Welcome to the new version of European Tribune. It's just a new layout, so everything should work as before - please report bugs here.

Sunday Train: California Senate Approves High Speed Rail Construction

by BruceMcF Sun Jul 8th, 2012 at 07:50:28 PM EST

Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence

Crossposted from its home station at Voices on the Square


Firedog Lake: California Legislature Passes High Speed Rail Bond Issue, Moving Project Forward ~ David Dayen
In a closely watched vote of the California state Senate, a bill to issue the first $5.8 billion in bonds for the construction of high speed rail lines passed 21-16. It needed all 21 votes to pass. Four Democrats voted no - including Allen Lowenthal, the Democratic candidate for Congress in CA-47, and Fran Pavley, the author of the state's historic global warming law - but ultimately, just enough Democrats voted in favor of the bonds for them to pass. Joe Simitian and Mark DeSaulnier were the other Democrats who opposed the bill.
This does not end the battle for high speed rail. Between the bond issue and the federal money, that covers only about 1/5 of the total funding needed for the full project, which would connect Sacramento and San Diego and all points in between by high speed rail. But if this died today, you can be certain that nothing would ever get built. The federal government was prepared to take away the $3.2 billion in stimulus dollars earmarked for this stage of the project. And faith in the future of high speed rail in California - and indeed the nation - would have been sapped.

So ... what now?

The Elephant in the Room for Intercity Transport

When looking at infrastructure construction for intercity transportation, one has to look ahead. And looking ahead to the 2030's, intercity transportation in much of the United States faces a massive challenge, because it relies almost exclusively on driving and flying, both dependent on imported petroleum in order to move people long distances.

And we know that the price of imported petroleum is going to be going up over the current decade and also in the decade ahead. The big debate is whether it will go up substantially in that time period, or whether it will soar to levels most people cannot currently imagine.

After all, while petroleum prices of $5 a gallon, giving gasoline prices somewhere around $7 a gallon will have substantial impacts at the margin, they are also prices that countries who tax gasoline at sensible levels for oil importers has been experiencing over the past decade, and many of them have transport dominated by the automobile ... just not as heavily as in the US.

But petroleum is tremendously useful stuff, and it is quite possible for the price of petroleum over the next two decades to really soar. How high it can go is difficult to predict, but we do know that many of the big oil fields discovered post WWII will be dropping out of production over the next twenty years, and discovery of new oil worldwide has been declining since the 1990's. Sooner or later, production is going to track the decline in earlier production, and the high value uses of petroleum will start to outbid the combustion of petroleum to move a ton of steel around to move 1.56 passengers around the countryside.

And those industrial interests on the side of not burning up such a valuable chemical feedstock will be able to join the "side of the angels" because they will be on the side of opposing Greenhouse Gas emissions and mitigating the Climate Change crisis that is already starting to show us its first warning tremors. But we are already on track for much bigger climate shocks ahead. By the 2030's, the Northwest Passage will be open and the shorelines of a Seventh Sea will be opening up a new frontier as the economies of the Arctic Tigers of Canada, Russia, Alaska in the US, Greenland, Sweden and Norway will be roaring. For a fictional treatment that brings this vividly to life, see Tobias Buckell's Arctic Rising.

Gambling our intercity transport future on petroleum is an unacceptable risk.

And while work progresses on electric cars and sustainably fueled planes, there is one mature, proven, technology for intercity transport for trips of 100miles to 500miles that can be powered by mature, proven sustainable power supplies: steel wheel on steel track electric trains, powered by sustainable harvested renewable power such as wind power, solar power, and both conventional and run of river hydropower.

For a corridor primarily serving trips of 200miles to 500miles, the preferable electrical passenger rail is what we call "bullet trains" or, in US Department of Transportation lingo, "Express High Speed Rail". This takes the established 20th century technology of electric corridor rail and applies the established 20th century civil engineering design techniques behind the Interstate Highway system: express throughways, grade separated from crossing transport paths, with paths cambered for the design speed of travel.

The design speeds for HSR is not the 60mph-70mph that the Interstate Highways are designed for, but 160mph-240mph. The Express HSR system in Florida would have been one of the 160mph variety, due to the limits of an expressway median alignment, but the corridor approved in California for the San Joaquin Valley (the southern part of the Central Valley that stretches from Bakersfield just north of the LA Basin to Redding in far Northern California) will be a 21st Century 220mph+ rail corridor.

A major strength of this approach to High Speed Rail around the world is that HSR trains are physically compatible with conventional rail corridors. The California HSR Authority plans to make use of this compatibility in two ways:

  • Once the full Express HSR corridor is completed between San Jose and the San Fernando Valley, the last 10mi-20mi in the south to LA Union Station and the last 55mi to the north to San Francisco's Transbay Terminal station (presently under construction) will be completed on upgraded Metrolink and Caltrain corridors, improved to allow for the 110mph-125mph Rapid Rail speeds that have always been planned for passing through the larger urban areas; and
  • Before the Initial HSR System between Merced and the San Fernando Valley is ready, the Initial Construction Segment just approved will host the existing San Joaquin service, the Amtrak corridor with the sixth highest ridership in the country.

When the California HSR system is completed, it will connect the top five urbanized areas in California: LA - Long Beach; San Francisco - Oakland; San Diego; Riverside - San Bernandino; and San Jose. It will connect eight of the top ten, including Sacramento, Fresno, and Bakersfield. In short, if you want a good idea of where the HSR system is going, look at a map of the population distribution of the state. By and large, those red blotches, that's where the HSR is going.

The Political Challenge

The major political challenge facing the California HSR system over the next six years is the challenge of gaining a steady source of HSR funding that is on terms and at a level of funds adequate for the needs of the California system.

Thanks to the effective strategy of the Obama administration when they allocated $8b of Stimulus II funds to High Speed Rail, California will have a lot of allies in that fight.

In the first push to build High Speed Rail in the United States, opponents of HSR arrived at the effective strategy of putting all of our HSR eggs in a single basket -- the very expensive to build in Northeast Corridor. That was very politically effective, since so much of the support in the Senate came from the NEC states of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland, with additional support from Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont and Virginia, states with connecting services into the Northeast Corridor. And it ensured that the HSR program of the time, the "Acela", would be shortchanged and hobbled, so that the top speed of 150mph would only be achieved for a few relatively short stretches of track.

However, under the $8b in ARRA HSR funding, Illinois, Michigan, Virginia and North Carolina are presently building second tier "Rapid Rail" HSR corridors, and Washington State is completing bottleneck elimination, which bring raising the speed into the Rapid Rail range onto the agenda. And the petroleum industry funded and directed Tea Party assault on rail transport is simply far more effective when fighting establishment of a new service than it is in convincing people that they don't like a service they already have and use.

The political argument in favor of Federal funding for HSR in 2015 or 2017, in other words, is not being made by men in suits in state legislatures or the Congress. It is presently being made by people working hard to make something useful, with shovels in the ground and track being laid. As services begin taking advantage of that infrastructure, and people experience the benefit, and in particular as local Chambers of Commerce in the communities that benefit spread the word to the neighbors that do not yet have the services, the political mouthpieces will begin to take up the argument.

California will wish to direct that argument in three directions:

  • Multi-tier funding for both Express and Rapid Rail HSR systems -- as California and the NEC are the only qualifying HSR funding, but California and the NEC alone do not have the political weight that they do in alliance with present and prospective Rapid Rail states
  • Multi-year funding -- as California's system in particular does not lend itself to a large number of incremental improvements, but rather requires expensive segments to overcome the geographical challenges of descending into the LA Basin and traversing from the Central Valley to the Bay Area to its west
  • An 80:20 federal:state match or better -- as ex-Gov. Schwarzenegger's promise of a 50:50 match to land the first round of HSR funding burned through California's state HSR bond funding of $9b far more rapidly than California can sustain

Given those three elements, the large California delegation has lots of leeway to trade votes on specific details in pursuit of a larger total annual HSR appropriation.

There are a variety of other political challenges ahead, as discussed on the California HSR blog, but working toward 2015 or 2017 HSR appropriation is the biggest political task that California needs to tackle.

The Transportation Challenges

The California HSR system is not, of course, the be-all-and-end-all of sustainable intercity transport for the State of California. While most of the largest urbanized areas are on the planned system, Phase 1 of the planned system will not be operational between SF and LA until 2028 and will not be completed until 2029 or later. That puts off the Express HSR system to Sacramento and to the Inland Empire and San Diego to the 2030's. At the same time, not all of the urbanized areas that ought to be provided with sustainable intercity transport options lie along the California HSR system.

However, when you look at the existing Amtrak California corridors, added on top of the planned HSR corridors, the result is a much more complete system -- and many parts of the complete system can be rolled out in advance of completion of HSR Phase 1 from SF to LA/Anaheim.

In southern California, there are already plans afoot to increase the speed along the Surfliner corridor to 110mph. This will connect to the Express HSR system at LA Union Station and at San Diego, but runs along the coast rather than along the inland route taken by the Express HSR.

The Surfliner is a "corridor service". While it runs from San Diego to Santa Barbara, with some services running through to San Lois Obispo, it is not provided to serve some massive Santa Barbara to San Diego transport market. Rather, it serves a large number of intervening trips, for the southern end of the Central Coast into the LA Basin, between points in the LA Basin and Orange County, between points in the greater San Diego area, and between the greater San Diego area and the LA Basin and Orange County.

So while the Surfliner is not oriented to longer distance intercity trips, it is oriented to longer intercity trips between and within two neighboring large metropolitan areas. And if the NEC Regionals and Acelas are treated as distinct classes of service primarily along into a single corridor, that leaves the Pacific Surfliner as the second most successful Amtrak corridor service, with nearly 3m riders per year.

If California succeeds in establishing funding for two tiers of HSR, accelerating the Surfliner to 110mph is one of the first Rapid Rail projects that California ought to be applying for. However, even better would be electrification of the corridor. This would be substantially more expensive, due to the civil engineering and likely additional tunneling required to avoid areas along the coast where a 125mph corridor represents an engineering and/or a political challenge.

Connecting the southern Central Valley to Sacramento and to the Bay Area is the San Joaquin route. This serves nearly a million riders per year, which will increase when it starts running on the Madera to Bakersfield segment of the HSR corridor in 2018. Running at 110mph on this corridor will cut about an hour off of the 6hr 15min end to end time.

Madera to Merced is slated for the Second Construction segment, and if California in cooperation with allies at the Federal level has to ratchet up Federal funding for HSR in stages, Madera to Merced is a section that could be constructed on its own as an extension of the Initial Construction Segment, before sufficient funds have been put together to fund the descent down into the San Fernando Valley. However, Merced through to Sacramento is not slated to be pursued for HSR until the 2030's. So an upgrade to 110mph track in the current San Joaquin corridor from Merced to Sacramento, in cooperation with the Right of Way owner BNSF, would be a substantial benefit immediately, would increase the ridership of the Initial HSR Service from Merced to the LA Basin and, when Phase 2 of the Express HSR to Sacremento is completed, could continue to provide complementary service to towns served by the San Joaquin that will not have stations on the Express HSR corridor.

The second area to look for improvements on the San Joaquin is the section of track that it shares with the Capitol Corridor between Sacramento and the Bay Area. This is a section of corridor (in blue, where the Capitol Corridor runs along the east side of the North Bay) where a dedicated express track, aggressively superelevated, would both allow faster transit by the San Joaquin and Capitol Corridor trains that share the track, but also allow for more rapid freight transit on BNSF's freight route into Oakland.

Between an upgrade of the Merced/Sacramento route, which the route to Oakland shares between Merced and Stockton, and an upgrade of the route shared with the Capitol Corridor between Martinez and Okland, it ought to be possible to take a further hour or more off the Bakersfield/Oakland.

The Surfliner serves the southern Central Coast, but this leaves out the central and northern Central Coast. The Rail Passenger Association of California and Nevada proposes extending the Capitol Corridor on the southern side of its route through Gilroy to Salinas, on the northern Central Coast, and on the northern side of its route through to Reno Nevada. It also proposes establishing a single Coast Daylight service from San Francisco to LA Union Station, complementing the Coast Starlight that runs from the Pacific Northwest through to LA via the same route.

The upgrade of the Coastal route requires work to expand capacity. Since most mainline freight rail corridors in the state of California are oriented to east-west transcontinental routes, the coastal route serves an important secondary freight role for freight between the LA Basin and both the Bay Area and Pacific Northwest, and does not have spare capacity to support both the slow, heavy freight traffic that it presently serves as well as an additional passenger rail service. Given the extremely slow scheduled transit speeds of the Coast Starlight (which in turn are frequently not met, leading to the nickname of "Coast Starlate"), the section between San Lois Obispo and Salinas is not a natural target for upgrade to Rapid Rail. However, if the sections between Salinas and San Jose and between Santa Barbara and LA Union station are upgraded for 110mph speed, and the section between Santa Barbara and Salinas is upgraded for greater capacity and reliability, the result will be a useful connecting service to HSR both in Burbank / LA Union Station to the south, and Gilroy / San Jose to the north.

Conclusions? Quite the Opposite: Beginnings

Naysayers will say that the California HSR line does not offer sufficient certainty. However, for certainty, we should stick to oil based intercity transport, which we can be certain will fail use sometime in the century ahead. If we are to gain the flexibility to maintain intercity transport between our large urban areas even if the supply of oil is interrupted, we have to change the way we are doing things.

With change comes uncertainty, and with uncertainty comes risk of failure -- but the certainty of failure is not a step up from the risk of failure.

And further, by pursuing useful complementary connecting rail systems, California can gain substantial improvements in its ability to respond to crises in the decade that we are in, while also making progress on a sustainable intercity trunk rail system to serve the state for decades ahead.

But those are my thoughts. The end of the Midnight Oil opening act is never the last word, but only the beginning of the conversation. And a reminder that, despite what some people take away from the name, any thoughts, news, visions of sustainable transport are on topic, from walking and biking to the local grocery on up.

With that, I leave the stage to bring on the headliners.

Midnight Oil ~ Truganini


I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Sun Jul 8th, 2012 at 07:53:56 PM EST
Is there an "OMG global warming is real we have to get this going right away regardless of cost" scenario? 2028 is a LONG time from now--15 years to build 1300 km of ROW.

Seems like it only took Spain about 20 years to build 2600 km of HSR--and they were not under the sort of enormous environmental, economic, and political pressure that seems likely to arise in our next decade or so...

(Of course the plan here in Colorado is to sink one's head into the sand, so CA is doing a lot better than us...)

by asdf on Mon Jul 9th, 2012 at 12:43:29 PM EST
At this point, the "OMG Global Warming is real we have to cut back CO2 emissions at any cost" scenario is not about what happens in the 2030's but about what happens in the 2050's. We've already passed the turning points for not melting the Arctic ice cap. Or, in US terms, its about whether Miami ends up at the end of a skinny peninsula or ends up underwater.

That's why I draw the Steel Interstate down the Atlantic coast to Miami ~ in thirty years the Gulf Coast side, which actually hosts more truck freight, is less likely to be above sea level.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Jul 9th, 2012 at 02:36:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Hmmm. I was suggesting that a couple of summers of crop failures, heat-related fatalities, electricity outages, and floods, maybe the politics will take a sudden 180 degree turn. One must not get too optimistic, but I would think that planners should include that as a possibility.

After all, we had no trouble spending $1T+ on a decade's worth of war, so we could do the same for transitioning our energy system.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/us-climate-official-says-more-extreme-events-convin cing-many-americans-climate-change-is-real/2012/07/06/gJQAHNZ5QW_allComments.html?ctab=all_&

Seems that a discontinuous shift in public opinion is possible...

by asdf on Mon Jul 9th, 2012 at 04:41:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, but preventing the melting of the Arctic ice cap requires that U-turn happening sometime around 2000 or earlier, and I don't see that happening. I expect the intertia already in the system is going to see substantial release of methane from former permafrost in the decade ahead, and even if we make substantial progress in a very short period of time, it'll be 20 years for that impact of that methane spike to fade.

This is like turning a super-tanker ... the lag between a hard turn on the rudder and the actual turn of the vessel is quite long. Add in that we were previously pushing the rudder hard the other way, and there is already momentum to the turn in the opposite direction.

What we would be aiming at in a hard, sudden change in policy is the limitation of the biosphere impact of the current Great Extinction event, hopefully avoiding a number of substantial biosphere system collapses, and retaining a prospect of complex industrial society surviving the century ahead. Both of those are laudable goals. But the time to make the turn and substantially mitigate all extreme climate change impacts was the 80's and the 90's.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Mon Jul 9th, 2012 at 07:47:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Yep, agree on all counts. FYI the arctic methane is reportedly not as big a deal as sometimes made out...


by asdf on Mon Jul 9th, 2012 at 10:56:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
With all this NGL chasing fracking in the lower 48 states of the US, we may never know what put all that methane up in the atmosphere.

How big a deal it is for the major thresholds, I don't know, but the melting of the bulk or all of the Arctic Ice cap and opening up of the Northwest Passage is a threshold we are too close to, to expect that we could prevent it from occurring now.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Jul 10th, 2012 at 12:41:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe it's harder to build in a highly earthquake-prone area? Would they have to add extra supports of a higher level of technology to withstand earthquakes?  Just guessing, of course, and also acknowledging that my guess is probably of the naive variety.

'tis strange I should be old and neither wise nor valiant. From "The Maid's Tragedy" by Beaumont & Fletcher
by Wife of Bath (kareninaustin at g mail dot com) on Tue Jul 10th, 2012 at 03:49:12 AM EST
[ Parent ]
There's capital cost inflation in all big US infrastructure investment projects, for similar reasons though not to the same extent that infrastructure project costs are often inflated in Greece ~ the yellow belly surplus suckers must be fed. In the typical California case, a severely understaffed Joint Powers Authority has a skeleton staff and all major project management must be done by contractors, who systemically overbudget and plan to overbuild.

But its not as severe as the headline $68b price tag makes it sound, since that is the Year of Expenditure budgeting that the US DoT insists upon. The discounted present value is projected to be around $53b.

The Initial Construction Corridor, through the Central Valley, is around $6b, for 210km of HSR corridor, less electrification.

The most expensive section is the descent into the LA Basin, either over the Tejon Pass, or on the preferred corridor, following the population, over the Tehachapi Pass. The second most expensive section is the traverse from the Central Valley to the Bay Area. One might imagine that improved project management could trim another $5b or $10b out, but a SF Bay to LA Basin Express corridor plus upgrades to provide Express Interurban access to downtown San Francisco and downtown LA is going to cost north of 2012 $40b, in any event.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Jul 10th, 2012 at 09:02:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The routes into both cities pass through some mighty expensive real estate. That's a side effect of procrastinating on building railroads, I suppose...you wait until it's "needed" and then find that the ROW is filled with multi-million dollar houses...
by asdf on Tue Jul 10th, 2012 at 09:38:21 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yes, but the route into San Francisco mostly follows an already existing rail corridor that is plenty wide for four tracks for most of its width. Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton (PAMPA) have kicked up a fuss about the dedicated corridor for the HSR, in response to presumed catastrophic declines in property values if an existing rail corridor gets more trains.

So in response the revised business plan calls for upgrading the exiting Caltrain corridor so that HSR and Caltrain can share the corridor. That implies that by the time capacity constraints force widening of the corridor in those areas it will be (1) even more expensive and (2) will be such an in-demand upgrade to an existing rail service by that time that PAMPA opposition at that point is likely to be both diluted and in a position to be steamrollered.

The big problem in the descent to the LA Basin is not development since the corridor was first studied in the 1990's, but rather detailed geography and environmental constraint in the descent into the San Fernando Valley.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Jul 10th, 2012 at 10:57:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Ok, yer in here I see...


What is the minimum radius of those corridors? Will they support full speed operation, something like 3000 m radius?

by asdf on Tue Jul 10th, 2012 at 01:04:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The DTX approach tunnel to the Transbay Terminal station throat is a horrible design. Its supposed to be three tracks wide, but with no better capacity than a well designed two track tunnel would have, due to an insistence on placing the intermediate underground platform terminals directly on the outside two lines, so the entire length of the central track through the entire tunnel is occupied with the task of juggling Express trains past the platforms.

With two right angle turns in the approach, and the curve radius for three tracks in a shallow cut and cover tunnel along the street grid, its obviously not a high speed tunnel. I'd expect 5 minutes minimum lost to the traverse between the tunnel mouth and the TBT station throat, leaving the Caltrain run to be 25mins or under to achieve a SF/SJ time of 0:30.

OTOH, they just started getting serious about value engineering at Parsons-Brinkerhoff when it looked like the $100b Year of Expenditure price tag was going to knock the project out due to sticker shock. If the Governor's office puts ongoing pressure on keeping the costs down and performance up, they could still change to siding platform track with high speed switches at the underground 4th and Townsend station and a two track tunnel, which would allow for higher radius curves in the DTX, simpler operation, and pick up a minute or two at a saving of money.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Jul 10th, 2012 at 06:05:52 PM EST
[ Parent ]
On the specific "damn it! We need this train now!" question, the Initial Operating Service is slated to be operational in 2023, between Merced and the San Fernando Valley, if the funding is sorted out in time. That makes an immediate "single seat ride between the Bay and the Basin" hook up a diesel locomotive and haul the Express HSR train from Merced through to Oakland on the San Joaquin corridor.

Merced to Oakland-Jack London on the San Joaquin 3hrs. Suppose upgrades can bring that down to 2:15 for a higher speed diesel hauling an Express HSR train between Merced and Oakland. The LA-Union Station to Merced is slated at 1:40, so suppose that's really 2hrs. That would be 4:15 Basin to Bay, which would be pretty good as a starting point. Then finishing the 4th construction segment would complete a faster Bay to Basin through to San Jose, and the bookends would provide the single seat SF to LA.

There's also cobbled together things one could do if one could get through Bakersfield and then to Palmdale and make use of the existing Antelope Valley corridor, but that is rather something to hammer out if it becomes urgent. The single seat ride LA to Oakland in 4:15 would be a quite reasonable starter line.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Jul 10th, 2012 at 09:42:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It's pretty amazing how fast you can work if you think there is gold at the far end of the track:

The D&RG built west from Pueblo reaching Cañon City in 1874. The line through the Royal Gorge reached Salida on May 20, 1880 and was pushed to Leadville later that same year. From Salida, the D&RG pushed west over the Continental Divide at the 10,845 feet (3,306 m) Marshall Pass and reached Gunnison on August 6, 1881. From Gunnison the line entered the Black Canyon of the Gunnison River passing the famous Curecanti Needle seen in their famous Scenic Line of the World Herald. The tracks left the increasingly difficult canyon at Cimmaron and passed over Cerro Summit, reaching Montrose on September 8, 1882. From Montrose, a line was laid north through Delta, reaching Grand Junction in March 1883, which completed a narrow gauge transcontinental link with the Rio Grande Western Railway to Salt Lake City, Utah.


With picks, wheelbarrows, and donkeys.

by asdf on Tue Jul 10th, 2012 at 01:10:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Different days as far as regulatory clearance go. The EIR/QEPA processes add years, and also uncertainty since the sole enforcement mechanism for both are lawsuits.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Jul 10th, 2012 at 06:07:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well that's fer sure. Back in the good old days, if your competitor got in the way then you hired some gunslingers.

The Colorado Railroad War, also known as the Royal Gorge Railroad War, was fought in the late 1870s between the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway and the smaller Denver and Rio Grande company. In 1878, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe was competing against the Denver and Rio Grande to put the first line through Raton Pass. Both railroads had extended lines into Trinidad, Colorado and the pass was the only access to continue on to New Mexico. There was a great deal of legal maneuvering, and even threatened violence between rival gangs of railroad workers. To break the impasse, Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe hired a number of local gunfighters in February 1878. Faced with this threat, and running out of money, the Denver and Rio Grande was forced to cede the pass to its rivals. The initial dispute was over without a shot being fired. However, the next year a silver strike in Leadville brought the struggle back to life.[3][4][5]

Now both railroads were competing to put track along the narrow Royal Gorge. The Denver and Rio Grande had hired its own gunfighters so the Atchison Topeka and Santa Fe decided to strengthen its forces. On March 20, 1879 the railroad hired Bat Masterson to put together a group of gunmen. Masterson's force included such famous fighters as Doc Holliday, Ben Thompson, Dave Rudabaugh and Mysterious Dave Mather, as well as about seventy others. This impressive force had great success through early June 1879, but, on June 10, the Fourth Judicial Circuit ruled in favor of the Denver and Rio Grande, changing matters entirely. With the assistance of the sheriffs in the counties through which the railroads passed, the Denver and Rio Grande mounted an attack on its rival's forces. There was heavy fighting at the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe's garrisons in Colorado. The garrisons in Denver and Colorado Springs fell quickly. Masterson's headquarters in Pueblo held out the longest, but they eventually conceded defeat. Later there were some bloodless skirmishes, but the war was essentially over with the Denver and Rio Grande in control of the Royal Gorge.[3]

by asdf on Tue Jul 10th, 2012 at 06:22:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Two things missing from this account are the story of Dick Wooten, and the fact that the "forts" (really just stone walls to hide behind) are still visible in the canyon...

Dick owned Raton Pass, and refused to sell it to the D&RG because they wouldn't give him a bribe of whiskey. (William Jackson Palmer, owner of the D&RG was a teetotaler.) The Santa Fe had no such scruples, and so he sold the ROW rights to them.

by asdf on Tue Jul 10th, 2012 at 06:28:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Tue Jul 10th, 2012 at 06:53:17 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Every time I consider issues such as mass transit and the commons I become furious over the past lost two decades due mostly because we elected pols that thought the 1890s were really cool. Make that three decades in which we increased the national debt over ten-fold and didn't build anything for today much less the future.  For less than half that increased debt, we could have had HSR with connecting urban links throughout the country, a 21st century national electrical grid that didn't waste half the power generated, a revamped public health care system for all, and good schools.  

How pathetic are we when the best we can do is maybe construct a CA HSR system that will be operational sixteen years from now?  Better than nothing, but still so woefully short of what we should have and could have had instead of all those seemingly endless and irrational wars and more super wealthy people building monument mansions to themselves.  

by Marie2 on Wed Jul 11th, 2012 at 01:51:37 PM EST
However, the California HSR project is far from the only investments in sustainable, renewable transport that California will make ... that includes projects funded out of the Prop1a bond funding, since $900m was for connecting rail.

The big, tangly problem is getting a sustainable operating funding model for local transport. Common carrier local transport ~ bus, trolley bus, heavy rail, light rail ~ that charges a break-even fare would clearly be overcharging, since the non-riding beneficiaries would be getting their benefit on the backs of the riders. But getting that operating subsidy in place is trick ~ with car transport, its normally done as a response to problems created by people driving, but people can't just "start to take the trolleybus/streetcar/regional rail" until it gets up and running. So the strategy of subsidies that are won by creating problems and forcing them to be solved doesn't work for common carrier transport.

I don't know the answer to that problem. However, since the capital subsidy is sufficient for an Express HSR system on an effective corridor, with the operating cost per route mile reduced substantially by the speed of transit, so with a well chosen HSR corridor, no operating subsidy is required. That means that we can get going on HSR in advance of solving the operating subsidy problem for local sustainable transport.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jul 11th, 2012 at 10:49:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
But once you have intercity rail, people will want to be able to take local rail - or at a minimum local bus - to the intercity rail station. Because (a) it's not feasible to provide parking cheap space adjacent to the central station (as in, it cannot happen so it will not happen, no matter how much the drivers whine) whereas it is feasible to provide park-and-ride solutions for local rail, and (b) you need to be able to get from the other end to where you want to go.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Wed Jul 11th, 2012 at 11:14:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And the CHSRA project is providing much of the funding for the electrification of the Caltrain corridor, which is essential to increasing frequency and operating performance on that corridor, the connectivity funds that LA County transit is getting will build the light rail subway connector to the LA Union Station ...
... and as station locations are finalized, they can be factored into local transport plans that local areas are developing in the decade ahead.

These kind of intercity rail stations are particular important as anchors away from the already densely settled urban cores, where local public transport struggles with low off-peak load factors. Being able to maintain public transport only in the largest cities ensures that support for public transport is relegated to the "urban issues" ghetto. The more people rely on regular or occasional use of public transport in the suburban margin around the core urban areas, the better the change that support for local transport can jump the gap to being a "compete for independent votes" kind of issue.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Wed Jul 11th, 2012 at 11:54:45 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's important also to consider a broad range of possible alternatives.

For example, cars. People spend enormous amounts of money on cars, even in cases where there is public transportation available. It's a combination of "pride of ownership," marketing, trip scheduling flexibility, marginal cost per trip, not wanting to sit in a seat somebody else was using a few minutes ago, etc.

So you get massive traffic jams, road maintenance costs, pollution, economic issues with fuel sources, wars to defend those sources, etc. But those questions are to a degree orthogonal to the question of sustainability, because it is, or may be, possible from the technical viewpoint to make electric cars that are just as efficient as trains.

For example, industrial infrastructure (like trains and power plants) is built to last a long time. Cars area built to be obsolete in a few years. So you cyclr through the technology a lot faster in cars, potentially, than you do in trains. Today's batteries perform ok but are expensive; maybe they'll be better in a three years. So if I sell my 2012 hybrid car and replace it with a 2014 electric car, maybe the overall energy consumption equation works out to the advantage of the car over the train--because the trains in 2014 will still be running equipment from a decade ago at least.

So I think it's important to disentangle the two discussions. Personally, I'm a train freak ("foamer" is the technical term used) and love to pay more for a train ticket to Las Vegas than it costs for me to pay for gas in my car, plus the insurance, plus the payments, repairs, etc. But for a solution for society as a whole, you have to take into account how much of the justification for the train is based on economics and sustainability, and how much is based on other considerations.

That separation of two problems is not always made so obvious in transportation discussions...

Also FYI the 1890s were cool--from the train viewpoint!

by asdf on Thu Jul 12th, 2012 at 04:28:10 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Surely cars are built to last a decade or so. Did I miss a memo?
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Jul 12th, 2012 at 04:30:13 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Median age in operation in the U.S. is a little over 9 years. Average age of rail transit is roughly twice that.


by asdf on Thu Jul 12th, 2012 at 05:00:03 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It is possible to make electric cars that are more efficient than gasoline cars, but they will still be cars, and will still have (artificial) rubber tires on asphalt rather than steel wheels on steel tires, for greater rolling resistance at the same speed, and still operate as independent vehicles rather than vehicles in train (the root source for the name "train"), for greater air resistance at the same speed.

The basic physical advantages of diesel trains over gasoline cars don't go away when comparing electric trains to electric cars, and the material inefficiency of building a car that is not moving 95% of the time is even greater with an electric car that is a "highway capable" car with "highway range", because of the material investment in the battery.

Indeed the most materially efficient electric car is a neighborhood electric vehicle with a top speed of 30mph and a range to match, but then what you have is not a rival for intercity rail, but rather a recruiter for intercity rail, since it performs local transport needs quite well with greater flexibility than even a gasoline car (because of easier parking), but its not a highway vehicle.

When you step back from the individual perspective, you also have to consider that what we need is not "a sustainable means of transport", but "a system that allow us to make trips sustainably". Different trips will have different needs, and the most efficient way to meet one need is unlikely to be the most efficient way to meet every need. This is the flaw of the one-size-fits-all model ~ by demanding the the particular means of transport more or less serves all major transport needs, it ensures that it serves many or most transport needs inefficiently. If a range of alternative sustainable means of transport are available, then it is likely that the trips that are made by car are likely to be the ones for which the car is well suited, rather than being made by car because none of the more efficient and effective alternatives for that kind of trip have been made available.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jul 12th, 2012 at 11:25:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I agree with you here:

If a range of alternative sustainable means of transport are available, then it is likely that the trips that are made by car are likely to be the ones for which the car is well suited, rather than being made by car because none of the more efficient and effective alternatives for that kind of trip have been made available.

...but would possibly argue with you on this part--if I were in the mood for arguing...

The basic physical advantages of...trains [over] ...cars...

As you know better than I do, there are a LOT of variables to consider...

by asdf on Fri Jul 13th, 2012 at 12:02:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Physically, there is no way for a individual motor vehicle operated on the public right of way to be as energy or materially efficient as a electric train that is able to achieve high load factors.

That is not saying that electric trains are more efficient as a one-size-fits-all solution than electric cars, but that is because expecting any one-size-fits-all solution to be both efficient and effective is silly. One size never fits all and always fits some poorly.

It does say that there are specific tasks in an integrated transport system where the solution that is more efficient than an electric train will be a different, more efficient, electric train.

(1) There are people living at low density because their jobs require them to be engaged in space-intensive activities ~ farmers, wind-farm maintenance workers, park rangers, etc. If they are between locations that justify a rail corridor, then they may have regional rail service at a regional station, but the rail corridor will only be available for local service where it happens to be passing through. That is the original farmer's Model T market for cars, and cars, bikes, electric bikes, neighborhood electric vehicles and regional buses connecting local central places that do not happen to be along a rail corridor are all part of a sustainable transport corridor.

(2) There are occupations that require an ability to go from place to place on demand rather than commute to a workplace on a regular schedule ~ indeed, a reduction in mode-share of automobiles will increase occupations that involve driving such as grocery delivery driver.

However, a majority of trips made by car in the US are trip that could be made more efficiently more some other means of transport is the massive subsidies given to driving did not so effectively suppress the provision of such alternatives.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jul 13th, 2012 at 01:36:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Right, and in a high-density corridor (which is how cities should be laid out), you can get that high load factor for a commuter train during rush hour. I lived in Boston for years in that sort of environment, and it worked great. Although, frankly, standing on a platform in January with freezing rain running down your neck is not as pleasant as getting into your personal car in a heated garage, and then getting out of it in another heated garage.

I'm actually 100% with you on the long term goal, but most trips in the U.S. as it's currently arranged are 15 mile daily commutes, with no particular corridor-based geography, and other short errands where it is very convenient to have a personal vehicle: Grocery store, hardware store, garden store, etc. Yes, ideally these can and should be handled by delivery services, but it's going to be tough to break the current habits.

The incremental cost for me to take a run to the grocery store is minimal; 5 miles @ 50 MPG is 0.1 gallons or about $0.30. That cost is swamped by the $100+ spent on the groceries. So I don't care how efficient the non-existent street car is, I'm going to use my car to get to the grocery store until it costs something like $10 per trip.

And I "can't" get rid of my car completely (actually, I could, and people will when things go to hell here in a few years and reality kicks in) because I "need" it to go on vacation. It will be a long time before there is rail transportation to the campsite I'm going to in the mountains. This ain't Switzerland, it's the colonies.

(Here is a great book about how to go rock climbing if it's 1930 and you don't have a car.
Basically you take the train to Scotland, then take the bus to the remote hotel, then walk to the base camp, and then you can start your climb. Nowadays, you get in your car and drive to the bottom of the pitch.)

Bottom line is that the effort needs to have two prongs. One is the rail-based infrastructure and the other is the re-organization of society to make better use of scarce transportation resources.

by asdf on Fri Jul 13th, 2012 at 11:54:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Two prongs is far from enough ~ that's the point about one-size-fits-all solutions. When we get down to a plausibly sustainable 20%-40% mode share for automobiles, it won't be with  60%-80% mode share for trains, it will be with a 10%-20% mode share for trains, and for trolleybuses, and for circuit buses, and for cycling, and for neighborhood electric vehicles, and for walking.

People who primarily "need a car" to go on vacation don't need to own a car, they need to maintain a driver's license and to be able to rent a car for the vacation. If it really comes down to being in a position to ditch the fixed costs of car ownership ~ car loan payments, insurance payments, registration ~ that covers quite a lot of car rental or share care use with money to spare. If the operating and fixed costs also included all of the present subsidies to driving, which in the worst cases directly increase the cost of alternatives to driving, the financial incentive to ditch the metal anchor would be even higher.

And from that, people who "need" a car for 5 mile trips and also to go on vacation actually either need a car, or else need a driver's license and a neighborhood electric vehicle or longtail ebike.

The strategic role of Express HSR in this is that the in the 0.5 mile to 5 mile trip radius there are multiple already established and mature transport modes available that can be sustainably if we start cutting back on the policy of forcing people to drive. In the 10 to 50 mile trip radius there are fewer but still a variety. In the 200 mile to 500 mile radius, the existing established means of transport that can be sustainably powered drop away to electric rail. And operating that electric rail at Rapid Rail and/or Express HSR speeds increases the farebox recovery, so that on a very large number of corridors presently with subsidized slow passenger rail service or with no passenger rail service at all, the higher speed rail service can operate at a surplus, freeing it from the threat of withdrawal of its operating subsidy in political counter-attacks from the heavily subsidy dependent private motor vehicle support industries.

The leverage of effective local "commuter" rail corridor development really comes when the day long park and ride suburban station parking lot is places an eighth of a mile from the station and the eighth of a mile around the station is higher density mixed use development. That reorganizes the five miles of surrounding suburb from an inchoate mass into the hinterland of a suburban village core, and start collecting the dispersed suburban employment into employment clusters in walking distance to a train station. Ditto if its a park and ride express stop on a trolleybus line.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jul 13th, 2012 at 12:50:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
It's a combination of "pride of ownership," marketing, trip scheduling flexibility, marginal cost per trip, not wanting to sit in a seat somebody else was using a few minutes ago, etc.

The etc. includes massive subsidies ~ indeed, while a "love of cars" is often used to describe the US, it seems that observable differences in terms of direct, cross and hidden subsidies not only accounts for the "love affair", it over-explains American use of cars. The love affair seems to be more consequence than cause of the policies that force people into driving for lack of effective alternatives. After all, when cars, buses and trains are all available, its trains that one has to add a special constant to in order to adjust for observed ridership that is higher than would otherwise be accounts for by observed transport cost and performance variables.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Thu Jul 12th, 2012 at 11:31:16 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That's because trains are more fun!
by asdf on Fri Jul 13th, 2012 at 12:03:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But "car culture" as commonly used implies that cars are intrinsically more fun than most anything. Whether they are more fun than sex is impossible to determine since the car ads make it quite clear that they are positively correlated with having sex.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jul 13th, 2012 at 01:21:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Really? I thought one of the main attractions of train travel was that you would be stuck together with an attractive stranger for a day or more...

by asdf on Fri Jul 13th, 2012 at 10:40:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
AFAICT, its been quite a long time since Pullman services were advertising that aspect of sleeper service travel.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jul 13th, 2012 at 11:08:55 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe that's one of the problems with American railroad travel...  :-)
by asdf on Fri Jul 13th, 2012 at 12:35:51 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Consequence, not cause, just as with the car industry investment in "car culture". In the 1930's, Pullman service as opposed to the more budget seated corridor services were sold as show. In the 1960's air stewardesses were "Coffee, Tea or Me". Cars more expensive than people with sense ought to spend on cars are sold with sex, so cars that are trying to pretend that they aren't just basic transportation are sold with sex just like the irrationally expensive cars.

When high speed corridor trains and longer corridor sleeper trains are a sufficiently large component of the transport market again, the club car will again be advertised simultaneously as a place where well presented successful men in suits can meet attractive, fashionable women, and where attractive, fashionable women can meet well-presented, successful men.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.

by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jul 13th, 2012 at 12:57:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I remember from Yergins The Prize that during the 50's (60's?) something like 20-50% of all proposals in the US happened in a car.

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.
by Starvid on Thu Jul 19th, 2012 at 03:27:49 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Sounds right. The current 18-30 year olds could be the first to be driving fewer miles with fewer putting having a nice car in the top three of their wishlist than the generation before since the Model T was first introduced.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jul 20th, 2012 at 01:54:43 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A lot of Americans I know actually hate being dependent on their cars for everything, hardly a "love affair". Maybe we should start describing Americans as being married to their cars, a phrase that allows more than one interpretation?
by gk (gk (gk quattro due due sette @gmail.com)) on Fri Jul 13th, 2012 at 12:38:58 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There's also an age difference. Those under 30 are more likely to see the car payment as the thing that keeps them from being able to afford the cool smartphone that they'd like to have.

I've been accused of being a Marxist, yet while Harpo's my favourite, it's Groucho I'm always quoting. Odd, that.
by BruceMcF (agila61 at netscape dot net) on Fri Jul 13th, 2012 at 12:59:27 PM EST
[ Parent ]

Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]