Speed-Zone 1:
Sacramento - Red Bluff

In the Bay Area, even a slow train service can win customers, due to the overcrowding of highways. In the Northern California Valley, this is nothing to hope for. If it gets connected to Sacramento by a slow train service, the author does not expect more than a few hundred passengers per day.
A cardriver needs about 2 hours, to travel from Red Bluff to a location in Sacramento. A train passenger needs additional time to and from the station, so the train must travel from station to station in about 1.5 hours, in order to be competitive. On long distances, that make cardrivers pause en route, on a mountain route, or on a route with lots of bad weather, the convenience of the train might win against the car, even at slightly slower speed, but the area between Sacramento and Redding is not the right place for such considerations.

Average speeds of 70 mph or more allow a competitive regional service. Shasta Route trains with less stops, bypassing settlements like Gridley, would be sped up even more.
The geometry of the track in the Northern California Valley could support almost any kind of high speeds, but the costs for total elimination of grade crossings will outrule speeds above 125 mph. It is well possible, that upgrade work has to stop at a limit of 110 mph for cost reasons, even with additional political pressure, as explained on the last page.

Map of Sacramento River crossing at Tehama
The Tehama bridge imposes one of the two geometrical speed restrictions along an otherwise straight route.

The author assumes the following conditions after an infrastructure upgrade program:

Achievable timing
Station or Milepost Distance ...added up  Time elapsed Coast Starlight Average speed ...added up
Red Bluff 0 124 miles (200 km) 00:01 01:27 - - 86 mph (138 km/h)
Red Bluff 39 miles (63 km) 124 miles (200 km) 00:26 01:26 - 91 mph (146 km/h) 87 mph (140 km/h)
Chico 0 85 miles (136 km) 00:01 01:00 01:56 - 85 mph (137 km/h)
Chico 44 miles (71 km) 85 miles (136 km) 00:29 00:59 ??:?? 91 mph (146 km/h) 87 mph (140 km/h)
Marysville WP 0 41 miles (66 km) 00:02 00:30 - - 86 mph (138 km/h)
Marysville WP 41 miles (66 km) 41 miles (66 km) 00:28 00:28 - 90 mph (145 km/h) 90 mph (145 km/h)
Sacramento 0 0 00:00 00:00 00:00 0 mph 0 mph
"Coast Starlight" is the currently existing Amtrak service.

The numbers are based on the superior power-to-weight ratio of the example trains, and on the assumption, that the stations have raised platforms. Without such platforms, less station stops have to be used.

Replacing the 125 mph upgrade by a 110 mph upgrade for cost reasons, between Sacramento and Tehama Bridge, would add about 5 minutes. Wether 125 mph can be used, will probably depend on the question, wether 125 mph requires the elimination of all level crossings, or wether some of them are allowed to stay, using advanced crossing protection.

Avoiding very slow speeds within Sacramento and Marysville, caused by slow switches or yard limits or similar problems, is more important than "125 or 110 mph?"

Unit conversion for text on this page.
80 mph 129 km/h
110 mph 177 km/h
125 mph 201 km/h
90 mph 145 km/h

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Last modified: 2003-08-01