From the Sunday Train
Since Gov. Brown saved the California HSR project for the second time (the first time was in 2012), I've had a look at the general issue of funding HSR with Cap and Trade, and looked at some possibilities for complementary conventional intercity rail in the Bay Area and the San Joaquin Valley north of Fresno ... so I thought I might start moving south of Fresno.
And today I am going to focus on Bakersfield and a starting sketch of an idea for what I call the "Bakersfield Express Bypass." I do want to stress upfront, so its not lost in the details of talking about the Bypass, that I am not talking about "skipping Bakersfield", but rather talking about how best to plan for those LA to SF trains that will eventually be Express trains, Anaheim, LA, Burbank, Fresno, San Jose, San Francisco Transbay.
The Timing of the Bakersfield Services and Express Services Past Bakersfield
Let me orient this in the overall plan of rolling out the first phase of the California HSR ... the rail service that some have taken to calling "The Monarch", after the state butterfly:
- (0) Before beginning to list the stages, the basic strategy in the phasing is to always make sure that every segment is immediately useful, no matter what role it plays in the finished system.
- (1) "Initial Construction Segment": Build the cheap, fast track in the Central Valley. That can be used right away by existing Amtrak trains and gives a place to test the HSR trains in advance of starting the operating service. (
- Need a Through Bakersfield Route Here: (2) "Close the Gap": Close the gap between Bakersfield and Palmdale, where people can catch a rail connection between the Amtrak train and a Metrolink train to LA Union Station.
- (3) "Starter HSR Service": After closing the gap, leapfrog the slow Metrolink train by getting to Burbank Airport and start running bullet trains to a station where people can get transfer onto existing services, preferably the Surfliner from San Diego, Anaheim and LA Union Station. (2022?)
- (4) "Bay to Basin: Get from the Central Valley line to San Jose, where people can catch connections all around the Bay Area, including downtown SF and Oakland, and to Sacremento on the Capitol Corridor. (2026?)
- (5) Need to support Express Trains bypassing Bakersfield Station here: "Finish the Bookends": Finish the work from the San Fernando Valley to LA Union Station and Anaheim, and from San Jose to San Francisco's downtown Transbay Terminal, to get the bullet trains to downtown LA and downtown SF. (2028?)
As you can see, there is quite a long time gap before the corridor actually needs to run Express trains that bypass Bakersfield Station ... but Bakersfield Station is slated to be part of the Initial Operating Service, and the work on Bakersfield Station would normally be part of the even earlier "Close The Gap" segment. And I've put question marks after the years, because the dates as planned depend upon unlocking the current Federal funding gridlock on rail, where the President proposes a budget for upgrading intercity rail service, and the House GOP zeroes it out (in part on ideological grounds, in part just because the President proposed it).
So what has to be done when California moves from the Initial Construction Segment to the Close the Gap segment depends on what plans to be done to run California High Speed "Monarch" trains past Bakersfield for services without a Bakersfield stop.
The Challenges of the Bakersfield Through Route
So, what's the issue? Lets take a stroll through memory lane (even if most of this was never stored in the memories of most of the Sunday Train readership.
To the right you can see the 2005 version of the Bakersfield alignment alternatives. Where the existing rail corridors are labelled "UPRR", that means Union Pacific, where its labeled "BNSF" that means that its BNSF. And most of the route selected is obvious when you know that the Union Pacific has tended to demand maximum separation between freight trains and HSR. And things are sounding good for the version of the "Tuxton Station" option that is located near, but not at, the Amtrak Station, though there are "construction issues" (from the 2005 Program Level EIR/EIS (pdf), p. 6-44):
The Truxton station would have the highest connectivity of the three locations being evaluated to serve Bakersfield. The Truxton station would connect to the new Bakersfield Amtrak Station and is in the city center of Bakersfield, within walking distance of the convention center and City Hall. The Truxton station location also has good access to SR-99. The Truxton station would have high ridership potential. Intercity ridership forecasts estimate between 1.9 and 2.6 million total boardings and alightings annually by 2020. The Truxton station would have higher construction costs and construction issues than the other Bakersfield station options, and is estimated to cost $32.4 million for the Union Avenue station option, and $165 million for the Amtrak station option.Well, lets fast forward to May 2014, and read in the Bakersfield Californian that Baksersfield City Council is suing the CHSRA:
City Manager Alan Tandy said the EIR and EIS were greatly lacking, and reemphasized the CHSRA’s lack of responsiveness to Bakersfield. “The document was deficient on its face. A terribly prepared, horribly prepared document,” Tandy said, noting that he believes the rail agency will have to restart the environmental process and do a new EIR and EIS south of 7th Standard Road through Bakersfield — with a new alignment.The problem is running a train at high speed through downtown Bakersfield relying on one or another rail corridor that was not originally laid out for high speed operation. That means a lot of elevated HSR corridor, and even though the rail corridor itself is reasonably wide, the sweeping curves required by trains traveling at a high speed means that the elevated corridor cannot stay within the airspace of the rail corridor ... leading to the expressed concerns.
The train’s current alignment would cut through significant city and private properties including McMurtrey Aquatic Center, the city’s Municipal Services Corporation Yard, Bakersfield High School, Bethel Christian School and Mill Creek. “At this point, we know the route they’ve selected is not acceptable to us whether they can tweak it or need to move it four miles or what,” Tandy said.
The California HSR Authority have attempted to address this with an alternative alignment that reduces property impacts. This is the so-called "Bakersfield Hybrid" alignment. The problem is that it reduces property impacts by doing exactly what the earlier alignments were trying to avoid: curves that reduce the speed limit of the train. In particular, it includes two 115mph curves.
Why is that a problem? Well, for trains stopping at Bakersfield, there's no problem. For trains stopping at Bakersfield, a 90mph segment of corridor on both sides of the station would not be a problem ... because the train is coming to a stop and accelerating from a stop.
However, the 2008 Proposition 1a that passed set out a target of 2hrs, 40min LA to SF. Every five minutes that you add to the Express Route makes it harder to hit that target. And two 115mph curves that close together means that the Express train is coming down to 110mph before the first curve, running through at 110mph, and then accelerating again after passing the second curve.
Now, the Bakersfield City Manager talked about a "tweek" or an entirely new alignment, but what I am going to suggest here is a design alternative that wasn't available in 2005, and, indeed, wasn't available until 2012, when the current design process for downtown Bakersfield was already well advanced.
"Blended Operation" and Bakersfield
I don't really like "Blended Operation" to describe the CHSRA plan for running into downtown LA and downtown SF ... to me, it sounds more like a smoothie bar franchise at a mall than an operating plan for HSR. But the basic idea goes back to the way that the French planned the second major HSR corridor in the 1980's (after the Japanese bullet-trains of the 1960's). The French already had an electrified express passenger rail corridor that terminated not far from downtown Paris. So instead of build an all new corridor to connect to downtown Paris, they decided to use the existing corridor. They built the HSR corridor out in the countryside, and connected to the existing express passenger corridor into Paris to complete the system. So the the first "Blended Operation" HSR corridor was the French TGV1, from Paris to Lyon.
Now, California doesn't actually have express passenger rail corridors into downtown SF and LA, but it does have rail corridor: the Caltrain corridor from Gilroy through San Jose to downtown San Francisco, and the LOSSAN from SLO-Santa Barbara to San Diego that runs through the LA Basin. So the plan is to upgrade the Caltrain corridor from San Jose to the new SF Transbay, and the LOSSAN corridor from the Burbank Airport through to Anaheim into express passenger rail corridors, and use those for the HSR to connect downtown LA with downtown SF.
"Blended Operation" was not on the table as an option when the 2005 EIR/EIS was being prepared. And all alignment alternatives since then have assumed that its cheaper and easier to build a single alignment through Bakersfield for both All-Stations and Express trains, and so have all been looking for the single alignment that gets the stopping trains to an appropriate station, and the express trains through Bakersfield in a hurry.
Turning to another country with HSR, the approach in Italy is normally to run HSR on a bypass around a city, and connect into a local rail corridor for trains stopping in that city. And before Blended Operation, this would have been a clearly more expensive alternative for Bakersfield, since both the bypass and the local through alignment would have to be dedicated HSR corridor.
But now that Blended Operation is allowed, if there was an Express Bypass, only the Express Bypass has to be a dedicated HSR corridor. The local through alignment can be a general express passenger rail corridor. Indeed, since the most speed-sensitive train is on the bypass, and the stopping train is stopping, it could be a Class V track with a 90mph speed limit. It would still have elevated sections where required for grade separation with traffic or freight rail tracks, but it could be at grade for much of the corridor, or elevated on a less expensive filled-wall embankment.
But Where Would a Bakersfield Express Bypass Go?
Ah, but where can such a bypass go?
Well, googling around, there was one potential alignment that struck me. This is the Seven Standard Road at the north edge of Bakersfield, which runs in very close to a straight line from the BNSF rail corridor from Fresno (to the north and west) that will have the new HSR rail corridor built next to it, through the to UPRR rail corridor that connects down to the area where the HSR train will be leaving Bakersfield bound for the LA Basin. One viaduct with a broad sweeping curve to bring the HSR onto a Seven Std. Rd alignment, and a second one to bring the HSR corridor on the other side, and then a fairly straight median road alignment in between.
I've also circled on this snapshot from Google Maps the two curves that make the existing rail corridor so problematic for High Speed Rail.
Now, as I do not have the staff resources of the California HSR Authority, this is not a detailed alignment ... but you get the basic idea.
One of the advantages of Seven Standard Road is that being on the northern edge of town, there is substantially less development. While the western end is more developed, there are sections of Seven Std. Rd that look like this:
This suggests there may be an opportunity to "expand the median". This would be like a road widening project, except it doesn't end up in actually widening any asphalt. Rather, after widening the road on the outside, it takes over space on the inside for a wider median. If it was possible to build the HSR corridor on a walled filled embankment, that would make for a shorter rise required to clear intersections, while still being less expensive to build than the kind of viaducts that are presently being planned for the corridor.
Meanwhile, back in downtown Bakersfield
Now, without having to allow for a 220mph Express Train (slated to be braked down to 110mph), we have much more flexibility in downtown Bakersfield. One opportunity that arises is the opportunity to operate a local rail service on the corridor, with stations along the Blended Operation corridor in Bakersfield and extending out as far as Shafter and Wasco.
Wasco is the next stop up the line on the San Joaquin service. Unlike Bakersfield it is not a station with sufficient demand to justify receiving an HSR station. It would be an upgrade rather than a downgrade to receive a local rail service with higher frequencies to Bakersfield, and connecting to the HSR through to Fresno and Hanford in the region, and SF and LA when the HSR corridor is finished.
And without having to accommodate an Express HSR running through, the Bakersfield Station gains substantially more flexibility in both placement and in integration with the existing Amtrak station.
Conclusions & Conversations
The Sunday Train only really begins when you hop and board and join the conversation, and so that is where I want to turn it over to you.
Given that in the long-term livable case, we will find a way to achieve a "policy unlock" on all kinds of sustainable transport technologies, including electric High Speed Rail powered by sustainably generated electricity ...
... what kind of High Speed Rail would you like to see in your neck of the woods, and how would you like it to connect to the downtowns that you have an interest in?