Cathleen Galgiani’s Smarter, Faster HSR Plan
Yesterday the California Legislature approved the 2014-15 budget. It includes $250 million for high speed rail, and will give 25% of cap-and-trade revenues to HSR in future years.
At the floor debate in the Senate over the budget, Senator Cathleen Galgiani – a longtime supporter of HSR – offered what she called a Smarter, Faster Plan for how to use the HSR funds.
The first part is using the Altamont Corridor Express tracks to set up a “test track” from Bakersfield to San Francisco:
So here is the political question we should be asking ourselves.
How can we take best advantage of our initial investment in the Central Valley Test Track?
A test track I consider to be from Bakersfield to San Francisco.
And here’s why.
Once we finish the test track in the Central Valley, we can connect it with the Altamont Commuter Express (ACE) system to Santa Clara.
In Santa Clara, passengers can walk across a platform and board a newly electrified Caltrain system from Santa Clara to San Francisco. Because of high-speed rail funding, Caltrain will be electrified and ready for service by 2019.
High-speed connectivity from Bakersfield to San Francisco, can be established using existing funds we already have today.
What I hear her saying is that ACE can help bring passenger rail service from the tracks about to be built in the Central Valley to the Bay Area and San Francisco. It’s an interesting service plan to be sure.
Sure to be even more interesting are her comments on what to do in Southern California:
Next Stop – Palmdale to Burbank & Anaheim to Los Angeles
In Southern California, residents in the Antelope Valley have the longest commute time in the country.
Commuters using Metrolink spend one hour and fifty minutes each way, traveling back and forth from Palmdale to Los Angeles. Cooperation between Metrolink and the High Speed Rail Authority will reduce daily commute times closer to twenty minutes from LA Union Station to Burbank, and twenty minutes from Burbank to Palmdale.
LA Metro owns much of the property within an existing rail “right-of-way” from LA Union Station to Burbank, and Palmdale. Transportation leaders in the LOSSAN corridor (San Luis Obispo to Los Angeles to San Diego) have agreed to move forward with a “shared corridor” concept, and plans are underway to “double-track” much of this corridor so that high speed rail can run within the existing Metrolink corridor.
If we were to prioritize funding on the sub-segment from Palmdale to Burbank alone, and make capacity improvements at LA Union Station, we could reduce these daily commute times of one 1 hour and 50 minutes each way, to 30 or 40 minutes each way from Palmdale to Los Angeles.
And if we prioritize Los Angeles to Anaheim, we reduce emissions in a 30 mile corridor that nearly equal the emissions in Los Angeles to Fresno.
Interestingly, the only segment not addressed here is the missing link between Bakersfield and Palmdale, a gap which prevents the existence of a true statewide passenger rail network (apologies to the Coast Starlight). What Galgiani is suggesting here is a phasing that would meet some of the political demands from coastal legislators that they see some of this money sooner, especially the investment in the SoCal corridors.
The flipside is that this risks using the HSR funds merely to upgrade existing rail service without necessarily getting us much closer to a bullet train from downtown SF to downtown LA. It’s only a risk, and this plan meets the basic goals of HSR by upgrading existing corridors, something that had been long planned. But it also kicks some of the bigger and more important pieces of the project down the tracks a bit.
Much remains to be determined about the next steps for HSR in the years to come, especially now that its financial future is looking a LOT brighter with the use of cap-and-trade funds. Personally, I think the priority should be spending to build HSR tracks from Bakersfield to Palmdale and close this key gap. But this Smarter, Faster Plan could also help us get toward the ultimate goals of the bullet train system.