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California dumps maglev

01 Mar 2002

NOTWITHSTANDING the Perils of Amtrak playing to full houses in Congress (p109), the California High Speed Rail Authority is steadily whittling down alignment options for a high speed network linking Sacramento and San Francisco Bay with Los Angeles and San Diego. State Governor Gray Davies continues to support the planning effort, with $8·46m in his proposed budget for the fiscal year to September 30 2003 supplemented by $1·25m of federal cash.

CHSRA finally ruled out maglev on January 16, mainly because access to the major cities had to rely on existing railways. For example, upgrading the Caltrain commuter line from San Jose was accepted as the only 'realistic' way of serving downtown San Francisco and its international airport.

On level terrain, notably in the San Joaquin Valley, top speed would be 320 km/h, which is realistic given TGV aspirations in France and the 350 km/h design speed of the AVE line between Madrid and Barcelona. As currently proposed by CHSRA, the high speed network stands at 1131 km. By way of comparison, the north - south route used by Amtrak between Sacramento and San Diego via Oakland, San Jose and LA is 1080 km long. This uses Union Pacific's somewhat tortuous coastal line.

The San Joaquin Valley is obviously the better graded and more populated route - except for the fact that the existing line across the Tehachapi Mountains south of Bakersfield is far too tortuous for passenger use. CHSRA prefers to build a more direct route with 29 km of tunnels. Plans for a 50 km base tunnel under the Diablo Range between San Jose and Merced, have also been replaced by 18 km of shorter tunnels.

There is no funding for construction and 2007 is the earliest possible start date. The most optimistic forecast would see completion in 2016 at a cost of $30bn.