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.