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Bullet train planners prefer Palmdale over more direct I-5 route

Illustration: An image of a proposed high-speed rail station. Credit: California High-Speed Rail Authority

Planners of California's high-speed rail project want to discard a more direct route from Los Angeles to Bakersfield over the Grapevine and continue development of a sweeping dog leg through Palmdale and Lancaster.

Consideration of the Interstate 5-Grapevine corridor was revived last May after state officials and some transportation experts thought it would save billions of dollars in construction costs and up to 12 minutes of travel time between Los Angeles and the Bay Area.

But a new study by the California High-Speed Rail Authority now indicates that the longer, more tunnel-heavy route that turns east from the Central Valley through the Tehachapi Mountains to the Antelope Valley is the better option.

Although the Grapevine route would be slightly less expensive to build, researchers said the $15-billion- plus Palmdale alignment would serve one of the fastest-growing areas in Los Angeles County, have fewer environmental effects and allow planners more flexibility in route selection though the mountains.

Because of changes in the length of both routes, researchers from Parsons Brinkerhoff and Hatch, Mott, MacDonald, two of the project’s main contractors, concluded that the time savings for the Grapevine corridor would be only three to five minutes, far less than the initial estimate of 10 to 12 minutes.

The study also concluded that both routes have similar earthquake risks and less tunneling would be required for the Palmdale alignment than originally thought.

“The goal of this conceptual study was to review factors that have changed since 2005 to ensure that the most operationally successful alignment is being planned,” said Roelof van Ark, chief executive officer of the high-speed rail authority.

At its Thursday meeting in Los Angeles, the agency’s board of directors is scheduled to decide whether to eliminate the Grapevine route from further study. The authority staff has recommended that the option be shelved.

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-- Dan Weikel

Illustration: An image of a proposed high-speed rail station. Credit: California High-Speed Rail Authority

 
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