butt in a seat. We would basically be outsourcing our airport - Mexico can build it on their dime and get paid back for it over time.

That being said, I think adding/improving a new airport without such space constraints is a better answer, but I would not be surprised if we did something like this as our public investment horizons are so limited.

BruceMcF said...

@ Rafael ... "There's no reason for Mexico to permit an arrangement that would effectively reserve some number of gates at Tijuana airport for passengers hailing from the US."

Let's not get tangled up between (H) how given options would work and (W) which option is preferable.

(H) My remark was in reference to a normal international transfer terminal. Any international airport that hopes to attract business as an connector between international flights has to have one.

(H) Among ground transport systems, a rail line is uniquely suited to act as "one more flight" and have access/egress from platforms directly to the international transfer terminal.

(H) But that would be a dedicated rail line, as they have in Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, so the connection with the HSR in that scenario.

(W) IF Mexico saw an economic benefit in hosting the spillover airport for San Diego, (H) they would want to sort out something to simplify the unusual situation of having international transfers between a flight originating in a foreign country and a flight destined to the same foreign country.

(W) So while I did not suggest it, I disagree ... if Mexico wanted the economic benefits of having San Diego's spillover airport in Tijuana, they certainly might wish to have a US-specific transfer terminal.

(H) And if that arrangement was in place, that reverses what I said ... in that scenario, it certainly would be possible to have a CAHSR platform that has its access/egress into that strange "domestic US on foreign soil" transfer terminal.

(W) Whether Mexico should ... I don't care. My spreference is to avoid needing a spillover airport by getting people out of energy-wasting and capacity-wasting short hop flights and into more energy efficient transport that can be more easily powered by domestically harvested renewable electricity.