CA High-Speed Rail Authority Releases Draft Plan for Palmdale to Burbank Section

Palmdale-Burbank section graphic - via California High-Speed Rail Authority fact sheet
Palmdale-Burbank section graphic - via California High-Speed Rail Authority fact sheet

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has released its draft environmental studies for the planned link between the cities of Palmdale and Burbank. The ~38-mile-long section is currently estimated to cost roughly $24 billion. This section’s cost is relatively high, as trains will mostly travel in tunnels under the San Gabriel Mountains in north Los Angeles County. CAHSRA is currently receiving public comment on the Palmdale-Burbank Draft Environmental Impact Report/Environmental Impact Statement (EIR/EIS). For details on how to comment, and/or attend upcoming virtual hearings, see the end of this post.

Many Streetsblog readers know that more than a hundred miles of California High-Speed Rail are currently under construction in the state’s Central Valley, in and around Fresno and Bakersfield. That initial 119-mile facility will serve as the backbone of the state’s planned 800-mile high-speed rail network.

CAHSRA system map
California High-Speed Rail system map – via CAHSRA

The initial hundred-plus-mile Central Valley spine is already funded, and expected to open around 2029-2030. CAHSRA is seeking funding for further construction and, in the meantime, finalizing plans for future sections, including Palmdale-Burbank, where there has been some community opposition.

Opponents have asserted that train tunnels would “damage our community character” in Sunland-Tujunga and nearby areas. Most of the opposition is focused on an “Eastern Corridor” alignment, which would have been a shorter overall route, but is not currently the CAHSRA preferred alternative. Nonetheless, the opposition is rallying folks to submit comments against the project.

CAHSRA map of Palmdale-Burbank segement.
CAHSRA map of Palmdale-Burbank section. All of the alignments studied are primarily tunnels.
CAHSRA's preferred Palmdale-Burbank alignment
CAHSRA map of preferred Palmdale-Burbank alignment “SR-14A” which tunnels more or less under the 14 Freeway.

The north end of this section will be the new Palmdale Station, developed as the terminus of the Bakersfield to Palmdale section. The southern end will be a new train station at the Burbank Airport, analyzed as part of the Burbank to Los Angeles section. There are no intermediate stations planned between Palmdale and Burbank.

CAHSRA Business Plan shows a 13-minute non-stop speed for Palmdale-Burbank section
CAHSRA 2022 Business Plan shows a 13-minute non-stop travel time between Palmdale and Burbank

CAHSRA’s 2022 Business Plan (page 49) shows a non-stop travel time of 13 minutes between Palmdale and Burbank. CAHSRA spokesperson Jaime Coffee stated, via email, that for this section the design speed changes from 220 mph in Palmdale down to 150 mph as trains enter the San Fernando Valley and then 70 mph through the Burbank Station.

That top speed represents trains going non-stop between L.A. and San Francisco, without stopping at Burbank or Palmdale. Riders going just from Burbank to Palmdale would take see a slightly longer trip (as trains need to accelerate and decelerate when stopping at stations), nonetheless the Burbank-Palmdale trip would take less than 20 minutes. On Metrolink today, this trip takes just over 90 minutes.

The EIR/EIS analyzed a half-dozen fairly similar alternatives, all with extensive tunneling. The Agency’s preferred alternative is SR14A which, deep underground, parallels the 14 Freeway between Santa Clarita and Palmdale. Just east of Santa Clarita the tunnel veers south. In Sun Valley, trains emerge to run at grade alongside the Metrolink Antelope Valley Line tracks (next to San Fernando Road) for a couple miles before going below ground to pull into the Burbank Station.

SR14A is the longest of the alignments studied. Of SR14A’s 38.4 total miles, 28 miles involve tunnel boring. Other alignments range from 22 to 26 miles of tunnel boring. At $24 billion, the preferred alignment is the most expensive, though all of the alignments cost from $22.5 to $24 billion. Though the EIR/EIS notes that “there was no single determining factor” in selecting SR14A, one advantage appears to be that it interferes the least with surface uses, including avoiding the Eastern Corridor option that some opposition has focused on.

For additional information, see the section fact sheet or the full draft EIR/EIS.

Palmdale to Burbank Section EIR/EIS comments are due by November 1. Submit comments via online form. Interested parties can also submit via phone, email, online public hearing, etc.; see CAHSRA project section webpage for full details.

CAHSRA will host two virtual meetings on the Palmdale-Burbank High-Speed Rail EIR/EIS:

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A rendering of the Pacheco pass alignment. Image: CaHSRA

Documents Completed on San Francisco Leg of High-Speed Rail

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The next step towards getting the San Francisco to Merced section of California's High-speed Rail project shovel-ready was taken Friday with the completion of a required environmental study of the alignment. This all-important connection between the Central Valley and Silicon Valley has been a "long time coming and this is a big milestone," said Boris Lipkin, Northern California Regional Director.