How fast can Trains run between Los Angeles and San Diego?

Comments by Noel T. Braymer

Governor Schwarzenegger recently proposed service between Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Diego in 2 hours and 10 minutes. This will be a “demonstration project” to give Californians a taste of Higher Speed Rail. So far there haven’t been many more facts about this project beyond a deadline of November, 2 months before the end of the Governor’s term and that European equipment would be used that will require FRA waivers to be used here.

The worse case scenario is that an express train will be run with only one stop in Anaheim. This would drop 6 intermediate stops which could save 30 minutes on the running time between Los Angeles and San Diego. The problem with this is express trains don’t carry many passengers. You have to stop at stations to pick up passengers. Also if this is just one train a day, the train may not be running at the time  passengers may want to leave or get to were they are going. Saving 30 minutes mean nothing if you have to wait two hours for your train. Express trains usually work when they are paired with local trains to feed intermediate traffic to them and the trains have good transfer traffic at terminals.
Now it is possible that this demonstration train could make all intermediate stops and still run in 2 hours and 10 minutes. Currently Surfliner trains wait 4 minutes at each station. This could be cut to 2 minutes or less which saves 15 minutes. There is at least 10 minutes of padding in the Surfliner schedule. Cut 5 minutes out of the padding and have cut the running time to 2 hours 20 minutes. It seems the equipment being proposed for this service is surplus Deutsche Bahn DMU self propelled tilt train rail cars in 4 car trainsets. This equipment has tilt train capability allowing faster speeds around curves. With better acceleration, braking and some higher speeds it may be possible to cut out that last 10 minutes to run trains in 2 hours and 10 minutes. However considering the history of local rail service over the last 30 years on this corridor, such a bold move seems unlikely.
Ten years ago when the Surfliner equipment was just being delivered, it was expected that by 2005 the running times between Los Angeles and San Diego would be 2 hours and 6 minutes! The goal for the then recently renamed Surfliner service was that in the foreseeable future the Surfliners would run between Los Angeles and San Diego in under 2 hours.  Yet with some effort we could see running times now cut on the Surfliners to 2 hours and 20 minutes by stopping at stations for 2 minutes instead of 4 and cutting out some of the padding in the current schedule. With low floor loading and wide powered doors the Surfliners were designed to cut the loading time in half over the old Amfleet cars. To get the Surfliners to run at 2 hours and 10 minutes will require run through tracks at LAUS, a 4 track railroad separating passenger and freight between Los Angeles and Fullerton, a flyover at the Fullerton junction between the BNSF mainline and the line to San Diego plus more double tracking in San Diego County. Most of this work should be done as part of the work for HSR service between Los Angeles and Anaheim. To get under 2 hours running time will require full grade separation to allow speeds of 110 miles per hour with tunnels at San Clemente, Del Mar and Sorrento Valley.
Yet today we have seen no reduction in running times between Los Angeles and San Diego since 1980. To be able to run trains on time will require more double tracking both north and south of Los Angeles and greater reliability of the equipment used on the corridor. Breakdowns of trains and of the railroad happened too often in the corridor to reliably run trains on time, let alone to shorten running time. Money together with will is needed to insure faster, reliable passenger service on the Surfliners.
The tilt train equipment such as is being considered for this experiment can be very useful. One of the most neglected regions for passenger service in this state is along the coast between Los Angeles and San Francisco. This route is considered a high speed corridor by the FRA. Much of the right of way on this line has many curves and steep grades with would be perfect for a powerful tilting trainset. If two tilt trainsets could be leased and a grant issued for this service from the FRA, we could have Los Angeles to San Francisco service running in just a few years. With money come more bargaining power with the UP.Some modest track work would be needed for more siding and raised running speeds. But in very little time we could see service is under 7 hours between Los Angeles and San Francisco. This will give the State an early taste of higher speed rail service.

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