Tag Archives: California

West Coast HSR. Why Not?

Alon Levy did a cool Twitch stream of a nationwide, shovel-ready HSR buildout yesterday. I highly encourage everyone to check out their map.

Sadly, I missed the actual stream. However, I did catch up to some of the comments this afternoon on his tweet. A few of the comments questioned why Alon did not bridge the Cascadia and California HSR networks, to form a single West-Coast HSR. Alon justified their decision by pointing out the low population between Portland and Sacramento.

While the Portland-to-Sacramento corridor is no Blue Banana it is not empty either. The metropolitan areas of Yuba City, Chico and Redding, California and Medford, Eugene-Springfield and Salem Oregon have populations ranging from just shy of 100,000 (Redding) to over 350,000 (Eugene).

The longest distance between any two cities in this strip is that between Medford, Oregon and Eugene, Oregon (166 miles following Interstate 5’s alignment, which the existing freight line between the two cities parallels). The Roseburg-Sutherlin micropolitan area (Roseburg’s population is around 20,000) potentially allows for a stop in between.

Again, while these are not the Korean- or German-level figures that Alon prefers, they are actually greater than the urban populations along Sweden’s Stockholm-to-Malmo high-speed light line. Google Maps shows that the five-times-a-day X2 trains call in eight cities along the 400-mile journey. The most populous city, Linköping, has around 160,000 inhabitants. The other cities on the corridor all have fewer than 100,000 inhabitants. Mjölby (pop: c. 13,000 ), Nässjo (pop: 16, 678) and Alvesta (pop: 8,017) are practically villages!    

Like Sweden, the US is a low-density country, with long-distances connecting highly-integrated metropolises. Furthermore, federal and state governing systems that overweight representation for rural areas mean that any sustained investment in high-speed rail will have to have some distributional equity. Amtrak has never run at a profit: nor should high-speed rail (even though cost control should be pursued to allow for maximal construction). Finally, the existing affordable metros along the corridor could provide an alluring magnet for people (and even firms) trying to escape the high-cost-of-living in the major urban areas of California and Cascadia. This would reinforce ridership.

With these considerations, it seems a corridor with a string of mid- to small-sized metros running between the two target megalopolises, and that effectively “completes” a rail route along the West Coast’s main transportation axis, should make the cut.

Note: I have not studied this extensively, so I’m open to pushback and engagement.