A study reassessing a Southern California route for the state's high-speed rail project has been completed, concluding that no changes should be made since it was first approved in 2005. Due to increased infrastructure costs between Bakersfield and Sylmar via the Antelope Valley community of Palmdale, the route was questioned last year, leading to a second look of an alternative route over the Grapevine and along Interstate 5.
"A preliminary look at the Grapevine indicated a potential to reduce the route by 25 miles, saving 7 to 9 minutes of travel time to San Francisco from Los Angeles," Authority Spokesperson Rachel Wall said last May. "It's possible that this alternative could save more than $1 billion."
But the recent study found the time savings would average 3 to 5 minutes due to steep grades and sharp turns. Although the shorter route would reduce maintenance and operation costs by about $50 million each year, skipping the growing desert population in the Antelope Valley would reduce ridership by two million people and $50 million in revenues. Costs to build either of the routes are estimated between $15 and $15.5 billion.
Other reasons to stick with desert route include avoiding 14 miles of track on national forest land and four miles of tunnel under the Wind Wolves Preserve at the base of the San Emigdio Mountains. There would also be less potential impact on prime farmland, but more to grazing land and greater potential impacts on cultural and paleontological resources, according to the the Authority's executive summary. Additionally, there's the potential connection to the DesertXpress, a planned high-speed train to Las Vegas.
Laurie Lile, Palmdale's Assistant City Manager, said she pleased with the recommendation. "The Antelope Valley route makes the best economic sense for the program, reaches more riders and has the potential to provide an intermodal connectivity that is unlike any other location in the nation," she explained. "We are optimistic that the board of directors will accept the staff's recommendation and we look forward to getting back on track with the development of the project."
The authority's board is scheduled to vote on the matter at its January 12th meeting in Los Angeles.