High-speed rail must tame California’s tricky terrain

Courtesy RenderingInto the wild: Mountains and canyons will make putting down tracks for high-speed rail a major undertaking.

Courtesy RenderingInto the wild: Mountains and canyons will make putting down tracks for high-speed rail a major undertaking.

A bullet train linking Northern and Southern California will be an audacious engineering feat because the line must cross two mountain ranges and a half-dozen earthquake faults, according to experts.

Planners foresee the 141-mile segment from Bakersfield to Los Angeles running through vast tunnels, diving through the Tehachapi and San Gabriel mountains, plunging 500 feet underground in some places and soaring over canyons on viaducts 200 to 330 feet high, the Los Angeles Times reported.

“It is the project of the century,” said Bill Ibbs, a civil engineering professor at UC Berkeley who has worked on high-speed rail projects around the world.

The $68 billion first phase of the project is expected to run more than 500 miles between San Francisco and the Los Angeles and Anaheim areas by 2029. Eventually, supporters hope to see high-speed lines running all the way from Sacramento to San Diego.

Conditions set for the project say it must be able to reach San Francisco from Los Angeles in no more than two hours and 40 minutes. The top speed for the Bakersfield-to-L.A. segment could be 220 mph.

In September, the Federal Railroad Administration approved construction of the first segment, a 65-mile stretch from Merced to Fresno in the Central Valley. Construction is expected to begin next year.

California hasn’t considered such an immense north-south rail link since the 1870s, when Southern Pacific Railroad bored through the Tehachapis. Thousands of Chinese laborers dug and dynamited the way up and through the mountains, creating 18 tunnels on a route that climbed more than 4,000 feet.

Today, only freight trains use the route. Passenger service through the Tehachapis was discontinued in 1971. The high-speed train won’t be able to use the twisting loops of that route; it will need a straighter, flatter path to maintain its speed.

The exact route won’t be chosen until next year, but about 200 people already are working on the southern segment. Among other things, the tracks will have to cross a half-dozen earthquake faults, including the infamous San Andreas, which could produce a 7.5-magnitude temblor.

Bay Area NewsEarthquakenewsSan FranciscoTransittransportation

If you find our journalism valuable and relevant, please consider joining our Examiner membership program.
Find out more at www.sfexaminer.com/join/

Just Posted

Police Chief Bill Scott on Wednesday said a rebranding and reoganization of the former Gang Task Force amounts to “more than just the name change.” (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
Faced with surge in shootings, Chief Scott reenvisions SFPD’s Gang Task Force

New Community Violence Reduction Team adds officers with community-policing experience

Stores including Walgreens and Safeway are required to pay their employees additional hazard pay under a city ordinance that is currently set to expire later this month. (Shutterstock)
Grocery workers could gain additional weeks of $5 per hour hazard pay

San Francisco will vote next week on whether to extend a law… Continue reading

The fatal shooting of San Francisco resident Roger Allen by Daly City police on April 7 prompted protests in both cities. (Jordi Molina/ Special to the S.F. Examiner)
Daly City approves body-worn and vehicle cameras for police after fatal shooting

Daly City officials on Wednesday approved body and vehicle cameras for police… Continue reading

Baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays attends an event to honor the San Francisco Giants' 2014 World Series victory on Thursday, June 4, 2015, in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)
Willie Mays turns 90: San Francisco celebrates the greatest Giant

By Al Saracevic Examiner staff writer I couldn’t believe it. Willie Mays… Continue reading

Ja’Mari Oliver, center, 11, a fifth grader at Harvey Milk Civil Rights Academy, is surrounded by his classmates at a protest outside the Safeway at Church and Market streets on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 in support of him following an April 26 incident where he was falsely accused by an employee of stealing. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)
School community rallies behind Black classmate stopped at Safeway

‘When you mess with one of us, you mess with all of us’

Most Read