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Would California have HSR today if it had been settled by France?

by BruceMcF Tue Aug 5th, 2008 at 07:23:25 AM EST

As it turned out, this was a first draft of the Midnight Thought for the particular week, rather than a second draft or finished version. The final cut is at Midnight Thought on Living Energy Independence (Docudharma) or Burning the Midnight Oil for Living Energy Independence (EENRblog), with a substantial addition as a result of comments below.

Would California have HSR today if it had been settled by France? That's what Michael Mahoney argued last Friday in the SFGate Open Forum.

The French, according to Mr. Mahoney, have a straightforward approach. The High Speed Rail train leaves the city on regular tracks running like an ordinary interurban express. When it gets out into the countryside, the HSR tracks start and it kicks up to full speed ... 220mph and over, depending on the specific train. Then when it gets to into the urban area of its destination, it switches to regular tracks and back to running like an interurban express.

Most of the route is through the countryside, and that's where its cheapest to build ... both directly, and in terms of cutting down on the cost of overpasses.

SO ... what did they do in California?

Promoted by afew


Well, I don't live in California, so I will let Mr. Mahoney give his version of the story:

If we in California were to build our train the European way, it would start in San Francisco and travel at normal speed to San Jose, then over the mountains into the Central Valley, where the high-speed line would begin. The train would run on that line near Interstate 5, though not right next to it, down the west side of the valley to Los Angeles. Once near the Los Angeles area, it would slow down and return to the normal train tracks.

If that idea had been adopted, the rail system could have been built by now. Unfortunately, the Central Valley politicians asked that the system serve the communities of Merced, Fresno, and Bakersfield, so Merced residents would have a high- speed train as well. An airliner from San Francisco to Los Angeles does not stop in Merced.

Seems like the Central Valley politicians got their way, and so the line is to go through the most heavily settled parts of the Central Valley, with a big increase in cost and difficulty in putting the line through, including, of course, far more overpasses ... because true High Speed Rail needs full grade separation.

Does California need true HSR at all? Can't it get by with the "Express" speed tilt trains that are proposed in various parts of the country, like the Ohio Hub?

Well, yes, California does need true HSR. 110mph tilt trains can provide a substantial improvement in rail services within Southern California and Northern California ... but LA and San Francisco are just too far apart from each other to allow a tilt-train to complete the journey in under 3 hours. And finishing the journey in under 3 hours is key to the train taking substantial market share from air travel.

But ... what about the Central Valley? Bakersfield is less than 300 miles, line of sight, to San Francisco, about 100 miles, line of sight, to LA. Merced is the reverse.

Now, because those stops slow down the HSR, the plan is for the HSR to include Express and Local routes, with the locals leaving the HSR line for the local stops, and the Express zooming on through.

But then ... if the Central Valley "local" HSR were tilt trains on upgraded track in existing rights of way, they could, indeed, travel even faster on regular tracks when leaving San Francisco and LA than the HSR could, reducing travel time from Bakersfield to LA and Merced to San Francisco.

This is not just a California Principle

We can see opportunities to employ this same design principle all around the country. Indeed, if we look at the Northeast, there should certainly be a true HSR line between New York and Chicago. But that does not mean that the true HSR line should be pursued instead of the Ohio Hub. Rather, it would provide a strong complement to the Ohio Hub.

Rather, it means that at the cost of one or two stops, connecting onto the Ohio Hub (probably SE Cleveland on the Cleveland/Pittsburgh route and north of North Central Ohio on the CCC route), all of Ohio can be claimed to be connected to Chicago and New York by a "modern, high speed rail network" ... even though only one line has services operating at the modern 220mph+ speeds, and the rest are 110mph tilt trains.

And of course ... everything in the western Great Lakes connects to everything else at Chicago. If there is a system to get the "Express" HSR routes in place, then its a matter of working out when enough benefit has been obtained from the dedicated 220mph track, and when to switch to running at regular speeds.

BFF: A Central Design Principle

Or, in other words, true full bore HSR and "Express" HSR are not rivals ... they are potential partners.

And can we afford them? Well, given that we can run them on electricity generated by Wind Power and other renewable sources ... while the same trick is much harder to do with the energy-intensive short airline routes that these are replacing ... the question is rather whether we can afford not to.

Indeed, we can more easily afford both than we can afford either one alone. One size, yet again, does not fit all: each can do their task more efficiently than trying to make either one try to do everything at once.

Poll
Alignment
. HSR through the biggest towns of the Central Valley 12%
. HSR on a western alignment, Express Trains through the Central Valley 62%
. Express Trains through the Central Valley, never mind the HSR 0%
. Trains? Who need trains? Dirigibles, my good man, that's the ticket 12%
. A slow boat to China 12%

Votes: 8
Results | Other Polls
Display:
... settled by France and held to the present day.

I'm reporting on what someone in California argued, here.  I thought it was a catchy title, but I probably should not have posted it in the middle of the night on dKos if I wanted it to catch on.

And it should have had "Obama" in the title.

"Hey, Obama, would California have HSR today if it was settled by France?"

Something like that.


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 31st, 2008 at 11:47:23 PM EST
Obama Sides With French for Calif HSR

Should make it to the rec list and garner, uh, interesting comments.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Aug 1st, 2008 at 05:05:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
But that would take more research ... I'm grading finals today, so I don't have time for a dKos wrecklist diary.

A Eurotrib reclist diary normally generates a much higher ratio of signal to noise, but then putting Obama in the title ("Breaking: Obama Scratches Nose! in Public!") is not the same sure-fire trick to getting onto the reclist.

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 Aug 1st, 2008 at 09:52:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Then we could say "Je suis un francais"!  Is that a pastry?  I would love to be able to take bart to the train station and the train to LA in 3 hours, it would shave off a lot of time considering the awful wait at the airports.

"I said, 'Wait a minute, Chester, You know I'm a peaceful man...'" Robbie Robertson
by NearlyNormal on Tue Aug 5th, 2008 at 12:33:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Mahoney's op-ed was a bunch of nonsense. At my high speed rail blog my commenters and I gave him a pretty thorough evisceration. If I wasn't getting married that day I'd have done a more complete job of it. Mahoney is opposed to the project and just wanted to come up with a new and bizarro set of reasons to vote no on the ballot measure in November.

The irony is that California was settled by Spain, of course, at the time ruled by an absolutist (Carlos III). Didn't quite work out, either for him or for the Mexican absolutists who followed, and so we passed into the hands of the USA, for better or worse.

Interestingly one of my co-bloggers posted a very interesting comparison of CA to Spain in terms of population densities and how Spain's successes can be replicated here.

When we met in Austin Jerome invited me to post more about the CA HSR project here, and I intend to take him up on that - once my vacation "officially" ends on Monday. But you're all certainly welcome to visit the blog and add your thoughts on our project. The polls are looking good for November...

And the world will live as one

by Montereyan (robert at calitics dot com) on Fri Aug 1st, 2008 at 01:06:17 AM EST
... Mahoney's op-ed includes some nonsense ... but then so does the reply from Merced that is quoted in the comment thread of the diary on dKos.

However, Mahoney's main argument is certainly not "eviscerated", and the main argument that Fresno at half a million and Bakersfield at 300K (and Merced at much less than that) should be served is independent of the question whether the HSR line is the infrastructure that should be providing the service.

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 Aug 1st, 2008 at 01:49:44 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm not sure I understand your argument then. Are you objecting to the fact that the trains will stop in Fresno and Bakersfield? The trains were going to have to cross the Pacheco and Tehachapi passes no matter what in order to connect SF to LA - the coast route is FAR more mountainous. So while you're in the Central Valley already, why not add three stops (Merced, Fresno, Bakersfield) to help boost ridership and provide those underserved but populous and fast-growing metro areas with the non-oil based transportation they desperately need?

Further, you need to build new track to connect Bakersfield to LA at all, regardless of what passenger rail tech you use, since the freight tracks that already exist are so packed with trains there's no room for passenger rail (which is why the state of California's trains don't connect the two cities). If we're already building new track through the Tehachapi Pass for AVE-style HSR, why not use that to provide the San Joaquin Valley cities with the high speed train connections they need?

Mahoney's basic but unstated assumption is that HSR costs too much and that his proposal would have saved the state money. Problem is it would have resulted in an inferior product as it would not have been able to connect LA to SF in under 3 hours.

I don't think you're shy about spending $40 billion on this project, as it comes with major environmental, economic, and energy benefits. Not a whole lot of money would be saved by bypassing the Central Valley cities and potentially much would be lost in terms of revenue and riders. The bulk of the cost comes from ROW acquisition and grade separation in the SF Bay Area and the Southern California metro areas, and the cost of tunnelling under the Pacheco and Tehachapi passes. Building the route and stations through Merced, Fresno and Bakersfield is just not that expensive.

So I guess I don't understand your points. Given the above factors it seems quite sensible to have stations in those three cities.

And the world will live as one

by Montereyan (robert at calitics dot com) on Fri Aug 1st, 2008 at 07:25:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Going through the towns (as opposed to putting stations on the line, close to the town) is expensive in term of right of way, means a longer line, and also the trains lose a lot of time going through urbanised lands, even when they do not stop : HSTs are too noisy to go at full speed near houses.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Fri Aug 1st, 2008 at 08:25:42 AM EST
[ Parent ]
No time will be lost if urban areas are protected with cut-and-cover tunnels. That makes it more expensive, but with better access for locals, the benefit in passenger numbers can balance it.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Sep 4th, 2008 at 03:25:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... going "near but not through" an urbanized area is not an option ... we are talking, for example, Fresno. The relatively straight right of way that will be available is the original rail corridor that the city grew around ... and you do have to go to the edge of the Valley to get away from the sprawl.

So its an HSR line on the edge of the Valley and pendalinos through the Valley towns, or an HSR line with express / local sections straight through town.

In this case, it turns out that the Valley is not that wide for the swing to the edge of the Valley to make much difference, and certainly not enough of a difference to interfere with supporting Proposition 1B as the alignment presently stands.

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 Sep 5th, 2008 at 06:13:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't think you're shy about spending $40 billion on this project, as it comes with major environmental, economic, and energy benefits. Not a whole lot of money would be saved by bypassing the Central Valley cities and potentially much would be lost in terms of revenue and riders.

I'm certainly not shy about spending a share of the free ride Californians are taking on carbon emissions and crude oil imports to reduce that, and if politically the only way to get any useful HSR service through the Central Valley cities is to run the 220mph stock through, then the alignment restrictions in planning and speed restrictions in operation are just the price you Californians pay to get something up.

However, I assume that the new rail ROW to Bakersfield will include regular first class track in addition to the track for the 220mph services, given that existing freight is bottlenecked. And given that, there is no indication that any consideration was given to using 110mph stock would provide the connections that the Central Valley towns need between each other and the SF and LA.

It certainly seems that from the point where the southern alignment out of the Bay Area enters the Valley, going down the west side of the valley would be  quicker. If the southern alignment is slower to get to that point, that's a trade-off ... but we don't know how the trade-off works out, because it was not an alignment option at that stage.

If the California system gets up, then the Central Valley segment of the route will certainly be used to "demonstrate" how much it costs to connect cities of half a million to metropolitan areas 200 miles away, and if those towns "have" to be provided with 220mph services to connect with the closer major metropolis and each other for political purposes rather than transport planning purposes, that is something we are going to have to be wary of.

And if the California system does not get up, then a focus on breaking the Bakersfield bottleneck for freight as much as for passenger services, and then getting a 110mph system through existing rights of way up the Central Valley may be the only path ahead that is not blocked.


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 Aug 1st, 2008 at 09:44:05 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Having watched and participated in Southern California public works projects as a project engineer, manager and consultant and having watched California Politics since I arrived there in 1967, I am aware that there are a whole host of considerations other than the technical merits of a project that come into play.  It is not pretty and the public pays a high price in terms of increased cost and decreased functionality that result from these political trade-offs.

For example, from a technical point of view, having an HSR down the west side of the San Joaquin Valley with transfer stations, express feeders and/or park and ride facilities adjacent to the best and fastest HSR alignment make perfect sense in terms of maximizing north-south traffic and minimizing transit time.  However, there are substantial political advantages to routing the HSR through, of at least very near to the major population centers.

Not least amongst these political advantages is the sale of right-of-way at very substantial profit by well connected political donors, generating cash to pay for contributions.  Contributions peak while the exact alignment is being decided.  The extra expenses for grade separation becomes an advantage for local contractors, especially around the time of contract awards and then, again, when change orders inevitably become necessary.

In Los Angeles, as of 2006, there was no connection between Los Angeles International Airport and the growing, extensive urban commuter rail system.  The green line was going to get close, but on the south side of the airport, across the runways.  The City of Los Angeles operates the airport and also licenses taxi operators.  The mayor of LA in 2006 had power of appointment for at least two commissioners to the board  of the transportation organization that ran buses and urban rail.  The mere possibility of allowing an efficient rail link to the terminals at LAX would, I suspect, generate prodigious amounts of contributions from those whom this would hurt.

And this is Los Angeles California, with its heritage of progressive institutions such as the Department of Water and Power, the Department of Airports and the Harbor at San Pedro.  While Wm. Chandler turned the Los Angeles Times from a partisan rag into one of the countries major newspapers starting in the '60s, the price he paid was not exposing the machinations of his family and their cronies in their profiting from city political decisions.  Good journalism on the national and international level, PR and "air cover" at home.

The series of bonds passed starting in 1997 to repair and build new schools probably suffers at least one third of the bond revenues going to consulting construction managers, design managers, etc.  Instead of hiring people to do this itself, LAUSD, (the second largest school district in the nation,) was reportedly required to hire this work out to consultants as the price of obtaining the support of then Mayor Richard Riordan.

That is part of the scope of the problem.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Aug 1st, 2008 at 12:38:57 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... any influence on the California project, but watch it with keen interest because whether it passes or fails to pass, it will have a big impact in confusing the issue of putting in Express grade tilt train interurbans in places like here in Ohio.

We had an interurban triple-C (Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati) rail system go down to defeat decades back because it was overambitious, and it set the process of getting a system in place back by a decade or more.

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 Aug 1st, 2008 at 12:51:05 PM EST
[ Parent ]
About the only mitigating measure I can think of to prevent, or at least minimize, the abuses I described in California would be to put restrictions on where the money can be spent into the enabling legislation and/or bond issue.  If a cost/benefit analysis could be done on  providing only the HSR from the area of the Grapevine to about the I-5/580 split, keeping it west of the I-5, and price  separately the Express extensions over to Bakersfield, Merced, Fresno, Modesto, etc. some restraint could be placed on the pork.

The real problem is getting from the San Joaquin valley into Los Angeles.  That is why the Sunset Limited ran along the coast.  Tunneling through the Chatsworth Hills is trivial compared to getting through the Tehachapis, which rise over 6,000 feet and are geologically very active, as the San Andreas fault lies just to the north of these mountains.  This is a plate boundary.  The existing rail connections was made possible with an amazing spiral trellis that is a 100 year old railroad wonder.

The alternatives are going east to Palmdale and then  northwest to Bakersfield or going through Chatsworth and then getting over to the SJ valley via cuts and fills combined with tunnels.  The third path is through the Cajon pass near San Bernadino, where the old AT&SF right-of-way runs.  I believe that the old Southern Pacific coast route from Chatsworth, through Santa Barbara, San Louis Obispo, and Atascadero, into the Salinas Valley south of Paso Robles straight up to San Jose might be the cleanest way to San Francisco, but it leaves out the SJ Valley along with Bakersfield, Merced and Modesto.

Geography poses severe constraints on rail in California and the final cost/performance of any solution will be strongly affected by how this is done.  It will be interesting to see how this progresses.  I would probably vote for it even with considerable profiteering, were I still in California.  But I think three hours from downtown LA to any part of the SF Bay would be miraculous; four, maybe. It is probably close to an hour from Union Station to the north side of the Chatsworth tunnel.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Aug 1st, 2008 at 03:46:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
... that they have picked, which ought to be a big benefit for freight as well, unless the truck companies have gotten to the project and restricted the track in the alignment to the HSR.


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 Aug 1st, 2008 at 04:04:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
The problem with the coast route you propose is that the topographical and environmental challenges are far more daunting. It would be very difficult to secure the approvals from the state parks, the Air Force, the Coastal Commission, and other parties to use the coast route, which also is much more hilly than the Central Valley route. The cleanest, quickest way to reach SF from LA is via the Central Valley.

Additionally, there are more potential riders in the Valley than on the coast. The combined population of Salinas/Monterey, SLO, and Santa Barbara is about the size of the Fresno metro area alone. Which is a compelling financial consideration given the health of the system.

I reject the notion that Merced, Fresno and Bakersfield are "pork" - is it entirely necessary that the AVE line from Madrid to Barcelona stop in Zaragoza and Lleida?

And the world will live as one

by Montereyan (robert at calitics dot com) on Sat Aug 2nd, 2008 at 01:38:34 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The western side of the Central Valley is not the coast ... if it were, it would not be a Central Valley, it would be the Coastal Plain.


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 Sat Aug 2nd, 2008 at 02:42:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Regarding the last, I note: the high-speed mainline bypasses both cities (which have 0.7 million and 130,000 inhabitants), but they have connections both on the Eastern and Western side, and there are Madrid-Barcelona trains both through and bypassing these cities. Zaragoza is also a stop for trains further to La Huesca. So at least Zaragoza is entirely justified, and the parallel may not be perfect.

Then again, as I implied downthread, I think Fresno and Bakersfield can well be justified as stops, Merced looks more like pork.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Sep 4th, 2008 at 04:03:09 AM EST
[ Parent ]
public works projects as a project engineer, manager and consultant

First we have Jerome the energy project investment banker, then techno the (former) city planner, and now you!

Do all of you have all those jobs I want to do when I become an engineer?! ;)

Peak oil is not an energy crisis. It is a liquid fuel crisis.

by Starvid on Fri Aug 1st, 2008 at 05:24:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Don't worry about me, Starvid!  I'm semi-retired and coasting on particular expertise and connections I built up over a career.  Just remain open to the possibilities you encounter and you'll be fine.  Don't disdain small design firms and construction firms, especially later in your career.  Work for one for several years, and if you have the appropriate professional certificates, you can either take over the office or start your own.  Why, its almost a license to print money. ;-)

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Aug 1st, 2008 at 06:03:25 PM EST
[ Parent ]
And there's no doubt California history is full of such land scams (including the entire San Fernando Valley). But there's no evidence to suggest this is going on with the HSR project. I've been following the project for a while now, been attending the meetings, reading the reports, been somewhat though not totally in the loop on the route selection. At no time was there ever an indication that decisions were being made to suit landowners or folks with a specific financial stake in the project. Yes, there's been the usual political wrangling over who gets a stop and who doesn't, but that has been an open and transparent process. I don't see how the implication of corruption is warranted here.

And the world will live as one
by Montereyan (robert at calitics dot com) on Sat Aug 2nd, 2008 at 01:41:30 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Land is one thing, but the real big money is in the construction of superstructure, and just there, you have to look closely, if Boston's Big Dig should give any lessons. It's even worse if long tunnels or elevated sections are given to firms without experience in such things (and no, highways in Oakland, resp. not even the LA Aquifier is enough experience for tunnels of this diameter and with such internal fitting).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Sep 4th, 2008 at 04:08:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
It is certainly true that the primary explanation for Fresno, Bakersfield and Merced getting a station is political. Jim Costa, the Democratic Congressman from Fresno, helped author the original HSR bill in 1998, and is the driving force behind securing federal funding in the Congress. Naturally he expects to deliver a station in Fresno.

But just because politics have initiated the move does NOT mean that the decision to place stations in those cities lacks merit. I am quite supportive of those stops even though I live nowhere near them and would do so even if there was no political benefit to doing so.

The west side of the valley would be quicker, yes, but marginally so - 10-15 minutes at most. The valley is not that wide. The three stops in question will not only add riders, but will provide a non-oil based transportation system to parts of the state that currently do not have it. I do firmly believe that the system should serve as much of the state as possible, not just SF and LA. Since the three stops do not make the system significantly slower or add significant cost it seems worth doing.

Other commenters have mentioned the possible ROW costs in these three cities. They certainly exist but are not budget-breakers - the plan is to follow existing rail routes that already have a lot of available land around them. None of these three cities are particularly dense and the areas near the tracks are not heavily built up. Those problems exist in SF and LA and would therefore be an issue no matter what happens in the valley.

I just don't see this as an issue. The stops have merit on their own, and yes they are something of a political necessity - but when we consider the big picture, that CA has no other viable rail options to link the two halves of the state, it is a price well worth paying.

And the world will live as one

by Montereyan (robert at calitics dot com) on Sat Aug 2nd, 2008 at 01:32:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
BTW, I am very glad to see you posting on ET.  And I am a supporter of HSR for California.  I live in Arkansas now, but I can not have spent 40 years in LA without retaining a deep concern for the future of California.  I will even urge my Arkansas congressional delegation to support federal funding when appropriate, for what ever good it will do.

I am glad that you have been able to follow this HSR proposal so closely and have added your blog to my bookmarks.  I have questions and/or am concerned about several things:

  1. Are EIR/EIS statements available?  The CHSRA site sends me in circles.

  2. What is the origin of the $40 billion figure you mentioned?

  3. Has a detailed estimate for the entire LA to SF route been prepared?  If so, where is it?

  4. Are there ongoing discussions with railroads to share costs for tunneling, etc. and to electrify freight operations over tracks with shared right of way?  Seems like a no brainer for the railroads.  I believe the Tehachipi loop is only single track and is a major bottelneck.  It also would greatly reduce GHGs.

  5. The results I get for route information from the CHSRA web site appear more reasonable than I first thought:

LA to Sylmar            24 miles  12 min. ~120 mph
Sylmar to San Jose     363 miles 133 min. ~=163 mph
San Jose to San Fran.   48 miles  30 min. ~
96 mph

Total time based on adding the above speeds:

LA to San Francisco     435 miles 175 min. ~=149 mph
(This allows more believable speeds through metro areas with a total time of 2hrs, 55min.)

Figures from web site for LA to SF:

LA to San Francisco     432 miles 158 min. ~=164 mph
(How do they get their figures?)

Sylmar to San Jose non-stop at 200mph:

Sylmar to San Jose      363 miles 1hr 49min  =200 mph

LA to SF with above     435 miles 2hr 31min ~=173 mph
(At these travel times, airlines would have to drop their prices to have any passengers.)

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Aug 2nd, 2008 at 02:54:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
(At these travel times, airlines would have to drop their prices to have any passengers.)

At 3 hours SF/LA, airlines won't lose all their patronage, but they'll lose a big slice. At 2:15, they'd be in the same negative multiplier that was all too familiar to public transit during the age of cheap oil ... loss of patronage cutting frequency and losing further patronage.


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 Sat Aug 2nd, 2008 at 03:52:31 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Airlines might well be forced to cut their remaining flights for being uneconomic :-) (Did happen elsewhere)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Sep 4th, 2008 at 04:15:49 AM EST
[ Parent ]
the plan is to follow existing rail routes that already have a lot of available land around them. None of these three cities are particularly dense and the areas near the tracks are not heavily built up.

  1. how would the curve/junction in Merced be built? Unless a slowing-down of trains is accepted, that needs long curves, existing alignment is not right for that.

  2. what are the plans (if they exist already in detail) against noise in urban areas? Walls, cut-and-cover tunnels?


*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Sep 4th, 2008 at 04:13:43 AM EST
[ Parent ]
  1. I don't know the details of Merced. Good points about the long curves.

  2. The plan is primarily soundwalls. Some cities along the Peninsula, between San Francisco and San José, are agitating for cut-and-cover tunnels, but there's not likely to be any money for that.


And the world will live as one
by Montereyan (robert at calitics dot com) on Thu Sep 4th, 2008 at 08:00:20 PM EST
[ Parent ]
One thing I wonder about, in the comparison between Europe and the US (which is more relevant for urban rail) is the length of the election cycle.

It very noticeable, for tramway building projects in France, that having a line being built during an election is a losing proposal. Thus all the projects start just after an election and are finished a few months before the next. This is possible in France because mayors are elected for 6 years... My understanding is that such mandates are shorter in the US. Same for HSR : it seems people tend to stay in State politics for relatively short periods of time, with term limits, etc... and thus politicians wouldn't be able to reap the rewards of a successful HSR project...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Fri Aug 1st, 2008 at 06:56:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Why is beginning construction during a campaign a bad thing? Noise and cost and traffic issues?

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Aug 1st, 2008 at 08:45:39 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Essentially, yes.

The mayor of Grenoble started a tram project in the early 80's, before it was all the rage in France, and was not reelected in 1983 after a campaign that was centered on these issues. However nowadays people like their tram... Since then, pretty much all street rails projects in France have been done during a mandate.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères

by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Fri Aug 1st, 2008 at 09:07:17 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Funny. That doesn't seem to be a problem in Denmark. IIRC, the subway in Copenhagen was built across a campaign (might even have been across two campaigns courtesy of the Italian contractors - sigh when do our politicians learn to buy German?).

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Aug 1st, 2008 at 10:23:02 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Was it built with tunnelling or surface digging ? That makes quite a difference in disturbance... And maybe Danish voters are smarter. Is bike usage high ?

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Fri Aug 1st, 2008 at 10:28:16 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Tunnelling, for the most part. That's the only way you are going to get subway in the Copenhagen altstadt without tearing down half the city. Out on Amager it turns into an open-air light rail (but almost nobody used to live out on Amager - in fact the subway was in no small part an Amager development project - which impacted the routing as well), and near the subway to open-air transitions they used cut-and-cover.

But it was still very visible, and occasionally quite noisy. Not to mention the number of heavily reported and rather visible delays and cost overruns (mostly courtesy of the private parts of the joint venture, of course).

Bike usage is high, but that may simply reflect the fact that light rail is next to non-existent and the busses are uncomfortable as hell (and not that much faster than walking either).

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Aug 1st, 2008 at 10:48:47 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Delays and cost overruns aren't that much of a problem - most people barely know about them. Whereas being stuck daily in traffic is a reminder of the project, and an efficient way to raise anger against it...

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Fri Aug 1st, 2008 at 11:00:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In Copenhagen, being stuck daily in traffic just means that you've reached the municipal border :-P

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Aug 1st, 2008 at 11:02:50 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Of course it might also help that Copenhagen has had an uninterrupted line of Social Democratic mayors since before WWI. Something as minor as a subway (which was more than halfway a parliamentary initiative anyway, or was at least perceived as such) is unlikely to change that tradition.

- Jake

Friends come and go. Enemies accumulate.

by JakeS (JangoSierra 'at' gmail 'dot' com) on Fri Aug 1st, 2008 at 11:09:41 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You have to give politicians their inaugurations... this works in a similar fashion in most countries. Spain (Madrid) perfected the art of projects in 4-year election terms.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Sep 4th, 2008 at 04:18:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Another reason why an Aerobus type system is appealing in many US contexts, especially cities with "water hazards" ... the point construction of the pylons and stations are the only things that would cause any noticeable interference ... and then, not as much, because it runs above the public right of way ... and it would be straightforward to stage the roll-out of a line so that one stage is completed within one term and then its, "look what I did, re-elect me to get the next stage".

This short-termism is also one reason why "authorities" can collect so much actual authority if they have a dedicated stream of income ... the guy that killed off the hopes of the Brooklyn Dodgers for a new park because it was not at the site of the current Met's stadium is a high profile example of someone with more authority in his area of responsibility than the Mayor or City Council.

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 Aug 1st, 2008 at 09:49:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I read Michael Mahoney's article and have looked through the California High Speed Rail Authority's web site.  I must agree with Mahoney.  From the CHSRA site it is apparent that they count on 200 mph speeds throughout the trip to make the timetables work.  I have questions about having a train go 200 mph in a trench through metropolitan Los Angeles.  Noise alone could be a major  issue in or near retail or residential neighborhoods. Does Europe have experience with running trains at 200 mph in tunnels or trenches?  Sounds scary as hell to me.
Their PERT chart shows EIR/EIS as being done by now, but these documents don't appear to be available.

They could well have spent the entire $46 million on meetings and preparing the interactive web site with "visualizations" of traveling all over the state on HSR. I didn't drill down very deep into the Ohio Hub data, but I think they have some actual reports and legitimate cost estimates based on specific alignments,  etc.  In Los Angeles, the Red Line cost $1 billion/mile on average and that was the '80s and '90s. It was all underground.  That might be an ok number for open or covered trench today.  I really don't know, but doubt if it will be cheaper. I would think that if they had hard data and real cost estimates based on specific conditions they would be touting that fact.

This document looks like the hook with which they hope to get a $40 billion bond approved.  Then the design consultants, (Bechtel?) and contractors could feast on the bond money till it ran out.  I would be amazed if they made it beyond Palmdale.  They should either base their times on existing urban rail infrastructure or increase their cost estimate to more like $400 billion, or both.

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."

by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Fri Aug 1st, 2008 at 09:51:56 PM EST
What existing rail infrastructure? The reason new track has to be built is because the existing infrastructure does not allow for any further expansion of even 79 mph passenger rail. The Coast Daylight service that is proposed to run from SF to LA in a few years' time using existing tracks will likely take 12 hours.

The bond is only for $10 billion - the Authority is counting on the feds and private investors to come through with the rest. There IS support in Congress for it, mainly because Jim Costa, a Democrat who represents Fresno, was the author of the bill creating the project back in 1998. The Authority has reports indicating that private investors ARE interested in helping out but only if the public funds between 65% and 75% of the project.

To my knowledge the EIR/EIS does not suggest a 220 mph speed for the entire length of the route. The problem with Mahoney's argument is that anything above 79 mph is simply not possible with the existing track. His solution would have the HSR system spend an hour getting from SF to San José, and likely another hour at least to get from Palmdale to LA. His proposed solution isn't possible - he's basically saying we should abandon the concept of HSR in California entirely.

And the world will live as one

by Montereyan (robert at calitics dot com) on Sat Aug 2nd, 2008 at 01:23:13 AM EST
[ Parent ]
"The reason new track has to be built is because the existing infrastructure does not allow for any further expansion of even 79 mph passenger rail."

Two other reasons are that you want a straight-as-possible alighnment of the right of way, and because the wheel and rail shapes and wear patterns are different between low speed freight and high speed passenger systems.

by asdf on Wed Aug 6th, 2008 at 09:33:31 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Another reason is track capacity. Existing tracks are already clogged with freight trains, and adding more express trains would pose the extra problem of different speeds ( = more time needed between the launch of an express and a freight train).

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Sep 4th, 2008 at 05:16:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Does Europe have experience with running trains at 200 mph in tunnels or trenches?

Yes.

by nanne (zwaerdenmaecker@gmail.com) on Sat Aug 2nd, 2008 at 05:24:35 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Good

"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Aug 2nd, 2008 at 08:55:01 AM EST
[ Parent ]
... California HSR sites, in the alignment options comment period, but when I was looking earlier this week, I did not have any luck finding them again.


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 Sat Aug 2nd, 2008 at 03:54:24 PM EST
[ Parent ]
High-speed lines in most countries except France are full of tunnels, passed at full speed, while the maglev world speed record of 581 km/h was achieved on a test track in Japan that is 87% in tunnel, so don't worry about that. Also, reaching top speed takes quite some distance (let's say 30 km), braking also takes a couple of miles, so downtown LA might get by without 200 mph.

$1 billion/mile is rather on the heavy side, but for some reason, US urban projects tend to be extremely overpriced. For comparison, the 39 km (24 mi) second leg Channel Tunnel Rail Link, which includes 19 km (c 12 miles) of twin tunnels under London, one more under the Thames and a major bridge, two new wayside stations and a major terminal station reconstruction, cost £3.9 billion ($7 billion), or $0.3 billion/mile - and that's considered an expensive project! (Incidentally, major contractor was Bechtel.)

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.

by DoDo on Thu Sep 4th, 2008 at 05:13:08 AM EST
[ Parent ]

MONDAY, AUGUST 4, 2008
BARRON'S COVER  

Ticket to Riches
 By JAY PALMER  | MORE ARTICLES BY AUTHOR

Now that our romance with railways has been rekindled, here's how to climb aboard the money train.

TIP BACK YOUR SEAT, STRETCH OUT YOUR LEGS AND LET SOMEONE else do the driving. No, this isn't the back seat of a chauffeur-driven limo. And no, it isn't that cramped leg-squeezing seat on a commercial airline. We are in a train, getting where we want to go, when we want to go, at a fair speed and in relative luxury. Best of all, we are leaving behind our gas-guzzling SUVs.

Across America, the train whistle is a-blowin'. Some 2.5 million people rode on Amtrak in June, a record for any month and an increase of 12% from a year earlier. At the same time, local transit systems from Washington, D.C., to Oakland, Calif., are scrambling to add train cars and track.

Put simply, Americans are getting fed up with driving. Not only is gasoline hovering above $4 a gallon, but also the roadways seem more congested than ever. Result: The number of commuters abandoning cars for trains jumped 15% last year in some major cities.

Freight trains, too, are barreling into a new, more promising future. The nation needs an economical way to move its burgeoning volume of imports, and trains can do the job better than trucks. Trains use fuel more efficiently and avoid the costly delays caused by traffic. And of course they are also greener than smoke-belching 18-wheelers.

Amtrak/Bloomberg News  
With Gas prices high, both passenger and freight trains are finding new life. Why Warren Buffet has hopped aboard.  Little wonder the U.S. Chamber of Commerce expects freight railroads to see an 88% increase in demand over the next quarter-century.

"All the evidence is there that the train is returning to a degree once never expected [and that] an economic and cultural tsunami is about to transform the United States," says Harvard professor John Stilgoe, author of the recently published book Train Time. "Change is everywhere along the railroads....Track is being expanded, modernized and relaid, and once-abandoned rail right-of-ways are being reclaimed. And what you are seeing now is only the beginning. The best is yet to come."



"It is not necessary to have hope in order to persevere."
by ARGeezer (ARGeezer a in a circle eurotrib daught com) on Sat Aug 2nd, 2008 at 05:21:20 PM EST
My preference would be dirigibles towed by rail.
by tjbuff (timhess@adelphia.net) on Tue Aug 5th, 2008 at 09:12:31 AM EST
Won't get me my low carbon impact trip to Oz, but. No train tracks between LA and NZ, for one thing (only have to be able to get to NZ ... surely they will be getting on the Auckland/Newcastle bridge any day 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 Aug 5th, 2008 at 12:44:01 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I noticed this thread just in time to comment before it's archived...

In short, I'm more inclined to side with Montereyan.

  1. A point Mahoney makes but you didn't follow further [at least in the diary; I'm as yet half done with reading the comments] is about the cost savings from having high-speed trains leaving major cities on conventional tracks, and building high-speed lines only in rural areas where it's cheap. France, and not just France, did indeed pursue this road. However, it's not something to recommend: trains lose time even if they aren't late, which they tend to be, as conventional tracks tend to be crowded with trains already. Indeed even in France, the LGV Atlantique got connected practically into its terminal station in Paris with a tunnel-rich new line, same for Marseille; while in Britain, the previously notoriously late Eurostar trains now reach the London terminal of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link (practically an extension of the French system) through 19 km of urban tunnels.

  2. Coupling high-speed lines with highways does have benefits that can balance the need for more overpasses: (in some cases) real estate prices, and bundled high noise emission sources. In France, this is less followed than elsewhere, but a) this is not something I'd put up as model to follow, b) rural France is low population density, unlike Central Valley.

  3. there are stops unjustified economically but forced through to get political support in almost every country with high-speed lines. This can be tolerable if those local potentates agree to contribute the extra costs. In France, the result can be a station in the middle of nowhere, 20 km outside the town demanding it, which again may not be something I'd put up as model to follow.

  4. 300,000 can be high enough a population to justify a station. To boot, a central Central Valley route has the (stated, but ignored by Mahoney) benefit of an extension to the North, so HSR can run San Francisco-LA, San Francisco-Sacramento(-Oregon?), LA-Sacramento.

  5. Of course you do have a point about the benefits of coupling fast trains on conventional routes with HSR. But I note that tilt trains going 250 km/h or more on the high-speed line and then leaving it for conventional lines would be the better option. (That way indeed a line directly through some of the Central Valley towns may be spared.) For this practice, you'll find examples in Spain, Italy, Germany and Japan (and soon in Britain and the Netherlands).

[Now I'll read on with the comments]

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Sep 4th, 2008 at 03:50:53 AM EST
But then, nothing says "back in Paris" like seeing the RER (urban rail) station by the side of the train.

Un roi sans divertissement est un homme plein de misères
by linca (antonin POINT lucas AROBASE gmail.com) on Thu Sep 4th, 2008 at 05:54:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Then again, the Paris urban stretches travelled by TGVs to/from the LGV Nord, Est and Sud-Est are pretty well built (meaning trains accelerate up to 160 km/h on them) and at least quadruple track, something we can't say of existing tracks in LA.

*Lunatic*, n.
One whose delusions are out of fashion.
by DoDo on Thu Sep 4th, 2008 at 06:20:18 AM EST
[ Parent ]
On your population density point, the population density through the middle of the Valley and the population density on the highway alignment near the east edge of the Valley are substantially different.

The northern extension point seems more a point of impression than real difference ... wherever you go out of the Valley to get into the Bay area, the northern extension to Sacramento will involve continuing on north from there. But the hard left turn at Merced to get to SF may give a stronger impression on a map with dashed lines of future extension that system is "really truly" designed to go to Sacremento.

But more critical, Merced County according to Wikipedia tends to vote Republican, while the city of Merced is located in Democratic districts at both the state and national level. So it seems like it could be very heavily influenced by the need to avoid a campaign issue in a potential Republican stronghold for a challenge.


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 Sep 5th, 2008 at 06:33:27 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Merced hosts the newest UC campus, and the only non-selective one AFAIK.

A vivid image of what should exist acts as a surrogate for reality. Pursuit of the image then prevents pursuit of the reality -- John K. Galbraith
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Sep 5th, 2008 at 06:37:58 AM EST
[ Parent ]
And is close enough to San Francisco ... and of course, the rest of the Valley ... that it would be well under three hours by tilt train. Its only the other side of the LA basin that Merced needs the true HSR in order to reach inside three hours.

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 Sep 5th, 2008 at 08:41:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]


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