Opinion by Noel T. Braymer
The California High Speed Rail Authority is now planning to run the shortest economically viable segment for an initial start up service rather than wait to have the entire phase I line running from Anaheim to San Francisco. This is a good idea to get revenue and let people see the service in operation which will increase support for expanding High Speed Rail service in the state. The Authority is now looking at 3 possible routes for this initial service: San Jose to Bakersfield, Merced to the San Fernando Valley and Merced to Palmdale. My recommendation is the later, Merced to Palmdale. There is a market of 22 million people south of Bakersfield compared with 6 million in the Bay Area. Also Palmdale is less distant and will be cheaper than going to San Fernando. But such a service can still serve most of California. Many High Speed Rail services such as the TGV in France and ICE in Germany run trains on both dedicated high speed tracks as well as the old conventional tracks. Even Europe still has grade crossing and high speed trains run on tracks with them. French TGV trains have even been in accidents at grade crossings.
Los Angeles County is already working on plans to upgrade and run faster trains from Los Angeles to Palmdale. This will include providing run-through service at Los Angeles. Coordinating service with Metrolink and Amtrak could see a transfer station at Palmdale with High Speed Rail.There will be capacity to run lots of trains from Palmdale to the San Joaquin Valley. There will be a need for a good transfer station at Palmdale. But not all the San Joaquin Valley trains need to terminate at Palmdale. We are seeing on going track improvements between Palmdale and San Diego. While not as fast as the final projected service, trains could be extended at least as far as southern Orange County and depending on the improvements made by the time trains run to Palmdale maybe all the way to San Diego. These extended trains can be run by adding a diesel locomotive or run with diesel or turbine engines the whole distance.This opens a much larger market at small cost which means more income for this service.
This also means service could be extended to Sacramento and the Bay Area too. HSR trains run as part of the San Joaquin Trains can have some direct service to Emeryville and Sacramento. The limiting factor is the cooperation of the Union Pacific Railroad. If an agreement can be reached with the BNSF it would be possible to run additional trains on segments north of Merced at speeds up to 110 miles per hour as far as Stockton. Bus connections at Stockton can serve more of the upper North San Joaquin Valley including Sacramento. A solution that could be looked at would be to run on the BNSF as far as Port Chicago or even Richmond. If a station were built next to a dock it would be possible to run high speed ferry boats to San Francisco and other parts of the Bay Area providing connections to High Speed Trains.High speed ferries are faster than the current rail passenger service between Martinez and Emeryville.