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The Proposed L.A. to Palmdale High-Speed Train

by Ross Plesset Thursday, Apr. 05, 2007 at 11:56 AM

“In Tokyo they had the bullet train back in 1964--this is 2007. We’re way behind, and we have to catch up.“ – L.A. City Councilmember Tom LaBonge

The Proposed L.A. to...
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On March 21, 2007, a public meeting took place about the proposed Los Angeles to Palmdale high-speed train.(Other meetings about this project will be held this month, including one on April 5. Details at bottom.) If implemented, it would ultimately connect San Diego to San Francisco, with stops in between. (Map: http://www.eltoroairport.org/images/route_map.jpg)

For the Los Angeles-Palmdale branch, stations in Burbank, Sylmar (concept art for this can be seen here: http://www.anilverma.com/detail.php3?c_id=950806915), San Fernando, and Santa Clarita have been discussed. To the south of Los Angeles, there would be stops in Ontario, Irvine, and of course San Diego.

The event was held at the Friendship Auditorium on Riverside Drive (near Los Feliz Boulevard) and was presented by Los Angeles City Councilmember Tom LaBonge. It began with a video presentation which explained the proposal. (A version of the movie can be downloaded and viewed here: http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/.) Footage of existing high-speed trains and computer-generated imagery visualized the project.

The film’s narrator noted that California’s population will increase by 30% in the next 20 years, and “[b]y 2030, 50 million people will call the Golden State home.” This, of course, will compound our existing transportation catastrophe.

Thus, the movie states, we need “new innovative approaches: highly-efficient, safe, and clean alternatives that support our growing economy, improve and augment our existing transportation networks and promote sustainable development patterns that protect our landscape and environment.”

Some of the film’s computer-generated imagery depicted wind generators powering the system. The train cars were being fed by overhead electric lines .

“Often maligned as science fiction in the United States, high-speed trains are a fact of life in most of the world’s developed, industrialized economies,” the narrator continued. “In fact, high-speed trains have proven to be the safest and most reliable form of transportation in the world, ideally-suited for the unprecedented needs of California in the 21st-century.”

The plan is to have the entire 700-mile system operating by 2020.

In urban areas, the trains would travel at about 125 mph, and in open areas 220-250 mph. Thus, a trip from San Diego to Los Angeles would be less than one hour and 20 minutes, Los Angeles to Fresno less than 90 minutes, downtown Los Angeles to downtown San Francisco slightly over two-and-a-half hours--“every time, regardless of weather.”

The narrator added: “High-speed trains will also provide fast, frequent service for shorter trips: Anaheim to Los Angeles Union Station in 20 minutes, downtown Los Angeles to Palmdale and Ontario Airport in 25 minutes. [Also] the underserved the Central Valley Corridor: Bakersfield to Fresno in less than 30 minutes, Fresno to Sacramento in just over 50 minutes.” According to the plan, local trains and long-distance express trains will travel on separate tracks.

It was also said that this project would be 50% cheaper than competing remedies to traffic, expanding highways and airports. The train system would cost $40 billion and the other two options would total $82 billion. The exact details of the funding have yet to be defined, but construction bond measures are expected to play a role. Dan Tempelis, who represented the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said at one point that “systems like this, once [they] get beyond the issue of capital, actually generate a revenue and are very profitable.” As examples, he cited the “very profitable” high-speed trains in Japan.

The presentation emphasized the proposed system’s use of clean technology and its minimal impact on “farmlands, wetlands, and sensitive habitats” by using existing right-of-ways (i.e., train and freeway routes) with stops confined to urban areas.

Furthermore, according to the movie, “[h]igh-speed trains will counter the tendency towards sprawl in California’s emerging urban centers by promoting sustainable, transit-oriented developments.” Computer-generated footage depicted monorails servicing a high-speed train station in Anaheim’s Platinum Triangle (which the movie described as “the middle of the densest area in all of Orange County”)(1).

Also, “[s]eparated grades will eliminate crossing points between cars and trains, reducing both noise and congestion, allowing for safer, more efficient movement on both rail and roads.”

Councilperson Tom LaBonge took the floor once the video ended and mentioned his long-time support for “high-speed rail to San Diego, Phoenix, Las Vegas(2), Fresno, Oakland, San Francisco…”

He added that the system under consideration would expedite trips to, say, Yosemite vis-à-vis a Fresno station and rental cars. (Although, environmentalists will probably take issue with increasing the presence of humans—and their cars--in Yosemite.)

“In Tokyo they had the bullet train back in 1964--this is 2007,” he continued. “We’re way behind, and we have to catch up. “

Questions from the audience included: “Is this a question of building it and hoping people will come? Or have you actually done studies to show that people would forego other modes of transportation for this?”

In response, LaBonge referred to the success of these transportation systems in Europe and Japan “and how they move people and how they energize cities.” He added that this new system would be “complimentary” to the already-popular Metrolink.

The councilperson then drew a parallel between this project and L.A.’s bygone Red Car trolley. He mentioned the close proximity of the meeting location (i.e., the Friendship Auditorium) and an old Red Car route(3). “[The Red Car] came from downtown, down Glendale Boulevard into Atwater,” he said. “It was taken out. Look at the mistake we made then. Let’s not make that mistake again and stall on this operation to get high-speed rail on-track. Let us move forward.”

Ensuing questions brought up “the 600-pound gorilla in the room: terrorism” and the massive cost overruns of the Red Line subway construction. “Are we hiring those guys to do the building?”

In regards to cost overruns, LaBonge promised “a very tough oversite.” According to him, it has not been determined who will do the construction.

He added: “Terrorism affects all our daily lives now. We hope that we do not have situation again, but we have to be prepared for that. But 43,000 people in the United States lose their lives in automobile and pedestrian accidents.”

Another question was directed to Dan Tempelis. “Do you expect the fare to be less than or more than taking an airplane? Say you were going to take a flight from Los Angeles to San Francisco, would this [train] be a cheaper alternative, or would it be about the same?”

“As I see it today, it would be about the same,” he replied. “Ultimately, it would end up being cheaper. If you look at the fares on the bullet train system in Japan, it’s actually a little bit cheaper and a lot faster.” Roderick Diaz, also of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, added that studies on the fares are still in progress.

Another audience member said: “It seems like it’s a bit of a circuitous route to go from downtown L.A., out to Riverside, and then to San Diego, when we already have a rail line that goes directly from LA to San Diego. What was the reasoning behind that?”

Tempelis answered: “The environmental and [inaudible] studies that they did looking at population growth with respect to that corridor. Quite a bit of it is going to be out there in the Riverside and San Bernardino area. We just felt this would be the best opportunity to try and service those communities.”

When asked about the safety of these trains, Tempelis referred to the impressive record of Japan’s high-speed trains. “It’s pretty phenomenal when you look at the fact that Japan is a much more seismically-active environment than California. The systems that they have on those trains actually work to prevent derailment and accidents.“

The next public meeting about these plans is on April 5 at the MTA headquarters in Los Angeles. (Details and information about this and other upcoming meetings can be found here: http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/public_notice/LA_to_Anaheim.asp.)

Continued public input is requested as details of the local routes are worked out. For example, it has yet to be determined whether the trains should be separated from automobile crossings by going over or beneath them.

Tempelis also encouraged people to e-mail questions and comments. (See the website below.)




-----

(1)Roderick Diaz commented on the monorails depicted in the film: “That’s a process that the city of Anaheim is undertaking. They’re doing a planning study right now, and that’s in co-operation with this program. Orange County is encouraging their cities to have local connections within their cities. And I think Anaheim is studying ways to circulate from their station, which is the existing Metrolink station. But the Metrolink station is going to move into this big, big station called the ARTIC (Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center).

“And I think one possibility that could come out of that is a monorail between that station and the resort corridor where Disneyland is.”

(2)A recent article about the long endeavor to get Las Vegas and California connected via high-speed train can be read here: http://www.examiner.com/a-627295~Proposed_Victorville_to_Las_Vegas_high_speed_train_gets_traction.html

(3)Some remnants of the Red Car track are still visible in this area. On a hillside at Glendale Boulevard and Fletcher Drive are stone protrusions with political messages painted on them. These originally were part of a bridge that the Red Car crossed. “They were pilings that the posts sat on,” said a veteran activist in Echo Park.
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