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High-speed rail plan may alter California landscape

(The following appeared on the Daily Breeze website on October 3, 2009.)

TORRANCE, Calif. The devil may be in the details for California's ambitious high-speed rail plans now that the public has a chance to see specific alternative plans for $2.19 billion worth of new bridges, tunnels, and right-of-way widening along the existing rail tracks between Los Angeles and Anaheim.

Communities that are now bisected by side-by-side tracks would see six or seven parallel train tracks traverse their cities by 2020, with some of them elevated on towers or depressed in trenches, according to plans released Friday by state planners.

On Friday, attention was focused on Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and other dignitaries when they announced they were filing formal requests for federal high- speed train dollars to match the $9.95 billion in bond funds pledged by California voters in 2008.

But the bigger news may have been the release of specific plans by rail builders to wedge in two 120-mph rail tracks atop the busiest rail corridor in the West Coast, already overburdened by multiple daily Metrolink, Amtrak and freight movements.

Rail planners Friday released preliminary alternatives to be studied in an environmental review, before tracks are laid between 2012 and 2020. They propose using separate pairs of rail tracks for the new high-speed trains, for the existing Amtrak Surfliner and Metrolink commuters trains, and for freight operations.

The same rail route is already used by about 30 passenger trains per day, plus dozens of lumbering, lengthy freight trains heading toward the ports near Long Beach. The study envisions passenger service every 30 minutes on the existing Metrolink rails, in addition to high-speed trains zipping from L.A. to Anaheim in just 20 minutes.

Amtrak and Metrolink trains, however, would need special equipment to share tracks with freight trains, and all those engines would need to be using computerized train dispatch systems that have not been approved by the Federal Railroad Administration, the study notes. If such sharing is not possible, seven separate tracks would be necessary: two for high-speed, three for freight, and two for existing Amtrak/Metrolink service.

The area around Los Angeles Union Station, already a jumble of subways, rail tracks and elevated light-rail trains, would get six new tracks high above the Hollywood (101) Freeway. These new bridges would carry existing passenger trains and the new high-speed service south from the station, over the freeway, and then east toward the Los Angeles River, then on toward either Anaheim or new tracks to San Diego via Riverside.

The 80-year-old Union Station would see new passenger platforms built 30 feet above the existing tracks, at a cost of nearly $600 million, and a pedestrian concourse of some sort built above that. The alternative of building a deep, subterranean station, below the new Red Line subway station, would cost $2.3 billion and was rejected as impractical.

But the "high aerial" train platforms at Union Station mean the tracks heading north, toward San Francisco and Sacramento, will need to be elevated all the way north to the Pasadena (110) Freeway, according to the study, and will tower over historic landmark bridges over the Los Angeles River.

The study says mixing high-speed trains in with existing passenger rail would slow them down so much that it would not be practical, and that one high-speed train needs the same amount of empty track that nine existing trains occupy. As a result, the study says using separate sets of double tracks for high-

speed, freight, and existing passenger tracks is the only feasible alternative.

The plan envisions adding four tracks to the two existing, ground-level tracks between Los Angeles and Fullerton. In some places, four train tracks - two sets each for Metrolink and the high-speed rail - would be placed on elevated towers above the existing double tracks, which could be dedicated for freight trains.

Every rail crossing between Los Angeles and Anaheim would need to be rebuilt or altered significantly. Seven street crossings in Anaheim alone would be replaced with bridges, while three would be closed off.

Residential neighborhoods in Anaheim might be most affected by the new tracks, as the existing, 130-year-old railroad right of way there is only 50 feet wide, and numerous streets cross the tracks at grade level. A deep-bore tunnel for the high-speed tracks through Anaheim, which has numerous residences right next to the train tracks, is being studied.

A particular problem for rail planners are areas near the San Gabriel and Los Angeles rivers, where large and important rail freight yards, freeways and other key infrastructure are located. Tall fly-over bridges are being studied at those locations.

Plans have not been released yet for the tracks north of Glendale.

Monday, October 5, 2009

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