California Rapid Rail Dreamin’
- high speed rail is to short-haul flights as trolleys were to buses (or modern light rail is to bus rapid transit, h/t to DoDo). The pros and cons are comparable, albeit at different speeds and distances. There is no doubt that flying is the more economical choice for truly long distances, in terms of both fare price and the opportunity cost of time spent in transit. Only hard core railfans and pteromechanophobes wax lyrical about spending several days in the comfort of an Amtrak train trundling across the country. At truly short distances in rush hour traffic, subways and light rail reign supreme. It is the middle ground of distances from 30 to roughly 500 miles that HSR will contest in California – with every chance of gaining significant market share.
- California voters have decided that the pendulum has swung too far in favor of oil-based mobility and want to redress the balance. The recent rapid run-up in the price of oil triggered the collapse of the housing bubble, forcing US taxpayers to take on over $1,000,000,000,000 in new debt. Add to that the cost of the war in Iraq, which at least indirectly was about retaining access to oil: ka-ching another $500,000,000,000 or more including long-term care for veterans, all on future generations’ credit card. That’s a whole lot of zeros. The experience has brought the risks inherent in relying on a single source of primary energy, crude oil, into sharp relief. Concerns about anthropogenic climate change come on top of the already known costs of an excessive dependence on crude oil.
In the specific case of the US, there are two major stumbling blocks. First, rail is now used primarily for slow, cheap but profitable heavy freight at interstate distances. The infrastructure is owned by competing freight companies, with some trade in trackage rights. Only a few sections of the US rail grid are publicly owned, e.g. the North East Corridor, the Caltrain SF peninsula corridor and, the Alameda freight corridor in LA. Passenger rail volume is very modest by international standards and, taxpayers have long resisted investing in something that only works well if it is perceived as a public service, rather than as a commercial enterprise.
- new FRA rules spelling out the safety measures that must be implemented and enforced on network segments designated as “rapid rail”. Sub-classes would permit all traffic, prohibit heavy freight, prohibit heavy and medium freight or, prohibit all freight for light cargo and passenger service only. Each segment on a rapid rail network would be mapped to one of these classes as appropriate.
- public-private partnership (PPP) between the state and the freight operators plus Caltrain that owns the infrastructure. BART could join this partnership by installing gauge change stations at selected locations, plus retrofits to its rolling stock. The PPP would enjoy a 30-year monopoly franchise co-ordinating all planning and funding of infrastructure projects including both new alignment construction and, upgrades to and proper maintenance of the legacy portions. It would also be party to road, local transit, electric grid and urban densification planning. In terms of operations, it would act as the sole dispatcher of all heavy rail traffic, based on a timetable with adequate slots for heavy freight. It would be very counterproductive to favor passenger rail to such an extent that rail freight loses market share to trucking.
- Page 1 shows an extensively built out rapid rail network for Northern California and the Central Valley. Highlights include:
- HSR approach to SF via 101 freeway median (sacrifice traffic lanes but avoid cost of DTX tunnel)
- loop track on 2nd floor of SF Transbay Terminal, buses in basement
- dual tracks across Bay Bridge (sacrifice a traffic lane on each deck, not certain if bridge can take the load)
- standard gauge rail-around-the-Bay. In the East Bay, this leverages an existing unused ROW adjacent to BART between the Union City and San Leandro stations. The section between Niles and hwy 262 would require a viaduct directly above UPRR and/or BART tracks. The nearby Hayward fault would complicate the civil engineering design.
- a detour track past Oakland airport
- a bypass route along hwy 4
- a standard gauge intermodal station at Concord NWC (important intermodal with BART North Concord, eliminates need for eBART)
- connection with CV towns via downtown Tracy
- Amtrak San Joaquin moved to UPRR ROW
- Altamont Pass connector (may eliminate need for BART extension to Livermore)
- a new Capitol Corridor alignment via Vallejo
- spur to Santa Rosa
- spur Napa Valley
- a new bridge and access segments to a loop track to Sacramento Airport terminals
- alternative implementation of Sacramento HSR station to permit adjacent run-through tracks for rapid rail feeder trains (see Page 3 for details)
- a Caltrain extension to Hollister
- a new fast alignment from Gilroy to Monterey Cannery Row
- a spur up to Santa Cruz Boardwalk along hwy 1.
Note that the Benicia rail bridge and the western and northern approaches to it would become a dedicated freight corridor shared by UPRR and BNSF (cp. Alameda corridor in LA)
For clarity, the complementary BART network is not shown.
- Page 2 shows
- a sped-up alignment for the Central Coast corridor routed inland around Vandenburg AFB. Check the Terrain view to see where this calls for the construction of new tunnels. Two-mode locomotives will be needed for the one near Solvang.
- a rapid freight corridor between Bakersfield and Sylmar based on new tracks in the hwy 99 median plus a 48-mile base tunnel through the Grapevine. Electric traction would be mandatory in the tunnel, which heavy freight trains could easily traverse at speeds of well over 100mph in less than half an hour without expending a drop of diesel fuel. Similar long rail tunnels exist in Japan (Seikan), under the Channel between France and the UK and are in preparation in Switzerland (St. Gotthard), Austria/Italy (Brenner), France/Italy (Montblanc) and Spain/Morocco (Straits of Gibraltar). This one through the Grapevine would be the longest in the world, though and cross two active faults deep underground (cp. seismic risks of Seikan and Straits of Gibraltar tunnels).
- dual standard gauge tracks across the Richmond-San Rafael bridge (at the expense of two precious traffic lanes, not certain if bridge can take the load)
- a cargo distribution yard in the Concord NWC
- a detour and freight/cargo access tracks to Castle Airport, if that is ever upgraded to commercial service for long distance passenger, dedicated cargo and heavy lift aircraft
- SMART extensions to Tiburon and Sonoma town
- a new HSR feeder network in the Visalia region
- a new loop line in the Van Nuys area based on an old ROW
- some railyards and other details
- Page 3 shows details of my alternative concept for the Sacramento station. I would hate for that city to repeat LA’s mistake of creating a terminus station without run-through tracks.
- alternative #1: Anaheim – San Diego via existing tracks to San Juan Capistrano and new tracks in the I-5 median to Torrey Pines
- alternative #2: Victorville – San Bernadino – Ontario – Anaheim – San Diego using upper floor tracks of Anaheim ARTIC that were intended for maglev to Las Vegas.
Features new alignments on hwy 57 median and through Cajon Pass intended for passenger service for light/medium but not heavy freight.
- loop to get from upper to lower floor tracks at ARTIC for direct LA US – San Diego service using this second option
- alternative #3: Corona – San Diego (Balboa Park) via I-15 and hwy 163.
- new Metrolink routes: LA US – Long Beach airport, LA US – Disneyworld – Anaheim loop. Long Beach airport could also be accessed by Orange County Metrolink routes that do not involve LA US. Electrified tunnels in both segments, two-mode locomotives required.
- Victorville – Las Vegas as per Desert Xpress plans, i.e. privately funded and based on diesel trains at 125mph. Electrification optional but very highly recommended if alignment permits higher speeds that way. Consider mounting power distribution lines on the catenary masts to help defray the cost.
- Mojave – Barstow connector to HSR starter line to permit access from Las Vegas to Palmdale airport, the Central Valley and Bay Area/Sacramento. Dual-mode trainsets using both HSR and Desert Xpress tracks must be capable of 186-220mph in electric mode, even if they are limited to 125mph when running on diesel.