Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Palmdale (Airport) HSR Station

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

by Rafael

The route CHSRA has chosen for the Bakersfield-Sylmar section runs through the Tehachapis, the Antelope Valley and Soledad Canyon. This is substantially longer than the direct route via Tejon Pass. The primary factors in favor of the longer route were total length of the tunnel system (21 vs. 34 miles), the ease of crossing major faults at grade and geology risk. A secondary goal was HSR service for the half-million people who live in the Antelope Valley.

However, this post will focus on the potential for leveraging HSR to finally turn Los Angeles World Airports' (LAWA) vast Palmdale airport (PMD) property into a viable commercial proposition. It is the only location in all of southern California at which additional runways could fairly easily be added in the future, east of the existing ones.

While it is absolutely not CHSRA's job to also take on regional planning on how best to relieve LAX, there is a need for interface planning if LAWA, an LA county agency, and the city of Palmdale want to at least preserve the option of using PMD for that purpose. As discussed below, simply siting an HSR station in the general vicinity of the airport, several miles removed from it, will not be good enough.

The following map shows current plans for the starter line and station plus alternatives discussed below.

View Palmdale Airport HSR station in a larger map

Right of Way for HSR

First, though, there is the non-trivial issue of securing ROW for laying HSR tracks between the Tehachapis and Soledad Canyon at all. CHSRA's current plans assume a dedicated ROW for HSR in the UPRR/Sierra Hwy corridor (red line).

Palmdale-Mojave is part of UPRR's core ROW from the LA/LB harbors up the west coast. This rail freight corridor is much busier than the one up the central coast. At first glance, it looks plenty wide but UPRR's has in fact already quad-tracked some sections. The Sierra Hwy frontage road runs about 50 feet west of the tracks north of Palmdale Metrolink, where it cuts over to the east. There's a linear park and also businesses to either side of UPRR ROW in Palmdale itself. There are also several freight spurs and the turnoff to Hesperia to contend with.

If UPRR hasn't already informed CHSRA that its own ROW is not available for HSR, expect that it will. This is going to be a recurring theme. The area isn't as densely built up as south San Jose or Gilroy, but actually securing a greenfield ROW in the UPRR/Sierra Hwy corridor could still prove surprisingly difficult. CHSRA's Google Map of the route (pls zoom in) shows the alignment in the Lancaster-Palmdale section as dead straight and entirely at-grade, with no flyovers for the Sierra Hwy nor the UPRR tracks that cross the planned alignment. These are relatively small details, but their omission is noteworthy.

However, given that the Tehachapis route has been identified as the one with the shorter tunnel system and lower tunneling risk, I expect that CHSRA will in the end be able to obtain a ROW, even though speeds will need to be high to compensate for the extra 40 miles the High Desert route entails. Worst case, there's always plan B: the extra-wide hwy 14 median (pink line). That would be longer, limit feasible speed, preclude the desired intermodal with Metrolink and require future detour tracks to connect to the airport at all. However, as we shall see, a wye off the main line might not be a bad idea in any event.

Relief for LAX: Palmdale, Ontario or both?

Palmdale airport began life in 1940 and has always been used by the US Air Force and defense contractors. Between 1966 and 1995, LA county acquired a total 17,750 acres of land east and south of the Air Force property via eminent domain, for the specific purpose of developing a civilian "Palmdale Intercontinental Airport". However, that never came to fruition, precisely because there was no high speed ground transportation link into the Los Angeles basin. In December 2008, United Airlines canceled the only remaining route to SFO in December after subsidies ran out.

LAWA has even surrendered its commercial aviation license for PMD to the FAA, at least for the time being. It is considering using part of the facility for a solar power farm. That's great for the environment, but perhaps not the best location for that technology. As reported in Future So Bright, that could potentially blind pilots. As long as the city of Palmdale remains the only cheerleader for PMD, it is likely to remain a ghost airport, much like SBD.

For now at least, LAWA appears to have given up on ever making PMD a successful proposition and is concentrating on the active Ontario airport to relieve LAX. It is slated for inclusion in the phase 2 spur, but it's not yet clear which ROW will be used to run the tracks. UPRR is not interested in sharing its primary ROW out to Arizona and points east. The alternative, getting to from LA Union Station to I-10/Archibald, is also non-trivial. Among other considerations, the I-10 median is where the Anaheim - Las Vegas maglev line was supposed to run. Using it for steel wheels tracks would officially kill that project, though IMHO that might not be a bad idea. There is absolutely no need nor ROW for two mutually incompatible HSR lines through the San Gabriel valley.

On the face of it, LAWA's preference for Ontario appears sensible enough: there may be not be a need for two relief airports for LAX. That said, perhaps the agency is taking a bit of a gamble in abandoning PMD quite so soon now that the phase 1 HSR starter line is going to run so close to it. More to the point, LA county isn't thinking beyond its borders, given that HSR could mean a fast single-seat connection to Anaheim, Bakersfield and even Fresno. The southern Central Valley is poorly served by airlines and, there are currently no plans for a shuttle train between the Fresno HSR station and FYI airport.

Moreover, if both California HSR and DesertXPress tracks are built and then connected via the existing SR-58 transportation corridor, PMD could even relieve McCarran airport in Las Vegas and eliminate the need for a brand-new airport between Jean and Primm. The potential catchment area for PMD isn't so much a circle based on driving distance as a (set of) very long high speed rail line(s) connecting it to multiple large population centers. That the Antelope Valley has a sizable underserved population in its own right is almost gravy on top, at least if Palmdale is smart enough to prevent encroachment on the airport in the future. The whole point of PMD would be to get away from noise ordinances etc. and run the airport 24/7 for passenger and cargo flights.

LAWA's position illustrates what happens when you allow a single county - albeit a huge one - to make decisions that anywhere but California would be the business of many counties, the state or even multiple states.

HSR is a potential game changer for PMD

With HSR, non-stop line haul time to Palmdale is estimated at 27 minutes from LA and 46 from Anaheim. Those sorts of times are needed to give PMD a fighting chance of ever relieving LAX, but keep in mind they are for non-stop trains and station-to-station. In terms of connecting transit, LA Union Station is already a busy and growing regional transit hub. Anaheim ARTIC is supposed to serve a similar function, but Orange county has no subway, light rail or BRT service. The Disneyland monorail will be extended and OCTA bus service improved.

In Palmdale, the current plan of record is to build the HSR station at the "Palmdale Transportation Center", i.e. the local Metrolink station/bus stop (see map at the top of this post). The city's modest plans for transit-oriented development considered only Metrolink, not high speed rail as that was still a very uncertain prospect at the time. They also did not consider that HSR would need a dedicated ROW to run in. Unfortunately, the Metrolink station and PMD's existing small passenger terminal at 41000 20th St E are separated by a 3.1 mile drive. With zero flights out of PMD, there is of course no shuttle bus to the passenger terminal.

For now at least, the Antelope Valley evidently doesn't have a sufficiently large and/or affluent regional population to sustain any commercial air service at all on its own. The US government forces airlines to offer its employees deeply discounted fares. Therefore, if it wants to revive its airport, the city of Palmdale needs to leverage the HSR project to bring in additional airline passengers for the LA basin and the southern Central Valley. Given that HSR will serve the major population centers within the state and possibly even connect to Las Vegas on day via co-operation with DesertXPress, the whole notion of a strictly regional airport just for LA county needs to go out of the window. Either there is a strategic decision to develop Palmdale into an HSR-centric "LAX East" or, CHSRA has to stop talking about Palmdale as an airport. It takes a lot more than idle runways three miles down the road.

Trips by plane + HSR are still a foreign concept in Southern California. If it is to catch on, the end-to-end experience in Palmdale and/or Ontario must receive high marks from passengers.

Focus on big birds

A well-run and frequent shuttle bus service to and from the existing terminal might seem like a useful loss leader to get the ball rolling, but very quickly further growth would depend on much closer integration with the primary feeder service, i.e. high speed rail. More to the point, it will require a strategic decision to aggressively relieve LAX of certain types of traffic, e.g. the A380 that it simply wasn't built to handle. LAX gets by, but only with special measures that reduce its throughput.

That class of aircraft is intended for transcontinental and transoceanic hub-to-hub traffic, so a large fraction of passengers will transfer to connecting service at one or both ends. Typically, that means connecting short-hop flights, exactly the kind HSR is supposed to replace in California, perhaps - one day - out to Las Vegas. However, connecting flights to other states are also needed, so PMD has a very deep hole to climb out of. In practice, that would mean certain airlines or airline consortia would have to switch from LAX to PMD, at least for part of their long-distance operations in Southern California. Relative to the status quo, that implies low airport taxes, unrestricted night flights, a cargo forwarding facility plus a major leap of faith in the California HSR project. The risk will be much lower once the first trains are up and running.

No airline will fly big birds into PMD solely to serve passengers who want to catch connecting flights. The airport has to be perceived as a destination in its own right as well, there has to be a large "local" catchment area. What HSR could do is redefine "local" to well beyond the Antelope Valley and even beyond LA county.

Note that the upcoming Boeing Dreamliner and Airbus A350 aircraft are intended to provide affordable, direct long-distance flights between secondary destinations, precisely to avoid having to connect to another flight. However, since connecting ground transportation is always necessary for any airport, it's possible airlines would prefer to use PMD - or ONT, for that matter - for flights based on these planes, in conjunction with onward travel by HSR.

New passenger terminal with HSR tracks

Around the world, several airports have heavy rail train stations integrated into their terminal buildings, e.g. Atlanta Hartsfield, London Heathrow, Paris CDG, Frankfurt and Amsterdam, no doubt others as well. Some have standard-speed, some also high-speed train connections.

There is a chance LAX might get a standard-speed heavy rail shuttle along the Harbor Subdivision Transit Corridor, but that will do nothing to relieve air traffic congestion there. Note that in Vienna (Austria), there is a special point-to-point shuttle train service that let airline passengers check in and even drop off baggage at a downtown location. Security screening and baggage pick-up is still at the airport, at least for now. I'm not aware of other examples of integrated baggage handling, though IIRC the Dutch railways used to offer it at selected train stations at one point in time.

Some airports, e.g. Birmingham (UK), have people movers that shuttle passengers between the terminals and a separate but nearby train station on a main railway line. Similar solutions are planned for OAK and SJC, one already exists for SFO though not out to the multimodal station at Millbrae. ONT may also get a people mover but the very remoteness of PMD means nothing less than an HSR station physically inside a new passenger terminal may work there.

In terms of timing, the HSR starter line may well be completed before there's any commitment to invest in any new integrated terminal at PMD. If the HSR connection at ONT pans out, there may never be. To at least keep the option open at this stage of HSR planning, the city of Palmdale could decide to go for broke and move its HSR station to a site further north, where a new terminal could be built right next to it at some indeterminate point in the future.

If CHSRA manages to secure a ROW in the UPRR/Sierra Hwy corridor, the preferred location for such a new terminal is already occupied by the huge USAF plant 42, shown in red on the map. Since that's a major cluster of employers in the area, it's very unlikely it could be moved. Any plan for the airport will have to work around that constraint. There is room for a modest terminal with ~15 JB gates just north of the plant, shown in green on the map. However, its future growth would be constrained on all four sides, since the end of the runway must remain clear for safety reasons. Also, this terminal would be far removed from the airport's other, longer runway, so we'd be back to shuttle buses or people movers for future expansion.

Besides, the north runway is actually part of the USAF property and may not even be available for restarting/expanding civilian aviation. Even the south runway is technically only leased in an effort to kick-start commercial aviation. Future expansion would definitely have to occur east of the existing runways.

Wye for detour tracks

An alternate approach would be for the LAWA/the city of Palmdale to at least reserve land for a future wye off the starter line to an integrated terminal at a site that best serves the needs of airlines, i.e. one with more room for JB gates and shorter taxiways to the longer of the two runway. That would mean either expanding or replacing the existing terminal south of it or else, a new one east of it. The detour would be used only by trains that actually stop at the putative integrated terminal instead of the downtown Palmdale station. This could include High Speed Cargo trains, if CHSRA decides to allow those on its network and plans for appropriate transshipment terminals. All through trains would stay on the main line, bypassing the airport.

Note that this wye would have to be fully grade separated and feature fairly large curve radii on account of the high speeds on the main line. Suggested alignments are shown in yellow for the case of a ROW in the UPRR/Sierra Hwy corridor for the HSR starter line and in orange in a hwy 14 scenario. Where the tracks would run east of the wye depends on where the terminal building would go.

If this concept is selected, grade separation structures need to be designed and built to support such a future wye. The actual rails and switches for it could be but would not have to be laid just yet, they can be spliced in at a later date.

The HSR station on the starter line should be modest and sited at the location best suited to serve the people who live in Palmdale/Lancaster. Where exactly that will be depends on the ROW CHSRA ends up with. If and when a new airport terminal is actually planned, it will be an entirely separate project and need to include the construction of the wye and detour tracks to a second HSR station in the area, located directly at that terminal. Funding for that track work would be outside the scope of the California HSR project as such.


Billing the Palmdale HSR station as "Palmdale Airport" is highly aspirational at this point. Without a strategic decision to invest in a new terminal building with an integrated HSR station, a sufficient number of JB gates and room to grow, the fact that the HSR starter line will run past the airport's runways means exactly squat diddley. Since Ontario is in many ways a more promising candidate for the job of "LAX East" on the back of HSR, LAWA's decision to focus on that is understandable. However, it is also risky, since it's not yet 100% certain that an HSR station close to the ONT terminals will actually be feasible.

The city of Palmdale has a chance to revive PMD, but only if it dares to think big and formulate a bold, credible plan for integrating its airport more tightly with HSR than any other in California (with the possible exception of Lindbergh Field). It needs to sell this not just LAWA but also to the state of California and the cities of Bakersfield, Fresno and Anaheim. CHSRA could be a partner in this effort by giving the city of Palmdale some leeway on where its station on the starter line should go.

If current plans are changed to anticipate a future wye and detour tracks, the siting of any new integrated passenger terminal for PMD would not depend on CHSRA securing a ROW in the UPRR/Sierra Hwy corridor. This option would be minimally more expensive up front and limit CHSRA's involvement with regional/statewide airport planning to creating just an interface point.

If, after a careful integrated planning effort, the decision to abandon PMD is upheld in spite of the HSR project, so be it - go ahead and repurpose the land for a solar power plant. But perhaps, that should not be up to LAWA alone. While the good people of Palmdale would no doubt disagree, the hassle with UPRR plus losing the airport would make many voters around the state wonder if the additional tunneling cost and risk through Tejon Pass isn't worth it, after all. Shaving twelve minutes off the SF-LA line haul time or, creating breathing room for CHSRA to avoid UPRR statewide, would be no small prize.

Upcoming CHSRA scoping meetings for Bakersfield-Palmdale

  • Bakersfield
    • Where: Red Lion Hotel, 2400 Camino Del Rio Court, Bakersfield, CA 93308
    • When: Tuesday, September 15, 2009 3:00-7:00pm
  • Tehachapi
    • Where: Stallion Springs Community Center, 27850 Stallion Springs Drive, Tehachapi, CA 93561
    • When: Wednesday, September 16, 2009, 3:00-7:00pm
  • Palmdale
    • Where: Chimbole Cultural Center, 38350 Sierra Highway, Palmdale, CA 93550
    • When: Thursday, September 17, 2009, 3:00-7:00pm

Scoping meetings for the Los Angeles - Palmdale section were held in April and quite rightly focused primarily on the sections up to Sylmar and through Soledad Canyon. The discussion of if and how HSR could help southern California leverage Palmdale airport is better suited to the upcoming Palmdale - Bakersfield project-level EIS/EIR process.

BTW: I'll be traveling during the week of Sep 7 and may not be able to contribute to the discussions on this blog much.


Cap'n Transit said...

I would note that in Europe, high-speed rail has currently captured a large share of the airline market, and is expected to capture more.

If high-speed rail is successful in California, it will reduce demand for the airports, freeing up space at LAX and Las Vegas and eliminating any need for service from Palmdale.

Anonymous said...

I do like the idea about the new breed of jumbo planes being to get in there safely and the fact that the area served would be the sj valley, the sf valley, vegas, and LA. The existing metrolink station can continue to be used for metrolink while also extending the line to a new PMD/HSR?metrolink station AT the airport terminal.
International flights can land at PMD and disperse passengers via rail to vegas and all parts of california.

How many international travelers to california are actually bound for Millbrae and El Segundo anyway? None. They are all headed for someplace else, in the greater bay area, La basin, Valley, and the various vacation spots around the state.
PMD has the potential to be designed as a large 21st century international airport.

Rafael said...

@ Cap'n Transit -

it is certainly the objective of the California HSR project to avoid having to add runways to existing airports, especially SFO and LAX.

There are really three groups of air passengers to consider here:

a) those traveling between cities on the California HSR/DX network

b) those traveling between a city on the California HSR/DX network and another that isn't

c) those using a California airport to execute a transfer in a trip between two cities not on the California HSR/DX network

Trains are expected to achieve a high modal share in passenger group (a) and zero in group (c). What's up for grabs is the modal share of group (b).

In San Diego, the HSR station could end up directly at Lindbergh Field, but that airport is tucked away in a corner of the state and anyhow too small to act as a hub for group (b).

SFO will have a BART connection to Millbrae station, though that may not be a courtesy shuttle. Still, it is well placed to replace flights currently serving group (a) with new ones serving group (b). This will increase the transportation value SFO delivers, but overall capacity growth will remain constrained.

ONT could be well placed to serve group (b), but only if its HSR station ends up close enough to the terminals to permit a quick people mover connection. However, without an additional connector in the hwy 57 corridor, HSR will not allow ONT to relieve the Orange county airports particularly well.

An LAX-LAUS rail shuttle would be very useful for relieving congestion on the local freeways leading to the airport, but too slow to persuade medium-distance group (b) passengers to switch from connecting flights to connecting trains.

PMD is virtually a greenfield airport at this point. The downside is that substantial investment would be needed to for it to relieve LAX of group (b) and (c) passengers. The upside is that if done right, it could do so in a big way and serve Orange county and the southern Central Valley, perhaps even Las Vegas, into the bargain.

Other than Castle Airport (MER), PMD is the only one in California that already has a runway close to the HSR network but no active commercial passenger terminal. That creates the opportunity for the level of tight integration needed to avoid building new runways by pressing those already available into use.

flowmotion said...

The unstated implication here seems to be that CHSRA's Palmdale ridership projections are also "highly aspirational", given that the air terminal may not ever exist.

Glad to see a post which displays a proper healthy skepticism that Palmdale would ever 'get off the ground'. In any case, it would be very long-range, maybe 20-30 years into the future, even assuming HSR is built on schedule.

Adirondacker12800 said...

Also, this terminal would be far removed from the airport's other, longer runway, so we'd be back to shuttle buses or people movers for future expansion.

People movers or shuttle buses to where? Every airport in the world has an effective system for getting passengers from the terminal to the runway. And every airport uses it except for grass fields. The passengers get on the plane at the terminal and the plane taxis to the runway. . .

Anonymous said...

don't forget to consider the other uses. Especially mail and package express. A location like PMD is perfect for companies like DHL FEDEX UPS etc and the USPS, because their is room for distribution centers/ trucks etc This is true for merced as well. Both locations could use the jobs these companies could provide and using hsr to distribute global mail and package express around the state is a good idea. Especially when they can utilize the overnight hours.

Anonymous said...

Head up your butt, as usual. LAWA dropped Palmdale from their group of airports last year. It has NO commercial traffic now -- why would anyone invest in expanding it?

Oh, that's right, if you build it (for $80 billion, not $40), they will come.

Anonymous said...

Seriously people. There is no way.

Just chalk it up as another major strategic plunder.

Rafael said...

@ adirondacker12800 -

actually, boarding planes via jet bridges at the terminal isn't universal. Plenty of smaller airports around the world use buses to get passengers to planes waiting out on the tarmac.

What I was referring to, however, is that a terminal located north of plant 42 would offer no room to expand. In order for Palmdale to work as an effective relief airport for LAX, it needs to be well east of the main line yet still offer single-seat connecting train service to passengers in its catchment area. Hence the idea of anticipating a wye off the main line.

Rafael said...

@ jim -

yes, high speed cargo trainsets could be a useful complement to any new terminal at PMD. However, that only works if there are transshipment terminals elsewhere on the network as well.

However, trains would add a transshipment stage to deliver vans and planes, so there would have to be significant economies of scale and/or lower overall overheads for operators like US Mail, FedEx, UPS etc. As long as there's sufficient package volume to fill planes and, those planes are permitted to take off and land at night at already-established airports, there would be little incentive for these operators to switch to PMD (or MER, for that matter).

Using the HSR network to forward air cargo containers (aka unit load devices) would be a different proposition.

Rafael said...

@ flowmotion -

the ridership projections for Palmdale weren't based on traffic from the airport but rather, on local residents switching from cars to rail when they head into LA. Long-distance commuters would be one such category, if HSR turns Palmdale into a bedroom community.

Anonymous said...

The hsr station should be located along the Sierra highway row just north of the existing transit center, between sierra and lockheed.

the DX should come in via 138 and turn north to terminate at the pmd station at sierra/lockheed and the combination hsr/dx station at this location connected to pmd air terminal via airtain. Its about 8000 feet away or like 2 miles. about 4 minutes on air train.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 11:47am -

don't confuse an exploration of what it would take to retain an option with advocacy for exercising it.

LA county kept buying land in the High Desert so that it would have the option of building a relief airport there if and when fast ground transportation became available. Well, HSR is just that.

Without it, no-one should be surprised the concept never panned out. With it, it may be viable one day but only if the last mile connection between the main line and the terminal is excellent. Keeping the option open is easy to do now but would be very disruptive down the road, especially if HSR ends up in the hwy 14 median.

Planning ahead is not something you can do by knee-jerk gut reaction.

Anonymous said...

Those existing but underdeveloped cities in the area, palmdale lancaster mojave and my favorite, california city, ahve the room and potential to absorb a couple million or more of the state's newcoming population. Keep in mind that there are two aqueducts running through the area to LA and by cutting back on La proper's use of water at least one aqueduct could be dedicated directly to new growth in the high desert, and make the desert bloom there. these cities are ripe for new development and can be good example of building from scratch with the latest greenest tech, conservation measures, native landscaping rules etc. as well as full solar requirements. Of course environmentalists and developers would have to be capable of true vision of creating a new 21st century urban area with 21st century transport and airport and not just be interested in quick profit or faux environmentalism for the sake of simply halting progress to maintain the status quo. I wonder if either environmentalists or developers are capable of it. Somehow I doubt it.

Adirondacker12800 said...

Plenty of smaller airports around the world use buses to get passengers to planes waiting out on the tarmac.

Operative word is smaller. If Palmdale never gets busy enough to need a big terminal with jetways it's never going to be big enough to justify contorting the HSR line to accommodate the low traffic. If it gets busy enough to justify having HSR go through hoops to serve the airport ferrying passengers to the plane on a shuttle bus isn't a viable option.

.. Plant 42.. it's there because when they need a runway for half a day with the possibility of having a problem that closes it down for a week, that isn't a problem. If Palmdale gets busy they'd have to move whatever goes on in Plant 42.

Rafael said...

@ jim -

a) people movers are ok for airports with a large local population for which passengers arriving by train are just a supplement.

PMD would depend primarily on the latter group, so that has to be served with a single-seat ride all the way to the terminal.

You seem to be stuck with an Amtrak mindset: the tracks are where they are, live with that limitation. That's not necessary with HSR, laying new track is definitely an option.

b) the prevailing wind direction in the area is from the south-west, so the south runway is preferable. It also permits future expansion via parallel runway(s) to the east on land LAWA already owns. LAWA does not own either of the existing runways.

Runways at different angles (cp. SFO) are useful to cope with shifting winds, but airport operators generally avoid using them at the same time because of safety considerations.

c) why on earth would DX run separate tracks parallel to those of the California HSR system? More to the point, where? It will be difficult enough to find room for two additional tracks in the UPRR/Sierra Hwy corridor.

Both systems are standard gauge, both will be HSR, most likely DX will be electrified anyhow. Just build a wye at Mojave and another at Barstow, run tracks between them and have DX pay trackage fees to run direct trains from Las Vegas to Anaheim. The only condition is that DX buy trains that can keep up with those used on the California network.

Anonymous said...

well DX from victorville to palmdale wont hit mojave - it comes across the bottom and can head north on and share hsr track to a shared station on the row west of pmd.

Anonymous said...

wouldn't a wye into the pmd airport be just like the bart wye into sfo that everyone is so critical of?

Im just trying to save money by having one line that hits everything in a linear fashion without embellishment. spurs and wyes and so forth. and artic style center at lockheed st. with a people mover I think is fine. but I don't know anything.

and taking hsr on a wye into the airport, then what, some trains from sf only to pmd or what? they go in and then back out and continue south? its overkill.

let them take the airtran. anyway off to work - bridge is closed today so a fun day ahead.

Blaseth said...

Airport in Palmdale for big planes isn't going to happen but armchair planning is always fun.

As for the armchair planning, place the terminal at the tracks and let the planes taxi to the runway. Take a look at DIA (Denver) and look at the scale of an airport designed in the past 20 years looks like. Don't worry where the little $#!tbox terminal is now.

Rafael said...

@ jim -

you seem to be under the impression that there is limitless water to be pumped around the state. LA is in state of drought, their water supply has already been cut back by 15% to keep the saline tidal inflow into the Delta from destroying wetlands and farmland there.

Therefore, making the High Desert bloom would require additional water to be diverted from agriculture, which in the southern Central Valley is already suffering from permanent lack of water. Aquifers there have been drawn down so aggressively over the past 80 years that some places have lost 60 feet in elevation. It's not correct to assume agriculture will be just fine as long as the land use pattern in the CV does not change.

There are still places in California with a plentiful gravity-fed supply of fresh water, much which drains into the SF Bay unused. I'm talking, of course, about the Delta.

There's so much water there, in fact, that farmers can still get away with growing incredibly thirsty but moderate-value crops like rice, cotton and alfalfa plus pasture. Cutting back on those in favor of higher-value crops like fruits and vegetables would actually free up substantial amounts of water to support population growth in the area.

The processed waste water would not be saline, so it wouldn't upset the ecological balance in the wetlands. By contrast, no-one is ever going to ship waste water from LA or Palmdale back to Stockton. Once a quantity of fresh water has been removed from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers to quench SoCal's thirst, it is removed from the salinity balance.

Additional development in and east of I-99 would have to be intelligently planned to minimize the loss of farm land, but the Sacramento-Merced stretch is still the right strategic location to encourage newcomers to settle in.

Global warming is already in evidence in California, whatever its root cause may be. The Sierra snowpack is getting thinner, especially in the southern part of the range.

Pumping water for hundreds of miles to support cities in what would otherwise be arid land is not a sustainable development strategy for a state that is permanently on the edge of bankruptcy. HSR is not supposed to engender the construction of yet another California aqueduct to support massive population growth a stone's throw from the San Andreas.

Rafael said...

@ Adirondacker12800 -

I agree that jet bridges would be the way to go for any new terminal in Palmdale. It's just that there's only enough room between plant 42 and the north runway for a building with about 15 of them.

That's why I think a wye and detour tracks to a more suitable location would be a better strategy, assuming the powers that be decide PMD has to be turned from zip into a significant airport at all.

Rafael said...

@ jim -

DX may want to extend their line beyond Victorville across to Palmdale but that doesn't mean anyone's going to let them. UPRR will be no more accommodating of DX than it is of CHSRA.

The SR-58 route north of Edwards AFB is already a road + rail transportation corridor, that's where a connector should go. It'll split DX's line, but they'll live with that.

Rafael said...

@ jim -

saving money by failing to lay new track if and when it makes sense to do so is exactly what I mean by Amtrak mindset.

The cost of building a new airport terminal with JB gates would dwarf the cost of running a few miles of HSR track at grade across the desert.

If a strategic decision is made to develop PMD as a true relief airport for LAX now that HSR will be available, that means a somewhat risky big bang project. Fiddling in the margins in the hope that growth will materialize naturally has been tried and proven a failure. Without a critical mass of airlines up front, PMD cannot succeed as an airport.

If such a big bang project won't be needed even 20 years from now, then the city of Palmdale should accept LAWA's decision and focus on turning itself into a center for solar power plant construction and operations.

Rafael said...

@ Blaseth -

the upgrade at LAX would let it handle the new big birds, but it wouldn't address the fundamental constraint of having just two runways. The airport has tried in vain for decades to win environmental approval to build a third.

As for taxiing to the runway, no airport in the world forces airlines to do that for miles and miles because it's inefficient and noisy. The terminals do have to be within reasonable distance of the runways.

In Frankfurt, they even have special trucks that actually lift up the nose wheel of an aircraft - even a big bird - and tow the whole plane out to the runway, rather than force it to get there under its own steam.

Building a air terminal far from the runway just so that its right next to an existing rail line is a$$ backwards. The airport needs to be where it needs to be and the trains have to get to it. If that means laying some new track, so be it. Trains can cover the terrain much more efficiently than planes can.

mike said...

The unstated implication here seems to be that CHSRA's Palmdale ridership projections are also "highly aspirational"

Please cite the part of the ridership projections in which they assume that they will be carrying air passengers to Palmdale airport.

It has NO commercial traffic now

??? Rafael clearly stated that in his post. Next time try actually reading the post before attempting to respond to it. Remember, reading is fundamental!

Adirondacker12800 said...

people movers are ok for airports with a large local population for which passengers arriving by train are just a supplement.

Most airports in the US don't have train service yet lots of them have people movers. I suspect locals use the people mover least. They aren't at the airport to change planes and they won't be renting a car.. well maybe to get to the parking lots.

People movers are mostly for getting from gate to gate. Or from the terminal to the car rental like at SFO, EWR, JFK... Though at EWR and JFK the people mover moves people between the terminals, the car rentals, parking and the trains and in the case of JFK, two different train stations. Or in the case of something like Pittsburgh for getting from the gates to the terminal. Which reminds me that the terminal doesn't always have to be at the gates, the two are separate from each other in Pittsburgh.

It's either an itty bitty terminal where the parking, car rental and gates are all close enough together that you don't need a people mover or the the airport is big enough that the train station is just another stop on the people mover...

As for taxiing to the runway, no airport in the world forces airlines to do that for miles and miles because it's inefficient and noisy

How do the planes get from the end of the mile and half long runway to the terminal? No body lives on the taxiways, noise isn't a very big consideration out there.

Anonymous said...

Happy Labor Day everyone -

This gives the ridership estimates.

2030 numbers:

Daily Boardings
SF 32,000
SJ 10,000
Palmdale 17,000
LA 17,000
Anaheim 29,000

Rafael said...

@ jim -

"wouldn't a wye into the pmd airport be just like the bart wye into sfo that everyone is so critical of?"

Topologically, yes, though a detour track to a new terminal well east of Palmdale Metrolink would be designed with run-through tracks and a sufficient number of platforms to support both through trains and perhaps, dedicated shuttles to LAUS with secure sections for checked-through baggage. Anything less would be fairly brain-dead in the context of brand-new construction in wide open terrain.

However, BART ends at Millbrae so anyone using Caltrain to get to SFO from the south has to execute a transfer so annoying no-one bothers. Perhaps the super-short BART line between Millbrae and SFO will be re-activated once HSR goes live, preferably as a courtesy service. Having to explicitly buy an additional BART ticket for a ride that short would be perceived as a hassle/rip-off. Just bake the cost into HSR/Caltrain tickets to and from Millbrae.

HSR into any new terminal at PMD would offer a singe-seat ride to passengers from either direction.

Anonymous said...

Palmdale 17,000 a day??????

Rafael said...

@ adirondacker12800 -

yeah, I was referring only to those airports that have a people mover between the nearest train station and the check-in counters. That's the bit where they're the most annoying, because you have to transfer with all your bags. It's ok if both trains have level boarding and there's enough dwell time to comfortably load and unload, otherwise it's stressful. Major bonus points if the transfer platform is either indoors or else covered and protected against wind. And of course, short wait times.

Once you've checked in and gone through the security rigmarole, hopping on a people mover to get to another building isn't a big deal as long as it isn't a really long ride.

As for taxiway distances for the planes, a mile or two is reasonable. Four or five isn't. The preferred take-off direction is into the wind, which in Palmdale typically blows from the south-west.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 4:02pm -

I was thinking the same thing, 17k daily boardings in Palmdale by 2035 sounds awfully high compared to some of the other stations.

IIRC, the previous figure for 2030 was 12k and even that seemed high to me.

Even so, they can't have taken any airport passengers into account because there are no firm plans for a resumption of commercial aviation at PMD.

Given that Palmdale has a pop of 150k right now, those forecasts imply either massive pop growth (where's the water coming from?) or a bedroom community of long-distance commuters into the LA basin. Easy plausibility check: how busy is hwy 14 westbound during the morning rush hour?

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

What about a possible connection to the Desert Xpress in Palmdale? would that be where the additional boardings come from? Or would it make sense for the Desert Xpress owners to just run the trains on the CAHSR tracks into LA, since they are planning electric trains now anyway?

Alon Levy said...

More plausibility checks: the ridership estimate is for Anaheim to have 29k passengers a day, almost twice that of LAUS; excluding commuters from Palmdale and the LA Basin, it's projected to have 23k passengers a day, higher than the total for all other SoCal stops combined and five times the figure for LAUS.

Does anyone here really believe more people will travel to and from the Central Valley and NorCal via Anaheim than via all other SoCal stations combined? Me neither.

Rafael said...

@ Avery -

CHSRA ridership estimates had better not include DX, especially since not connector between the systems has been committed to.

If DX is smart, they'll use whatever gear is compatible with the California system and get trackage rights for direct service into LA/Anaheim. This whole notion of forcing passengers to transfer from California HSR to DX in Palmdale strikes me as very 19th century.

There are things like timetables and signaling that let infrastructure operators multiplex multiple train operators on a single pair of tracks.

Rafael said...

@ Alon Levy -

at some point, I'll have to delve into the gory details of how they calculate their ridership numbers. Some of the individual station boardings forecasts do look out of whack.

It would be useful to see it broken down in terms of trips between city pairs rather than boardings at individual stations.

Anonymous said...

Rafael -

See page 11 of for breakdown.


flowmotion said...

It isn't just LA commuters either, apparently CHSRA is assuming everyone in the state will be traveling to Palmdale, rather than (say) Los Angeles.

All Hail Palmdale, glorious new center of California!

(It would be interesting to hear what exactly they are assuming.)

Spokker said...

I don't understand how Anaheim gets higher ridership estimates than LAUS.

Anonymous said...

It is all those people driving up from San Diego. If the average person goes for a 3 day trip, I calculate the need for a 40,000 space garage.

Tony D. said...

I enjoyed this post. Any chance, in the far future, Palmdale becomes THE airport for LA? The NEW LAX? They could close the current one, which flys over dense neighborhoods of LA, and could develope the current site into a classic urban development with beach-front property.

Along those lines, if you have the time, could you do a thread on HSR making possible the closure/relocation of San Jose airport (SJC) out of central SJ? For starters: southeast Gilroy, Hollister municipal airport (with HS spur off the mainline), Los Banos, Castle AFB.

Oh, and by the way, San Jose Diridon will be BOTH a terminal AND through station.

flowmotion said...

@Spoker - Isn't it your dream to have millions of people taking the HSR to Disneyland?

(HSR should be very compelling for leisure trips especially with kids.)

Rafael said...

@ Tony D -

I can understand why they might want to park some trains overnight in SJ, but why on earth wouldn't they make all tracks run-through?

Andrew said...

How many non-Californian destinations could Palmdale Airport hope to serve? Would an HSR station make it that much more attractive for airlines?

I don't see much value in a Palmdale Airport station, just like I don't see much value in a station adjacent to Lindburgh Field, other than that there's space for one there and it's not terribly far from central San Diego.

Just the presence of HSR should do a great deal to relieve airport crowding, by taking a huge bite out of intrastate air traffic.

Alon Levy said...

Rafael, Tony D: speaking of terminals, why does the estimate assume that dwells are 30 minutes at terminals and 1.5 minutes at through-stations? The ICE and Shinkansen turn trains around in 8 minutes.

Spokker said...

"Isn't it your dream to have millions of people taking the HSR to Disneyland?"

No, not really.

My dream is to see HSR built in California, whether people use it to go to Disneyland or not. Unfortunately, reality is getting in the way of those plans!

Joseph said...

I expect that most of the airports in Cal will be looking pretty empty in 2030, with HSR used from most in-state trips, and $200 per barrel oil leading to tickets costing $1000 to the east coast, $2000 to Europe.

Since Long Beach, Oakland, San Jose, Ontario, Fresno and Santa Ana / Orange County will be empty after the short-flight market collapse, I imagine we may want to consider redeveloping the land as high-density, walkable, urban development, perhaps with a couple of new UC or CSU campuses in Ontario and Oakland. (If the education bubble doesn't pop. ;-) )

I also think LAX (and the El Segundo refinery; not enough oil to operate it by then) would be very valueable. Look at the land value in Santa Monica and Venice.

However, I think we should build regional HSR (125 mph or 110 mph trains with better acceleration) to Long Beach and the LAX area anyway. The LA area is too spread out for regular light or heavy rail metros to serve commutes from the coast to Los Angeles or central Orange County; commute times would be over an hour. With 60 mph average speeds including stops every 5 miles, a regional HSR system in LA and OC would make transit as fast as driving even when traffic was light. That would be a game-changer.

I think the Anaheim station numbers are odd if they are meant to represent trips from San Diego and Northern California. But I'm certain that even more will use the commuter rail system built next to HSR from Anaheim and Irvine to LA and San Diego. 5 and 405 have over 1/2 million trips per day, certainly 20% could consider taking the train.

If fact, although I am looking forward to easy and comfortable travel with my kid, across the state, I find I am even more optimistic about the ability of this project to remake the regional transit system, with grade-separated, higher speed regional rail within each region. That alone will be worth well over 40 billion, even if we consider nothing more than the cost of building new freeway lanes to serve the same trips.

Spokker said...

The word I am getting from people is that they would not purchase a high speed rail ticket for their kids. At that point, it's more economical to drive in their minds.

In off-peak hours there could be a two kids ride free per full fare adult deals.

But as long as the gas tax is not raised or a vehicle mileage tax not implemented, people will continue to make poor transportation decisions, regardless of where they are going.

Anonymous said...

Rafael - water for 20 million more people in cali, is water for 20 million more people in cali, regardless of where we get it or where they live. They won't be living in the area around the delta because northern california isn't going to allow it. This is the most anti growth and development part of the state. and putting people anywhere near the delta is taboo.

It would be pretty simple to use one of the owens valley aqueducts which already passes through the high desert and require LA proper to conserve by an equal percentage. You could probably save enough water to do it by simply outlawing lawns and converting 100 percent of LA county landscaping to drought resistant native plants. Say the LA basin could conserve 5 percent of what is currently consumes. That same 5 percent could go to antelope instead. See, the people are coming and whether they live in LA basin or they live in ATLP valley, they are using the same water from the same pipe.

Also, say you converted the entire LA county to mandatory drought resistant native plants only.
Not only would you save water, but you would bring back a million tiny patches of natural habitat. Natural habitat that would foster native animals. Everything from increased butterflys and ladybugs, to coyotes and 'possum, and such, natural, weeds and nuts an berries, and bringing La part way back to its original state, in the midst of the concrete. This would also also allow the previously downtrodden native peoples to resume hunting and gathering among and in between the asphalt jungle.

As for ownes valley water, they will have to run a pipe further north up the east side and capture more run off.
They can also get some water from the back of the San Bernadinos.

They could get some water from up there on Whitney, its all a down hill drain from there.

Besides, you can put a lot of people in the desert without a lot of water so long as you don't put in lots of golf courses and lawns and instead, native plants only... and all new homes mandated for solar power. low flow fixtures, and all the very latest conservation measures. You could put a couple million up there.
I mean there's no water in the inland empire but that keeps growing.
I suppose you could send everyone to redding and chico.

What we really need is an alaskan pipeline. I mean if the polar regions are melting and the water is just running into the ocean we should be sucking that water down here through a pipe.

But again, more people is more people they are gonna use the same water no matter where we put them. There is no savings.

Now, if we want to talk about stopping migration and immigration, and capping population growth. We can really save the environment in real life.

I'm all for that option too. But as long as we insist on cramming more people in, we have to be prepared to make a place for them in a spot where they won't be getting the nerves of the people who are ahead of them. The bay doesn't want em. The environmentalists wont allow them in the delta. The far northerners dont want growth. The wealthier placer and el dorado counties are freezing growth, the coastal counties don't want em.

You can put em palmdale, hanford, bakersfield, fresno and Natomas, assuming they want to live in those places.

regardless of the reasons given, we all know that palmdale was chosen because LA wants to grow that area. lets not be coy.

Anonymous said...

i support hsr and I support the current route. Those affordable high desert homes with lickety split access to LA via hsr will be perfect for my retirement lifestyle and will be ready just in time.

Anonymous said...

@rafael As for the 58 routing of DX no one would like to see that more than I.

I'd much prefer a mojave connection to vegas from norcal. If thats the plan then more power too em. I really don't care about palmdale airport one war or another, I was just trying to tow the PMD is important line... in support of chsr. If cali was smart they build our own version of vegas up there and keep the money here at home. now THAT"S a plan worth doing.

Anonymous said...

So you guys are finally beginning to realize that CHSRA's (and Cambridge Systematics') ridership studies are complete junk?

flowmotion said...

@ jim! - I'm shocked that Mr. San Francisco wants to retire in high desert low-density exurbia sprawl! Comeon man, we've saved a dingy downtown rent-controlled studio & bus-pass just for you.

Unfortunately, the best "green-tech" for Palmdale would be to nuke the place and then start over in a hundred years. Sorry if you're a casualty, but computer projections show that it won't hurt ridership.

Anonymous said...

It looks pretty nice to me for the price

Clem said...

The ICE and Shinkansen turn trains around in 8 minutes.

Try 3 to 4 minutes... ICE trains turn that quickly in Stuttgart and Frankfurt. They key is that they never go out of service, which is a concept that U.S. planners can't grasp because it violates the axiom that a train must terminate and go out of service at a terminal.

Anonymous said...

@rafael - per run through tracks on PMD spur...

Okay how bout this... bring DX in from the east and chsr in from the west on the spur so that both can terminate at the pmd terminal station. That way any future trains that may run norcal vegas or socal vegas will run through the pmd terminal and it ties everything together nice and tidy.

since there is mostly tons of open space out there, regardless of whether DX uses mojave or victorville, once the turn towards the airport they cn swing around back and come into the spur from the east side.

BruceMcF said...

I like the reserve the Y option best, but note that with sufficient vertical separation, it could be a Bow rather than the shape drawn. That would of course involve a bit of suspension cable, since you can't run a Roman Arch over a taxiway.

Alon Levy said...

Joseph, your vision doesn't look very likely. $200/barrel oil isn't much higher than the $140/barrel oil of last summer, when planes were still full. And not only are planes getting more energy-efficient, slowly, but also people's purchasing power is increasing.

Besides which, some of your other ideas don't make sense. You say, "With 60 mph average speeds including stops every 5 miles, a regional HSR system in LA and OC would make transit as fast as driving." A train that stops every 5 miles and averages 60 mph is known as a commuter train. With commuter rail, the issue isn't speed, but the ability to get people to where they work. Monocentric systems, such as those available in all US cities except Philadelphia, only work for people who work near the downtown terminal. The Los Angeles Union Station area isn't exactly the Loop, which is why Metrolink doesn't get a lot of ridership.

mike said...

Easy plausibility check: how busy is hwy 14 westbound during the morning rush hour?

Morning rush hour traffic on SR 14 appears to be ~7,000 cars in the main lanes and ~4,000 cars in the HOV lane. So 15,000+ inbound passengers during the morning commute.

Daily inbound traffic on SR 14 is ~30,000 in the main lanes and ~13,000 in the HOV lane. So 56,000+ daily inbound passengers total. All data are from PeMS.

CHSRA assumes 10,000 inbound passengers from PMD to Sylmar-Anaheim, with the vast majority going to LAUS. So overall they'd need 16-17% market share at current populations and closer to 10% market share at 2030 populations (DoF projections). Seems plausible to me given that HSR would be 2x as fast as driving during off-peak hours and 4x as fast as driving during peak hours.

Another way to look at the estimates is that CHSRA wants to double the ridership of the Metrolink Antelope Valley Line on that same segment by more than tripling average speeds and more than sextupling service frequency. The idea that those service improvements would "only" double ridership actually sounds conservative to me, even when accounting for the fact that HSR will not stop at some of the smaller "local" Metrolink stops!

The Anaheim vs LAUS dichotomy, OTOH, is a little weird. Presumably it must arise from Anaheim's catchment area being virtually all of the OC (3 million people), whereas LAUS's catchment area is split with Burbank and Norwalk. But even so, the LAUS intercity number looks too low and the Anaheim intercity number looks too high.

Unknown said...

But even so, the LAUS intercity number looks too low and the Anaheim intercity number looks too high.

There's also the 80+ Angels home games/year plus special events at anaheim stadium, roughly the same number of home games and events at the Honda Center (Ducks), and a monorail connection to Disneyland which gets 40,000 visitors a day (plus several thousand employees).

I don't know how many those bring in, certainly many of the Disneyland guests are staying in hotels near the park (though easy rapid access could certainly change that), the Angels/Ducks are going to be pulling more people from the south than from Dodger/Kings territory along the HSR line to the north.

But who knows, when the line is complete, it will be faster to get from LAUS to a Ducks game than from LAUS to a Dodger game. That's just sad (for the Dodgers).

Unknown said...

"it will be faster to get from LAUS to a Ducks game than from LAUS to a Dodger game. That's just sad (for the Dodgers)."

That's also true, but I meant it would be faster to get to an Angels game. It will be about a dead heat to get to a Lakers/Kings game than a Ducks game. It depends on how they route the downtown regional connector.

Unknown said...

I also forgot California Adventure (So did the customers, Zing!), that (and hard numbers from '06) brings average daily attendance to 57,000/day. Supposedly they employ around 10,000 people at the parks, so you're looking at mid 60k/day just for Disneyland (peak park capacity is about twice that).

A sold out Angels game plus a sold out Ducks game, plus a packed Disneyland (something that could easily happen during June or early October), and you're looking at close to 200,000 people trying to get to within walking/connecting distance to the station in a single day.

Mike said...

There's also the 80+ Angels home games/year plus special events at anaheim stadium

Thing is, the discrepancy is really in intercity ridership, which I don't think could plausibly caused by sporting events.

I suspect it has to do with how they are computing the catchment areas.

Unknown said...

I suspect it has to do with how they are computing the catchment areas.

Agreed, though I think it's probably both. There's also the convention center right there, which can handle up to 80k. Special events tend to not have huge transit ridership numbers because people tend to carpool to them, but I think it's relevant to consider the large amount of event traffic that goes to that immediate area.

During the weekdays a 23 minute ride from Arctic to LAUS is likely to get a large number of park-and-ride passengers.

Were the ridership numbers figuring on an Irvine station as well? On the one hand that would lower catchment, on the other hand it could add some southbound trips.

Alon Levy said...

Andy: read the link. The ridership numbers don't include an Irvine stop, or any other stations beyond Phase 1.

RN said...


A couple corrections for you. Los Angeles World Airports is a City of Los Angeles entity, not Los Angeles County. I found your post interesting but hard to read; you do not spell out most of the acronyms.

Sandra said...

An earlier post mentioned DesertXpress connecting to Palmdale. DesertXpress is in fact working with state and local governments in Southern California to immediately extend the system 50 miles west in Palmdale to interface with the North-South California High Speed Rail system - connecting Las Vegas to all of California. The system is also designed to facilitate extensions to Ontario and other destinations in the Los Angeles/Orange County Basin, as and when funding becomes available.

Unknown said...

@Sandra, that's great news. Are you affiliated with DX?