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The Top 3 Most Needed High Speed Rail Connections in California

By Noel T. Braymer

Current planning by the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) is for initial High Speed Rail service of 34 round trips daily by 2022 between Merced and Burbank. By 2022 with the completion of run through tracks by 2020 at Los Angeles Union Station there will be plenty of connections from Metrolink and Surfliner trains at Burbank. But by 2022 the running times from San Diego to Burbank won’t be much shorter than today unless we see more improvements. The Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) is planning to run 6 trains from Merced via Fremont to San Jose. Two of these trains would connect with High Speed Rail at Merced while the other 4 with the San Joaquins.There are no plans for connections to Sacramento from Merced with the San Joaquin trains to High Speed Rail. There isn’t even a joint station in Merced for High Speed Rail and the San Joaquins.

By 2029 the plan is to extend High Speed Rail from Merced via Gilroy to San Jose and San Francisco. From Burbank, by 2029 the plan is to extend High Speed Rail to Los Angeles Union Station and Anaheim. There are no firm dates after 2029 when High Speed Rail will be extended to San Diego via the Inland Empire or to Sacramento. There are no plans to extend High Speed Rail directly to the East Bay by Fremont.

These three travel markets, San Diego, the East Bay and Sacramento are all major transportation centers in California. It will be years before it will be possible to build High Speed Rail to these places. But there are existing railroads that can be used and improved to run more and faster service to connect and feed High Speed Rail trains long before High Speed Rail can be built to connect to these places.

LOSSAN is planning to run additional trains between San Diego and Los Angeles in the future. By 2040 the plan is for up to 16 round trip local trains and 4 round trip express trains. The plan is to use the same equipment on all trains similar to the current Surfliners. One problem in California is there is not enough equipment for current and future travel demand. One way to reduce running times even more is by using new equipment able to accelerate, go up grades and around curves faster. One way to do this is to use multiple unit equipment with train tilting. With multiple unit equipment, such trains would have more powered axles for more traction for better acceleration and grade climbing than with a locomotive. With tilting, the train can go through curves faster without passenger discomfort. With additional track work, an even faster running time could be possible with limited stops than using the existing equipment.

The Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) has long term plans to use Multiple Unit trains for faster service between between Stockton, Merced and San Jose. The plan now is to use existing equipment by 2022 to run up to 10 trains a day between Stockton and San Jose with connections at Santa Clara to Caltrain.
The operator of ACE also manages the San Joaquin Joint Powers Authority which is responsible for the San Joaquin Trains. The San Joaquins currently operate 2 round trips a day between Bakersfield and Sacramento.

Most planning for the San Joaquin trains in the near future is to expand local service for the Valley to the Bay Area with 2 more round trip trains by 2016 up from the current 4 round trips from Bakersfield. The plan includes adding service that would leave from Fresno or Merced earlier in the morning to arrive earlier in Oakland and Emeryville. There would be no early morning service in the south San Joaquin Valley or bus connections to Southern California. These 2 new trains would be basically commuter trains.

The main problem with expanding service to bring the California Rail Passenger network together with High Speed Rail is lack of money. More money will be needed to connect High Speed Rail in the near future to San Diego, the East Bay and Sacramento. Even after 2029, the connection from San Diego at Anaheim to High Speed Rail will be slow if more isn’t done. There will still be limited ACE service even by 2029 and it is unknown when there will be connections to Sacramento to High Speed Rail and more service.

More track improvements in San Diego and south Orange County combined with faster, new equipment could be running to Burbank by 2022. This service could also be extended as part of faster service to Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and ultimately to San Jose. But for now nothing is being planned to run much faster between the second largest city in California to the largest city in California.

Even by 2029 when the CHSRA plans to run service to San Jose and San Francisco, there still will be a need for additional rail service and High Speed Rail connections from the upper San Joaquin Valley to the East Bay. High Speed Rail connections are needed in the East Bay to ACE, Caltrain, Capitol Corridor and BART. Planning and funding are both needed to make this happen. Sacramento is a transportation hub and always has been. Not only does Sacramento attract many tourists to our State’s Capitol, but many government and business employees with contracts with the State travel in and out of Sacramento too. This is a perfect travel corridor for good rail service. But there is no telling when there will be money to extend High Speed Rail service to Sacramento.

In a short period of time we can upgrade and double track much of the San Joaquin train route for higher speed and more rail service between Bakersfield and Sacramento. Even after High Speed Rail is extended to Sacramento, there will still be a need for good local service in the San Joaquin Valley to Sacramento.

There will be many potential passengers unable to use the California High Speed Rail system until we can connect it to San Diego County, the East Bay around Fremont and Oakland put Sacramento.