Rail Improvements in California over the Next 5-7 Years

Story and Photos by Noel T. Braymer

With all the talk about High Speed Rail and 130 miles of new construction in the San Joaquin Valley by 2018, what can we expect between Los Angeles and San Diego? The projects we can be sure of have been in the works for years. In San Diego County there are about 60 miles of passenger railroad of which over half is now double tracked. By 2018 we can expect at least 8 miles of additional double tracking making 2/3’s of the railroad in San Diego County double tracked.

There is 1.4 miles of double tracking now under construction in Sorrento Valley that should be finished in 2013. By 2015 an additional 1.1 mile should be built in Sorrento Valley as well as 4.2 miles at San Onofre in Camp Pendleton. By 2016 1.5 miles of double tracking will be built in Encinitas. Station improvements  at Oceanside with a third platform and track will increase track capacity with a track to park commuter trains between runs off of the main double tracks by 2014.  A pedestrian tunnel at the Poinsettia Coaster Station to replace the current at grade crossing between tracks will allow 2 trains to use that station at a time increasing track capacity and reduce running times also by 2014.

Construction this summer in Sorrento Valley in San Diego for double tracking

View from the train of a new double tracked bridge to replace the 1916 bridge over the Santa Margarita River in Camp Pendleton

In Orange County by 2014 the plan is to extend double tracking 1.7 miles from the Laguna Niguel/Mission Viejo Station to just outside of San Juan Capistrano. In addition by 2017 there will be 8 miles of triple track in Irvine which will increase the track capacity of the corridor and allow express trains to pass slower local trains. Also by 2014 Anaheim plans to open its new ARTIC Transportation Center to replace the current trains station. By 2018 they hope to have Streetcars connecting ARTIC with the area around Disneyland. Most of the other improvements will be for grade separations in Orange County. This could allow faster running times in the county in the future.

Triple Tracking starts here at Fullerton and is being built for 15 more miles towards Los Angeles

In Los Angeles County by 2016 we should see  the completion of 15 miles of triple track between Fullerton and the City of Commerce . A major part of this work are grade separations in this region. There are 7 grade crossings left in Los Angeles County on this segment that need grade separating. There are 2 grade separations under construction now; Passon Blvd in Pico Rivera which will be finished in 2012 and Valley View Ave at the border of La Mirada and Santa Fe Springs finishing in 2014. The rail right of way and grade separations are wide enough to handle 4 tracks. Not only will a grade separated triple track railroad handle more rail traffic without disruption of road traffic but will make it easier to add a fourth track in the near future. With 4 tracks it will be possible to run passenger trains faster on their own 2 tracks than mixed with the slower freight trains.

Recent construction for the new grade separation at Valley View Ave.

Caltran’s graphic of the Valley View Ave. construction

One local project in Los Angeles that will effect Union Station is the Regional Connector now starting construction and scheduled to be finished by 2019. This will be a new rail transit tunnel in downtown which will extend the Blue Line from Long Beach to Little Tokyo, Union Station , Pasadena and the San Gabriell Valley. The Expo Line will also be extended to Little Tokyo and East Los Angeles with same platform transfers to Union Station.

Tracks 13 and 14 have been rebuilt and added at LAUS to make possible closing tracks in the future to build run through tracks

The big project in Los Angeles are the run-through tracks at Union Station. This is a complicated project which now includes 8 run-through tracks out of 12 station passenger tracks with additional bridges on the Los Angeles River to allow through running by any train on all the train routes serving LAUS. By 2017 LA Metro is planning to have this project done which will greatly change LAUS. This should also take 5 to 10 minutes out of the running times for most trains using the station and allow more direct service in the region. This will be critical for future high speed rail service.

Close up view from a graphic from LA Metro of their plans for the LAUS run through tracks

What is less clear but we should be hearing more of in the near future are track improvements north of Los Angeles up as far as Palmdale and Lancaster. These improvements will be needed for faster Metrolink service in the area and for future high speed intercity passenger rail service.  Between Santa Clarita and Palmdale the rail line has steep grades and sharp curves which hold speeds to 35 miles per hour or less for much of the route. A future high speed alignment will likely need a new tunnel roughly following Highway 14 which would bypass the Santa Clarita area. In the near future track improvements should be able to reduce the running times on this route.

This is the recently upgraded siding at Lang on the Antelope Valley Metrolink Line from Los Angeles to Lancaster

So what can be done with these track improvements? With track improvements in the San Joaquin Valley and new faster equipment at least an hour in running time can be pulled out of the running times of the San Joaquins. With track improvements and run-through tracks at LAUS running times should be greatly reduced between San Diego and Los Angeles. Also with run-through tracks it will be possible to run more trains during rush hours. This will allow more intercity trains to run during rush hours without interfering with commuter trains. With new trains on both the San Joaquins and Pacific Surfliners connected by a bus bridge at Santa Clarita it will be possible to offer rail service from Southern California to the San Joaquin Valley and the Bay Area in less time than it takes to drive. This expanded service would be able to give one day travel mostly by rail by 2018 during the morning, midday and evening peaks. Travelers would be able to leave either the Bay Area or Southern California in the early morning and arrive in Southern California or the Bay Area by mid-day and still return home that night. With expanded service on the ACE route to San Jose via the Altamont Pass either dedicated connections or even direct new San Joaquin service from Bakersfield to San Jose and even San Francisco is possible. Expanded service to Sacramento is desirable but is subject to the approval and the conditions of the agreement of the UP for passenger service between Stockton and Sacramento.

Even on just a local level these track improvements in Southern California will allow additional frequencies and faster running times. With greater coordination faster express trains could run  with fewer stops between San Diego and Los Angeles. These express trains could still connect to other cities with connecting Coaster and Metrolink trains at Oceanside, Irvine, Anaheim and at Los Angeles. These express trains should continue pass Los Angeles for a larger market toward Santa Barbara and San Francisco as well as to Santa Clarita for a bus bridge to the San Joaquin and going as far as Palmdale. The infrastructure work that will be built in the next 5-7 years will make these services possible. The Question is will this level of service be available in 5 years or so able to take advantage of these track improvements?

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