The LA Times reports that the High Speed Rail Authority is considering beginning the Palmdale to Burbank section of the train along with a Central Valley portion. The Central Valley portion is a political loser, foisted on the state by Valley congressmen who required it as a condition of federal funding. It means high speed rail begins in a low population center filled with ideological and agricultural opponents who are suing like crazy. This segment would counter that problem to some extent by providing benefits to residents of LA County.
Much like LA began its subway as a tiny 4-mile section downtown, high speed rail should start in a visible population center with an initial segment that has its own ridership logic, rather than as a piece that only makes sense decades from now when the system can be built around it. While Burbank to Palmdale isn’t the LA-Anaheim or LA-San Diego winner that one would hope for, it would allow commuters from Antelope Valley to get to Metrolink and then to Union Station and beyond via Metro Rail and bus.
But a word of caution: this segment could put sprawl in the Antelope Valley on steroids, as people there could now live within a 14 minute train ride of Burbank. In addition, it doesn’t solve the need for a new rail line through the Tehachapis. Currently, Amtrak riders need to transfer to a bus at Bakersfield to get over the hill. A high speed rail construction project there would provide an immediate and significant boost for the statewide Amtrak system, while we wait for the rest of the high speed network to get built.
Overall, I’d like High Speed Rail to skip the Antelope Valley, which was added for purely political reasons to the route. This segment may bring about the worst of all worlds: more sprawl in Antelope Valley, while locking in a route gerrymander that slows the train for everyone. At this stage, I would pull for a Tehachapi start over the Palmdale-Burbank segment.