Planning for California High-Speed Rail — specifically the area from Bakersfield to Palmdale — is in the works, with project leaders spending time educating communities and identifying the possible path of the more than 100 miles of the last piece of the state's system.

“It is one of the most complex sections in the whole state ... we have the mountains, we have communities, we have rural areas, branches in mining and all the green generators,” said Juan Carlos Velasquez, outreach manager for the Bakersfield to Palmdale High-Speed Rail Section.

Representatives of the project provided updates on the project at an Aug. 5 public meeting held at the Tehachapi Area Association of Realtors office on Tucker Road.

This is the third planning meeting out of five community outreach events that will continue through summer 2020. It's expected there will be a public hearing on the draft Environmental Impact Report in summer 2019. The final Environmental Impact Report is slated for approval and adoption in summer 2020.

This document includes the proposed path, impacts to the environment and other factors.

Local path and alternatives

The high-speed rail project will come through Tehachapi, but will not include a stop for passengers. Ground level construction, bridges and underground tunnels will be used to move the rail system toward Palmdale, Velasquez said.

In the section between Bakersfield to Palmdale, there are a proposed nine miles of tunnel, 20 miles of bridges and about 80 miles traversing regular land.

An interactive map presented at the meeting, not yet available online, shows the potential project going at a 45 degree southeast angle over Highway 58 and Tehachapi Boulevard, past Goodrick Drive (east of Dennison), past E. Valley Boulevard, White Oak Drive, Highline Road, Tehachapi Willow Springs Road and through mountains toward Palmdale.

The coloring on the maps indicates red for tunnels, green for ground level construction and blue for bridges over freeways and roadways.

Stops will be located with the greatest populations, as in the proposed eight largest cities in California. At the request of the city of Tehachapi, a long flat piece of track near Tehachapi could allow future development, said Velasquez.

“Our current project will not build a station there and it will not be part of the initial phase," he said. "However, in the future if other leaders in the state want to put a station in Tehachapi, it could be placed there in that location.”

The proposed stations would be in downtown Bakersfield near F Street, with another in Palmdale.

Planning and environmental factors

An environmental impact report documents and studies mitigation measures in protection of monuments such as the Cesar E. Chavez National Monument in Keene, animal migration patterns, property impacts and surveys, noise vibration, areal surveys, water features and other factors.

The mitigation measures also study to see whether tunnels or bridges can be used to locate tracks away from properties, control noise by constructing walls, use vehicle skirts, and reducing air pollution while construction is taking place.

“We have put in an effort to avoid, minimize and mitigate so our first effort has been to avoid impacts,” said Kavita Mehta, environmental manager for the project.

The authority's Board of Directors will discuss information in October. The report is not yet available for public review, but will be available the summer of 2019. 

Public comment

Many public comment cards were filled out and questions answered by representatives from HSR engineering, environmental and other groups.

  • How will noise levels be near a high-speed train?

The noise levels are very brief compared to a freight train. A high-speed train with a length of 1,300 feet and speed of 220 miles per hour lasts about four seconds; a freight train with a distance of one mile and speed of 50 mph lasts 40 seconds, according to a HSR flyer.

The train is run by an electric propulsion system. Some areas will have no whistles. Noise-eliminating walls will be constructed and other features will help reduce noise, added the flyer.

The proximity to the train, the layout of typography and if a person is indoors or outdoors will have an impact on the sound, said Velasquez.

A high speed train is compared to a non-muffled diesel truck coming past an outdoor source at 100 feet away, said a flyer.

  • What contact has been made with the FAA in connection with construction around airports?

The team meets with airports and evaluates the height of the high-speed rail, making sure it is outside clearance zones, said Rick Simon, regional engineer.

“Each airport has their standard flight boundaries that have to be kept clear," he said. "We have looked at every airport that we pass near and pass by and we have to make sure that our path is out of those flight boundary zones.”

The proposed path is outside of clearance zones for Mountain Valley Airport and Tehachapi Municipal Airport. The path is to the east of both the TMA and MVA sites, said Simon.

  • How will you mitigate spores of valley fever?

Dust impacts are being studied. As construction progresses the team continually learns about the disease in the Central Valley and has addressed the topic in the “safety and security section in the environmental document,” said Grant Wilson, engineer for the project

  • How fast will the project go and how many trains will there be?

The trains can go up to 220 miles per hour and at their peak level and maturity of operation it's projected that eight trains an hour are meant to operate in daylight hours only and not from midnight to 5 a.m., said Velasquez.

  • Will the trains be using the latest technology?

The technology will be modeled after the high-speed rail systems in Japan and France. Using proven technology, it will go to 220 mph, but it can go at a lesser speed depending on the operator and areas, said Wilson.

  • Will studies be done on migration paths of animals?

Extensive studies have been done on birds and other land animal crossings. Movement patterns and designing wildlife crossings and will be included as part of the EIR, said Mehta.