SPUR Talk: High-Speed Rail on its Way to Northern California

Bridging the Fresno River. This is just one of several locations where work is under way on the California High-Speed Rail project. Photo: CaHSR Authority
Bridging the Fresno River. This is just one of several locations where work is under way on the California High-Speed Rail project. Photo: CaHSR Authority

High-Speed Rail construction is well underway in the Central Valley, said Ben Tripousis, Northern California Regional Director for the California High Speed Rail Authority, during a forum at the San Francisco Bay Area Planning and Urban Research Association’s (SPUR) Mission Street center. “The High-Speed Rail question has shifted from ‘if’ to ‘when,'” he told the packed house at today’s lunchtime presentation.

He showed videos and photographs of the ongoing construction included in this video from the California High-Speed Rail Authority:

This fully funded phase contains “119 miles with…seven active sites with more to come in the Fall,” he explained. He also showed a video about a printing business and a boxing gym in Fresno that were successfully relocated to make way for the tracks. He said now that earth is being moved and concrete poured, some of the opposition is fading, but it will never go away altogether. “There’s no shortage of horror stories how projects like this ‘railroad’ people,” he said. “We continue to work very hard to include local communities.”

Streetsblog readers will recall that under the new HSR business plan, released earlier this year, the Authority is now doing environmental work and preparing for construction to link the Central Valley to San Francisco via Gilroy and the Caltrain corridor. Bridging the gap from Bakersfield to Los Angeles and Anaheim will come in a later phase. This decision was made after the Authority determined that an initial operating segment could get running faster, and serve more people, by focusing on the northern end of the alignment first.

That means “fully electrifying the Caltrain commuter service.” Electrifying Caltrain will permit HSR to share tracks to downtown San Francisco. He explained how Caltrain will eventually run at 110 mph, thanks to HSR-funded upgrades.

As to timeline, Tripousis said the preliminary preferred alternative for the alignment for Northern California should be finished this Fall. That means construction of the northern section will begin “near the end of 2017.” In the meantime, he said the Authority is working with local economic groups, transit agencies, and cities along the corridor to facilitate development around the stations. For example, San Jose Diridon Station will eventually have BART service, VTA light rail, Caltrain, HSR and buses, so he wants to make sure they can maximize height and density around the station.

Meanwhile, the train’s ultimate Bay Area destination, the Transbay Transit Center, was in the news today. The County Transportation Authority decided to hold up the next round of funding to the tune of “$6.8 million, citing concerns about the sinking [Millennium] tower and cost overruns,” as reported by the San Francisco Examiner.

“The Downtown Rail Extension will have tremendous benefits for San Francisco, connecting commuters and eventually High Speed Rail travelers to the downtown Transbay Terminal location with the most jobs and transit connections,” said Adina Levin, Director of Friends of Caltrain, in a separate email to Streetsblog. “San Francisco should figure out how to handle the financial and legal issues with the Millennium tower in a way that does not delay this project that is so valuable for the city, region, and state.”

Ben Tripousis of the California High Speed Rail Authority and Egon Terplan of SPUR. Photo: Streetsblog
Ben Tripousis of the California High Speed Rail Authority and Egon Terplan of SPUR. Photo: Streetsblog

But Tripousis said that Transbay is only one component of the HSR project. “Eventually we will go to the Transbay Transit Center, but in the interim we’ll have a stop at 4th and King,” he said.

Additionally, he stressed that the project is as much about an overall statewide rail modernization project. He showed a slide listing the projects contributions to local transit agencies in Northern and Southern California, including $61 mllion for the extension of the Central Subway and $713 million for the electrification of Caltrain service. There were also contributions to Southern California transit projects.

A map of the possible alignments to link up San Francisco with the Central Valley via the Caltrain corridor and a new alignment across the Pacheco Pass Image: CaHSRA

But, by his accounting, the project has travel consequences even beyond California. “My long-term goal is to make it so you can book a trip from Fresno to Frankfurt,” he said. This would emulate European systems that permit riders to book through-tickets on HSR trains directly to connecting flights. For example, it’s possible to ride a train directly from a small city in France to the Paris airport to connect with an international flight. He hopes to see the same kind of service in California. “You would leave Fresno on an HSR, get to SFO,” and transfer to an international flight as seamlessly as one transfers from “puddle jumpers” to international flights now, but without the extra runway space and air pollution.

California, he added, has the advantage of being able to grab the best of cutting edge, off-the-shelf technology for HSR. “Japan just celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Shinkansen [bullet train],” he said. “The rest of the world has determined how to do it.”

“We are fully under construction in the Central Valley…from Madera to North Bakersfield. You can see the light at end of tunnel and it is, in fact, an oncoming train,” he added, drawing chuckles from the audience.

Governor Brown on a recent visit with California High-Speed Rail construction workers. Photo: CaHSRA
Governor Brown on a recent visit with California High-Speed Rail construction workers. Photo: CaHSRA

For more events like these, visit SPUR’s events page.

  • RichLL

    “Caltrain will eventually run at 110 mph”

    And with stops every two miles on average, how will that work?

    HSR to the airport would be great but what are the odds HSR will stop a few miles away and then involve some ponderous local transfer where you need quarters and have to carry your bags up or down a few flights of steps?

  • Kraut

    Ever heard of express trains?

  • RichLL

    Sure, an express train is a train that goes fast, say, 110 mph. Which isn’t possible with stations 2 miles apart.

    I think you’re using the word “express” to mean “limited stops” which is amusing in the same way as CalTrain using the word “Bullet” to describe a train with an average speed of 40 mph.

  • James Leno

    For 110 mph service to be usefully employed, the line has to run for a much longer distance than where CalTrain runs now.

    HSR is not meant to provide service just on the peninsula, or just in the LA basin. CalTrain and MetroLink are simply beneficiaries of the HSR project. And the ultimate benefit of HSR will be in linking the north-south rail systems together.

    After the upgrade/interconnection, CalTrain trains will perform better because they will be running on electrified 110mph rails, which they wouldn’t otherwise have were it not for the HSR project.

  • OaktownPRE

    What I’ve seen there’s a stop planned at PA and another at Millbrae. That’s two.

  • Neil

    We should be investing in the hyperloop not this obsolete overpriced garbage.

  • Bernard Finucane

    Not a decade too soon!

  • For the $3 Trillion we blew off on the Bush/Cheney military adventures in the Middle East, we could have had high speed rail all across the USA by now.

  • keenplanner

    Millbrae is key to connecting to SFO, Palo Alto probably not happening. Redwood City would be better, but Mr. Tripousis said there would likely be no other Peninsula stops.

  • RichLL

    Interesting. Agree CalTrain would perform better. Seems to me that we’ll have three types of train sharing the track between SJ and SF:

    1) HSR with 1/2 stops
    2) 110 mph CalTrains’s with a handful of stops
    3) Stopping trains making up to 20 stops and getting nowhere near 110 mph

    I’d guess they’ll need more passing places.

  • Wow, according to plan, it will take me the same amount of time to get from the Sunset to downtown SF as it will on HSR from the Central Valley to downtown SF.

    DTX and Caltrain to downtown in my generation, please?

  • But decades past due

  • crazyvag

    Caltrain only runs local trains in non-peak hours where there’s low demand and more track capacity.

    During commute hours, baby bullets which make stops every 10 miles or so, so they can reach 110mph (or a speed higher than current 79mph.

    Time savings might be only 2 mins, but consider that caltrain currently runs trains 5 trains an hour…. or one every 12 mins. If each each train saves 2 mins, that gives you an extra 10 mins and enough time for a 6th train. That 6th train could be another baby bullet or HSR. This is a simplistic example since it depends on stopping patterns and location of passing tracks, but it’s the fact that you accrue savings over many trains to get more capacity without laying more tracks.

  • Joe Brant

    >I think you’re using the word “express” to mean “limited stops”

    Is that not what an express train is?

  • datbeezy

    Well, I don’t think HSR will be nearly as fast as advertised. Speeds will be reduced for political/cost/union reasons.

  • RichLL

    Not to my mind. The word “express” connotes speed, indicating that it is a train that goes quickly. Obviously stopping less means a higher average speed, other things being equal, but a train that doesn’t stop much and moves at 10 mph would not be called an express.

    While there are limited-stop trains that really aren’t fast at all, like the mis-named “CalTrain Baby Bullet” trains which do not have a higher top speed than the regular trains – they just stop less, so I’d argue they are mis-named if called an “express”.

  • RichLL

    I suspect HSR will be super fast between, say, Stockton and Bakersfield. But then limited to 110 mph at either end. Moreover it will probably have too many stops.

    If you travel regularly between Fresno and Modesto, I suspect it will be wonderful.

  • Brian Keith

    So, no direct access between Sacramento and San Francisco without having to go all the way around the Bay, down to Gilroy and Pacheco? No one will do that. And the entire Eastbay is being skipped over? Adding a 30 minute BART ride + additional time to allow for connections and delays – this looks less and less desirable. Simply flying out of OAK will be faster, less expensive and easier. What a mistake with the route that was selected.

  • HSR will do nothing to ease congestion along 80 from the city and EB to Sacto. Riders in SF will still need to take the bus bridge from the city to Amtrak to catch the Capitol Corridor, unless, of course, you want to take MUNI to BART to Richmond and pick it up there.

  • Even with the circuitous route to Sacto, the route to SF should have been from SJ to OAK and then to SF in a new tube..this tube will be needed regardless.

  • Brian Keith

    I’ll obviously try it once, but until they get a line up the Eastbay, it’s not that practical. A bus or cab to BART and then on to a HSR station, not going to happen. That’s why I don’t fly out of SFO unless it’s the only option.

  • ZA_SF

    The Sacramento connection is for a future project period. The specific corridor is TBD. Currently, Amtrak offers the Capitol Corridor train between Sacramento and Oakland, with easy connected platforms at Richmond BART.

  • Vooch

    you sound like trump

  • Vooch

    A decent start – it will take a generation to undo 1/2 of the destruction of mass motoring. Changing a culture takes time.

  • JustJake

    Plenty of spin from Ben, and lots of pre-suasion going on. There are many legal and financial issues remaining before this HSR project becomes a given.

  • Alicia

    The word “express” connotes speed, indicating that it is a train that goes quickly.

    And limited stops is one of the elements needed to get it to go at a fast average speed.

  • RichLL

    Agreed, but just because there are limited stops doesn’t mean that a trip will be fast, as anyone who has taken the 38-L along Geary can testify. Or Amtrak outside the Boston-Washington route.

  • QuestionQue

    Hyperloop is a scam that will be as successful as the Monorail. Fun for tourists in Seattle or Disneyworld but never widespread.

  • QuestionQue

    Caltrain with EMUs will have faster acceleration to top speed so higher average speed. An electric multiple unit or EMU is a multiple unit train consisting of self-propelled carriages, using electricity as the motive power. An EMU requires no separate locomotive, as electric traction motors are incorporated within one or a number of the carriages.

  • Neil

    Monorail systems are abound in many countries, you dont know what the fuck you’re talking about.

  • RichLL

    I know but, even so, CalTrain has 20 stops in its 40 mile trip from Sf to SJ. No way a stop every 2 miles on average will enable 110 mph working or anything close, even with EMU’s

  • Kieran

    I get what you’re saying..I felt the same way until I thought “Why don’t they build another transbay tube?” I searched awhile ago and found articles like the link below.

    I dunno if you’ve realized this but there’s been talk on a 2nd transbay tube which connects to the future HSR/Caltrain tracks at the new Transbay Terminal. That way Caltrain could operate into the East Bay, Amtrak could stop at the Transbay Terminal and possibly operate into the South Bay and BART could share the new tube with HSR,Caltrain and Amtrak.

    I personally see a tube with 4 or maybe 6 tracks. 6 tracks could be better. BART would need its own tracks due to its wide gauge while HSR, Caltrain and Amtrak would share tracks. In this article, the new transbay tube hooks south from the 980 corridor to the Jack London Square area, going underneath Alameda with a stop in Alameda, then it juts west towards the new Transbay Terminal.

    In the map, on the East Bay side BART joins with the Amtrak/Caltrain/HSR tracks in most likely a remade 980 which would be a car-free ped/bike boulevard and having tunnels for these different train lines. Amtrak would also need to be electrified in the way Caltrain is gonna be for this to get pulled off, not to mention plenty more billions of dollars to build it which would actually be worth it if it were done.

  • Even a broken clock is right twice a day. Of course, the pig Trump doesn’t support HSR or alternative energy.

  • You suspect? Why not get tuned in with some actual facts about the project?

  • The hyper-loop does not exist anywhere … it’s a pipe dream.

  • Vooch

    you are most correct Trump does not support multi-billion crony capitalist giveaways

  • Vooch


    not true

  • Neil


  • LOL
    You’ve obviously fallen for con-man Trump’s propaganda.

  • Meanwhile, high speed rail is all over Asia and Europe.

  • Vooch


  • Vooch

    apparently so has this Black pastor


  • Neil

    Remember when the US was known for its innovation, now we lag behind third world nations. Time to leapfrog everyone with new tech.

  • Steven Rappolee

    I have been blogging about “Tunnel arbitrage” can many agencies share tunnel and tunnel boring costs? Can many agencies share infrastructure capital costs and lend or differ costs to one another? https://yellowdragonblog.com/?s=BART

  • If we lag behind 3rd world nations, explain the I-phone and the internet.

  • Obviously, your sources are religious fanatics and psychotics.

  • Vooch

    you saying this African-American pastor is a psychotic ?

  • I feel like they’ll probably offer several different service options so that some trains will be able to make the trip more directly and others will make all stops.

  • Actually, Trump has lamented about the relatively sad state of America’s rail transportation infrastructure and expressed a desire to see it improved.


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