The stretch from Los Angeles to San Diego is one of America’s busiest travel corridors. The I-5 is among America’s busiest interstates, and Los Angeles-San Diego is the top corridor for high-speed rail in California, according to the America 2050 report by New York-based Regional Plan Association. The Pacific Surfliner, the line that connects San Diego and L.A. and goes north to Santa Barbara, is already the second busiest Amtrak route, after the Northeast Corridor.
Yet the plans for California’s high-speed rail prioritizes the route from Los Angeles to San Francisco instead. It will take decades for high-speed rail service to reach San Diego. There are steps Southern California officials could take in the meantime, however, that would drastically improve rail services and encourage more people to ride.
Existing upgrade plans leave something to be desired – they’re both low-cost and low-impact. These include some track upgrades that would let trains travel faster and more frequently. Several additional projects are part of the California high-speed rail program. The so-called blended plan involves incremental improvements to track speed and capacity between Los Angeles and Anaheim, especially on a short segment with heavy freight traffic. This is intended to allow future high-speed rail from Los Angeles to San Francisco to use the existing tracks to serve Anaheim, but at lower speed. The total cost on this segment is projected at $2 billion in the 2016 business plan.
Phase One of California high-speed rail, between San Francisco and Anaheim, will only open in 2029, and the High-Speed Rail Authority has so far done little work on Phase Two, which includes the line between Los Angeles and San Diego, via the Inland Empire. Since high-speed rail service to San Diego is so far on the horizon, it is worth discussing medium-term improvements, which would take several years instead and upgrade service before high-speed rail arrives.