INTRO: A grade-separated freight railway is being built to boost capacity between Los Angeles and Long Beach. Julian Wolinsky reports on progress

SINCE WORK began in April 1997, progress on building the ambitious and expensive Alameda Corridor has been swift and without major controversy, the latter a rare circumstance in Los Angeles-area transport projects. When it opens next year, the 32 km route will provide a 100 km/h freight route from the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to downtown LA, from where trains will fan out to the east and north (RG 9.97 p609). More than 200 delay-causing level crossings will have been eliminated.

Ground was broken on December 10 1998 for the 15·2m wide Mid-Corridor Trench, the most costly and complex portion of the line. This $712m design-and-build contract was awarded to a joint venture led by Tudor-Saliba, a large firm with extensive experience in major public works. The trench is being built 10m below ground on the east side of the heavily-industrialised Alameda Street, between State Highway 91 in Carson and 25th Street in south Los Angeles. Of the 29 road bridges over the line, 21 have already been completed. Nearly 70% of the trench has been excavated, with digging averaging more than 24m per day from each of two locations.

Lined with steel-reinforced concrete, the structure will contain two tracks - with space for a third - providing a much needed boost in capacity for rail freight to and from the ports. Together Los Angeles and Long Beach account for 25% of all US waterborne international trade, and are the two busiest container ports in the USA. Ballast and rails have already been laid along one finished section, and track installation will continue as the separate segments are completed and joined together.

From Alameda Street the Corridor is barely visible, marked by a chain link fence protecting it from vandals and careless passers-by. The walls are braced by 2000 struts, part of the heavy reinforcement to protect against the ever-present danger of powerful earthquakes. These cross-members will also keep errant motor vehicles from falling onto the tracks. There are frequent gated access points for maintenance vehicles.

Now expected to open in April 2002, the Corridor has a construction budget of $2·4bn. Finance is coming from bonds worth $1·1bn, which will be repaid from access charges paid by the Union Pacific and BNSF, a $400m loan from the federal Department of Transportation, $394m in grants from the two ports and $501m in federal, state and local grants. When planning began in the early 1990s, the original cost estimate was $1·8bn, and revenue service was expected to begin in 2001.

As well as the lengthy Mid-Corridor Trench, there are separate surface segments to the north and south. The northern portion, from the end of the trench at 25th Street to the main railway yards southeast of downtown Los Angeles, includes several major bridges. A 100 m span across the Los Angeles River has already been completed, and a five-bridge grade separation is now nearing completion at Redondo Junction, to carry Amtrak and Metrolink passenger trains over the main freight tracks.

The 11·2 km southern end extends into the port area. This includes four large rail bridges over waterways, one of them 1·6 km long, plus a new and wider road bridge forming part of a key lorr y route into the Port of Los Angeles.

The Alameda Corridor is considered so significant to the Californian and US economies in speeding the movement of cargo that Congress has designated it ’a project of national significance.’ In a little over a year it will have the opportunity to demonstrate that potential.

CAPTION: The completed rail trench is almost invisible from Alameda Street, in a 10 m deep cutting behind the fence in the centre of the picture. Transverse reinforcing struts (inset) provide earthquake protection

CAPTION: Construction work (below) is on course for completion by April 2002