Monday, February 23, 2009

LaHood: Expect More HSR Funds; MTC Funding Debate

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

UPDATE: As reported by the Transbay Blog the MTC is planning to apply for the Transbay Terminal train box funding to come out of the $8 billion HSR stimulus and not from the general transit stimulus funds. Debate continues over funding the BART to OAK - in addition to the Transbay Blog article (which opposes funding BART to OAK out of stimulus money) see more at Living in the O, TransForm, and the Calitics version of this post. The original post begins here:

Some great news out of the US Department of Transportation:

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today emphasized the administration's long-term commitment to expanding high-speed rail service in "five or six regions" of the country, not just with the $8 billion provided in the economic stimulus package President Obama signed into law last week, but also "in subsequent years a very substantial effort." Meeting with reporters earlier today, LaHood said that for Obama building high-speed rail networks is, "if not his No. 1 priority, certainly at the top of his list. What the president is saying with the $8 billion is this is the start to help begin high-speed rail projects." He added that the administration "is committed to finding the dollars to not only get them started but to finishing them in at least five parts of the country," although he declined to elaborate on where these projects might ultimately be built.

One of my lingering concerns about the Obama Administration has been that they might be tempted to claim victory with the $8 billion in HSR funding added to the stimulus and not follow up on that money, which as we know merely pays for some initial costs. But what Ray LaHood is saying is that in fact, the $8 billion in HSR stimulus really is intended as a signal to America that Obama is truly serious about building HSR.

This couldn't be better news for us in California, where we have long known that at least $15 billion in federal aid, spread out over 10 years, will be needed to build the SF-LA line. Unfortunately the news is tempered by the fact that the Obama Administration's support for HSR did not extend to mass transit as a whole. Here in California the state has decided to zero out the State Transit Assistance account, costing local agencies over $500 million in funding. The federal stimulus isn't nearly enough to make up the difference. And as the San Jose Mercury News reports, that's setting up a situation where HSR may be pit against local transit agencies:

The MTC meeting Wednesday in Oakland could turn contentious, as the current plan calls for allocating $75 million to help build the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco, which would serve as the final stopping point for a high-speed rail line and Caltrain, [NOTE: in fact the MTC now plans to get the train box money from the $8 billion HSR stimulus - see update at top of the post] and $70 million to build a BART spur to Oakland International Airport. Those two projects alone would take 43 percent of the $340 million headed to the area in stimulus funds for local transit.

Some want money for those new two projects scrapped or reduced — and redirected to cover the cost of paying for day-to-day transit needs.

But MTC officials counter that building the Transbay Terminal now will save millions of dollars in later costs, and combined with the $8 billion in stimulus funds set aside for high-speed rail could accelerate that program. California is a leading candidate to capture much of that money because voters in the fall approved a $10 billion bond measure to begin work on the line, which will someday extend from San Diego to San Francisco and Sacramento.

"Given that California is the only state to pass a bond to build a new high-speed line, we think we might be able to do some double-dipping there," said MTC executive director Steve Heminger. "We are going to spend the stimulus money fast. I can guarantee that."

I support using that money for the Transbay Terminal, although I'm less certain about whether BART to OAK is all that necessary; the AirBART buses work pretty well (I used them on numerous occasions when I was an undergrad at UC Berkeley, although that was 10 years ago).

But I really hate it when HSR pitted against other forms of transit. I have said it before and I will say it again - HSR and other mass transit need each other to be successful. It should not and must not be an either/or choice. I don't blame the MTC for being stuck in this position - that blame lies in Sacramento and Washington DC. But we transit advocates need to not fall out along modal lines.

I'd like to propose a solution, one that I don't even know is possible under state law but makes a ton of sense to me. The nine-county SF Bay Area region should implement its own gas tax, which will solely be used to fund public transit. I haven't penciled out the numbers so I don't know exactly what the tax amount should be, but it should be indexed to the price of gas, and not a fixed cent number.

This money would initially be used to backfill the loss of STA funds, and allow the federal stimulus money to go to new transit infrastructure such as Transbay Terminal or BART to OAK. Ultimately the STA funds must be restored by a statewide gas tax increase, but it is much more politically possible to implement a gas tax in the Bay Area first than to try and get the Central Valley and the Southern California exurbs to buy into this (they can be brought on board later, once the 2/3 rule is eliminated).

It's very difficult for folks living in the nine counties to evade the tax, with the possible exception of Gilroy residents who might drive to Hollister to fill up. Most folks will simply pay the increase rather than drive far out of their way to get a cheaper gallon of gas.

I'm not sure if this option has been explored by the MTC and the member counties, but it ought to be. It's a sensible solution that would not only help spare transit agencies from "Armageddon" but would itself be a long overdue policy shift that would give a real boost to transit efforts in the SF Bay Area.

48 comments:

Jim said...

I don't think anyone is gonna go for a tax right now. Oakland doesn't need an airport extension. and the transbay terminal should get the money it needs to be done quickly and properly to get ready for hsr. Local transit agencies such as muni and ac tranist will continue to operate. They may not expand right now, but with this economy, rider ship is going to be down for a while. We'd better do something with the big items now while we have the chance.

Brandon in San Diego said...

MTC has the authority to vet a gas tax increase. The authority was provided to them per California State law; sometime in the past 4-8 years.

I am unsure that that ability is only available to MTC, or to all mpo's in the state.

I have not yet seen the final State budget that was passed; however it appears the loss of State Transit Assistance to operators is $500m to $1 billion. Or, approximately $13 to $26 per capaita per year.

Assuming that there is 1 vehicle per person in the state, which I believe is accurate, and that the average vehicle is driven 15,000 miles per year and gets approximately 20 mpg, an additional gas tax of $0.0175 to $0.035 per gallon would make up the difference of $500m to $1 billion loss of STA funds.

Of course, this is a general number and could be thrown off substantially if one or two of my assumptions are marginally off.

---

Concerning the LaHood announcment... fantastic news to see this mentioned. It had been mentioned previously that annual budget allocations would be provided for HSR, however, it's gratifiying to see that news re-iterated.

Additionally, so is the funds discretionary funds apportioned to the DOT that will go to HSR.

It's my hope that MPO's, like the one in San Diego (SANDAG) and local leaders will take note and revisit local transportation funding decisions and decide on a greater commitment to HSR. I believe the SANDAG Regional Transportation Plan currenlty includes $100 million for HSR.

Anonymous said...

However, its too bad the California High Speed Rail Authority is proving themselves to be incompetent hacks. La Hood and Obama have promised quite a bit of transparency in the use of federal monies, wonder if this will curb their enthusiasm about throwing money at CHSRA?

http://www.lao.ca.gov/analysis_2009/transportation/trans_anl09004008.aspx

(California Legislative Analyst Office 2009-2010 Budget Analyiss Series - High Speed Rail Authority)

Andrew said...

Well, I'm glad the Obama administration has finally decided to come out in full support of HSR, at least in words. Let's hope they go the full length with it.

BruceMcF said...

If those numbers are in the right ballpark, $0.02/gallon would seem a good gas tax rate.

But it certainly should not be a rate base on the price of gas ... it should, rather, be indexed to the GDP deflator, adding $0.001 per gallon whenever the overall rate of inflation justifies it.

Eric said...

It would appear that the Merc is not doing fact-checking? MTC issued an updated proposal (I describe the details of the latest proposal in this post) that deletes the $75 million transit formula allocation to HSR. In the latest version, $70 million for OAC is the only money not allocated to transit operators. (OAC is far from a pressing need, and private partners have already abandoned the project.) TTC station box funds would come from the $8B stimulus allocation.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Thanks for that point, Eric. I just updated the post to reflect that information.

Matt said...

I don't live in the bay area, but I have used the shuttle connecting the airport to BART and I thought it was quick and easy. I don't see the need in pouring money into a spur to connect the airport.

bossyman15 said...

yeah if the bus from oak airport to bart works very well then the money would be better used for Bart to San Jose instead.

Abe said...

I'm sure this has been discussed before, but I'm surprised that a gas tax is being employed right now to pay for HSR- earlier last year, I believe it was New Jersey that had to cut some transit services because the gas tax that paid for the services was not raking in what it used to- high gas prices surged ridership on the system, but as people were buying less gas and riding transit more, the transit system ironically couldn't support itself! Talk about sustainability...

But LaHood news is just what we needed to hear- 8 billion is historic for this country, but honestly, in real world terms, it could build us maybe 50 miles of true HSR?

Andre Peretti said...

If you allow a French point of view, I think the only project that should get HSR funds is the CHSR. The other projects, with trains planned to run at speeds "up to 110 mph" come 50 years too late and won't take anybody out of their cars or out of the planes.
"Up to 100 mph" was the speed of the SNCF "rapides" 50 years ago. They were successful until France's highways and local airlines began to develop. As ridership began to decrease studies showed that if trains were just a bit faster than cars people would always prefer their cars. The SNCF concluded that trains had to be a lot faster. So fast that driving or flying from Lyon to Paris would make no sense. Hence the TGV.
As the Americans are at least as attached to their cars as the French, I don't imagine them flocking to ride trains that won't bring them back home significantly earlier after a day's work.
As the only project deserving to be called "high speed", CHSR should be massively financed so that it can be built quickly and well. The rest of the country will then see what high speed rail really is, and decide knowingly whether they want it or not.

Brandon in San Diego said...

Andre Peretti,
I am in agreement with you. Unfortunately, The Feds lowered the speed as a political compromise to allow more elligible applicants. I hope the decision can be revisited... or at least... higher spped systems recieve more points when competing with each other for limited funds.

--

Concerning the update... it seems to me that the CHSRA should be the only agency permitted to apply for Federal HSR funds for the California system. The Transbay group seems to be going around the CHSRA... unless of course, CHSRA is providing support to their effort?

Transbay Anon said...

The TJPA and the CHSRA are working on a MOU that's on the agenda for the March CHSRA meeting. Transbay will be the San Francisco stop, so it's not like they're stealing from CHSRA. TJPA, Caltrain and CHSRA are all in this together.

It's too bad that the LA folks couldn't get the LAUS run through tracks funded with stimulus money.

yeson1a said...

I agree with Andre's point of view
only that its not workable at this point in the USA..Were lucky we have got this far.The only way CAHSR moves forward with lots of federal support is to back all of theses 110mph systems.At this time most of these states dont want to cough up the real money needed for true HST .Yes I hope our project moves forward ASAP and a stable fund is found for its on time opening

Anonymous said...

Andre, excellent point, and it's a perfect time for CHSRA supporters to admit for once and for all that the SF to SJ segment can only run at an average speed of 100mph. In many places will run MUCH slower than 100mph, and only in a few will push 110.

Realize, SF to SJ will be redundant (with electrified Caltrain that will connect effortless to the REAL HSR line), and will be frivolous waste of money that will suck resources and the public's good will toward HSR projects.

A boondogle to satisfy a few local politicians overblown egos.

Any REAL HSR supporters, and REAL democrats (ala Obama's promise of time for change from politics as usual), will come to their senses, do the REAL right thing and fight to get CHSR done between LA and SJ, and save resources for improved local transit solutions North of SJ, that can smoothly and seamlessly someday deliver passengers to HSR in SJ and REALLY get people out of their cars.

yeson1a said...

NO ANNO thats not what he is talking about!! he is talking about the Midwest routes..Gee can you imaging IF HSR was running 220mph thru your little town. listen to the whining now..now 100-110mph is fine thru beautiful MenloPark and that should be NO problem at all right?..why does it matter if its a HS train or caltrain? its still going to travel at that speed
And NO its going all the way to San Francisco..so deal with it

JimS said...

@the last anonymous poster:

Even if the trains only go 100mph on the peninsula (I'm not convinced), they still have the massive time savings of express service, and, most importantly, a no transfer ride.

To put it in aircraft terms (since many anti-train folks seem to understand these) -- how many people would fly from LAX to SFO if they had a layover, switching planes in SJC? Here's a hint -- they wouldn't do it. They'd either get a ticket from an airline with a direct flight, or they'd drive or van/taxi from SJC to the city.

Making people switch trains at Diridon is a surefire way to kill off much of the San Francisco-bound traffic.

BruceMcF said...

Andre Peretti, the question is, simply, how many people live in cities how far apart in time by train.

New York to Chicago would not be a serious competitor with air travel at 110mph ... and, indeed, there's no way to get from the Bay to the LA Basin at 110mph ...

... but Cleveland / Columbus, Cleveland / Cincinnati, Columbus / Cincinnati are excellent routes for 110mph.

The fact that in US legislation, both classes of rail are called High Speed Rail is just the kind of thing you get used to with a country the geographic size of the US ... there are different circumstances in different parts of the country, and the solution for one region is not automatically the solution for another region.

Spokker said...

"Realize, SF to SJ will be redundant (with electrified Caltrain that will connect effortless to the REAL HSR line), and will be frivolous waste of money that will suck resources and the public's good will toward HSR projects."

I will give you a personal example of how transfers can kill a commute.

I am much less likely to take mass transit to work because of too many transfers. Here's how.

In order to get to work today I would have to take a 40 minute train ride to Los Angeles, then transfer to the subway for a 15 minute ride, then transfer to a bus for a 15-20 minute ride (depending on time of day) for a total travel time of about an hour and a half, two hours door-to-door.

If they had extended the subway I transfer to as was originally planned, I would be much more likely to take mass transit to work because it eliminates a transfer, and it much, much faster than a bus on one of the busiest streets in LA. If the subway was built as originally planned, it would shave 25-30 minutes off my mass transit commute.

I don't think an HSR->Caltrain transfer would be the end of the world, but it would be a detriment to what we are trying to do to passenger rail in California.

Anonymous said...

@ Anon 5:48

One of the stupidest posts I've seen, and I'm not even a train fanatic here like some. Any time you make someone transfer you're going to drastically lower ridership potential. I believe in France and much of Europe, high speed trains run not just on high speed lines, but continue on normal or upgraded (but not true high speed) tracks in order to save customers needing to transfer from HSR to local trains to reach popular destinations.

Only in California would we spend tens of billions of dollars on a state of the art HSR system and have it end about 50 miles short of where most people want it to go. Heck, why not just build HSR from only Stockton to Bakersfield---that would be so cheap!---and have people transfer to a bus to get to LA. That would save a lot of money too!

If HSR doesn't allow for a one-seat-ride from Union Station/downtown LA to downtown San Francisco there's no point in even bothering to build it.

Andrew said...

@Andre:

That would be great, but the federal government has to at least try to balance the needs and wants of all 50 states, not just California. The rest of the country would be crying foul if we got all of the funding.

@anon 5:48:

I'm getting pretty tired of your act. No one is going to want to transfer to Caltrain at SJ.

Fred Martin said...

Who says you would have to transfer in San Jose if only the planned Caltrain upgrades are implemented on the Peninsula??? HSR trains could still continue on to San Francisco with the basic $600M Caltrain electrification project. The speeds would only be slightly slower (if at all), so perhaps CHSRA should be spending its political and financial capital on higher priorites, like getting over mountain ranges and actually getting into the SF financial district.

One has to seriously consider whether the billions proposed for grade separations (and the option of a subway that could easily bankrupt the entire project) on the Peninsula are worth the very modest time savings.

Quentin Kopp pushed for BART going directly into SFO on the idea that riders would never tolerate a transfer at a proposed BART-Caltrain-AirportPeoplemover-FutureHSR intermodal terminal at the edge of the airport, and what a bloody mess his design is now. Guess what, that design has screwed up HSR's access to SFO, and the Millbrae-SFO tracks have even been abandoned. How on earth did Kopp become chairman of CHSRA after that mess???

Andrew said...

@Fred Martin:

The grade separations would be very beneficial from a safety and auto traffic point of view even if it were just Caltrain using them.

As for BART to SFO, going straight to the terminal was a sound idea, but the Millbrae intermodal was not. They should've extended the AirTrain out to Millbrae or another Caltrain station instead. And they should have forced San Mateo county to pay for burying the entire thing in a subway.

Brandon in San Diego said...

In jest...

The ironic thing about Anon 5:48's comment is that he believes HSR trains will run at or below 100mmph along the penninsula.

If that is the case, why are they opposed to HSR? Isn't the speed the main concern? And if they are running at speeds similar to Caltrain, what is the big deal?

Frequency... gee, the locals have no standing on that concerns one iota.

Brandon in San Diego said...

Bottomline, Anon 5:48 is a troll.

arcady said...

If we're discussing priorities for which HSR corridor should be built first,may I recommend LA-Bakersfield? It's a pretty busy corridor, and could really use a rail link. And if you have a 1 hour travel time to LA, that's a 7 hour trip from Oakland to LA, which is already faster than any bus.

Anonymous said...

No, the speed is not the main objection. The impact of putting more trains and traffic, and disrupting whole towns in ways the proponents refuse to acknowledge, where no trains are actually needed to serve the HSR objective, is the main issue.

Spokker, thanks for illustrating how broken the overal transit system is in California and why HSR won't get people out of cars.

By the way, what % of HSR traffic from SF to LA is planned non-stop? News flash, people would be taking the HSR for a fast ride to LA. They're not going to stay on a local stop train past SJ anyway. MOST people who get on HSR between SF and SJ will already transfer at SJ in order to get on express trains from SJ to LA. (Otherwise, rather defeats the whole purpose of HSR - to get on a train that keeps stopping.)

Now, we heard all kinds of gushing over how easy it is to board a train versus a plane (your luggage stays with you on the train, there magically no security worries, etc. etc. Rafael is convinced a train unboards and reboards within 15 minutes! So really, you expect us now to believe that stepping off a Caltrain at Diridon, and stepping on to an express HSR at Diridon (probably a 3 minute walk, certainly will NOT require bus transfers, or other forms of transit in between). You expect us to believe this is a big enough concern to spend untold billions to cram an slow moving HSR line parallel to Caltrain?

C'mon. Have you ever seen Wall-E? The argument about the huge detriment of transfering trains at Diridon brings to mind the fat citizens on conveyer belts being transported through life in a laying down position.

Really, Diridon can't be designed to accomodate easy and convenient Caltrain to HSR transfers?

bossyman15 said...

anon @ 9:22am

even if HSR goes all way to SF people who live in city HSR don't serve will still use caltrain to transter to HSR at one of 3 or 4 station.

Jim said...

One thing that everyone overlooks in these comments is that this isn't just about sf to la. The bigegest benefit of hsr isn't sf to la which can be done by air, but the fact that this is tying in the central valley to the urban cores. FNO -SF FNO -LA and so forth. I know that we all tend not to think anyone wants to go to fresno. But Fresno, is a big and failry important part of the state, dead center in the heart of what is still are biggest industry, agriculture. Most californians - ( with teh exception of newcomers) have family in the valley, and the biggest benefit of hsr is the cutting of travel time between the valley and the bay and the valley and LA. So to cut it off at san jose would not only cut out sf-la ridership, but would greatly cut into the valley/bay ridership. If we are going to spend the billions to do this thing we are going to to it right. To build a major new system such as this and not have it connect union station with transbay terminal, would make us the laughing stock of the world transit community. its out of the question, period end of story. and menlo park and atherton are going to have to get over themselves. You aren't as extra sepcial as you think you are and the rest of california has had it with stuck up bitches like you getting in the way. YOu are not that important and no one cares about your tree.

Rafael said...

@ robert cruickshank -

I think your idea of a local gas surtax has merit, especially as a way to secure a fairly reliable source of subsidies for local and regional public transit operations.

The logic of that is quite straightforward: people who use transit to get to work do not clog the highways during rush hour. Thus, there is an immediate tangible benefit for motorists in the form of managing congestion. In many places, there is very limited or zero room for adding traffic lanes at reasonable cost (or at all).

I could see something similar in parts of SoCal. Differential total gas tax rates across the state are also fair to residents of rural communities, where alternatives to driving will always be fewer and further between.

@ anon @ 5:48, Fred Martin -

HSR express trains will be traveling at 125mph in most of the peninsula. Reducing top speed without adding several minutes to the SF-SJ line haul time would require numerous sharp curves in the Caltrain alignment to be eliminated via eminent domain takings, e.g. in San Bruno.

After electrification, Caltrain's baby bullets will still take 20 minutes longer for SF-SJ than express HSR trains. The service levels are not comparable.

Add to that the issues of mixxed traffic. FRA currently prohibits non-compliant trains (e.g. proven, efficient, off-the-shelf bullet train designs) to share track with FRA-compliant trains, unless it issues a waiver or "rule of special applicability".

Both are hard to come by, as the FRA has been much more inclined to supported the dog that is rail freight than the tail that is the remaining passenger service.

There is every reason to believe that Caltrain will get its waiver to operate a mix of legacy FRA-compliant diesel trains (running out to Gilroy) and new non-compliant EMU equipment for SF-SJ. This is necessary both because SF-SJ will be electrified first and, because some Caltrain services will still have to terminated at 4th & King anyhow once the new SFTT is built.

The small number of UPRR freight trains in the peninsula will not present a problem, especially now that HR 2095 anyhow mandates the implementation of active safety measures such as PTC (positive train control) to massively reduce the risk of train-on-train collisions.

Likewise, FRA probably won't have much of a problem with letting Caltrain baby bullets (to be based on non-compliant EMUs) running at top speeds of 90mph use HSR track to pass by slower Caltrain locals.

However, all of that is a far cry from letting HSR and UPRR trains share track. Given the new administration's focus on high-speed passenger service, there may be a re-organization at FRA so it defines a regulatory pathway toward making mixed traffic possible in certain situations. However, neither Caltrain nor CHSRA can afford to make that assumption in the ongoing planning work.

That means four tracks all the way down the peninsula it is for now, even if just two tracks plus sufficient bypass tracks plus modifications to the intended service levels might provide sufficient capacity for e.g. the first decade of operations. Beyond that, actual ridership data - as opposed to more or less rosy predictions - would determine if full quad-tracking were needed.

However, the grade separations would still need to be built such that expanding to four tracks would be possible without any changes to the cross roads or you'd end up with lots of San Carlos situations. While laying additional tracks and running OCS for them does cost money, the bulk of the spending will be on grade separation.

yeson1a said...

Menlo Park/Atherton in general is disliked by most of the Bay Area.
So anno dont make it any worse by your small group of hyper-senstive
group..The Bond PASSED in Menlo Park so stop trying to paint your city with your opinion. The cool headed people of Menlo Park will work with CAHSR and find a good design..look at some of the nice crossing in the link

mike said...

anon @ 9:22

First, nobody has ever claimed that HSR would average more than 100 mph on the Peninsula. SJ to SF is 48 miles. A 30 minute run from SJ to SF means an average speed of 96 mph. Do. The. Math.

Second, you can't have it both ways. On the one hand, you claim that your real concern is "the impact of putting more trains and traffic [on the Peninsula]." On the other hand, you claim that "HSR won't get people out of cars." Guess what, if HSR doesn't get people out of cars, then there won't be many additional trains on the Peninsula. The HSR operator is not going to run 100 empty trains everyday if people aren't riding them.

Either HSR will be a success, in which case the Peninsula will see the increased train traffic that you worry about, or HSR will be a failure, in which case you won't have to worry about that big increase in train traffic. However, you cannot argue that both things will come true (at least, not if you want anyone to take you seriously). You must pick one or the other.

Brandon in San Diego said...

High Five to Mike.

I do not live in on the penninsula; however I often cross RR tracks and have lived near them in the past. I would truely love to have a separated grade rather than wait at crossings and have horn blasts in my ears.. heard for miles around.

HSR is something the pennisula should get behind. Stakeholders should not take a path of trying to throw out the baby with the bath water because they don't like the ethnicity that baby. Or in this case, elevated track.

Anonymous said...

"if HSR doesn't get people out of cars, then there won't be many additional trains on the Peninsula. The HSR operator is not going to run 100 empty trains everyday if people aren't riding them"

Great point. Then why build them?

Its certainly true that they are putting some bulging wildly made up Peninsula ridership on paper to prop up their revenue numbers solely to get the thing built at all. They don't need the trains, they won't have the riders.

However, based on the EIR/EIS (which is what voters approved), their OWN prediction are for FAR more trains, between Caltrain and HSR than just Caltrain alone. The BUILDING of the additional tracks, and the stations, and the auto traffic patterns impacts of enticing auto traffic inward into these communities -are what bring the damage. Along with the trains themselves.

I have no doubt that CHRSA volume on paper is completely ludicrous. Yet that's what the bond measure 1A is approved on - are you suggesting now we shouldn't believe it?

When I said HSR won't get people out of cars -what that means is that people may come to HSR OR may come to an airport for their trip to LA, but THEY ARE COMING TO EITHER via CAR. There is NO mass transit solution to bring them to HSR stations. (Sure they can get a taxi or some other kind of auto based ride - (even worse polution-wise than driving their own car door to door) - and if they're really SUPER motivated they figure out some complicated bus configuration - see spokkers post for a great illustration of why mass transit around here is not a sustainable reality.

HSR supporters are living in la la land version of a utopian society where everyone is walking out their door, stepping on conveyer belts, or hopping on people movers, or some massive web of little electric shuttle busses or something (? god only knows what - because whatever it is, its not there today, and its CERTAINLY not funded)... to get to where they need go.

Viable mass transit in California's communities is not a reality. HSR doesn't get a single person out of their cars. Trains only go in strait lines. In California cities that are spread out - people need to drive to get to the station, they need to drive when they get off. And there is no funding for any mass transit to serve this wacked out HSR vision.

HSR brings more cars, more traffic, more congenstion, to more neighborhoods. It just makes everything worse for the impacted cities, including pollution and CO2emmissions for everyone except the guy sitting on the train.

Airports are located on outskirts of cities and towns, with quick access off freeways. Not in the middle of suburban neighborhoods.

HSR has the bright idea of building their stations in the middle of neighborhoods that will -no matter how little or how big you believe ridership will be - WILL draw more traffic into neighborhoods.

It doesn't make even a tiny bit of sense. If you were suggesting stations located on freeway exits, perhaps next to airports, or othe REAL (not invented) transportation hubs, we'd have something reasonable to discuss.

Brandon in San Diego said...

Anon 12:27pm:

" "if HSR doesn't get people out of cars, then there won't be many additional trains on the Peninsula. The HSR operator is not going to run 100 empty trains everyday if people aren't riding them" "

"Great point. Then why build them?Why build them?"

Because:
1) Decades of experience elsewhere say they will carry people.
2) 10 years of studies and planning efforts say they will carry people.
3) California voters approved the project, including $10b in bonds despite news of the economic collapse.

That is why.

My humble recommendation is that your efforts try and seek commonalities with CHSRA and areas of mutual agreement. Work on those areas to seek improvements to teh system to mitigate some of your concerns. Work 'with' others versus against others.

I keep being thinking of baby analogies, and I do not have a baby, but if you're unhappy with the the stink of a toddler messing his diaper, try removing the sandpaper from his forehead and take a wipe to its bottom. There... there you have common interests.

mike said...

Great point. Then why build them?

Why are you worried if you don't think people will ride it? The only reason to worry about big increases in train traffic is if you believe deep down that it will be a big success. In which case you are being completely disingenuous in all your claims that it will be a boondoggle/white elephant/whatever.

The BUILDING of the additional tracks, and the stations, and the auto traffic patterns impacts of enticing auto traffic inward into these communities -are what bring the damage.

The City of Atherton believes that electrification and 4 tracks will be built regardless of whether HSR is built or not. I personally think they're crazy, but whatever. You might want to talk to them given that they are co-plaintiffs with your city.

Yet that's what the bond measure 1A is approved on - are you suggesting now we shouldn't believe it?

No, you are.

Again, you need to pick your story and stick with it. You can't have it both ways. Do you or do you not think it will be successful?

Airports are located on outskirts of cities and towns, with quick access off freeways. Not in the middle of suburban neighborhoods.


In a perfect world we would like to locate them in the middle of cities, but they take up far too much room. Fortunately train stations take up much less room, and so they can provide direct service the center of the town or city.

HSR has the bright idea of building their stations in the middle of neighborhoods that will

They're planning to build either in Palo Alto or Redwood City. If Palo Alto makes it clear that they do not want it, then Redwood City seems much more amenable to have all the additional business traffic that the station will bring.

If you were suggesting stations located on freeway exits

You mean like Millbrae (US 101) and Transbay Terminal (I 80)?

perhaps next to airports

You mean like Millbrae (SFO)?

REAL (not invented) transportation hubs

You mean like Millbrae (BART/SamTrans/Caltrain) or Transbay Terminal (BART/MUNI/AC Transit/Samtrans/Golden Gate Transit)?

Yeah, all that is pretty much being done.

Jim said...

There's just no way bay area residents are going to vote to tax themselves further right now.

Jim said...

@anon "Viable mass transit in California's communities is not a reality. HSR doesn't get a single person out of their cars"
REally that would be news to caltrans then:

"Quarterly ridership gains for Capitol Corridor trains were 11.5 percent, 7.1 percent for the San Joaquins. and 4.6 percent for Pacific Surfliners Of particular note is the growth on the Amtrak California San Joaquins, posting monthly increases of 13.1 percent and 11.3 percent in November and December respectively. California’s three intercity passenger rail lines are the second (Pacific Surfliner), third (Capitol Corridor) and sixth (San Joaquins) busiest in the nation."

Fred Martin said...

Rafael, HSR express trains will be traveling UP TO 125mph on the Peninsula. The average speed will considerably less, especially with any stops. CHSRA will offer relatively few non-stop expresses between SF and SJ. Most HSR trains will be making time-sapping stops. For instance, CHSRA estimates that its trains stopping twice between SF and SJ (Millbrae and Redwood City/Palo Alto) will take 38 minutes. Even the current slow-accelerating Baby Bullet equipment with only two intermediate stops could do this run in less than 50 minutes. An electrified Caltrain with light EMUs with only two intermediate stops could certainly replicate HSR service levels. That's the great folly of blowing billions on grade separations on the Peninsula route: the planned Caltrain upgrades are all HSR trains really need to operate effectively on the Peninsula. Passing tracks at stations could handle any capacity increases, just like the Shinkansen.

As for what little freight is actually moved on the Peninsula line these days, it could easily be handled at night. Four-tracking would be a luxury but certainly not an necessity. Frankly, I think the stated desire to handle freight at all times is a straw-man to "compel" all this unnecessary, redundant construction.

As for safety, basic fencing along the ROW would really help, and FRA's "impenetrable barriers" would be a significant upgrade over the current flimsy crossings. Grade separation is not going to stop certain crazy people throwing junk or themselves onto the tracks.

CHSRA has limited funds for the scale of this total endeavor, so it needs to focus on its priorities.

Rafael said...

@ Fred Martin -

I think the frequency at which the different HSR service levels will be offered are still subject to change. As a strawman, CHSRA has suggested that its express (SF-SJ-LA), semi-express (some stops), semi-local (most stops) and local trains (all stops) would each represent approx. 25% of total trains.

They have not yet spelled out what that would mean in the SF-SJ peninsula. There is no point in duplicating Caltrain service, especially because CHSRA doesn't want to run long-distance trains with lots of empty seats south of San Jose. I therefore expect that Caltrain and CHSRA still need to stick their heads together on how each service is going to impact the service levels offered by the other and, the associated fares - especially during rush hour.

Wrt hardened grade crossings, it is a concept I have suggested is legally possible under FRA ruls for the speed classifications that will be used in the peninsula corridor.

However, given the relatively high trains per hour count (min. 8-10 aggregate in each direction to begin with, more likely later on), such crossings would be closed at least 40% of the time during rush hour. That means retaining grade crossings would anyhow only be viable for secondary cross roads and then only if there were always-open under- or overpasses for pedestrians and cyclists.

Any existing grade crossings of primary cross roads will need to be fully separated one way or another regardless, based solely on the increased number of trains that will be running.

Fred Martin said...

I would agree with a key grade separation here and there and to straighten out certain curves, but I worry that CHRSA is not motivated to complete this project in a cost-effective and time-effective manner. Realistically, CHSRA will only have about $25 billion in total to spend, and that's assuming the feds are very generous.

My darkest fear is that CHSRA's main incentive is to hand out fat construction contracts to its political friends, and once the money's gone, party's over! HSR can work, but the planning effort to date is lacking.

In practice, I think most HSR trains will be stopping at both Millbrae/SFO(with the terrible two-plus-transfer connection to the airport) and Redwood City/Palo Alto in order to pick up the all-important regional traffic. The regional traffic is where most of the riders will be, and the downtown SF to downtown LA market is not nearly as big as many think. CHSRA claims to start service on the Peninsula in 2015 (which it could do by 2013 by relying just on the Caltrain upgrades, which are also being upheld by CHSRA planning), so CHSRA trains will certainly be making all stops until the route to LA is completed. These tunnels through the mountains will be the real project challenge, and I do worry that CHSRA will run out of money before ever getting to the mountains.

Alon Levy said...

Fred, for HSR services, typically most traffic is intercity, not regional. For example, on the Tokaido Shinkansen, the most common service levels are Hikari (semi-express) and Nozomi (express). The local Kodama trains are less common, and often run only a portion of the route, for example Tokyo to Nagoya rather than the full Tokyo to Osaka service. The stops the Nozomi and Hikari skip just don't have the ridership to sustain higher levels of service.

Rafael said...

@ Fred Martin -

until and unless FRA says so, non-compliant bullet trains simply cannot run on tracks that are also used by legacy FRA-compliant freight and passenger diesel trains. Your suggestion is based on the assumption that FRA will relax decades-old safety rules for a 50-mile corridor.

That might be possible, but only with substantial train control upgrades to both infrastructure and legacy locomotives. FRA, a federal agency charged with rail safety, does not want to set a poor precedent wrt to train-on-train collision risks. In particular, it currently sees itself as working primarily on behalf of rail freight operators. The Obama administration is going to have to reorganize FRA and reformulate its charter before a regulatory path toward rapid rail can become a regular rule rather than a super-special waiver.

As for CHSRA running out of cash, any project this large is constantly beset by financial worries. On the other hand, a country that doesn't flinch at a $500 billion defense budget can afford to bore some railroad tunnels. It's a question of priorities, of political will, not one of a lack of funds.

Brandon in San Diego said...

Fred wrote:

"My darkest fear is that CHSRA's main incentive is to hand out fat construction contracts to its political friends, and once the money's gone, party's over! "

Regardless of the project I believe a lot of people have concerns just like this, or they are similar.

To alleviate this concern... responsible agencies should provide as transparent as possible the process used to select vendors and/or products.

But, the responsibility belongs to all of us. It's up to individuals to participate and follow the actions taken by those agencies and keep them in check. They are teh stewards of OUR funding... they are not kings.

That said, I do not feel it is fair to responsible agencies for people to sit on the sidelines and only have the energy to criticise this or that without proper knowledge.

I don't want to begrudge the GOP twice in the same day, but there feels some truth to the observation that the GOP is no longer in control and we have a president speaking to the very same thing... transparency in government.

I am therefore much more confident today than yesterday that inproprieties will not take place. And, I was already positive!

Fred Martin said...

I do believe FRA currently allows freight and non-compliant passenger trains to use the same tracks, if the freight is 'quarantined' to certain designated hours, such as late at night. This is easily doable on the Peninsula. SMART is dealing with this issue right now.

Anyway, I do believe FRA rule reform is coming -- it was always a silly, counter-productive rule -- because these rule changes will be necessary to build certain HSR systems. Integrating regular Amtrak services with some HSR routes will be desirable as well.

Spokker said...

"Spokker, thanks for illustrating how broken the overal transit system is in California and why HSR won't get people out of cars."

LA County just passed a measure that will supposedly provide funds for the completion of the subway line I mentioned. The mayor is also campaigning hard in DC for more subway funds.

Let me add that the reasons for that glaring oversight in my commute are largely political. If we can jump over political hurdles mass transit will work in California.

Rafael said...

@ Fred Martin -

strict time separation is the one and only way FRA currently permits mixed traffic. But that's like the Catholic church suggesting the rhythm method. What's needed is modern active safety approach to replace antiquated notions of superlative buff strength that's cheap for freight rail but very expensive for passenger service.

As for Amtrak sharing track with HSR, I presume you're talking about the San Joaquins. In the Central Valley, HSR trains will be running at 220mph so what you are suggesting is not possible there. The speed differential is just too great.

Besides, FRA-compliant legacy locomotives and rolling stock would cause excessive wear and tear on the HSR track, which comes with a strict limit of 17 metric tons axle load.

In other parts of the country, e.g. Ohio, Amtrak may very well be the rapid rail operator just as it is in the NEC. Butexcept for a few short sections, we're talking about top speeds of 90-125mph here - much closer to the 79mph permitted for commuter and freight rail.

Fred Martin said...

Yes, strict time separation is currently allowed by FRA, currently being ignored by CHSRA planning.

The original FRA rule applied to a time when many wooden cars were still in operation, and they did crumple like matchsticks in a crash. Also, rail operators wanted a standard of sturdy equipment to handle being bounced about in railyards. It's certainly a legacy rule, and the Europeans have been far more innovative with safety. We now understand that HSR trains are safer when they dynamically absorb impact throughout the train, as opposed to being crushed in a steel box.

On the Peninsula, I can see Amtrak returning some of its coastal service to SF, which of course was the traditional SF-LA run for decades. In the Midwest, mixing of services should be commonplace.