Tuesday, March 10, 2009

LA - San Diego: Quo Vadis?

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

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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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Anonymous said...

Well, its looks complicated. As far as using the medians of freeway, could they, in places where the median has been reserved for toher uses, use an elevated along the sides of the freeway? As for Ontario, it MUST go into the airport or at least onto the airport property. Too far away with yet another system needed for yet another tranfer.. its too many things. We don't even have the money to get the test track built so planning for all this additional stuff.... is a disappointment waiting to happen.

AS for ontario - I say use the metrolink line along the 10 to ontario station then follow that line down past the east ontario station along (south airport blvd, - east mission blvd- van buren/pedley-....then its gets complicated......

Anonymous said...

okay- got it -you have to follow it on google satellite but theres row there... use an aerial on the metro link row.... union station - I 10 - metro link via covina - ontario - eat ontario metrolink- south ontario blvd- mission blvd- van buren blvd- thru pedley metrolink- row curves east -claudette drive- sheppard st/nichols park-dewey ave up to commerce street to downtown riverside metro link then continue up to the junction of 215 and 91 then south along the 215 all the way. and finally, don't ask or tell anyone about any of it, just build it then surprise them.

Anonymous said...

or - upon zooming out I can see it might be - more direct -mission blvd to the 60 median to the 215 but then you miss downtown riverside.

Rafael said...

@ Jim -

yes, it does get complicated! Just imagine how much worse it's going to get if the ROW isn't secured now.

As for Ontario airport, its three terminals are quite far from one another and there's only going to one HSR station. That means passengers will have to transfer to some sort of connecting shuttle service no matter what. Of course, the shorter the route, the less hassle that entails.

Plenty of airports have unmanned people movers to shuttle passengers between terminals, but afaik Ontario isn't (yet) one of them. I've never been throgh that airport, they may have a shuttle bus service.

Anonymous said...

The only thing I remember about ontario is that the whole town smells like cow poo and the airport is a bunch of portables like my old jr high school.

anyway - down the 215 to the 15 to the 8 to the 5 and if the median isnt available - having flown the whole thing on google there is still tons of room on the sides - caltrans it seems knows how to secure right of way - way in advance.

Anonymous said...

using freeway row is the only way southern californians are going to accept the train. once you get into the south OC, and SD counties, you are well behind the orange curtain and they couldn't be less interested in having this thing in their yards and there's a lot more of them than us.

Anonymous said...

you know after looking at the map - I never realized how close phoenix actually is. I say forget san diego, since they are just gonna fight it the whole time anyway, and take it out the 10 ll the way - id much rather have access to palm springs.

Anonymous said...

This whole project needs to be kept simple as someone said KISS.
If its outrageous to go thru Ontario ect then it needs to stay on the HSR ROW till Fullerton then use a heavy rebuilt BNSF to I-15 and head south from there.The LA Gold line can serve Ontario Airport
just as well if not better

Anonymous said...

What about riverside though - ontario and riverside shouldn't be left out...

Anonymous said...

the HSR site route map and visuals show stations specifically at Industry via 1-10 and ontario airport just north of the terminal across the parking lot in the existing freight row at archibald avenue ( between the airport and the 10 fwy, continuing further east to about colton-215 then south on the 215 with a stop at UC RIverside, and Murrieta.

Rafael said...

@ jim -

Colton-Phoenix is 320 miles. Not exactly close, especially since there aren't a lot of towns in-between and none of them sizable: Palm Springs/Cathedral City, Indio, Blythe. That's it basically. And I doubt any of them have plans for transit-oriented development and aggressive water conservation. Phoenix just opened its first light rail line, otherwise it's sprawl/foreclosure central.

I'm guessing we'll see a spur out to Vegas long before we see one to Phoenix.

@ yeson1a -

iff BNSF is amenable to that, staying essentially on their ROW through Corona might be an idea. It might even make sense to run tracks up from Orange so that a subset of LA-SD trains can swing by Anaheim. However, the BNSF ROW gets pretty twisty east of Fullerton.

Plus, all that does nothing for Ontario, but that might be survivable if Palmdale is built out as an effective relief airport for LA.

That sexy superbus could provide direct airport service for OC destinations other than ARTIC, e.g. nearby Disneyland. Only the stretch up hwy 57 and over to Ontario on I-10 or hwy 60 would be dedicated high-speed (90-150mph) lanes in the median or else on an aerial. That bus requires a lot less vertical clearance than a train with OCS.

If successful, high-speed lanes for the bus could be run east to Colton and along I-215 between SBD and Riverside and south to John Wayne airport to expand this regional service.

Forks and last mile connectors would always be at regular speeds on ordinary, existing roads, e.g. access to Ontario airport terminals, Disneyland, UC Riverside and UC Irvine/Newport Beach/Huntington Beach.

Instead of a true battery electric drivetrain (cp. Tesla Motors), the beast could run on a direct methanol fuel cell, an LNG spark ignition engine

Even a refined diesel engine with suitable emissions controls (cp. Audi's V12 diesel, derived from their Le Mans endurance racer) might be fine. It wouldn't last as long as a regular HDV diesel but so what?

You can buy a fleet of buses and replacement engines for the cost of running HSR/maglev tracks or even more lane-miles for personal cars. Most folks in OC wouldn't be caught dead on a bus unless it both looks and sounds a whole lot sexier than their own set of wheels.

Often, a high speed train is the best answer. But not always.

Anonymous said...

We really need a line to Las Vegas. Let's make it as easy as possible for Californians to support the state of Nevada.

Why not a spur from Bakersfield towards the east to hook up with the Anaheim to Las Vegas line, so that we up here in the SF area can enjoy high speed train travel to Sin City.

I wonder if they would somehow allow casions on the train cars?

Rafael said...

@ Sin City Lover -

how about we build at least the SF-LA-Anaheim starter line of the California system first and then figure out how to pay for a link to Vegas?

An electrified steel wheels spur off the starter line from Mojave via Barstow would be the shortest and simplest solution. No need for a second crossing of the San Andreas fault, no interference for freight out of LA/LB via Cajon Pass, relief for McCurran via access to most of CA + access to Palmdale airport.

Anonymous said...

To those proposing to have the HSR run on the freeway median I'd like to point out that HSR lines need more space than other lines. I read in an Italian news article, regarding the recently open HSR line Milan-Bologna, that the 2 parallel tracks have to be farther away from each other than in regular lines, at least 4 mt. (or 13ft). Also you can't have walls on the sides of the tracks that are too close to the running trains. Once you take everything into consideration you basically need a strip over 20 mt. (66 ft) wide to build a HSR line. I'm not sure if the median available there may be that wide. If not, the only alternative is to have trains run at lower speeds.

Rafael said...

@ Roberto G -

CHSRA is planning to run its trains at up to 100-150mph in the Inland Empire and south of Escondido. Only the section between Moreno Valley and Escondido will see speeds of 150-200mph. See page 21 here.
That's quite a bit faster than e.g. BART, which tops out at 79mph.

Your point is well taken: trains passing each other at relative speeds of 300mph or more do have aerodynamic interactions when their bow waves collide. The resulting lateral forces can cause sway, potentially destabilizing the nose of the train.

The aerodynamic forces with a wall to one side and free air to the other are also not symmetrical, which is why HSR engineers prefer boring two single-track tunnels to boring one dual-track tunnel with a larger diameter. Civil and mechanical/aerospace engineers working on HSR use computational fluid dynamics to fine-tune their designs.

Caltrain picked locomotives with a moderately optimized nose shape for its "baby bullet" express service, which has confused the laymen into thinking that 79mph was actually high speed. Not even close.

Spanish (Talgo 350) and Japanese (700 series, E5) train designers mitigate the risk with duck-bill shapes for the noses of their trains. They're not exactly pretty, but they are effective.

If necessary, one way to mitigate aerodynamic interactions between two trains and also between trains and the much lighter cars and trucks in the adjacent traffic lanes would to install three tall walls, preferably made of a translucent material (e.g. perforated perspex) and connected to one another via the support structure for the OCS plus additional braces. There's no need for noise mitigation in the middle of a freeway, but lateral gusts of wind could be a safety issue.

If the trains run on an elevated alignment because the median lanes are already in use for vehicle traffic, only interactions between the trains need to be considered. There's a limit to how wide such structures can be, though, because even HSR trains are quite heavy and in that context, more exposed to natural winds.

Tracks running underneath traffic lanes in covered trenches probably present the least challenges on the aerodynamic front, just more drag. However, there's always the issue of evacuation routes and rescue access in underground alignments in the event of a fire or derailment. In addition, very long tunnels can give drivers "tunnel vision", a disorienting phenomenon that Eurostar addresses by using a smaller windscreen.

Clem said...

the 2 parallel tracks have to be farther away from each other than in regular lines, at least 4 mt. (or 13ft).

Note, this isn't Europe. The California Public Utilities Commission requires 14 ft spacing for any railroad track.

Caltrain picked locomotives with a moderately optimized nose shape for its "baby bullet" express service

All for show! Baby bullets are routinely operated using the old gallery trains, which have the aerodynamic qualities of a barn door.

Alon Levy said...

The flip side with Phoenix is that you can have perfectly straight track running in the I-10 median. That means the trains can run at 350 km/h from right outside Phoenix proper almost to Colton.

Robert said...

Regarding cutting over from I-15 to I-5 in San Diego, in my naive opinion using the I-8 is not feasible. It is very heavily used, doesn't have much a center median, and the sides are closely lined with commerce on both sides. The interchange between I-8 and I-5 is already very cluttered with ramps and the turn from west to south is sharper than 90 degrees as the I-5 turns from southbound to southeast bound as it crosses the I-8. Seems to me the better option is to follow the SR-52 which has loads of median, and the entire ROW from 15 to 5 is fairly undeveloped.

Also seems to me that lovely as old Santa Fe Depot is, it isn't a very sensible spot for a terminus. Good access to Amtrak and SD Trolley, obviously, but bad automobile and air connections. A Lindbergh terminal makes much more sense.

Another alternative would be to follow I-5 all the way to its terminus at I-5, which is relatively near Petco, Convention Center, etc - if the proposal to head further south to the border, train yards etc were to be pursued, this would make sense. Could be integrated with some express trolley service back up to Santa Fe and the airport. Trolley will be an excellent airport option when/if they relocate the terminals as porposed.

Alex M. said...

I say screw going all the way out to Ontario, the CHSRA is going to run into mountains of issues with UPRR. I think HSR should just use the BNSF "91" ROW all the way to Fullerton and then split, one way to Anaheim/Irvine and the other going east with an intermodal station at Corona with a shuttle or extended Metrolink line up to Ontario along I-15. I think the benefits of sticking with BNSF for the majority of the route will be large. CHSRA will be able to negotiate the entire route at once without having to hammer out many long contracts with different freight operators.

Rafael -
If the BNSF "91" ROW is used and splits at Fullerton, will the twisty twisty bits east of there negate any time benefits you would have by using a shorter overall route? Would it be possible to run an aerial there (by traveling the route on Google Maps it looks like there isn't enough room to straighten it) to get past the worst parts? Will HSR lose too big of a source of ridership to realistically skip Ontario and that area to the North?

Anonymous said...

My first hand experience might be limited to European systems, but I have never seen HSR built in the median of a freeway. Yes, alongside, but never in the median.

BART, which is a metro, is in the median of freeways where the freeway was built or rebuilt to accommodate the train. Where the freeway came first, I-280 in San Francisco and Daly City, it was built alongside.

An elevated HSR that passes over overcrossings is probably never going to happen. Alongside is easier to fit in and will have less of an impact on the adjacent uses.

BruceMcF said...

Regarding: "Also seems to me that lovely as old Santa Fe Depot is, it isn't a very sensible spot for a terminus. Good access to Amtrak and SD Trolley, obviously, but bad automobile and air connections. A Lindbergh terminal makes much more sense."

Note that the HSR station separation constraint doesn't apply to the terminus, as there are no through passengers to lose time from stops a couple of miles apart. Since it adds a second transfer-free Trolley line and Ferry to the mix of freeway, trolley line, and rental cars at a Lindbergh Transport Interchange, and seems like it would be cheaper than the "people mover" that keeps getting tossed out whenever there is a similar gap to cover elsewhere, what's the downside?

As far as getting the train that far, good luck ... getting bullet train alignments will be ever so much easier once your California system is up and running.

Rafael said...

@ Robert -

IIRC, CHSRA was looking of cutting over either just north of the Miramar base or else through it (running around the runways, presumably). SR 52 was never considered as a stop is planned in University City near La Jolla.

@ Alex M -

I've never been near Corona, so I can only tell you what I see on the map. The worst of the squiggles might have to be bypassed, otherwise, the trains will probably run at less than 125mph anyhow. BNSF runs through a golf course in one location, so NIMBY uproar over at least that is pretty much guaranteed if rail traffic volume is increased.

At this point, CHSRA would anyhow not entertain the notion. They've finally got an approved program EIR/EIS and they now want to find a way to implement that. Yeson1a's idea is a good one, but it comes a few years too late. It's now an alternative only if running past Ontario proves impossible or just plain too expensive (is there such a thing in California infrastructure planning?)

The thorniest issue could be just south-east of Redondo Junction, because UPRR is unlikely to offer up any of its ROW. Leveraging the LA Union Station - Fullerton bit from phase I for LA - San Diego would make life a lot easier for CHSRA. Riverside and San Bernardino would then be on a potential future spur out to Las Vegas.

@ not in my median -

lol, commenter name of the week award right there :-)

CHSRA may yet choose to run tracks next to the freeways rather than in the medians, at least in the twistier bits. Gradients might also be an issue, I believe freeway designs allow up to 6%, which would be too much for HSR except for very short sections that can be climbed with the help of plenty of momentum. 3.5-4% is sustainable for longer distances and usually considered the maximum for HSR alignments.

Robert Cruickshank said...

The BNSF route east of Fullerton uses the Santa Ana Canyon, paralleling the Santa Ana River. That corridor is already pretty well built up. I'd be all in favor of ripping out those idiotic 91 Express Lanes and building tracks down the middle of the freeway, but that would still be somewhat twisty, at least between Weir Canyon Road and the 71 interchange.

I think BruceMcF is right - this LA-SD route question is going to be an open question until after 2018, when after seeing how awesome the LA-SF train is, enthusiasm along the LA-SD route will rise and people will demand it get built.

Anonymous said...

Why so much waste of energy and bytes to discuss possible routes for a line (SD-LA) that has no value and probably will never be built? Building in such dense area will be very expensive due to high land cost. And for what? To save 15 min. to those who want to travel from SD to LA on an expensive HSR train? It would be much more sensible to improve the current Amtrak line, with a much lower cost and higher utilization. Build the HSR where it really makes sense: in the North East, where there are big cities, densely built, with urban transit infrastructure in place. Why would a Fresnan take a train to LA? Take a taxi for 20-30 min. to get to a station downtown Fresno, ride a train for 90 min, get to LA, rent a car to reach his destination (you need a car in LA, you know?). In the end it will be much faster and cheaper to drive from Fresno to LA (door to door), as people do now. Public money should be used to improve transit in the congested metro areas, with a much higher impact on environment and traffic, not on these pipe dreams that benefit only those few (mainly business travellers) who can afford these high speed trains. Do you honestly think that the HSR train tickets will be cheaper than cars or planes? Try and take a TGV, a AVE or ICE train in Europe and see if the prices are the same as the ones on the CHSRA website for similar distances. They're much higher than what advertised, but in Europe HSR is still competitive because airfares are higher than in the US and gasoline and freeway tolls prohibitively expensive. But could they be competitive here? Where a plane ticket SFO-LAX is only $115 round trip on Virgin America? or where gasoline is only $2.15/gal. (and not $9/gal. like in Europe)? Or where freeways are truly free (no tolls)? Think about it. Would you take a train from LA to SF for $200 r/t or would you rather take Virgin America for $115, even assuming similar travel times? And don't tell me that you believe that it will cost only $55. Similar distances in Europe don't cost less than 75 Euros (one way)!

Alex M. said...

I think that in the time before the LA-SD is even ready to be considered, the Amtrak service should increase the speed of it's train service to/from LA.

Rafael -
What will it take to raise the speed of the Pacific Surfliner? Can the current Amtrak equipment reach 100+mph speeds or will they have to completely replace the trains with faster DMUs? Will the LAUS through tracks for Amtrak be done before ~2018 when the topic of the LA-SD HSR line comes back up for planning? That should speed up the trip by at least a couple of minutes.

Spokker said...

"Why so much waste of energy and bytes to discuss possible routes for a line (SD-LA) that has no value and probably will never be built?"

The Pacific Surfliner is the most popular train on the Amtrak system outside of the Northeast Corridor. Since LA-SD is already a heavily traveled corridor there is a lot of interest in a high speed rail solution that gets you there in 1 hour and 18 minutes instead of the current 3 hours by train or two hours by car, despite the fact that damn thing is heading out to the Inland-Empire first.

"To save 15 min. to those who want to travel from SD to LA on an expensive HSR train?"

You'd be saving far more than 15 minutes.

"It would be much more sensible to improve the current Amtrak line, with a much lower cost and higher utilization."

I support upgrading the current Amtrak line if only because HSR won't serve beachfront communities like Oceanside. On the LOSSAN Corridor HSR is only going as far south as Irvine.

Of course, upgrading the Surf Line has its difficulties too. First, San Juan Capistrano is a single track bottleneck that doesn't have much room for expansion. Second, beachfront NIMBYs would probably fight any attempt to speed up the Surfliner and electrify the route. Third, the curvy section through the canyon in Sorrento Valley (I think that's where it is) will have to be bypassed.

I support doing all these things, but it isn't going to be cheap.

"rent a car to reach his destination (you need a car in LA, you know?)."

Depends on where this Fresnan is going. Mass transit in LA probably won't be the same in 2020 or 2030 as it is now. In the last 15 years incredible strides have been made to expand LA's rail system.

"Do you honestly think that the HSR train tickets will be cheaper than cars or planes?"

Nobody believes the high speed train will be cheaper than cars. However, they could be cheaper than plane tickets. That's the model in South Korea.

"or where gasoline is only $2.15/gal. (and not $9/gal. like in Europe)?"

It won't be $2.15 forever. Why wait for it to skyrocket to unaffordable levels to do something about it? Do you remember what happened in Georgia last Summer? On top of already high gas prices there were gasoline shortages, which crippled the ability of commuters to get to work. Because of the horrible mass transit network there were few alternatives.

"Or where freeways are truly free (no tolls)?"

You forget the costs of congestion.

"Think about it. Would you take a train from LA to SF for $200 r/t or would you rather take Virgin America for $115, even assuming similar travel times?"

The way things are going we might be able to take a Virgin train from LA-SF.

Alex M. said...

@ Spokker -
' "Think about it. Would you take a train from LA to SF for $200 r/t or would you rather take Virgin America for $115, even assuming similar travel times?"

The way things are going we might be able to take a Virgin train from LA-SF. '

Ha! What a comeback!

Rafael said...

@ Devil's Advocate -

there's one fly in your unctuous ointment: there is no passenger train from Fresno to LA at this time. You have to transfer to a bus at Bakersfield.

Other than that, you are of course completely correct. We'll never run out of oil because we have an infinite supply of idealistic young men and women who will gladly lay waste to entire countries so we can get our oil out from under their sand.

We'll even increase the Pentagon budget another 4% over and above the $515 billion it already gets, even when're totally broke because all that cheap gasoline made people think it was a really good idea to buy McMansions in the boonies. It's fine, just drive and fly, fly and drive, it sooooo cheap.

So yeah, let's not worry about ROW preservation because the land will still be there 20 years from now, just waiting to have tracks laid on top.

I said good day.

Robert said...

Spokker, you replied to Devils' Advocate better than I could have. Useless line to save 15 minutes? Amtrak from downtown SD to downtown LA takes 3 hours, and there are often delays. I gave up on using it for business, and my offices in both cities are walkable from the train station. Driving takes at least 2 hours, but that's at 2 am - I budget 3. And SD-LA isn't an isolated route - I look forward to taking the train from SD to SF.

Spokker said...

Between LA and about Irvine, the Surfliner is fast. I do Anaheim-LA all the time on either Metrolink or the Surfliner. During rush hour a Surfliner run from LA-Fullerton is only 30 minutes, much more preferable to puttering along on I-5.

South Orange County is where the Surfliner runs into trouble. You start running into a lot of single tracking, especially the single-track station at San Juan Capistrano.

Between San Clemente and Oceanside is where Surfliners (and Metrolink) can make up some time. Here the top speed is 90 MPH all the way to Oceanside. Few drivers on the freeway will be passing the train unless they want to run into a CHP officer who would kindly write them a ticket. If only the whole route could be that quick.

After Sorrento Valley the route falls apart completely. There's a very slow winding trek through the canyons just before you reach Downtown San Diego. It's wonderfully scenic, unless you've seen it many times before. There have been talks of bypassing this stretch of track for years but for now Coasters and Surfliners will just have to deal with it.

Daddio said...

"There's a very slow winding trek through the canyons just before you reach Downtown San Diego. It's wonderfully scenic, unless you've seen it many times before. There have been talks of bypassing this stretch of track for years but for now Coasters and Surfliners will just have to deal with it."

Then why is the proposed HS route following precisely this torturous r.o.w.? Predictions of high speeds through this urban routing are absurd. Plus it is straight through a nature preserve as well as residential neighborhoods. Wonderfully scenic, as you say, and thousands enjoy it.

The HS route should continue on the I15 and I8 r.o.w. to the airport. Make it fit. Its a straight shot. Faster. Cleaner.