Fullerton to Anaheim ARTIC
as part of the recent Happy Holidays Open Thread, I took a potshot at local opposition to the at-grade option for HSR through Anaheim. The ensuing discussion prompted me to devote a full post to the subject. First, some general context.
Funding vs. Tunneling
The most recent update to CHSRA’s business plan, which we discussed at length here, already included an increase of ~$500 million in real terms for a bored tunnel, even though the decision to go with this alternative has not yet been made. There were of course other changes in real terms, plus a huge adjustment reflecting the shift from net present value to year-of-expenditure accounting.
Since funding headaches are going to be a permanent condition for California HSR, it is imperative that CHSRA resist local pressure to construct expensive tunnels through suburbia that do not increase ridership. According to Bob Doty of Caltrain, the per-mile construction cost of bored tunnels is ~6.5 times that of tracks at grade, though that does not include legal costs and delay-related inflation and opportunity costs that might well be associated with widening the right of way for a solution above ground. The exact multiplier depends on the number and complexity of the modifications to cross roads in the at-grade scenario, but the SF peninsula is roughly comparable to Anaheim in that regard.
Caving without securing a substantial local contribution from non-HSR sources – which Anaheim would have to corral on its own – would make it much harder to stand firm in the SF peninsula, i.e. the total cost escalation in real terms could ultimately be in the range of several billion dollars, something the authority cannot afford to allow. In addition, tunneling presents serious technical and environmental challenges of its own: large footprint construction sites at the tunnel portals, long construction period with high cost overrun risks, impacts on water table and gravity-drained conduits, ventilation systems, escape routes, limited scope for ever grade separating cross roads in the ascent/descent sections, tunnel boom, risk of subsidence during construction, risk of fire during construction and operation etc. More here and here.
With that preamble, let’s look at the nuts and bolts of the local situation in Anaheim.
Right of Way
One of the more contentious sections of the proposed HSR starter line runs from the Fullerton Metrolink station to the site of the future Anaheim ARTIC multimodal transit hub next to the Santa Ana river in Southern California.
CHSRA is counting on using the SCRRA-owned railroad right of way between the two cities. Originally part of the Southern Pacific network, it is now used for standard-speed Metrolink and Amtrak Pacific Surfliner passenger services plus limited BNSF freight traffic down to San Diego and Mexico.
Curt Pringle’s Conflict of Interest
Republican Anaheim-mayor-cum-Chairman-of-the-CHSRA-Board Curt Pringle was the primary proponent of including Anaheim in the HSR starter line, which was initially slated to terminate at Los Angeles Union Station. He is also one of the driving forces behind the ARTIC project. Appointed by Gov. Schwarzenegger in 2007, his two roles now present a glaringly obvious and highly problematic conflict of interest in this particular context: how can he possibly properly represent both the interests of state and federal taxpayers and those of his local constituents when these are clearly at odds? Moreover, Pringle’s second term as mayor is up in 2010 and afaik, he intends to run for re-election.
The decent thing for him to do would be to recuse himself from this particular decision. Somehow, I doubt he’s going to.
CORRECTION: Anaheim limits mayors to two terms. That means the conflict of interest will resolve itself naturally but for the moment it does exist. (h/t commenter Elizabeth)
Mixed Traffic vs. Dedicated HSR Tracks
The original HSR concept for section south of Fullerton was developed by CHSRA Executive Director Mehdi Morshed and his staff. It called for improving the existing tracks and rely on upgraded signaling to implement mixed traffic via guaranteed time separation south of Fullerton. This was overruled by the CHSRA board after Curt Pringle took over the rotating chairmanship of the CHSRA board. Morshed’s strategy would have been permissible under existing FRA rules, but there was also a risk it could have seriously complicated the “rule of special applicability” that CHSRA must obtain from FRA in order to operate non-compliant off-the-shelf rolling stock at up to 220mph at all. Note that south of Sylmar, HSR trains will run at less than 110mph. In the short Fullerton to Anaheim ARTIC section, there is no need to run any faster than 79mph, though even that might not have been possible in mixed traffic.
A regulatory requirement to use FRA-compliant rolling stock would jeopardize the entire project (cp. Amtrak Acela Express). Even if FRA played nice, the mixed traffic approach would have permanently restricted feasible HSR service frequency to Anaheim (and Irvine in phase 2), though only 15 trains each way are currently planned (p14 PDF) for the six-hour peak period. The recent switch to a high fare strategy will reduce that, though CHSRA will stick to the original number until and unless the state legislature instructs it to do otherwise. Overbuilding is lucrative for planning consultants and construction companies alike.
Another factor in the decision was track geometry maintenance, as super-heavy FRA-compliant trains and poorly maintained freight cars can impose exorbitant costs if conventional ballast track is used. Slab track is much stiffer, which is why Deutsche Bahn prefers it for new construction, in spite of the greater stresses small geometry deviations will exert on train suspensions and wheelsets. Japan’s shinkansen lines use it for enhanced seismic safety. Floating slab track is built on expensive damped mass-springs foundations that reduce the risk of premature metal fatigue and also dynamically reduce vibrations that could otherwise damage the foundation slabs of abutting buildings. However, the extra cost would be appropriate in the Anaheim context, especially compared to tunneling.
Complicating matters is the fact that there is as yet no agreed-upon technical standard for implementing the largely unfunded Congressional mandate on positive train control (PTC) imposed by H.R. 2095-110th (PRIIA) in the fall of 2008. The signaling upgrades must go live by 2015, but even if it pays for the infrastructure, CHSRA cannot simply select a system and force Amtrak, Metrolink and BNSF to adapt their rolling stock and train their staff accordingly.
Threading the Needle
Given the preliminary decision to construct additional tracks dedicated to HSR rather than operate in mixed traffic, the biggest issue in Anaheim is now the 1.5 mile section between North and E Vermont streets, indicated by the longer of the solid red lines along the ROW (the author’s best guess in blue) on the map below. At just 50 feet, it is too narrow to accommodate more than two tracks (cp. San Mateo and Menlo Park in the SF peninsula).
Widening it could require a significant number of eminent domain (ED) takings, unless homeowners decide to sell voluntarily. Either way, they would have to be compensated at “market value”, always a bone of contention. As in parts of the SF peninsula, there would be significant risk of litigation and associated project delays, given that the state California has not (yet) set up a special temporary court dedicated to CEQA lawsuits related to this one mega-project. Note that homeowners could also sue for inverse condemnation, hoping to force the state to cough up compensation or purchase their property against its will. To avoid that fate, the state and/or county and/or city need to clarify the total equivalent noise and vibration immissions levels and line-of-sight obstructions that must be tolerated by residents of nearby properties as well as nearby businesses.
Involuntary takings are an ugly can of worms, which is precisely why CHSRA has been careful to tiptoe around the subject, even though homeowners are required to disclose the risk of future ED if they try to (or have to) sell their property.
Historic Buildings, Park and Affordable Housing
In addition to the usual issues presented by residential properties immediately abutting a narrow yet busy railroad right of way, Anaheim is one of California’s older cities. It contains a large number of homes that are considered historic under the (overly?) generous terms of the state’s Mills Act. Owners are given discounts of 25-60% on their property taxes in return for preserving the substance and distinctive architecture of their properties. This also tends to increase the value of newer properties nearby, as many people prefer to live in areas with an established history. To leverage this for electoral gain and perhaps even a larger aggregate tax base, Anaheim politicians have officially designated three districts as historic: the Colony, Five Points and the Palm District, all colored peach in the map below. Two of these abut the railroad tracks.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the person maintaining the web site for the largest and oldest of these, the Anaheim Colony, is a realtor. She has included a number of tours organized over the years by the local Historical Society and others, these presumably cover the most noteworthy properties, indicated by green arrow markers on the map, with clusters indicated by purple lines. As you can see, the majority are located well west of the railroad tracks, though four properties on Vintage Lane are separated from only by that road. These particular buildings were actually already moved once before to save them from encroaching development.
There is an old SP depot, a Spanish Colonial confection at E Center and S Atchison that is no longer served by any trains. Apparently, it is now a YMCA preschool offering extended day care to a small number of local children.
In addition, there are the adjacent Citrus Park and the recently constructed affordable housing on E South St (shown in orange) to consider. Depending on the ethnicity of the residents and other factors, takings there could raise environmental justice issues. The fact that these buildings were completed only recently is a shame but afaik irrelevant for legal purposes. It might be possible to move the park to one of two large, apparently undeveloped parcels of land nearby, marked in lime green and with question mark icons. However, those might already be in use as covered landfills, reservoirs or otherwise be spoken for.
UPDATE: the northern mystery parcel is indeed a dry reservoir. The southern one earmarked for another affordable housing project. Depending on how densely that is built, it may or may not be possible to site a small public park there if any portion of Citrus Park has to be taken. Fixed. I also added the Kroeger-Melrose district in peach, it lies entirely within the Colony district but contains houses on the National – as opposed to local – Register of Historic Places. (h/t to commenter Kevin)
View Fullerton-Anaheim in a larger map
Tip: switch to Map or Satellite mode to zoom in all the way.
In addition, there are a total of 10 remaining grade crossings between Fullerton and Anaheim ARTIC, in order: E Orangethorpe, La Palma, E Sycamore, E Broadway, E Santa Ana, E South, E Vermont, E Ball, E Cerritos and S State College. These are marked in yellow on the map, in contrast to the already grade separated roads in dark green. Ideally, the HSR project would eliminate all remaining grade crossings for safety, noise and capacity reasons. However, the construction of tall over- or deep underpasses would have major construction impacts as well as non-trivial permanent impacts on local traffic patterns. While there are no frontage roads to contend with, a number of streets parallel to the railroad would lose their intersections with cross roads and become dead ends that require room for turnaround circles. In addition, some homeowners could lose curbside parking spaces.
Implementing an FRA quiet zone would only deal with the bells and horn noise while maintaining safety at present levels. However, Metrolink currently runs 44 weekday trains (both directions combined) through the area and, OCTA has long planned an increase to 76. For now, budget constraints have forced the agency to scale that back to 56, but even this recession will not last forever. Add to that 32 weekday Amtrak Pacific Surfliners plus some number of BNSF trains. Weekday subtotal in the 2020 time frame: ~110 over 18 hours, i.e. one every 9.8 minutes on average. Assuming a 90 second average for gate closures, that would imply 75-85% availability of cross roads during rush hour – borderline at best.
UPDATE: BNSF service is erratic but generally limited to a small number of long trains outside of Metrolink operating hours. (h/t to commenters Kevin and Spokker)
Also running HSR at grade would add perhaps 60 weekday HSR trains in the 2030-2035 time frame, for a grand total of ~170, i.e. one every 6.4 minutes on average. That would be tight but perhaps sustainable in terms of railroad operations, even with four independent operators sharing two tracks. It would be no problem at all wit four. However, either way, any remaining grade crossings would only be open 65-75% of the time during rush hour. In other words, full grade separation is highly advisable wherever HSR trains will run at grade between Fullerton and Anaheim ARTIC.
The decision to retain grade crossings in Anaheim or to separate them will be driven by availability considerations for the cross roads, rather than safety or noise aspects. In that regard, the area is similar to the SF peninsula.
Status of CHSRA Project-Level Planning
Details on the current status and planned progress of the LA-Anaheim section are included in the Program Summary Report – July 2009 Update. The timeline calls for the Final EIS/EIR to be submitted to FRA no later than March 2011. If California receives an H.R. 1 (ARRA) grant, construction contracts for related contracts must be awarded no later than Sep 30, 2012. If USDOT accepts the state’s self-imposed condition of matching federal funds dollar-for-dollar, the state legislature would have to actually appropriate the requisite prop 1A(2008) bond funds no later than the summer of 2012, though CHSRA appears to be counting on getting them a year earlier.
At this juncture, the project-level plans for LA-Anaheim are not yet set in stone, though CHSRA has already eliminated the option of running just the HSR tracks on an aerial (see the Anaheim to LA Alignment Alternatives Report) in response to complaints about the visual impact. IDK if a retained fill embankment was ever considered, but I’m not advocating the introduction of a new option.
The remaining options are:
- No Project, i.e. no true bullet train service south of Anaheim. Instead, the existing Pacific Surfliner route would be upgraded to operation at up to 110mph where feasible. This is what CHSRA recommended for the coast corridor all the way down to San Diego before scoping it out of further consideration, i.e. it considers its remit to include only what the Obama administration has defined as “express HSR”. Eliminating the LA-Anaheim segment from the bullet train network would be permitted under AB3034(2008), but the political decision state voters took when they approved prop 1A(2008) is that the southern endpoint of the starter line should be Anaheim ARTIC rather than LA Union Station. Besides, Curt Pringle and other Orange county leaders would presumably strongly oppose any such exclusion, if only because of the construction jobs / indirect campaign contributions involved.
- Dedicated HSR tracks between LA and a terminus in Fullerton. Partial implementation of a segment is also permissible, but this variant would undermine plans for ARTIC and ignore voter intent. Besides, Fullerton Metrolink might not be a viable site for anything other than a secondary through station, if that. The plan of record is a station in Norwalk/Santa Fe Springs. Overnight stabling would be an even greater headache in Fullerton than near ARTIC, as would parking. As for an extension of the Disneyland monorail, fuggedaboudit. CHSRA has no plans to extend the network via the BNSF Transcon corridor at least as far as Corona, as this would serve fewer people than the preferred LA-San Diego route through the San Gabriel valley, which also includes Ontario airport. A station there is considered essential if HSR is to have a snowball’s chance in the hot place of achieving one of its core objectives: avoiding the construction of an additional runway at LAX while also providing limited relief for Lindbergh Field. For all of these reasons, terminating phase 1 in Fullerton has never been seriously considered.
- Dedicated HSR tracks between LA and Fullerton plus upgrades to at-grade legacy tracks and signaling to enable mixed traffic between Fullerton and Anaheim, for limited direct service to Anaheim ARTIC. This was Morshed’s original plan, conceivable only because there are no active stations in this section and HSR trains will anyhow travel at standard speeds. However, it would entail merging a fourth service into an already fairly busy timetable. As discussed above, full grade separation would be highly advisable even if speeds remain moderate. Sound/vibration mitigation for abutting properties should also be looked into. That said, Curt Pringle has all but nixed this option already.
- Dedicated HSR tracks between LA and Anaheim ARTIC, with dedicated tracks at grade south of Fullerton. This would entail widening the right of way as discussed above. The best currently available information on just how much width is absolutely required for four tracks is provided here in the context of the SF peninsula segment. The final number for especially constrained sections is not yet available. Full grade separation of all four tracks would be highly advisable, as would sound/vibration mitigation since the outer tracks would run even closer to abutting homes and businesses.
- Dedicated HSR tracks between LA and Anaheim ARTIC, with dedicated HSR tracks in a very expensive bored tunnel directly underneath the legacy tracks, covering at least the constrained section between North and E Vermont streets in Anaheim. Elevation transitions featuring a 3.5% gradient and vertical transition curves would also be needed. Again, full grade separation of all four tracks plus sound/vibration mitigation would be advisable in the sections where the ROW is already wide enough to permit laying dedicated HSR tracks at grade. In the stacked track section and the associated elevation transitions, future grade separation options would be constrained to just one: tall overpasses. Without those, the anticipated expansion of legacy rail operations might render cross road availability just borderline acceptable by the 2020 time frame. In other words, spending a lot more to put the HSR tracks underground could have the unintended consequence of bisecting the core of the community.
Community Meeting Jan 20
At the request of OCTA and the city of Anaheim, CHSRA will host a Community Meeting next month to present the status of the project-level planning and obtain additional input from local agencies and members of the general public. Hopefully this post will give anyone planning to attend a more comprehensive primer on the complex and partially conflicting interests of the parties involved. I myself will be traveling on that day.
Location: Anaheim City Hall, Council Chambers, 200 S. Anaheim Boulevard, Anaheim, CA 92805
Date/Time: Wednesday, January 20, 5:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m.