California High-Speed Rail Line

Render of the future California High-Speed line SENER is taking part in the design of the California high-speed rail line, the first of its type to be built in the United States, under the management of the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA). Since 2015, SENER has been in charge of the preliminary engineering and the environmental process for the section of line between Palmdale and Burbank, which crosses the San Gabriel mountains through long, deep tunnels.

So far, for the Palmdale-Burbank section contract, SENER has carried out the preliminary engineering for three main alternative routes, for which the environmental documentation is currently being drafted before being published for public consideration. The purpose of the process is to select the optimal route and secure environmental approval, an essential step before proceeding with a more detailed design and subsequent construction. SENER’s contract includes the detailed engineering, which will be developed after the environmental approval is granted, and the drafting of reference documents for the future Design and Build (D&B) contracts. In this segment, SENER is acting as the principal designer and is overseeing and coordinating a widely varied local companies.

Depending on the alternative chosen, the route will be around 35-45 miles (56-72 km) long and will run through urban and rural areas as well as protected natural landscapes. The section has a 600 m elevation difference and includes the designs of the two stations, in Palmdale and in Burbank. SENER has defined the expropriation zone for the tracks and all the elements needed for the new high-speed rail line, as well as the stations, all the necessary modifications to existing tracks and services, the access ways to the line itself, and the electrification, signaling, and communications systems.

Until now, SENER’s work has involved carrying out six test drillings to depths of up to 900 m to investigate the base tunnels, as well as a specific study for the tunnel ventilation system and innovative engineering solutions to take the tunnels through active faults, a design to withstand hydraulic pressures of over 25 bar, and a design for infrastructures in an area with high seismic activity. The tunnels have been designed with varying diameters along their length in order to adapt to potential route alterations, with the ability to absorb whatever seismic shifts might be expected. The project also includes some tunnel sections needing a tunnel boring machine, some requiring sequential methods, and others a cut and cover method. One of the station design alternatives is based on an open space created by an excavation some 60 m deep, to mention just a few of the biggest challenges involved in this unique rail project.

In addition to this contract, SENER has been awarded another two for the same high-speed rail line, which are currently in the design and construction phase. Firstly, for the Dragados-Flatiron construction consortium, SENER is carrying out the design verification, validation and certification contract for the construction and testing of section CP2&3, between Fresno and Tulare in Kern County. Secondly, for the consortium California Rail Builders (CRB) led by Ferrovial, SENER is carrying out the detailed design of the southern subsection of section CP4, between Tulare and Shafter.

The California high-speed rail will be the first of its kind in the United States. When completed, it will connect the various main cities of the State of California (San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles and San Diego) along a total of 800 miles (1,287 km) of track with up to 24 stations. By 2033, it will connect San Francisco and the Los Angeles basin in less than three hours at speeds of up to 250 mph (400 km/h). Once running, it is expected to boost the state’s economic development as well as reducing CO2 emissions and air pollution.

SENER has secured these contracts thanks to its experience in developing high-speed rail lines, after its involvement in the main projects of this type in Spain and its current participation in other international consortiums, including HS2 in the United Kingdom. The California High-Speed Rail Authority recently made a reference to SENER’s experience in an article published on its website after a meeting with SENER’s project managers.

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