Affiliations and more

Greetings from Saipan, where America’s day begins. My family and I are doing well.

I want to personally take this opportunity to note that I am not affiliated with, nor do I support a petition drive that intends to place an initiative on the ballot to revoke the high speed rail bond (proposition 1A).

I have been highly critical of the Rail Authority, its planning, and its premature focus on the LA to San Diego route that would go through Alhambra. That said, I do think a high speed rail system will eventually be needed and built to serve California and our regional neighbors as a complement to our highway and expanding local rail networks. I more thoroughly expressed my viewpoint about the high speed rail project and the I-10 freeway corridor in an earlier post: Transitions – Part 1: California High Speed Rail Project. Also, while I voted against the original ballot measure, I likely will not vote against a ballot to revoke it and will strongly argue against doing so for a number of reasons I will share should I find time or the petition drive succeeds.

Lastly, on another note, I would like to promote my wife’s gluten-free and allergy-friendly web site: http://GiantHippo.org. In her own words:

Gluten-free? Dairy-free? Egg-free? Some-kinda-other-allergen-free? Presenting my new blog dedicated to cooking and eating authentically and well while allergen-free: www.gianthippo.org . I cook for my son, who has multiple food allergies and an adventurous palate. Most of the recipes are my own. The photos are hardly professional and yes, there are going to be more kids’ melamine dinnerware and even Legos in the pictures with every weekly update, but hey, that’s just how this mama rolls.

What are you waiting for? Visit: GiantHippo.org.

This is important stuff. Share with anyone you may know who has food allergies, has celiac disease, incurable eczema (generally due to a food allergy), or who just happens to need a recipe without those ingredients.

Transitions – Part 1: California High Speed Rail Project

The California High Speed Rail Authority is putting its ambitious project from L.A. Union Station to San Diego into hibernation. The Rail Authority budget for the current fiscal year, beginning July 1, has no funding for any design, outreach, or other efforts to build the L.A. to San Diego line, which would potentially go through Alhambra and other cities in the San Gabriel Valley.

Instead, the Rail Authority has decided to focus completely on the first phase of the high speed rail project from San Francisco to Anaheim (Phase I). All funding that originally had been requested for the L.A. to San Diego line has been redirected to Phase I. The Rail Authority expects to break ground next year on a segment in the Central Valley between Fresno and Bakersfield. Phase I service is scheduled to begin between San Francisco and Anaheim in 2020.

What this means for Alhambra and the San Gabriel Valley:

Alhambra and the San Gabriel Valley have a respite from the high speed rail project. I expect the project to remain in stasis for 5 to 7 years and perhaps longer.

Work on the L.A. to San Diego line will not be restarted until after Phase I is near completion or the state gets a lot of guaranteed money to complete Phase I and begin the L.A. to San Diego line concurrently.[1]

Waiting until 2020 to restart environmental studies for the the L.A. to San Diego line is in the best interests of the Rail Authority. Those environmental studies are necessary to complete the environmental impact report and environmental impact statement (EIR/EIS) required by state and federal environmental laws. The EIR/EIS process is expected to take 2 years to complete based on earlier statements by Rail Authority staff and contractors.

Even though it expects to begin service between San Francisco and Anaheim in 2020, Rail Authority spokespersons told our community that it does not expect to not break ground for the L.A. to San Diego line until about 2025. That means, an EIR/EIS completed in 2017 or even 2020 will be stale and very likely vulnerable to court challenges when the Rail Authority breaks ground in 2025.

Sadly, there is a good chance that Alhambra and the San Gabriel Valley get saddled with the high speed rail project like we are with the 710 extension between Alhambra and Pasadena. Delays in the project, cost overruns, and failure to meet ridership estimates may push back additional segments of the high speed rail network into the future. Moreover, if the Rail Authority repeats Caltrans’ mistake with the 710 and tries to use a stale EIR/EIS a court likely will halt all work and require an updated EIR/EIS before work can begin. In which case, our children may be grappling with how to fill a gap in the high speed passenger rail network.

Plan now for the future!

Alhambra and other cities along the I-10 corridor must plan the future of the I-10 corridor now.

The Rail Authority will be back one day. In the meantime, we need to take advantage of the time granted by the budget crunch and have a regional dialogue about what we want the I-10 corridor to look like in 25, 50, and 100 years. That way we can give direction to the Rail Authority when it does restart work on the L.A. to San Diego line instead of the other way around.

I recommend that all practical options for the I-10 corridor be evaluated and debated, even those that sound almost sacrilegious to our car-centric lifestyle. Here are four options that deserve some consideration.

1) No change. The I-10 would continue as it will look in 2013 when Caltrans completes its current construction project. We will be left with a whole host of questions, among them: What volume of traffic can it handle? What is the volume today? What will the volume of traffic be in 25, 50, and 100 years based on current population models? What can be done to handle congestion?

2) Congestion pricing. Multiple lanes would require drivers pay a toll when traffic density increases. Caltrans is planning to test congestion pricing as part of its current construction. During the test period, a single high occcupancy toll (HOT) lane each way would require single-occupant cars to pay a toll to use that  lane. Buses and carpools could use the lane for free but cars with only one passenger (the driver) would pay a toll.

3) Ground level rail expansion. The I-10 corridor would host a ground level double-tracked Metrolink line. Currently, part of the I-10 through Alhambra and its neighboring cities has a single track in a 20 foot right of way. This plan would require about 50 feet for a railway right of way. Meaning, it would take away about 30 feet from the freeway, or the width of 2.5 lanes.[2]

4)  Elevated road or railways. This option is in line with what the Rail Authority has already proposed running through the I-10 corridor. It will look a bit like the 110 freeway does south of Downtown L.A.

Someone will suggest adding a fifth option to expand the footprint of the freeway beyond its current boundaries today.  That should be a non-starter. Small adjustments should be expected for safety or other reasons strongly in the public interest, but no large scale expansions should be made to accommodate additional traffic lanes. If allowed to expand infinitely, when would Caltrans stop expanding the freeway? When it is a mile wide?

An Argument for Ground Level Rail Expansion

It may sound radical today but I personally support the third option, to expand ground level rail.

Under this plan, the Metrolink right of way would be expanded at ground level, a second set of tracks would be laid, and the system electrified and grade separated. Through Alhambra, the plan would take the two HOT lanes that currently do not exist today.

At its most basic, it would be a sister project to Alameda Corridor East (ACE), similar in scope and size. ACE is grade separating the Union Pacific freight railway as it goes through the San Gabriel Valley so as to separate auto and pedestrian traffic from trains. Part of the ACE project will continue the Alhambra trench along Mission Road past the San Gabriel Mission. Unfortunately, like the ACE project, it will be necessary to take some homes and businesses that are along the Metrolink route in other communities depending on the route, otherwise there may not be enough space to double track Metrolink.

The fundamental goal of our transportation system is to get as many people from where they are to where they want to go. With that in mind, the goal of the I-10 freeway corridor is to transport as many people as possible along that corridor. If trains can serve that goal better in the future as our population increases then we need to re-adjust some of our uses of the corridor back to rail. After all, Pacific Electric Railway tracks were torn out to put in the freeway. Of four tracks, the only one remaining is owned by Metro and used by Metrolink.

Expanding ground level rail along the I-10 will provide a number of benefits to the San Gabriel Valley.

First, Metrolink will be safer. Each set of tracks would carry trains in a single direction. Currently, Metrolink tracks are two way, meaning trains traveling both ways use the same tracks. Most of the gnarly Metrolink accidents have been head-on collisions due in part to track sharing by trains going in opposite directions.

Second, Metrolink’s capacity to carry passengers will increase. Today, its capacity is limited to the number of trains it can run along a particular route. Double tracking will allow Metrolink to safely increase the number of trains it can run.

Third, improving both safety and capacity can make Metrolink more convenient for travelers along the route. That in turn would mean fewer cars on the freeway.

One thing to keep in mind is that population will only increase. Few who live along the I-10 corridor want all those people trying to drive, further clogging the freeway and city streets. Our roads are already congested so we need to find other ways to utilize the corridor to get people around.

Fourth, emissions along the I-10 could be decreased. First, Metrolink will be electrified so its emissions will decrease to a negligible amount. Although diesel engines are cleaning up due to EPA regulations they still will have emissions. Second, removing two lanes of traffic will decrease particulate matter pollution. Apparently, a large part of the localized pollution along the freeway is dust from tires. If you live along freeway, you know tire dust as the black soot you can never seem to keep out of your house. It is also the reason areas adjacent to freeways have higher incidences of asthma and other respiratory illnesses. Tire dust contains more than just rubber.

Fifth,the Rail Authority would not have any reason to build an elevated structure through the San Gabriel Valley. Metrolink and the Rail Authority could enter into a joint use plan that allows high speed trains to use Metrolink tracks. Moreover, Metrolink could generally serve the local L.A. to San Diego passenger rail market if it is double-tracked, electrified, and grade separated all the way to San Diego.

High speed rail will not travel at high speeds through our area. According to the Rail Authority, its trains will travel between 125 and 150 miles per hour through densely populated areas such as the San Gabriel Valley. If sharing tracks, its trains will be limited to the top speed Metrolink trains travel, which would be about 110 to 125 if grade separated, double tracked, and electrified.

Of course, there are several significant hurdles to such a plan.

1. Despite the fact that no law forbids Caltrans to take away freeway lanes it is not politically practical (not today at least). Freeway users and the business community will be outraged should anyone even mention taking away a freeway lane, let alone for rail.

HOT lanes should be considered operating lanes for sake of discussion because they are already under construction and will open in 2013. The HOT lane experiment will not be converted back to unused median. Caltrans will either continue its congestion pricing model or convert it to a HOV lane. That’s at least what Metro and Caltrans have said.

A Caltrans right of way rep who I spoke to last year told me that Caltrans would consider requests by the local county transit agency (Metro, OCTA, etc) if it directed Caltrans to utilize freeway lanes for rail transit. Caltrans does have a history of permitting joint use of certain freeway rights of way. Examples include Metro’s Gold Line in the center of the 210 freeway and Green Line in the center of the 105 freeway in South L.A. County.

2. Like any major infrastructure project, this project would cost a lot. How much? I’m not sure, but ACE is expected to cost a few billion dollars, the Expo light rail line cost Metro about $108 million per mile, and Caltrans is spending $1.34 billion to widen and install a carpool lane on the 405 in West L.A. from the 105 to the 101 freeways. Costs will depend on a number of factors including route chosen, whether property needs to be acquired, terrain, and costs to mitigate negative affects. This project, like other transit projects have a number of funding resources available to them including gas taxes, sales and other use taxes, and federal and state grants.

Bottom Line

Alhambra and other communities along the I-10 corridor need to take advantage of additional time given by the Rail Authority’s change in priorities. The Rail Authority will be back in the next decade, intent on building a high speed rail line between L.A. Union Station and San Diego. The most likely route will lead the high speed trains along the I-10 corridor.

The San Gabriel Valley needs to proactively consider and plan what we want and need of our future transportation infrastructure and freeway corridors.Doing so will give us a stronger leg to stand on and dictate to the Rail Authority how it may traverse our communities. Failure to do so means the Rail Authority will build 50 to 75 foot elevated platforms on which its trains will travel 125-150 miles per hour,  every 7 to 15 minutes, from 5 a.m. to midnight, 365 days a year.

Alhambra123 will continue to follow the high speed rail project and post from time to time when information specifically relevant to Alhambra and the San Gabriel Valley becomes available.

That said, we will also continue to post points of interest relevant to Alhambra. The goal of this web site has always been to discuss and help improve the quality of life of Alhambra residents. Now that the high speed rail project is no longer an imminent threat, we will continue to broaden the web site’s focus to more generally include other related aspects of quality of life.

Footnotes:

1. Needless to say, there is very little chance the state will suddenly become flush with cash and able to afford working on Phase I as well as the L.A. to San Diego line at the same time. The state only has a small amount of overall funding for Phase I of the high speed rail project. Phase I is estimated by the Rail Authority at $43 billion. Other estimates peg the costs at closer to $76 billion. Currently, the Rail Authority has about $13 billion.

2. “[T]ravel lanes depending upon the type of highway can vary from 10 [feet] to 15 [feet].” A 50 foot right of way will take 5 ten foot lanes, while it will take 3 and a 1/3 fifteen foot lanes.  Caltrans: How wide are freeway lanes.

Calling volunteers! Help inform El Monte.

Calling volunteers! Help inform El Monte residents that the Rail Authority plans to cut through residential neighborhoods of their city and take a large swath of homes in the process. Residents were notified about meetings but not told why it is important to attend the meetings. The goal is to make sure people can speak up now to voice their concerns while there is time.

Join a small group passing out flyers in the affected neighborhoods this coming Saturday morning. If you want to get involved, call Bruce & Sylvia: (626) 280-7225. If you can’t make it on Saturday, tell folks you know in El Monte and give them the following flyer. It is two sided. One side has information intended to get people to the meetings the second side has a map. (Google Docs)(PDF)


The map in the flyer is a reproduction of the map provided by the Rail Authority in its Preliminary Alternative Analysis report for the Los Angeles to San Diego high speed rail line (pg 3-47 | pg. 70 in the PDF).
el monte station

Here is a better shot of the reproduction for your computer. This map overlay shows (1) 1,000 foot long set of 4 tracks and platform (dark green); and (2) 6,000 feet of additional 4 tracks to allow express trains to bypass the station (purple). If a station is not in El Monte, then only two sets of tracks will be built. The area to the right of the proposed El Monte train station is a residential neighborhood, as indicated on the map on the Preliminary Alternatives Analysis report
El Monte2

Meeting Announcements: Several upcoming meetings in Alhambra, San Gabriel, and elsewhere

The California High Speed Rail Authority scheduled 16 community meetings about its high speed rail project over the next 6 weeks throughout the local area. More meetings are scheduled for the Inland Empire and San Diego area.

The Alhambra meeting is scheduled for June 23 but you do not need to wait that long to find out more information about the project. Feel free to attend any of the meetings and ask questions. Meetings will be held in El Monte on May 25, San Gabriel on May 31, in and Downtown LA on June 1.

Note: We will find out on Monday whether the governor’s revised budget provides any funds for the L.A. to San Diego segment of the high speed rail project. If not, we need to expect that these will be the last meetings for a few years. The original state budget contained no money for the segment of the high speed rail project through the San Gabriel Valley but does fund other segments of the high speed rail project.

I added all meetings within a relatively easy drive to my Google Calendar, listed below. Click to see more information:


Folks along the route were mailed the following flyer, also with all the dates and locations listed:
(Google Docs) | (PDF)



Preliminary Alternatives Analysis Report

The California High Speed Rail Authority sent out an email tonight announcing to its mailing list that the Preliminary Alternatives Analysis Report is ready. It provided links to the cover letter for the report and executive summary, both embedded below. I will add the report once I get it. The Rail Authority web site currently does not link any of the three documents.

Cover Letter:



Executive Summary:

Use the controls to zoom or go to Google Docs to view.


Announcement Email

——– Forwarded Message ——–
From: CA High-Speed Rail: Southern California LA-SD <los.angeles_san.diego@hsr.ca.gov>
Reply-to: “CA High-Speed Rail: Southern California LA-SD” <los.angeles_san.diego@hsr.ca.gov>
Subject: CA High-Speed Rail: Preliminary Alternatives Analysis Report Available Now!
Date: Fri, 25 Feb 2011 21:00:50 -0600

Preliminary Alternatives Analysis Report for the

Los Angeles to San Diego via the Inland Empire Section

Now Available

The California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) has released the Preliminary Alternatives Analysis Report for the Los Angeles to San Diego via the Inland Empire (LA-SD) High Speed Rail Project.

The March 3, 2011 CHSRA Board meeting will be in Los Angeles and interested parties are invited to participate in the first public presentation of the Preliminary Alternatives Analysis Report on the HST Los Angeles to San Diego via the Inland Empire section.

The CHSRA Board is expected to approve the Preliminary Alternatives Analysis report with potentially additional recommendations, recognizing that further outreach efforts will continue as these preliminary recommendations are refined. Following the March 3 Board meeting, another series of open house meetings aimed at gathering input from local cities and communities on the project alternatives will commence this spring.

Click the link below to view the Preliminary Alternatives Analysis Report for the Los Angeles to San Diego via the Inland Empire section:

Community Meetings
A series of community open house meetings will be planned in the spring of 2011. More details on these meetings will be available shortly.

Board Meeting Details

When: Thursday, March 3, 2011, 9:00 a.m., Board Agenda

Where: Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro)
One Gateway Plaza, Los Angeles, CA 90012

Board Room, 3rd Floor
Adjacent to LA Union Station and Patsaouras Plaza (map)

Online: Can’t attend in person? Watch the Board meeting live online through USTREAM. Visit http://bit.ly/htDWS4

877 411 7230 • los.angeles_san.diego@hsr.ca.gov

www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov

Meeting Announcement: Rail Authority Board meeting in downtown L.A. on March 3 @ 9:00 a.m.

The California High Speed Rail Authority Board will hold its regular monthly meeting for March in downtown Los Angeles at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) Headquarters. Metro Headquarters is at the backside of Union Station.

The L.A. to San Diego line is on the agenda (posted below). The contractors responsible for that line will present their preliminary alternatives analysis report. That report is expected to recommend that the Rail Authority board consider only the I-10 freeway and SR-60 freeway routes for the high speed rail project between Union Station and the 605 freeway. It will also recommend the board withdraw routes that use and run adjacent to the Union Pacific right of way. The report is expected to be released a few days before the board meeting.

Public Comments

Public comments are taken at the very beginning of the meeting, at 9 a.m. If you would like to speak, you must get there early. You likely need to fill out a card before proceedings begin to notify the Board that you wish to address them. I intend to make public comments during the meeting.

Date/Time:

Thursday March 3, 2011

9:00 a.m.

Location:

One Gateway Plaza – Metro Board Room
Los Angeles, California


View Larger Map

Public transit options:

You can get to Union Station from Alhambra using public transit. I recommend Metro’s Trip Planner.

  1. Metro Local Bus — Line 76: This bus travels down Valley Blvd. and will go directly to Union Station. Time table.  Cost: $1.50 each way.
  2. Metro Local Bus — Line 78: This bus travels down Main St. and will go directly to Union Station. Time table. Cost: $1.50 each way.
  3. Alhambra Community Transit (ACT) Blue Line to Metro Silver Line: The ACT Blue Line travels in a loop around Alhambra. Part of that loop includes the Metrolink station at Cal State L.A. Metro runs an express bus service, the Silver Line, from El Monte station that will stop at Cal State L.A. Time table: ACT (PDF); Silver Line. Cost: $0.25 (ACT) + $2.45 (Silver Line) = $2.70 each way.

Agenda

The Board has published its agenda.


City of Alhambra’s February 1 letter to the Rail Authority

This post is a follow-up to my posts a few weeks ago:

Letter to the Rail Authority

The City of Alhambra web site provides the City’s latest letter to the Rail Authority. It reminds the Rail Authority that the city opposes an elevated platform (aerial structure) and any project plan that would impact the quality of life of its residents. It also asks the Rail Authority to explore putting the trains in a trench like the Union Pacific trains that traverse the city along Mission or a tunnel like Metro and Caltrans are considering with regard to the 710 extension between Alhambra and Pasadena.


Draft Letters

That letter was chosen from among three letters drafted by city staff. The City Council had directed staff to prepare a letter during its January 24 meeting. Here are the drafts.

Confirmed: No Funding for L.A. to San Diego High Speed Rail Project in State Budget

Governor Jerry Brown’s budget does not include funding during the 2011-2012 fiscal year for the L.A. to San Diego segment of the high speed rail project. See page 4 of the Entire High-Speed Rail Authority Budget (PDF)(Google Docs)(also embedded below).There is no money allocated under the 2011-12 column in the Summary of Projects table.

SUMMARY OF PROJECTS

State Building Program Expenditures 2009-10 20010-11 2011-12
20 CAPITAL OUTLAY
Major Projects
….
20.60 Los Angeles to Anaheim $- $11,085 $8,350
….
20.70.010 Los Angeles to San Diego $- $3,700 $-

This means that the Rail Authority will not have any money to allocate toward design, engineering, or outreach for the L.A. to San Diego segment of its project during the fiscal year 2011-2012. The new fiscal year begins July 1. In all likelihood, little will be done after the March 3 Rail Authority board meeting in which the staff/contractors will present the preliminary alternatives report. Rail Authority staff/contractors will need to spend time and money winding down the project to put it on hold and prepare information necessary for their successors to pick up the project where it is left off.

That said, the Rail Authority will eventually come back and attempt to complete the project. We need to work together as a community and a region to define what we want the corridor to look like in 2050 and give the Rail Authority direction on what alignment we consider appropriate. This is what I implored the Alhambra City Council to do on Monday.

Bottom Line:

  • The high speed rail project through the San Gabriel Valley is about to be put on hold due to the state budget.
  • We cannot sit on our hands waiting for the Rail Authority to return to restart its project. Instead, we need to proactively address the I-10 corridor and, as a region, give the Rail Authority direction on where and how its rail project can traverse the area.

Proposal to Allow States Limited Power of Eminent Domain over Railroads

I recently asked our Congressional representatives, Adam Schiff and Judy Chu, to modify eminent domain rules over freight railroads. Without reforming eminent domain rules, the Union Pacific route will be eliminated. According to the Rail Authority engineers I spoke with, there are a number of reasons why the Union Pacific route is ideal compared with building high speeed trains along the 10 or the 60 freeways. For example, the trains will need to go slow to make a sharp curve south of Union Station to reach the I-10 freeway route. In contrast, it would make a more gentle curve at high speeds to reach the Union Pacific route. The Union Pacific route is also more straight, which will allow the trains to maintain speeds more than a route that uses the more curvy I-10 freeway route.

Goals
Such legislation to modify eminent domain rules over freight railroads has several goals:

  • to bring Union Pacific to the bargaining table (Without a chance at reform, Union Pacific has little to no incentive to come to the bargaining table and discuss selling or allowing the Rail Authority to use its right of way.);
  • to help resolve issues related to Union Pacific with other segments of the high speed rail project;
  • to provide one more alternative route for the Rail Authority to consider during its environmental impact studies;
  • improve potential for HSR nationwide.

Elements

The legislation would have four elements.

  1. Definitions
    • Underutilized Right of Way means less than 50% of the right of way is currently used for rail transport.
    • High Speed Rail means sustained speeds over 110 MPH in urbanized areas and capable of more than 200 MPH in rural areas.
  2. Power of eminent domain
    • States will have the power of eminent domain when less than 25% of the right of way is used for rail transport.
    • States may petition the Surface Transportation Board to use eminent domain when the railroad uses between 25% and 50% of the right of way.
  3. A role for the Surface Transportation Board, and continued federal oversight
    • The railroad may appeal to the Surface Transportation Board.
      • In which case, the Surface Transportation Board would analyze whether the exercise was appropriate.
      • Environmental study could continue during the appeals process.
    • Surface Transportation Board would have power to cancel an exercise of power of eminent domain
    • The Surface Transportation Board would be given some guidance about when to approve a state’s request or cancel an exercise, including the amount of space requested, impact on freight delivery, current and historical freight capacity, existing passenger rail usage, and type of rail line (main, trunk, spur, etc).
  4. Limitations to power of eminent domain
    • The state may not take more than 50% of the right of way unless the right of way has not been used for 5 years, in which case the state may seize the full property under eminent domain.
    • State may only exercise its powers of eminent domain for passenger rail transport.

Carrots

To pass, the legislation will require carrots to acquire support of other representatives and the business community. Here are some things that might help legislation gain necessary support:

  1. Transfer of Amtrak obligations
    • Any passenger rail obligations, including easements, on the freight hauler for that right of way would be transferred to the high speed rail agency. In that way, Union Pacific could transfer to the Rail Authority any obligations to Amtrak or Metrolink over that right of way.
  2. Waiver of liability/ limited liability
    • Railroads will ask for full waiver of liability regardless of fault.
    • Railroads may settle for the passenger rail company/agency taking the first bite after an accident regardless of who was at fault.
      • I was told, but have not verified, that the latter is the arrangement made by BNSF and Amtrak/Coaster for trackage between Orange County and San Diego.

This proposed legislation is aimed at giving the Rail Authority an opportunity to study the Union Pacific route. Even if the legislation is not helpful to my cause, which is to get the Rail Authority an opportunity to truly consider the Union Pacific right of way, I expect that such legislation will help promote high speed rail in other areas of the state or country. It may also successfully get Union Pacific and other railroad companies to the bargaining table, where it would not consider negotiating today.

Yvonne in Congressman Schiff’s office said they will research the economic effects and put out some feelers in Congress. Congresswoman Chu said she would consider the legislation as well as possibly asking the Congressional Research Service to study its effects.

More detail: Routes to be dropped, 75 foot high viaducts, and budget woes

This follows-up my last post. Alhambra city staff will present an update to the Alhambra City Council and residents during the next city council meeting on Monday at 7pm. Staff will tell us that it recently learned that the Rail Authority will continue to study routes along the I-10 and SR-60 freeways. Rail Authority staff will also recommend that it drop the two routes that use and are adjacent to the Union Pacific right of way. City staff will also inform us that the high speed trains will fly by on elevated structures that average 75 feet or more in the air and at times are over 100 feet above the ground. Representatives from the Rail Authority will not be in attendance. The city has been asked to send a letter of formal support or opposition to present the Rail Authority board at the March 3 meeting.

In addition, I learned today that the Rail Authority likely will put further study of the L.A. to San Diego line on hold until funding becomes available. The state budget does not include funding for further design work, supplemental alternatives analysis, or the EIR/EIS process. In addition, folks in El Monte need to know that an El Monte high speed rail station likely will force the use of eminent domain and destruction of homes near the current El Monte station.

COG Meeting

The Rail Authority met with the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments (COG) High Speed Rail Working Group on January 13, 2011. Below is a memo that summarizes the meeting. It highlights a timeline of events to come and decisions by Rail Authority staff (in reality, contractors) about what they will recommend to its board in the preliminary alternatives analysis report that will be presented on March 3.

Highlights (my notes follow each):

  • Staff/contractors will recommend the Rail Authority continue studying the routes along the I-10 freeway and SR-60 during the EIR/EIS process.
    • The City of Alhambra web site makes it appear as if the SR-60 route will be dropped — it will not be dropped. That said, apparently the Rail Authority only discusses the negative aspects of the SR-60 route when talking to the COG and cities, including the superfund sites, Whittier Narrows Dam, and the San Gabriel River.
    • Separately, I confirmed with the Rail Authority that the SR-60 route will continue to be studied. The route along the Union Pacific right of way will be dropped because the State of California lacks eminent domain over freight railroads (federal jurisdiction). It will also withdraw the route that is adjacent to the Union Pacific right of way because it is too destructive.
  • The Rail Authority is using an elevated platform as its default alignment along the I-10 freeway between the 710 and 605 freeways. It says it will continue studying a trench/tunnel option.
    • Note that a trench and tunnel are both prohibitively expensive. If the Rail Authority will not build a trench/tunnel through the uber-wealthy communities on the San Francisco Peninsula, what makes us think it would spend gobs of money to do so through our communities?
  • Coming from Union Station, the trains would approach the 10 freeway from a tunnel beneath Boyle Heights. The east portal for the tunnel will be located somewhere around Eastern Avenue in the City Terrace area of L.A., near Cal State L.A. See Map #1 below.
  • The minimum height for an elevated platform is 27 feet from ground level (or structure) to the bottom of the platform.
    • That means the tops of the wires would be about 50 feet high. That also means trains may continue to run below the elevated platform along the I-10, since it would only need 16 feet of clearance for cars and buses but 27 feet minimum for trains.
    • The maximum grade change allowed for high speed trains is 2.5%. That means the trains will stay level as the road dips and the platform height will vary based on depth of dips in the road.
    • The high speed train platform will be higher than 27 feet through much of Alhambra, San Gabriel, and Rosemead. As the City of Alhambra web site says, that 27 feet is a minimum height from the road level to the bottom of the platform. The trains will travel above the 10 & 710 freeways interchange. At that point, the platform will be 40 to 50 feet above the interchange (75 feet above street level of the I-10 freeway). The trains will also be about 100 to 110 feet above the street level at the wash (just past the 710).
      • For perspective, view Map #1. It is split into two sections. The top shows an elevation profile that shows the height of the platform relative to the ground. The bottom section shows a birds’ eye view of the map.
      • Map #2 is likewise split into two sections. The elevation profile is the bottom section, although I have not had time to calculate or insert the path of the trains to provide perspective similar to Map #1.
  • The Rail Authority intends to build above the existing pedestrian and auto bridges along the route if it builds an elevated structure
  • A station in El Monte likely will require homes and/or businesses to be torn down, but the Rail Authority cannot say how many yet because it is too early and it has not done enough work to give a reliable answer.
    • A high speed train station will require a space 7,600 feet long by about 100 feet wide. That much space is necessary to accommodate 4 tracks, with platforms 1,600 feet long and 6,000 feet to maneuver/switch trains to the platform tracks. In addition, the Rail Authority will need space for the station itself.

Additional Rail Authority Statements

I also asked questions of the Rail Authority that are related but not addressed in the COG memo. Here’s what I found out:

  1. After the March 3 Board meeting, the Rail Authority likely will place further work on the L.A. to San Diego line on hold. The state budget currently does not fund the supplemental alternatives analysis or the EIS/EIR for L.A. to San Diego.
  2. The Rail Authority will post the alternatives analysis report to its web site the week before the March 3 Rail Authority Board meeting.
  3. The Rail Authority has completed about 2% of its design and engineering work. It must complete a minimum of 15% before it can begin the EIR/EIS process. In addition, it will need to have formal scoping meetings before it can begin the EIR/EIS.
  4. There are no plans for Metrolink trains to run down the center of the freeway as they do right now. Instead, there are discussions about sharing the elevated platform with Metrolink trains. The Rail Authority also thinks it is possible that Metrolink trains use Union Pacific’s Alhambra Line. That line runs in a trench down Mission Blvd through Alhambra and through San Gabriel and El Monte.
    1. I am skeptical that Union Pacific will ever allow Metrolink long-term access to its tracks if it is openly hostile to the idea of sharing a right of way with the high speed rail project.
    2. Union Pacific and Metrolink currently have an informal quid pro quo that allows either to use tracks that belong to the other when necessary. That usually boils down to times when construction needs to be completed, a train has broken down on the tracks, or some other closure necessitates temporarily re-routing trains.

COG Memo

This memo was prepared by the COG to summarize what occurred at its working group meeting.









Map #1

This map was prepared by the City of Alhambra staff based on diagrams shown during the COG working group meeting. It has two sections. The first is an elevation profile that shows the height of the high speed rail platform relative to ground elevation and structures such as the 10/710 freeways interchange. The second section is a bird’s eye view of the area. Scroll to see the rest of the map.









Map #2

This map shows the path of the trains through the rest of Alhambra into San Gabriel and Rosemead. It includes an elevation profile; however, it does not include information about the height of the trains. Scroll to see the rest of the map.








Bottom line:

  • Attend the City Council meeting — Monday January 24 @7pm in City Hall. Now is when you voice your concerns and opinion to the City Council so it may incorporate your feedback into how it pursues this matter. If you are not in Alhambra, then you need to contact your City Council and demand it respond to the Rail Authority’s plans. This is part of the democratic process.
  • The SR-60 freeway route will still be studied. Only the two routes that use and are adjacent to the Union Pacific right of way will be withdrawn from consideration.
  • The Rail Authority likely will put further study on hold until funding becomes available. The state budget does not include funding for further design work, supplemental alternatives analysis, or the EIR/EIS process.
  • An El Monte high speed rail station likely will force the use of eminent domain and destruction of homes near the current El Monte station. Get the word out.
  • The high speed trains will fly by on elevated structures that at times are 75 feet or more in the air.