Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ):

I will update this page as we determine more details. Last updated: April 11, 2011. Also, download the PDF version to print out and hand to your neighbors and others in the community who might not have computers.

What is Going On?

The California High Speed Rail Authority is planning to send a high speed train at 150 miles per hour through Alhambra and neighboring cities.

A high speed train would go through Alhambra every 7 to 15 minutes, from 5 a.m. to midnight, 365 days a year, and tower more than 3 stories high.

The Rail Authority is in the process of planning and building a high speed rail network to link major population and job centers in California. It has divided the project into phases and segments. The first phase will build a high speed rail line between San Francisco to Anaheim. That line will include stops in San Jose, Merced, Fresno, Bakersfield, and at Los Angeles Union Station. A second phase includes a line between L.A. and San Diego. Trains going through the San Gabriel Valley would be part of the second phase between L.A. and San Diego.

Initial plans in August 2010 proposed sending the trains through residential neighborhoods on either the north or south sides of the I-10 freeway or in the center of the I-10 freeway where it will take up the carpool lanes and the existing Metrolink tracks.

The Authority offered three different options to city staff:Option A, Option B, and Option C.

Option A:
Option A 100 MPH Curve
Option A is a 100 MPH curve near Fremont Ave. The curve would slice through the neighborhood between the I-10 freeway and Granada Park. The train would then resume its path down the center of the freeway along the Metrolink right of way. It is unclear how the Rail Authority will accommodate Metrolink, whether it will share tracks, build a third or fourth track on its elevated platform, or build its trains above Metrolink. The Metrolink train that uses the tracks down the center of the I-10 is its most popular line, handling about 12,000 passengers each day. You can click the map to see a larger size (choose Actions > View All Sizes).

Option B:
Option B: 75 MPH Curve
Option B is a 75 MPH curve near Fremont Ave. The curve could have a northern approach, which would then lead the train along the southern edge of I-10 freeway. It could also have a southern approach which would then lead the train along the northern edge of the I-10. Both approaches are through residential neighborhoods and outside the freeway’s footprint, requiring destruction of many homes along the route. In addition, Mark Keppel is directly in the path of the route along the southern edge of the I-10 freeway, while Ramona Convent School is directly in the path along the northern edge of the freeway. You can click the map to see a larger size (choose Actions > View All Sizes).

Option C:
Option C

Option C is a 50MPH curve near Fremont Ave. The curve would directly follow the Metrolink right of way and remain in the center of the freeway. You can click the map to see a larger size (choose Actions > View All Sizes).

Initially, The Rail Authority had fast tracked its decision on what routes to study in depth during the full environmental review. It intended to decide on October 7 whether to include the I-10 corridor west of the 605 in its full environmental review. However cities, their residents, and the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments (SGVCOG), which represents 31 cities in the region, urged the CHSRA Board to delay any action until February 2011. It was delayed until March 2011.

In March 2011, the Rail Authority decided to pursue only one of its proposed routes along the I-10 freeway. It plans to follow the center median of the I-10 freeway (Option C). Most likely, the trains would travel on an elevated platform 50 to 75 feet above street level through the portion of the route between the 710 freeway and El Monte. It also decided not to consider any route outside the freeway footprint until exiting the freeway in El Monte.

The Rail Authority expected to begin its environmental review during 2011. However, Governor Brown’s 2011-2012 budget does not contain any funding for the L.A. to San Diego high speed rail line. Until funding is restored, the Rail Authority will remain in a holding pattern and not complete any further work toward planning or building the high speed trains through the San Gabriel Valley. Presumably, the Rail Authority will have scoping meetings and complete its full environmental review once money is budgeted for those purposes.

How fast will the trains travel?

150 MPH Jose Martinez, Project Director for the high speed rail segment between Union Station and San Diego, said the trains would travel between 110 and 150 MPH in urban areas during his presentation to the Alhambra City Council in August 2010. The straight section between Fremont and El Monte station would see trains hit 150 MPH. Mr. Martinez said the speeds along the route are in flux depending on the route being considered because the non-stop express trains must travel between Union Station and San Diego in one hour twenty minutes. Trains will reach 220 MPH, or greater, in rural areas of the state such as the Central Valley.

Where will the trains run?

The Rail Authority is planning to route its trains in the center of the I-10 freeway using the Metrolink right of way (Option C). Trains will most likely run on an elevated platform 50 to 75 feet above street level because the right of way is only 20 feet wide and too narrow for high speed trains. Tunneling would be too expensive and trenching logistically difficult because most streets cross under the freeway.

It is unclear how the Rail Authority will accommodate Metrolink, whether it will share tracks, build a third or fourth track on its elevated platform, or build its trains above Metrolink. The Metrolink train that uses the tracks down the center of the I-10 is its most popular line, handling about 12,000 passengers each day.

Option C:
Option C

Option C is a 50MPH curve near Fremont Ave. The curve would directly follow the Metrolink right of way and remain in the center of the freeway. You can click the map to see a larger size (choose Actions > View All Sizes).

Are there other routes?

Yes, there are other routes. The Rail Authority is considering some possible routes while refusing to consider others, mostly because of local opposition and political power.

The Rail Authority is in the process of identifying a route for its high speed rail network from Los Angeles Union Station to San Diego. The only route it is considering goes from Union Station to the Inland Empire (Ontario, San Bernardino, Riverside area) and then down to San Diego. At the same time, the Authority is nearing completion of environmental impact studies of a route from San Francisco to Anaheim.

Through the San Gabriel Valley, the Rail Authority is only considering one other route that follows the SR-60 freeway.

It eliminated two other routes in March 2011. Those routes would have followed the Union Pacific Railroad. As discussed here, the route that would have used the Union Pacific right of way was eliminated because the state lacks the power of eminent domain over freight railroads such as Union Pacific. The adjacent route was eliminated because it is too destructive and would go through a large number of commercial and industrial businesses, which is even less tenable during a major recession with local and statewide unemployment over 12%.

Despite the fact that the Rail Authority will have begun running trains from San Francisco to Anaheim by the time it breaks ground on its route to San Diego, the Rail Authority has already decided not to consider completing its railway from Anaheim to San Diego. For example, it will not consider a coastal route along the I-5 corridor or existing rail corridor (called LOSSAN) from Anaheim to San Diego. It will also not consider a route that travels from Anaheim to the Inland Empire along State Route (SR) 91. From what I can tell, those routes will not be considered because the coastal route would cut through very wealthy enclaves that are politically powerful and, likewise, SR-91 has moneyed interests lobbying against such a route. Both groups were well connected and vocal enough early in the process to deflect the trains elsewhere.

There is already a lot of train tracks, can’t the Rail Authority use those?

Unfortunately, it cannot use existing tracks in most places. This is the first true high speed rail system built in the United States. Such high speed train systems exist in parts of Europe and Asia but have never been built in the U.S., until now.

Unlike the trains we currently have, certain requirements must be met to achieve high speeds.

First, trains need to be kept completely separate from auto and pedestrian traffic. In most places in California, trains run at street level, are crossed by streets and accessible to cars and pedestrians. One method to separate high speed trains from cars and foot traffic is to put the trains in trenches like the Union Pacific freight trains run through Alhambra along Mission Road. Another method is to build an elevated platform like the carpool lanes in the center of the 110 freeway south of downtown L.A. or BART through much of the San Francisco Bay Area.

Second, high speed trains need a special set of tracks that allow them to go very fast, well over 200 miles per hour. These tracks are also not shared with slower trains like Metrolink because it would be too dangerous to go fast. Or, in certain situations when they do share tracks with other passenger trains, such as Metrolink, the high speed trains will be required to go the same speed as the slower trains (but that takes “high speed” out of high speed train). Instead, the Rail Authority will likely need to build a third and fourth set of tracks to accommodate Metrolink and potentially other passenger rail.

And third, high speed trains require two sets of tracks each reserved for travel in only one direction. Currently, the Metrolink only has one set of tracks down the center of the I-10 freeway and much of its route. To utilize the Metrolink right of way in the center of the freeway the Rail Authority will need to build a second set of tracks at a minimum.

See: “All options are on the table” — NOT

How often will the trains run?

The High Speed Rail Authority will operate trains from 5 a.m. to midnight, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Based on information provided by the Authority, I estimate that trains will pass by every 7 to 10 minutes during commute hours and every 10-15 minutes the rest of the day. If popular, trains will pass by more frequently. In Germany, high speed trains may fly by as frequently as every two minutes.

See: Trains to Run 5 A.M. to Midnight

I live far from the proposed rail line, why should I care?

Schools: The trains may harm the classroom environment at our local schools. It is the reputation of Alhambra Unified School District and its high performing schools that keep your property values high in Alhambra, Monterey Park, and portions of Rosemead, and San Gabriel.

There are three Alhambra Unified schools within a block of the proposed high speed rail. There is one, if not two more schools within the noise zone that will hear the trains in the classroom. Moreover, Mark Keppel High School was directly in the path of one route proposed (since rescinded).

In addition, Ramona Convent Secondary School is in a similar bind as Mark Keppel. It was directly in the path of one possible route. Loss of any more of its property or access from Ramona Road would have put its recently approved master plan in jeopardy.

City Services:

Putting high speed rail through Alhambra and its neighboring cities will decrease revenues (taxes) paid to those cities. Cities depend upon the various taxes they collect from residents and businesses in the cities. If the Authority does end up condemning homes and businesses along the route, those will no longer be income producing parcels. Property taxes will not be paid. Sales taxes will not be collected. As a result, cities will need to make up for the lost revenue elsewhere or cut city services.

Although the high speed rail does not go through Monterey Park, that city has invested heavily in the new Atlantic Times Square mixed use project at the corner of Atlantic and Hellman, a block from the freeway. That development, along with Garfield Hospital, and other businesses close to the freeway in Monterey Park will be affected by the high speed trains going through Alhambra.

Freeway Access:

Construction will take a number of years. During that time, your freeway access will be limited. Roads crossing the freeway may also be closed at times to build bridges or elevated structures across those streets.

For more detail, see the following posts:

How loud will the trains be?

Stay tuned for a detailed post regarding noise. In the meantime, here are a few details.

When standing 200 feet away, trains traveling at 150 MPH will be as loud as someone shouting from 3 feet away. In addition, the trains will be clearly heard from 2,000 feet away when elevated as is the plan (see the noise map below). In addition, although quieter at the same speeds, high speed trains will be louder than the Metrolink commuter trains that currently traverse the city. Furthermore, there is a very good chance that diesel-powered Metrolink trains will also run on the platform and make even more noise.

NoiseMap Option A 2000 feet

You can click the map to see a larger size (choose Actions > View All Sizes).

This thing will never be built because there is no funding, so why should I care?

We cannot count on the project running out of money. We must assume it will be built, just not through Alhambra. Besides, the next time gas hits $4 a gallon (whoops, it already has), more money will roll in. God forbid gas prices hit $5 a gallon. Moreover, the Japanese government has offered to lend California a large portion of the costs and, apparently, the Chinese and German governments intend to make similar loan offers in the near future.

Costs really are an issue and will ultimately lead to many design and route choices. The Authority estimates it will cost $42 billion to build its first phase of the high speed rail system from San Francisco to Anaheim. The San Jose Mercury News recently published an article disputing that figure and estimates the first phase of the high speed rail system from San Francisco to Anaheim will cost more than $73 billion dollars to complete; a 57% difference from the Authority’s figure. The line between L.A. and San Diego that would potentially go through Alhambra is part of Phase 2 and is not even part of that $73 billion price tag.

So what do you want? The trains must go some place!

First, we want the Rail Authority to improve its communication with the communities affected. Engineers know about the A,B,C’s of how to build but not how to perform outreach or urban planning.

Second, we want the Rail Authority to better consider the needs of the cities. For example, a 75 foot platform would make it the second tallest structure Alhambra and tallest in the other cities. Most buildings in Alhambra are under 3 stories.

Third, we want Congress to give the Rail Authority an opportunity to consider the route along the Union Pacific right of way. Let the best route win. Unfortunately, the state lacks the power of eminent domain over Union Pacific and cannot consider that route further without cooperation by Union Pacific or Congress. To that end, I asked our Congressional representatives, Adam Schiff and Judy Chu, to introduce or sponsor legislation that gives states limited powers of eminent domain over railroads.

Fourth, if it gets funding, we would like the Rail Authority to delay its alternatives analysis process for 12-18 months while Metro completes its EIR for the Gold Line Extension from East L.A. Metro is planning to put its Gold Line extension along the 60 freeway or Washington Blvd. It will complete its draft EIR in August 2011 and will decide on its route then. The 60 freeway route happens to be the same under consideration by the Rail Authority. It would be a waste of money to study the 60 as a possible route if the Rail Authority cannot use it to build its high speed trains.

Fifth, we want the Rail Authority to re-open and consider alternate routes from Union Station to San Diego by extending its high speed railway from Anaheim to San Diego via SR-91 and along the I-5 corridor or LOSSAN. Both are along existing transportation corridors and are closer to San Diego than the the route through the Inland Empire. Anaheim is 30 miles closer to San Diego than is Union Station. Along the I-5 freeway, the Rail Authority will only need 100 more miles of track rather than 160 miles if it build from Union Station to the Inland Empire and then south to San Diego.

Unlike other modes of transportation, the high speed trains will not directly benefit Alhambra. The trains will not stop between Union Station and El Monte. What’s more, the options put forth by the Rail Authority would severely affect our community and its schools. In contrast, the freeway has several exits in Alhambra. A light rail system, like the one that goes through South Pasadena and Pasadena would have at least one, if not two stops in Alhambra if one were built through our city. Metrolink has a stop at Cal State L.A.

Lastly, we want the cities in the I-10 corridor, and, more broadly, the San Gabriel Valley and other stakeholders such as Metro and Caltrans to talk about all the uses for the I-10 corridor now and in the future. Together, we need to all talk in practical and realistic terms about the corridor we want and need in 2050. Population will increase in the next 40 years and we do not want all those people forced into cars. Failing to move forward without a master plan will only encourage a hodge podge of solutions that negatively impact the communities greater than one under a plan. For example, the high speed rail line may end up end up towering above the I-10 corridor, when it could be better to share a double set of tracks with Metrolink at street level.

Why Fight Now?

If we do not fight now, express ourselves, give constructive feedback, and push back on unreasonable plans by the Rail Authority there is a high probability that the trains will have maximum impacts on the community. As long as the Authority crosses its t’s and dots its i’s the route it prefers will be built however it likes despite community opposition.

We need to be vigilant and not back down to make sure our community is not mistreated further. The Authority has been arrogant and bullied several of the communities it has dealt previously for the San Francisco to Anaheim line it expects to build soon. It chose not to preemptively inform our community about many of the concerns it knew we would have such as noise, number of trains per hour, and hours of operation. Instead of putting together an information packet addressing concerns it knew we would have, it chose to provide minimal information and leave us to find it out ourselves or, worse, to guess.

The proposed route is not final, why are you so worked up about this now? There are many years before this will be built.

The Authority is at the beginning of the process; however, once it enters the environmental review process it must consider all routes studied. Now is the time to make noise to lessen impacts on the community. This is particularly true because the route along the Union Pacific right of way is not available to the state, the route adjacent to the Union Pacific right of way through businesses and homes is not tenable or feasible, and the route along the 60 freeway right of way may not be feasible if Metro uses that route for the Goldline Extension from East L.A.

Who are you?

My name is Dan Bednarski. My family and I are residents of Alhambra. See About.

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