How to Get High Speed From LA to SD Before HSR Arrives
Alon Levy has a great article at the Voice of San Diego exploring how to speed up the popular passenger rail service between Los Angeles and San Diego well before the California high speed rail project gets to that segment – which is likely many years away. His answer: take advantage of new FRA rules and electrify:
The way to achieve trip times lower than two hours on legacy track is to combine new federal regulations and strategic investments intended to take advantage of the new rules. In late 2016, the Federal Railroad Administration released new regulations for passenger rail safety, which allow lightly modified European trains to run on U.S. tracks. Previously, unique U.S. rules required trains to be heavier. This follows a regulatory change from 2010 that allows trains to run faster on curves, subject to safety testing. The existing diesel locomotives are too heavy to take advantage of this change, but lighter electric passenger trains face no such obstacle.
This means that the region needs to invest in electrifying the corridor from San Diego to Los Angeles, and potentially as far north as San Luis Obispo. Between San Diego and Los Angeles, the likely cost – based on the California high-speed rail electrification cost – is about $800 million.
Levy points out that electric engines not only allow for faster service on legacy tracks, but that their superior power allows for cheaper ways to get around slow parts of the route:
All of the above improvements work together. New regulations allow the corridor to use more powerful trains. This encourages electrification, in order to immediately buy the best standard-speed trains available, and run faster on curves. Electrification, in turn, encourages a cheaper Miramar Hill realignment than the proposed tunnel.
I think this is a brilliant idea. At a cost of less than $1 billion, it’s affordable and can add desperately needed capacity to the crowded and busy LA-SD corridor. I don’t know how this would affect Metrolink operations, especially their Inland Empire-OC line (which under this proposal would be half electric and half not), but there are probably ways to deal with that.
California will need to step up and take a greater role in funding transportation infrastructure now that Trump is in the White House, and this LA-SD plan is a good and affordable place to start.