Clem Tillier recently (and convincingly, in my view) argued that a Tejon alignment for the California High Speed Rail System would be significantly cheaper and faster than the proposed Tehachapi alignment. The main pushback from blog commenters (admittedly a non-representative population) appears to be that isolating the Antelope Valley from high-speed service is not worth billions of dollars in capital cost savings and 12 minutes of reduced running time. Furthermore, some are concerned that eliminating the connection to the future XpressWest line would doom that project.
Even if we accept these counterarguments at face value, it still appears that a Tejon alignment could save money while preserving Antelope Valley service and a connection to XpressWest. What both sides seem to have ignored is that laying track in the Antelope Valley is, for the most part, absurdly cheap because it is flat and relatively uninhabited. Below I sketch out a spur that could connect Palmdale and Lancaster to the Tejon alignment at modest cost.
I don’t have a train performance calculator, but reasonable estimates of running times suggest it would take 18 minutes to reach the CAHSR mainline from Lancaster and 23 minutes to reach the CAHSR mainline from Palmdale. At that point it would be approximately 12 minutes to Sylmar or, eventually, 25 minutes to Union Station. Total nonstop running time to Union Station would be around 43 minutes from Lancaster and 48 minutes from Palmdale. This compares favorably to current Metrolink service, which takes 120 minutes from Lancaster (local) or 93 minutes from Palmdale (express). One-seat rides from the Antelope Valley to Bakersfield, Fresno, and the San Francisco Bay Area would also be feasible. A connection to XpressWest could be added north of Lancaster. The spur also allows for a future station at the planned Centennial development off of I-5 and SR-138, which could contain up to 70,000 people.1
What about cost? A detailed KML file listing major civil structures (viaducts, grade crossing, and cuts) is available for download here.2 The bottom line is that there would be approximately 52 miles of track at grade, 4 miles of viaduct, 1.5 miles of cuts or fills, 9 grade separations, and 1 canal crossing. Using the FRA cost measures found in the Merced-Fresno Final EIR, this works out to about $1.24 billion before any overhead, and $1.98 billion after accounting for overhead. This implies a cost of $34.7 million per mile, which is almost identical to the cost per mile of the initial Madera-Fresno segment.3
$2 billion is no small amount, and we can reasonably discuss whether the high-speed spur is worth it compared to double-tracking the Metrolink Antelope Valley line and purchasing tilting DMUs. However, $2 billion is less than half as much as the $5.2 billion that Clem argues a Tejon alignment would save. Thus the overall cost of a Tejon alignment with an Antelope Valley spur would still be significantly less than the proposed Tehachapi alignment.
Finally, it is worth noting that for Antelope Valley residents, even a spur still would not be as fast to Los Angeles as the proposed Tehachapi alignment. From Lancaster, the spur would take about 12 minutes longer to LA than the Tehachapi alignment. From Palmdale, the spur would take about 20 minutes longer to LA than the Tehachapi alignment. However, these figures must be weighed against the fact that a Tehachapi alignment would add 12 minutes to the ride of virtually every other high speed rail rider in the state.4 At that point, I think the choice that maximizes public welfare becomes clear.
1. Naturally the state would get the rights to this development as well when it used eminent domain to acquire Tejon Ranch Company, per Clem’s suggestion. The development would undoubtedly become much more valuable after the state completed a Tejon alignment.
2. Those who wish to view the detailed map without installing Google Earth and its associated crapware (i.e., Google Software Update) may view it here.
3. Whether we should expect the cost per mile to be higher or lower than the Madera-Fresno segment is unclear. On the one hand, unlike the spur costs quoted above, the initial Madera-Fresno contract does not include systems or electrification. On the other hand, the share of track in viaducts, trenches, cuts, or fills is almost twice as high on the Madera-Fresno segment as it is on the Antelope Valley spur. I should also note that I do not have an estimate of ROW acquisition costs, though these seem likely to be modest given the low price of land in the desert.