Jan 31 2017
City: Run high-speed rail through trench
By: Charles F. Bostwick
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PALMDALE - As California High-Speed Rail Authority officials take comments from the public on the latest route plans through the Antelope Valley, city officials are pushing for the design to be changed to run the 220-mph train through Palmdale in a trench rather than on the surface.
Putting the high-speed rail tracks in an open-topped trench - wide enough to contain Metrolink and Union Pacific tracks as well - would provide the simplest way for streets to cross the tracks, lessen the number of buildings that would have to be moved to make room for overpasses and reduce noise, officials said.
"We don't need another wall dividing our city," Mayor Jim Ledford said Monday. "The trench idea is designed to minimize what we see as potential problems."
The High-Speed Rail Authority's latest plan calls for the tracks through Palmdale and Lancaster to follow Sierra Highway and the existing Metrolink-Union Pacific railroad tracks. At about Avenue G-8, the tracks turn northwest, cross over the Antelope Valley Freeway just south of Avenue D and continue northwest to tunnel through the Tehachapi Mountains.
South of Palmdale, officials are studying three routes through the mountains to Burbank.
High-Speed Rail Authority reports say the plan for the route through Palmdale and Lancaster calls for the tracks to be "at grade," after consideration of elevated tracks was dropped at the request of Lancaster officials. Ledford said Palmdale officials have seen designs that show the "at grade" track built at ground level as well as on a raised embankment.
Putting the tracks in a trench is one of the options Lancaster officials want high-speed rail officials to consider through their city, Lancaster City Manager Mark Bozigian said.
"We're asking them to look into several options. One of the options includes trenching," he said.
High-speed rail officials are conducting public meetings this week in the Antelope Valley in preparation for naming a recommended route this spring for the 80-mile segment between Palmdale and Bakersfield.
Public hearings on a draft environmental impact report will be conducted before a final decision is made next year, officials said.
The route south of Palmdale to Burbank is being designed in a separate process, which also will involve public hearings on the draft environmental impact report.
Ledford has been a supporter for decades of the high-speed rail plan, which he says is necessary for the economies of the Antelope Valley and California. He said Monday he liked the analogy to California's freeway system made by a high-speed rail official at a public meeting Saturday in Rosamond.
"The freeway system - if we didn't have that, we'd still be driving Sierra Highway to L.A.," he said.
Building the high-speed rail will cause disruption, but it is necessary to give the Valley a connection to Los Angeles, since the Antelope Valley Freeway already is crowded, he said.
Councilman Austin Bishop also said the high-speed rail seems necessary for the Valley.
"If anyone needs the rail more than any other city, it's us," Bishop said, adding that high-speed rail lines are in use around the world. "It's not that we're doing something's that's never been done."
Now estimated to cost $64 billion, the rail line is supported by Gov. Jerry Brown but opposed by federal officials including House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Bakersfield Republican whose district includes most of Kern County and part of the Antelope Valley.
Two weeks ago he called for its immediate scrapping after the disclosure of a federal report that said the first segment would cost 50% more than the previous estimate, though high-speed rail officials said in response that the report contained outdated information and was being mischaracterized.
High-speed rail officials acknowledge the state doesn't have enough money to complete the entire system from San Francisco to Anaheim, but hope private investors will participate after the trains start running.
The plan to build the first segment between north of Bakersfield and San Jose - on which construction is underway - was adopted last year because it was less expensive than building from Bakersfield through the Antelope Valley to Burbank.
Officials still have a goal of completing the line between Anaheim and San Francisco by 2029, meaning construction would start in this area in the early 2020s, with right-of-way acquisition before that.