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What’s Ahead for California Rail Passenger Service in 2015

By Noel T. Braymer

Construction is the big news for 2015. Construction is needed before we can expand service in many places. The year starts out with the Official Ground Breaking for the California High Speed Rail Project in Fresno on January 6th. This ceremony has been put off for over a year until funding could be secured with Cap and Trade money to build beyond the San Joaquin Valley. Also much of the efforts of the California High Speed Rail Authority has been focused on dealing with several lawsuits which in the last few months have been settled in favor of High Speed Rail. Work on the project is building up steam although most of the work involves design and land acquisition. There is also some demolition of buildings in Fresno along the future right of way. With 2 construction contracts now in place we should see more signs of construction soon.

San Diego County has the most single track and most bottlenecks for rail service between San Diego and Los Angeles. This limits the number of trains that can be run in and to San Diego and increases the potential for delays. San Diego County is planning to double track most of the line in the County over the next 20 years. Two double track projects under construction now will be finished in 2015. One is for 4.2 miles of double track in Camp Pendleton south of San Onofre. This will allow more meets while reducing the need to use Serra Siding in San Juan Capistrano. Between the current San Onofre siding and Serra siding is a major single track bottleneck limiting the number of trains that can be run. When an additional 1.6 miles is built in the future to connect these new double tracks with the double tracking at the south end of Camp Pendleton, this will give 16 miles of continuous double tracking.

The second double track project to finish in San Diego in 2015 will be an additional mile in Sorrento Valley. This will create roughly 3 miles of double track between Del Mar and Miramar. This new double track will allow addition train service in San Diego County. This will likely mean increasing the number of Coaster Trains between Oceanside and San Diego from 11 round trips to 14 in the near future on week days. This could include an additional Surfliner from 11 to 12 round trips a day. This new Surfliner will likely be a faster train with fewer station stops than current trains.

Finishing in 2015 will be construction for extending Metrolink to Perris in Riverside County. This is the first extension of Metrolink service since 1994. This will add 24 miles from Riverside to Perris with 4 new stops with one in Riverside, Moreno Valley and 2 in Perris. Service is expected to begin in late 2015 as an extension of the 91 Corridor line between Riverside, Fullerton and Los Angeles. There are currently 4 and a half round trips on the 91 Corridor trains. There are plans to expand this in the near term to 6 round trips. Long term plans call for up to 16 round trips. These additional trains will depend on triple tracking now under construction between Fullerton and Los Angeles. After 2023 we should see 4 tracks between Fullerton and Los Angeles and many more trains.

Much of the construction finishing in 2015 will be for Light Rail. In San Diego, the Trolley will finish a $660 million dollar overhaul of its Blue and Orange Lines in 2015.This was needed to upgrade stations, tracks and electrification which were 30 years or more old. When finished, the Blue and Orange Lines will be able to operated new, low floor cars for faster loading of all passengers including those with special needs which are already available on the newer Green Line.

Also in 2015 San Diego will begin construction of the extension of the Blue Line to the UCSD/University Town Centre (UTC) area north of Old Town. With the upgraded Blue Line, it will be possible to extend it north of the downtown Santa Fe Depot past Old Town to UTC by 2019. Also by early 2016 new construction underway at the San Diego Airport will allow shuttle bus service from the Trolley to the airport from the nearby Washington St Trolley Station on a new intra-airport road that will bypass traffic on existing surface streets.

In Los Angeles County Light Rail Construction will be finished in 2015 on the extensions of the Expo Line  from Culver City to Santa Monica and the Gold Line from east Pasadena to Azusa. This still leaves construction on the Crenshaw Line, the Regional Connector extending the Blue and Expo Lines north of 7th and Flower and the extension of the Purple Line 4 miles west from Wilshire and Western to Wilshire and La Cienaga. The question of when service will begin on the new segments of the Expo and Gold Lines will depend on when new cars can be delivered.The tracks will be ready by late 2015, but the new cars may not be until early 2016.