Friday, November 28, 2008

High Speed FAIL!

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

Most of the time, discussions on this blog are altogether too serious. I have tried to make up for this lack of levity by submitting ever-longer verbiage of my own in the comments. A few days ago, Robert Cruickshank kindly decided to invite me to submit posts of my own, perhaps in the forlorn hope that I will at least acquire an appreciation of brevity. So here goes:

The townsfolk of Sables D'Olonne are apparently well-connected in high places. SNCF now runs TGV trains directly from Paris. The last section from Nantes to their town isn't electrified, so the trains are towed by a diesel locomotive. All just so the tourists can avoid a transfer.

Not to be outdone, DB runs high-speed tilting diesel trains called ICE-TD with a top speed of 200kph (125mph) on the winding legacy tracks in East Germany. They also come in handy on the Hamburg-Copenhagen route. Until the Fehmarn Belt bridge is completed in 2018, very slightly more modest speeds are involved.

Further east still, Russian military intelligence officers came up with their own version of high speed rail. It avoided not only electrification but also the expense of having to construct actual tracks. Apparently, they are hoping for orders from China.

Aviation of a different kind was apparently the objective of this young man. I don't think this is quite what CHSRA has in mind, though.

UPDATE: apparently, reports of his death have been greatly exaggerated (h/t to Loren). If true, he is just really, really eager to win a Darwin Award. Perhaps this sort of thing is best left to machinima artists.

On a real-world note that is only marginally lighter, how's this for transit-oriented development?


Robert Cruickshank said...

Wow. Dunno what else to say about the trainsurfer other

Great pics and a fantastic post. Glad you're posting here, Rafael.

Loren said...

That gentleman is apparently still alive; that train-surfer YouTube video linked to another one, an English-subtitled TV documentary on him.

michael Kiesling said...

Real footage from a train, edited so the passing images are in time with the music. I've had the same experience riding HSR with an iPod and a good playlist.

"making of" video at:

ps: Trainsurfer has always bothered me, moreso that it is believed now that the guy just said he was dying to make it seem like he just wasn't a trespassing *$$hole thrill-seeker.

Anonymous said...

I've been on that train ferry between Copenhagen and Hamburg, I in fact met some very nice french ladies while on it =). It's pretty nice, the train is the last thing that rolls onto the ferry and is the first thing to roll off. While on the ferry you can get off the train and get some food or walk around for about 30-45 minutes.

The interesting bit is I actually did a circle around Denmark getting to/from Copenhagen. Getting there we took a sleeper train from Koln to Copenhagen, which goes up the main peninsula and then east past Odensen. Leaving we took the ICE directly across the ferry to Hamburg.

Overall we did 35 cities in 55 days all across Europe, which was only possible do to the interconnected HSR network that Europe has.


bossyman15 said...

damn that guy has balls!

the last video caught me off guard.
you'd never know the train passes through there!

off topic: i was at train museum in sacramento today and i saw this...

the z scale of ICE.

I want one!

nikko pigman said...

Here, this might be a better picture of a high-speed ICE train traveling on a boat :)

Anonymous said...

In the last video, how do they know when a train is approaching?

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 11:40pm -

yes, they should blare a horn at 120dB just in case someone didn't notice a train was approaching at a snail's pace. Sounds like something the FRA would insist on, because you can never be too careful!

James said...

The last video:

Rails to trails without an EIR and public hearings. The rails were still vibrating and the vendors were back in business. Wow. It can be done. Now lets see how fast we can build CHSR.

Alon Levy said...

James, this is one of the perks of having a per capita income of $1,300.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Hungarian train enthusiast DoDo has more pictures of the Thai train-in-a-market over at the European Tribune. Great stuff.

Alon Levy said...

Never mind, I thought it was in Cambodia, not Thailand. So strike the $1,300 and make it $8,000.

Anonymous said...

Can you please write kilometer per hour correctly? The correct abbreviation is km/h.

Anonymous said...

For your information the newly elctrified line Nantes - Les Sables d'Olonnes should open december 14 2008.

Loren said...

That picture of a diesel locomotive pulling a TGV trainset shows what some people have proposed for CAHSR between Orange County and San Diego. This is because NIMBYs along the existing coastal route have objected to electrifying it and fencing it off.

Here is another picture of a diesel loco hauling a TGV trainset on that route, this time at a single-tracked section.

luis d. said...

@ Loren

That would be horrible and would defeat the purpose of zero emissions, zero combustible fuel and would partly crash the project into the ground in my opinion.

Not to mention diesel trains take longer to accelerate and are very loud as opposed to Electric trains that accelerate faster and only make a "swooshing" sound wich is music to my ears.

Screw NIMBY's and their demands!

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 5:06 pm -

km/h is the designation commonly used in Europe. Americans often use kph in analogy to mph. It's not wrong as long as people understand what you mean.

@ loren -

towing sound like an option for the straight shot from Anaheim to San Diego via the I-5 corridor. However, FRA would probably not give permission to operate off-the-shelf HSR trainsets designed to UIC standards on tracks shared with freight trains, even if towed by an FRA-compliant locomotive.

The alternative would be to deploy a two-mode trainset featuring both diesel engine and pantographs on partially electrified routes. The priority for the I-5 corridor has to be double-tracking throughout and, getting away from unstable cliffs between Capistrano Beach and Del Mar. Beachfront property owners would surely appreciate that, too.

Hopping onto the I-5 median between Laguna Miguel and La Jolla would solve both problems and cheaper than the long detour via Riverside. That was anyhow chosen purely so LA county could use Ontario as a relief airport for LAX. it would make more sense to change the routes of the existing Metrolink lines San Bernardino to Riverside via Pomona such that they both run right past Ontario airport and part ways at Colton. A third Metrolink line could run out to Coachella to generate additional traffic for Ontario and further increase service frequency between there and LAUS.

Note that there is a twisty legacy ROW between Corona and just north of Lake Elsinore. A short section could be used to facilitate hopping onto new tracks down the I-15 and hwy 163 medians to serve Murietta/Temecula/Escondido using FRA-compliant two-mode trainsets. It wouldn't run past San Diego's Santa Fe depot but rather, to El Prado St. Balboa Park. Tail tracks would run to Ash St.

Note also that EPA regulations mean that new diesel locomotives will need to meet Tier 4 emissions using a combination of existing exhaust gas aftertreatment technogies that depend on also available fuel with ultra-low sulfur content. That means air quality will soon no longer be a factor in the diesel vs. electric decision.


The passive tilt Talgo XXI, currently under development, is a diesel trainset design that will meet FRA crash safety standards. Talgo trains use lightweight independent single wheel suspension located in-between hauled cars and proven strong steering mechanisms that keep them parallel to the tracks at all times. In diesel mode, top speed in commercial operations - tracks permitting - will be 125mph, though 150mph was reached during a speed record run. FRA permits grade crossings up to that speed and quiet zones.

Another option that would be more compatible with speeds feasible on the existing track between Anaheim and San Diego is the ultra-light active tilt JR281 DMU in service in Hokkaido, Japan. It uses GPS and a GIS database to anticipate rather than sense track geometry, which allows it to maximize safe speeds on winding legacy track. Japanese regulators require a braking distance of just 600 meters on that track, so top speed is just 130kph (79mph). However, it still provides fast service because it manages to actually run close to that most of the time. However, the JSR281 is not FRA-compliant so it could not be used. Beefing an active tilt train up to meet those standards is a very bad idea.


Whether or not you fully grade separate and electrify a given line should be a function of anticipated traffic volume. Electric traction eliminates tailpipe emissions, separates operations from the issue of which primary energy source to use and, permits efficient brake energy recuperation.

As for the aestethics of overhead catenaries, the overhead catenaries used in Japan - earthquake country - are quite substantial and admittedly fugly.

Note especially the electrically unrelated power distribution lines that are also attached to the same masts. SANDAG has tried and so far failed to secure a permit for a new power line through Anza-Borrego. Combo electrification of selected existing railway lines could let it work around that and help pay for the substantial cost of electrification.

Fwiw, the Europeans use more filigree designs. You could always hire a guy like architect/sculptur/civil engineer Santiago Calatrava to come up with a beautiful design for combo masts within towns like San Clemente that are sensitive to the aesthetics and revert back to cheaper, more utilitarian off-the-shelf solutions elsewhere on the line.

Of course, complaints about catenary aesthetics would become a moot point if the alignment were changed to the I-5 median in that section. Note that new track construction in any freeway median anywhere would have to include electrification up front. Given the very limited space available, it would be near-impossible to add it later while maintaining train service.

DoDo said...

Minor corrections on the ICE-TD.

It used to run in East Germany (or more correctly, East and South: Dresden/Saxony-Nürnberg/Bavaria; for some time also Munich-Zurich/Switzerland), but that ended with the decommissioning ordered in 2003, because of its unsafe axles. The ICE-TDs were re-activated as Cologne-Hamburg reinforcement trains during the football World Cup in 2006, and then again for the Århus and Copenhagen traffic (with the ferry passage on the latter).

I also note that the trains only did a maximum 160 km/h on the winding legacy tracks -- it was on said World Cup special traffic that they did 200 km/h according to schedule for the first time. On the Copenhagen route, they do 200 km/h on the upgraded line from Berlin to Hamburg, then go at 140 km/h to the Danish border resp. the ferry, and 180 km/h in Denmark.

DoDo said...

On the train rider guy, I wonder how he managed to avoid being hit by the high voltage In that documentary on him, he mentions taking precautions against a lot of dangers, but not this one, and in the video, he seems to move above the height of the ICE's roof in a totally carefree way.

Joseph said...

@Rafael -
That TVG Station in Satolas was amazing. I would love to see something like that in Fresno.

Speaking of stations, are the Steel and glass designs shown in the graphics the final choice on stations?

ladyk said...

May I suggest an addition to your blogroll:

Lots of good HSR/transit material.

hector said...

@ Rafael

kph is not correct and is incorrectly used by people who don't use metric system in their everyday life and consequently think that it is right to use a false term to define something that the whole world use (and not only europeans).

Robert Cruickshank said...

Thanks for that link, ladyk! Excellent site. I'll add it to our blogroll shortly.

DoDo said...

@ Rafael, hector,

it's true that "kph" is in common usage in the USA. However, hector and Wikipedia ( is right: the "km/h" formula is not simply European usage (it's worth to look at the map here:, but one of the two officially sanctioned forms in SI (another would be km·s−1, with -1 in the upper index but Blogger doesn't allow superscript).

In SI, "k" stands for "kilo" or thousand, which can be applied to any unit not just the metre, "p" would stand for "pico" or one trillionth, so "kph" would be the not too sensible unit expression "thousand trillionth hour" -- except the use of multiple prefixes is forbidden in SI.

Bildersucher said...

Here was a picture from the german ICE stealing by picture an traffic stealing. It is forbidden to use this picture here!