Bullet Train Effect on SoCal Coast Improvements

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Bullet Train Effect on SoCal Coast Improvements
Posted by SoCalTrainSpeed on Wednesday, October 11, 2017 5:41 PM

Four decades ago, Amtrak plied its 120-mile San Diego-Los Angeles route in 2 hours and 35 minutes. Today, the latest schedule ranges from 2 hours and 45 minutes, to 3 hours and 3 minutes, depending on time of day, and trains frequently run even slower.

    The culprit for 38 years of frustration in accelerating San Diego-LA rail service is summarized in three words: Bullet Train Curse. Efforts to make trains competitive with driving on Amtrak’s second- busiest line (after the Northeast Corridor) have twice been waylaid by dreams of 130 mile-per-hour rail rockets.

    In October 1979, covering transportation for the Los Angeles Times, I rode with the late San Diego Congressman Lionel Van Deerlin to LA in a special observation Amtrak coach. The train arrived right on schedule in 2 hours and 35 minutes.

    But for Van Deerlin, the time highlighted the line’s poky nature. He had arranged the trip to spotlight legislation for a minimum $100 million in federal seed money ($360 million today), the goal to cut times under two hours by double-tracking the largely single-track line.

   In the next couple of years, federal, state and local officials drew up modernization plans. Caltrans added trains and proposed spending $1 billion ($3.6 billion today) with the objective of two-hour running times by 1990. The 65 miles through San Diego County would be double-tracked and a tunnel under Del Mar would replace seven miles of fragile single track perched along the edge of ocean bluffs. Congress ordered corridor improvement studies.

   There was dogged opposition, however, from Santa Fe Railway, which then owned the right-of-way. In April 1982, two Amtrak officials, secretly fortified with seed money from Japan and an Amtrak loan, stunned the region by proposing a privately-funded bullet train on new right-of-way. Gov. Jerry Brown’s first administration came aboard and fast-tracked a legislative bill to streamline environmental requirements. Planning for the existing line ground to a halt as North County coastal residents battled the American High Speed Rail Corp. for two-and-a-half years over feared noise and visual damage. But the bullet train idea collapsed in October 1984 from the inability of promoters to attract private investors, who saw as wildly inflated the projections of 100,000 riders a day at a time when Amtrak was carrying 3,000.

    Caltrans slowly regrouped; the earlier momentum was gone. Together with transportation officials from San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles counties, they gradually shaped a long-range blueprint (LOSSAN) for the corridor. Methodically over the past three decades, using federal, state and local taxes, they have double- and even tripled-tracked the route in LA and most of Orange County for not only more Amtrak trains but Metrolink service as well. The successor to Santa Fe sold all but the Fullerton-LA portion to government rail agencies.

    In San Diego County, with a smaller dedicated pot of tax money, Coaster service began and some dozen projects for adding track and replacing bridges were completed. But rail improvements totaling a billion dollars so far have come up short in preventing slower running times. Even with lengthened schedules, the two-dozen Amtrak and Coaster trains often run late because key portions of single track remain, due to the county’s challenging topography. The slightest scheduling hiccup disrupts finely-tuned arrangements for trains to pass each other at double-track locations without stopping.        

    And since 2008, the state’s focus has veered toward Gov. Brown’s hopes for the second coming of a bullet train--this time between San Francisco and San Diego. If ever completed, it would offer no relief to coastal congestion; the LA-San Diego portion would run inland along the I-15 corridor. Many officials doubt the line will extend here in a final phase, given the mounting problems it faces nine years after voter approval. Even die-hard high-speed fans predict nothing before 2040. Meantime, coastal rail planners scrounge for every available tax dollar to replace one more bridge or add another segment of double track. Their present timetable envisions 90% double track in another 33 years, by 2050, but even then it leaves out Del Mar.  Yet at a fraction of the $70 billion (and climbing) cost projected for the bullet train, the existing line could be brought to the standards Congressman Van Deerlin imagined—but never imagined might remain unmet seven decades later.


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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Thursday, October 12, 2017 10:08 AM

And your point is?????

The daily commute is part of everyday life but I get two rides a day out of it. Paul
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Posted by Paul of Covington on Thursday, October 12, 2017 4:19 PM


And your point is?????

   I think his second paragraph summarizes his point:

    "The culprit for 38 years of frustration in accelerating San Diego-LA rail service is summarized in three words: Bullet Train Curse. Efforts to make trains competitive with driving on Amtrak’s second- busiest line (after the Northeast Corridor) have twice been waylaid by dreams of 130 mile-per-hour rail rockets."

    In general, through the years, it seems to me that when someone mentions passenger rail, someone else frequently comes up with, "Oh no that's old fashioned. We need to go with monorail. (about 50 years ago)" or in later years, "...HSR"  or "...maglev"  or lately "...hyperloop."   This diverts attention and money away from making practical incremental improvements that would keep improving existing service.   Anyway, I may be overlaying my own feelings on this, but that's my observation.


   "A stranger is just a friend you ain't met yet."  ___ Dave Gardner

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Posted by J. Bishop on Thursday, October 12, 2017 7:43 PM

This is nothing but another anti high speed rail propaganda piece. You can tell by the overly-clever wording.

But factually, what is left out is that the high speed rail line to San Diego was originally going to follow present line allignement, or as close as practical. Hyper-afluent NIMBYS in Northern San Diego County strongly opposed. So political reality resulted in the the route being shifted inland where cities like Corona, Riverside, Escondido are welcoming.  The NIMBYS in that area have also opposed double tracking and electrification. I remember all of this well, because my brother lives in that area.


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Posted by ATSFGuy on Wednesday, October 18, 2017 5:53 PM

I guess after the Fresno portion gets built, funding may run out.

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Posted by J. Bishop on Wednesday, October 18, 2017 7:56 PM

[quote user="ATSFGuy"]

I guess after the Fresno portion gets built, funding may run out.


Your information is bad. It's not just the "Fresno portion" being built. Heavy construction is under way from Merced to about 90 miles south, near the Kern County line. Pre-construction on about 20 miles south of there. 

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Posted by Bruce Kelly on Thursday, October 19, 2017 2:12 PM

Back when I lived along the Surf Line late 1970s to mid-1980s, Amtrak was running only about a dozen trains per day between L.A. and San Diego. Nothing else there but the evening (and occasionally daytime) Santa Fe freight to or from San Diego, plus locals, and the rare soda ash train.

Today, Amtrak itself has only increased to about 18 trains per day on the L.A.-San Diego route, but there are also swarms of Metrolink and Coaster trains running on various segments of the same route, making numerous stops to cater to a larger ridership than anything the line handled 40 years ago. In orther words, a lot more traffic today than way back when, with only so many places to meet, despite all the additional main line trackage that's been added.

I'd be curious to hear from any crew members who can attest to whether today's Surfliner/Metrolink/Coaster trains with their doubledecked cars take longer to accelerate up to track speed, or have a harder time on the 2 percent grades of Miramar Hill and numerous 1 percent grades elsewhere on the Surf Line, than their predecessors did with one or two F40PHs and a handful of single-level Amfleet cars.

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Posted by erikem on Thursday, October 19, 2017 10:20 PM

Back in my commuting by Amtrak days three to four years ago, I could easily tell the difference between a train with GE power and EMD power, the GE's were noticeably better at keeping schedule.

Bruce has a point about the greatly increased frequency leading to more delays at sidings. Quite a bit is being taken care of by the gradual increase in double track on the Surf Line, but it may be a long while for the worst offender, the namesake surf line through San Clemente.

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Posted by JL Chicago on Sunday, October 22, 2017 1:41 PM
If you've ever watched Facing Point Media's Surfline cab ride you'd be amazed at how slowly Amtrak's Surfliners accelerate. It's excruciatingly slow. The DVD includes a digital mph readout in the corner along with the MAS allowed.
Despite 90 limits over much of the route, at least on that run on the DVD, the total time running on the 3 hour ride at 90 is only about 6 minutes.

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