Tuesday, September 30, 2008

British Conservatives Embrace an HSR Future

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

Britain's Conservative Party used to be rather strongly anti-rail. Margaret Thatcher never traveled on a train while Prime Minister. John Major helped privatize British Rail, which had devastatingly negative consequences. While European nations were busy building a high speed infrastructure, Britain lagged. Its only HSR route connects London to the Chunnel, and even that line was only completed last year.

But in what some are calling a "stunning turn of events" the Tories are now embracing high speed rail - specifically as a replacement to a third runway at Heathrow. The plan is to run trains at 180 mph from London to Birmingham, Manchester and Leeds. David Cameron, who looks set to be the next Prime Minister, claims it will cut 66,000 flights from Heathrow.

Labour has opened itself up to this move by stupidly rejecting HSR. Now Cameron and the Tories are poised to burnish their green credentials even further by embracing a form of transportation that has been quite successful on the Continent.

Credit shouldn't go to the Tories alone. HSR advocates blasted Labour earlier this year, and Greengauge 21 has been persistent in putting the subject before British voters, emphasizing many of the same economic, environmental, energy and transportation benefits as we have here in California.

It's worth noting that Britain too is facing the same financial and economic problems as the US - but they also recognize the need for long-term infrastructure planning, that green infrastructure is the best tonic for an economic downturn. If British conservatives can get past their old hostility to rail, let's hope California conservatives can do the same.


Loren said...

This is a bit sudden; one does have to wonder what provoked the turnaround.

Could it be their concluding that high oil prices are not going to go away anytime soon?

And that it would be expensive and politically difficult to acquire land for a third runway?

Or a desire to one-up the Labour Party?

Rafael said...

It's worth pointing out that the Conservative Party is currently in the opposition but ahead in the polls. The next general election will be in 2009 or 2010.

The Liberal Democrats and the Scottish National Party, both small opposition parties, favor extending high speed rail all the way to Scotland. By contrast, the Tories' plan would terminate the line in Leeds (Yorkshire) for now. According to Greengauge21, the critical section between London and Birmingham could be constructed mostly along an abandoned ROW, with minimal tunneling and only upgrades to existing stations.

The Tories only claim that HS2 will offset 1/3 of the capacity of a third runway at Heathrow, so it's not a full replacement. The world's largest airport is already running close to capacity, but plans to expand it any further are very unpopular in and around London.

BAA, the airport operator, immediately complained that flights to and from Manchester and Leeds into Heathrow account for just 3% of its air movements. There are no flights to and from Birmingham, Britain's second largest city, located some 150 miles to the northwest.

The point BAA is missing - deliberately - is that HS2 will allow underutilized Birmingham to act as a relief airport for Heathrow, which will be part of the HS2 network. The trip between B'ham Int'l/NEC station and St. Pancras in downtown London will take just 40 minutes (plus 90 seconds with a people mover).

The situation is somewhat analogous to the one in Southern California, where attempts to add runways to LAX and John Wayne airport have long been blocked by nearby residents. Lindbergh Field in San Diego doesn't even have room for an additional runway. HSR should allow Ontario and Palmdale to act as relief airports, because they will be directly served.

Success will depend in part on integrating booking, check-in, baggage handling and security - preferably with some of the ritual happening while the train is moving. Otherwise, airlines will prefer to stick with LAX where more connections are available.

The big difference to the situation in the UK is that LAX is a long way from LA Union Station and CHSRA has decided against extending its network there. However, Metro recently kicked off a planning process for the Harbor Subdivision Transit Corridor (HSTC). Its backbone is the old single-track BNSF line that has been supplanted by the Alameda Corridor.

Note that while HSTC is not part of the Measure R package, an extension of the Green Line (light rail) along Aviation and Century to the terminals loop is listed as component 1-H. At its eastern end, the Green Line stops short Norwalk Metrolink/HSR station. Measure R does not include plans to also close the gap. In any case, getting from LAX to LA US via light rail and Metrolink/HSR would take a long time.

Among the options under consideration for the HSTC is commuter rail service, probably diesel-powered and at grade, with dual tracks at stations only. The entire line could be upgraded to a quiet zone to minimize the noise impact. Between LAX and Aviation/Century, options include:

- constructing turnoffs and new track all the way to the international terminal via a tunnel or aerial structure. This would eliminate one transfer and minimize total travel time to both LA US and the Transit Mall in Long Beach. Modern lightweight DMUs (cp. SMART) with tier 4 diesel engines (featuring scrubbers for particulates and NOx) could probably be used in a well-ventilated tunnel.

- an all-electric aerial people mover system linking all terminals (similar to SFO's AirTrain), but extended out to Aviation/Century. Such a system would be unmanned and operate more frequently than the planned Green Line extension could.

The initial scoping period of the HSTC planning process ends Oct. 22. It will take some number of years before any concrete proposal can be put to voters in LA county.

Car-less in San Diego said...


As I understand it part of Prop 1A will fund local rail projects in order to provide better connections to the HSR network. Could this proposed rail connection from LAX to HSR be eligible for some of this funding?

Anonymous said...

From: http://www.hopeisnotaplan.com/2008/09/proposition_1_highspeed_rail_r.html

Proposition 1A: High-Speed Rail - recommend No
Proposition 1A: Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act. - recommend No

As the legislative analyst's summary tells us, the state of California created the California High-Speed Rail Authority in 1996 to set up an intercity, 200+ mph rail system linking the major metropolitan areas of California, with a first goal of linking northern and southern California.

Delving into the actual text of the proposed legislation, we find a bond measure that would take out $9 billion in bonds, at an estimated cost of $19.4 billion over thirty years, to fund the development of high-speed rail and upgrades to local rail to link the two systems together. Specifically, the funding is broken down like so:

$950 million is dedicated to that second task, of funding "capital improvements to intercity and commuter rail lines and urban rail systems" to connect them to the projected high-speed rail system. $190 million of this goes to the state Department of Transportation, with the remainder going to local transit agencies. This latter portion comes with strings attached, namely that the local transit agency has to provide matching funds, and that it can't reduce its spending below its average spending across the 1998-2001 period. I have no idea why that period was chosen, but there you go.

The remaining roughly $8 billion goes to building the high-speed rail system itself. The assigned goal for this money is to first complete a rail line from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and then fill in routes linking Oakland and San Jose, Sacramento and Merced, Los Angeles and the Inland Empire, The Inland Empire and San Diego, and Los Angeles and Irvine. This money also comes with some strings attached. First, it can't be used for the operating costs of the rail system -- just construction. Second, it can only be used for half of those construction costs, with the other half to be acquired some other way, "including, but not limited to, federal funds, funds from revenue bonds, and local funds."

That last bit might give you some pause. What happens if the other half can't be found anywhere? Hard to say.

It's nearly impossible to evaluate something like this in free space. With that in mind, we might want to take a look at two recently created high-speed rail systems, those of Korea and Taiwan.

The Korean high-speed rail system, the KTX, connects Seoul to Daegu and to Mokpo via a branched system. Currently, it represents about 200 miles of track, not all of it fully enabled to be high speed. Although it was initially costed at about $5 billion, the system to date has ended up costing about $18 billion to build, taking 12 years to start operation. It initially had ridership issues, but that has picked up, with a concomitant drop in air and road travel. The system itself has generated $3 billion in income since its opening.

The Taiwanese high speed rail system just started operation in 2007, after about 7 years of construction. Also covering about 200 miles of track, this system has come in at about $15 billion so far. As it just opened last year, there's obviously not much to say about ridership, although there have been some concerns about production quality.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority estimated the cost to build the full California rail system at $45 billion -- so obviously they don't think they're going to cover it all in one go right now, with only $8 billion in state money and a presumptive $8 billion in matching funds from somewhere. Is $45 billion a reasonable number?

Consider that the Korean and Taiwanese systems both clocked in around the $15-18 billion range to cover 200 miles of tracks. Consider also that the San Francisco to Los Angeles line alone is 381 miles. The remaining proposed routes add another 350 miles ot track, for a grand total of about 730 miles of track. If we presume to extrapolate from the Korean and Taiwanese experiences, we're looking at $54-65 billion dollars for the full system, and $28-34 billion for the SF to LA route.

If we presume the full matching funds, it's looking suspiciously like Prop 1A will only get us from San Francisco to Paso Robles. As nice as Paso Robles is, it's only halfway to Los Angeles.

I think the imbalance between the available funds and the likely costs ultimately makes this impractical right now, especially funding it via a bond measure.

So who's putting money into the effort for or against this proposition? Well, as it happens, there are no groups putting money up against it. Major groups contributing money in support of Prop 1A include the Members Voice of the State Building Trades ($50,000), the California American Council of Engineering Companies Issues Fund ($25,000), the California Alliance for Jobs Rebuild California Committee ($200,000, and sporting a cumbersome name), the Association of California High Speed Trains ($24,000), and the Californians for Safe & Reliable High Speed Rail ($54,000). A number of architecture, construction, and engineering firms also contributed in the tens of thousands of dollars range. Contributors there include companies like HDR, HNTB, Systra, Alstom, Hatch Mott MacDonald, and Parsons Brinckerhoff Americas. Nothing especially shocking in either set of contributors.

You can read the full list of people putting money into supporting Prop 1A here.

You can read the full text of Prop 1A here.

You can read my reviews and recommendations for the other propositions by clicking here.

Posted by parakkum on September 29, 2008 10:20 PM | Permalink

Rafael said...

@ car-less in San Diego -

afaik, only existing services are eligible to receive a slice of the $950 million, according to a negotiated formula. The idea is to spend it on capital improvements that will boost ridership and access to future HSR stations.

So far, Amtrak California, BART, Metrolink, Caltrain, NCTD and ACE appear to have drawn up their own plans with limited reference to high speed rail.

Afaik, SF wants BART to improve pedestrian access to the platforms of its downtown stations. The Caltrain Downtown Extension portion of the Transbay Terminal includes a $45 million design option for an 800-foot subterranean walkway (p. 41ff) to BART/Muni Embarcadero station. IMHO, this option should be exercised.

If prop 1A is passed, plans will change - especially for Caltrain and Metrolink. In the wake of the Chatsworth disaster, I suspect actual appropriations by lawmakers in Sacramento will also depend on enhancements to operational safety.

Anonymous said...

From http://demographia.blogspot.com/2008/09/california-high-speed-rail-exaggerating.html

California High Speed Rail: Exaggerating the Impacts on Modal Alternatives
The Project California voters will be asked to approve a nearly $10 billion bond issue in the November election as the beginning of funding for the a high-speed rail system intended to serve San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego, Sacramento, Fresno, Riverside-San Bernardino and points between. Promoters claim that the remaining necessary funding (from $45 billion to $71 billion, depending upon who you believe) would come from the federal government and private investors. There is no federal program to provide such massive funding and private investment seems highly unlikely given the overwhelming prospects for financial failure.

The Issue One of the most eggregious exaggerations in a planning process rife with exaggeration and over-promotion has been the California High Speed Rail Authority's estimates of the cost of accomodating the future rail customers by highways and airports if the system is not built.

If the system were built, diversion of traffic from the highways and airports would be imperceptible. On average the CHSRA-developed Highway Alternative (calculated by this Due Diligence Report would reduce traffic congestion five times as much as HSR. Meeting the demand that would otherwise be switched to HSR would require much less alternative investments compared to the cost of HSR. The costs of the CHSRA’s asserted Highway and Aviation Alternatives to HSR cost of $82 billion is highly inflated due to dubious assumptions and fundamental flaws. Examples include the CHSRA proposing far more highway construction than is necessary to accommodate the demand.

Moreover, the CHSRA treats the commercial aviation system as if it is static—as if efficiencies to enhance capacity are impossible.The diversion of passengers from aviation is over-estimated. The CHSRA assumes that airlines will cancel a large share of the flights within California because passengers will have switched to HSR—and the diversion will free up airport capacity and make it possible to avoid costly airport expansions. This is not the experience even on the premier Japanese and French systems, which show that strong air markets remain after HSR corridors are in operation. The CHSRA’s created Highway and Aviation Alternatives is of no value in genuine cost analysis or in evaluating future roadway and airport expansion needs.

Call it cheerleading.
Posted by demographia at 15:28
Labels: Demographics, Economics, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Greenhouse Gas Omissions, Transport, Urban Policy

Cal said...

why are these people permited to BOMB this site without linking to there post..At least make these things type everything out if they want to come here and mouth off. other wise delete them! I do find
one lie funny..they post no one is funding the antiprop1A cause.
SO where does Jarvis/Reason/Derail
get there funds from? its all just free?

Eric said...


It's just Morris Brown and his cronies posting like that. And yes, technically that is spam and it is the only they can revert too nowadays. Morris does it to any article that is positive about this project. Sad. Guess there website isn't getting enough public eye. Hmmm, I guess people are starting to see who the Menlo Park people really are and what they stand for:


Spokker said...

"Moreover, the CHSRA treats the commercial aviation system as if it is static—as if efficiencies to enhance capacity are impossible."

What are those enhancements? Affordable electric cars are probably a decade or two away, and that might hurt HSR in the long term (electric cars still have some of the same problems as gasoline powered cars). Is there an electric plane coming out or something?

I don't think the entire issue is increasing capacity, the issue is also getting off of petroleum based transportation.

"The CHSRA assumes that airlines will cancel a large share of the flights within California because passengers will have switched to HSR"

They are already canceling flights, cutting amenities, and reducing the number of seats sold at a discount. The growing Central Valley is underserved.

Spokker said...

Also, what makes the Reason Foundation's report more reliable than Environmental Impact Reports and projections from the CHSRA? Doesn't everybody have an agenda here?

nikko pigman said...


Well on top of that, the Reason Foundation is actually backed by oil companies and airlines and highway construction companies. At least CAHSR's facts have come from legitimate independent and government sources.

As for the electric car thing, here is my take on it. It doesn't matter if the energy comes from electric power, gasoline, diesel, ethanol, flexfuel, hydrogen, or psychic power, the fact remains the same: that high-speed trains are always more efficient with energy than automobiles regardless of the means of power. Changing the fuel doesn't change the efficiency factor.

Maybe this conservative support of the plan in England might have an influence on conservative policy at home. But I'm kind of surprised that the Liberals and Labour would be against that movement.

The fact that the line would take 33% of the would-be traffic from the new runway seems kind of strange to me. A statement like that implies that the runway would need to be built for the other 66% anyway. But then you have to remember that this HSR line is only going to the Birmingham and Leeds area so it wouldn't have access to the potential ridership that would be generated in Scotland. And the extension of the line that far might allow it to reap its full benefits.


I think I speak for us all when I say that I'm glad to know that you can copy & paste. I learned that in elementary school too!

Rafael said...

@ spokker -

capacity enhancements in aviation would require fewer, larger aircraft (A380) and/or direct flights between secondary airports to bypass congested hubs (Dreamliner). In the more distant future, there may be blended wing body designs featuring adequate stability, low noise and high fuel economy.

In parallel, several companies are working on meeting quality requirements for jet fuel made from algal oil and bringing down the price ahead of scaling up production capacity. While some have proposed liquid hydrogen as an aviation fuel, that poses massive technical problems of its own.

Still, it is reasonable to assume that HSR will prompt airlines to codeshare with train operators within the state and, to refocus their efforts on more profitable long-haul flights. Note the absence of any overt opposition to prop 1A from Southwest Airlines.

Spokker said...

"Changing the fuel doesn't change the efficiency factor."

I understand that, but electric car=green in many people's minds. When it becomes a mainstream thing, I think rail travel will be hit, albeit lightly. It doesn't matter if in actuality it's still more efficient. All that goes out the window if a large portion of the population believes otherwise and buys an electric car to feel good about themselves.

I would continue to attack the ways in which a car is a burden on the individual. To me, car ownership is like being chained to a large boulder, where you have to continue to feed the beast that owns you for the duration of your car ownership.

Rafael said...

@ spokker -

pure battery electric vehicles and those with emergency generators (cp. GM Volt) are actually a good complement to trains. They provide all-electric mobility for 30-40 miles, if you need to go further and gas is still expensive in 2018, you can hop on a high speed train instead.

The fit is even better for electric bicycles. These are a good option for getting to the train station without breaking a sweat during hot and smoggy California summers. Much cheaper than owning a late-model car, even one with a conventional engine.

Folding electric bicycles (FEBs) are currently even more exotic in the US. However, they can be taken on board trains more reliably than the full sized variety. When passenger volume is high and adding a baggage car expensive (e.g. for HSR), spaces for full-sized bicycles are usually the first casualty.

FEB battery packs are usually detachable and can therefore be (partially) recharged in transit via courtesy electrical outlets. That gives you double-digit range at either end.

Note: I'm not endorsing these particular products, the links are just meant to illustrate the concept of pedelecs. Right now, the most important markets are China and a number of European countries.

njh said...

Robert, can you fold these huge copy and paste spams into a ... with a link, they add nothing (and often contain factual inaccuracies like claiming that Taiwan's HSR has no measurable impact - in fact it's all but wiped out the planes on that route). Whoever it is clearly has nothing useful to add and just adds lots of rubbish for people to wade through.