The California High-Speed Rail Authority is making some changes to its planned segment from Los Angeles to Anaheim.
On Monday, CAHSR announced it now plans to add a fourth rail line between the two Southern California cities, allowing for commuter rail systems and freight trains to each have their own dedicated sets of tracks, rather than have to share and coordinate through the busy metropolitan section.
The changes are minor in concept, but are expected to have a meaningful impact once the commuter train service begins operation in the next decade or so.
The original plan called for a freight facility to be built in the city of Colton, which would house trains that aren’t currently in operation and to allow for storage, maintenance and cleaning.
But that plan was abandoned following some local pushback from Colton city officials and residents.
“The Colton community rightly pointed out that they weren’t going to receive any of the benefits from High-Speed Rail, they were just going to take on more carbon emissions and more road traffic from having a sizable freight train facility built in their community,” said Jim Patrick, Southern California communications manager for California High-Speed Rail. “So we listened to that pushback, and we came up with a new plan.”
Instead of routing trains to Colton to get them off the heavily trafficked corridor, the High-Speed Rail will instead build a fourth rail line between Los Angeles and Anaheim, essentially clearing obstructions from dormant freight trains.
Additionally, a light maintenance facility will be built in the Los Angeles area. The exact location is yet to be determined, but it’ll likely be either on the west bank of the Los Angeles River at an existing Amtrak site or in the Vernon area where the BNSF Hobart Railyard is located.
The new plan, Patrick says, appears to have the support of the various “stakeholders” involved in the project, including Amtrak, Metrolink and BNSF — the freight company that owns the existing lines.
The pivot will likely save a bit of money, mostly because the facility in Colton will no longer be built.
The original plan, Patrick says, came with an estimate cost around $8.97 billion. The new plan will clock in somewhere between $6.46 and $6.72 billion.
“That is actually the least costly of all the options we considered,” Patrick said.
As for who exactly will own the new track when it’s built, that’s a bit of a murky area. BNSF owns the right of way and High-Speed Rail would be “borrowing” the space to operate in and build the fourth track. Maintenance and operation rights on the fourth line will likely be negotiated further down the road as the project progresses, CAHSR officials say.
A ride on the 33-mile Los Angeles-to-Anaheim segment is expected to take about 45 minutes. It’s a far cry from the “High-Speed” promise of the project, but the route is one of the most complicated and complex along the entire 800 miles of theoretical service area.
So much of the Los Angeles area infrastructure is already built up and there’s not a lot of room for new construction, officials say.
“That’s the part of the section that’s been the hardest because there’s nowhere to build,” Patrick said. Between Los Angeles and Anaheim, there are multiple interchanges where rail lines will meet with roads, which, as Patrick describes, is “the worst thing you could possibly have if you’re trying to go somewhere in a hurry on a train.”
The public is allowed to weigh in on the proposed four-track solution, and there’s plenty of time for modifications to the plan to be made, as environmental clearance probably wouldn’t be secured until 2025.
Southern California Regional Director LaDonna DiCamillo will discuss the plan with the CAHSR Board of Directors on Thursday, Patrick says.
Los Angeles to Anaheim is of lower priority for the California High-Speed Rail Authority right now, because one of the most daunting parts of the entire statewide project still stands in its way.
Geotechnical work has yet to start on the Palmdale-to-Burbank segment, which will require tunneling through more than 30 miles of mountains to breach the Los Angeles area, with some of the longest tunnels ever built.
That part of the project will almost certainly be among the most expensive undertakings along the entire High-Speed Rail system.
Momentum for the High-Speed Rail has been building in recent months, with several major infrastructure projects completed in the Central Valley, the awarding of a $200 million grant from the Biden Administration, and the official start of the process to acquire new high-speed electric trainsets.
Just this past weekend, California Gov. Gavin Newsom took a trip to China to discuss clean energy and climate change initiatives. As part of that trip, Newsom rode aboard the country’s high-speed rail system, which spans more than 26,000 miles and was built in a fraction of the time it has taken the American system to get off the ground.
Earlier in October, Newsom wrote a letter to President Joe Biden, thanking him for his continued support of California’s clean energy initiatives and urged him to approve a pending $2.8 billion federal grant to help complete the initial operating segment of the California High-Speed Rail system.
That segment includes the Bakersfield-to-Merced portion of the High-Speed Rail’s “Phase 1,” which is tentatively planned to begin service around 2030.
If awarded the federal grant, some of that funding could be used to begin the geotechnical work required to begin tunneling through the mountains and allowing for San Francisco to Los Angeles, and eventually Anaheim, to become closer to reality.