Intermodal connectivity key to successful high-speed train operation in the Valley

Okay, I’ll say it: Intermodal connectivity is fundamental to successful high-speed rail operation in California’s San Joaquin Valley on what is now known as the Interim Initial Operating Segment (IOS), a 171-mile-long double-tracked, fully grade-separated high-speed railroad corridor to serve the needs of passengers traveling end to end or on any portion thereof in between, from Bakersfield in the southern to Merced in the northern parts of the Valley, respectively, that is, until additional planned segments receive necessary funding needed to complete extensions from Bakersfield south to the Greater Los Angeles area and from Merced west and north to the San Francisco Bay Area region, respectively, that will complete Phase 1 of the statewide high-speed rail project on 520 miles of right-of-way in all. Work on the Interim IOS is currently underway and is projected to end and be open for public use sometime in 2029.

Officially begun on Jan. 6, 2015 (groundbreaking ceremony) with actual construction beginning in Madera County on a viaduct crossing over Raymond Road, the Fresno River, State Route 145, and an irrigation canal (in order north to south) on Jun. 16th that same year. Now, after more than eight years of work, the California high-speed rail endeavor is really starting to take shape with work completed or ongoing at more than 30 locations up and down the Valley.

Having a world-class high-speed passenger train system in the United States is becoming a reality finally, after, what, almost 60 years subsequent to the world’s very first system going into service in Japan way back on Oct. 1, 1964.

U.S. high-speed rail has been a long time coming. In fact, in my opinion, it’s long overdue. Discussions about bringing a bullet train to California, I believe, go as far back as the 1970s. There was an effort advanced to build a line between the Greater Los Angeles area and San Diego back around that time, but that pursuit just did not go anywhere. Then again in the 1990s, the state renewed talks, which is really the impetus for getting California high-speed rail to the place it is today.

I’ve repeatedly heard and read that the state rail project is “a boondoggle,” “a train to nowhere,” “a money pit.” In response, I would ask: Is it?

Was Amtrak (which, in the Valley, got started in 1974), now more than 50 years old, a failure? I think not. Or, the national highway network? Or the pipelines or aqueducts constructed over the years? Far from it. It is all very practical, relevant, useful infrastructure which multitudes depend on. That, in my view, makes it successful. And, I fully expect high-speed rail in the San Joaquin Valley and beyond to be as well.

A lot of that success, obviously, depends on there being good intermodal-station connectivity. How passengers get to and from the high-speed train stations is just as key as the bullet-train ride itself.

Limiting station access only to the most popular of the land-based modes – bus, taxi and private auto – has so much to be desired. Fortunately, at one location – Merced – not only will high-speed train patrons be able to access or reach that station facility once opened, and presumably, by and large by bus, taxi or private automobile, but the presumption is also that by the time year 2029 rolls around and passenger service is firmly established, the station there will see two more passenger train operations serving that particular location – Amtrak and Valley Rail, the latter an extended arm of what is now known as the Altamont Corridor Express (ACE). This, of course, is based on my understanding.

Which, if that actually winds up panning out, the Merced Station, by any other name, will be an intermodal hub in the broadest sense of the term. All of which provides the high-speed rail traveler an array of connectivity or access options with respect to how they will further their journeys. The same sort of set-up could be in the cards at the Kings/Tulare regional station to be located some 20 miles east of the city of Hanford if this station, too, gets a good complement of intermodal connecting service – road-based and railway-based alike. The passenger rail option, if it does ultimately come to pass, is to be known as the Cross-Valley Rail component which purportedly will have direct service to the Kings/Tulare regional station.

Why is all of this important? It matters because the Valley is plagued by air pollution and the sense is, even by 2029 or ’30, the region is still going to be impacted by its effects – impacts to people’s health, impacts to agriculture, impacts to plant, shrub and tree health, generally.

The California high-speed train network in the Valley especially, because the trains themselves will be electrified (the electricity supply to be sourced exclusively from renewable-energy-generating practices – solar and wind, predominantly, presumably), means they themselves will not introduce harmful emissions into the surrounding air, and, as long as the ridership numbers for the trains are themselves brisk, then they’ll do a lot to help Valley air quality – both in the near- and medium-terms and over the long haul.

And, here’s what many people may not understand – but is key. By making all stations true intermodal hubs offering an assortment of connectivity or access options – that could include any number of mode selections: commuter rail, conventional heavy passenger rail, light rail, people mover, automated transit, shuttle, car-sharing, and biking even (stations could be repositories for stored bicycles – rental bikes or otherwise) in addition to the popular three already listed above – such could create or facilitate an improved mobility scheme in urban and suburban environments, and that could tend to make for an efficient transportation platform all around. A better balance or distribution of mobility selections, in other words.

And, that very notion, could be what it takes to make clean or at least cleaner the air in metropolitan centers, all of it centered on and radiating out from the intermodal hub.


– Alan Kandel

Copyrighted material.

Corresponding, connected home-page-entry image: California High-Speed Rail Authority