Friday, February 13, 2009

A Statement From Harry Reid's Office

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

NOTICE: The Blogger service temporarily acted up and failed to include the most recent post correctly on this blog's home page. Our apologies for any inconvenience.

UPDATE: MSNBC reports that both houses of Congress have now passed the conference version of the stimulus bill, it is now on its way to the President's desk. The Senate extended its voting hours to allow Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) to return from his mother's funeral. His was the deciding 60th vote since Sen. Kennedy (D-MA), who is battling brain cancer, was too frail to risk a second trip to Washington.

Republican support came from Sen. Collins (R-ME), Sen. Snowe (R-ME) and Sen. Specter (R-PA) who broke ranks rather than drown the global economy in a bathtub. Fortunately, the brouhaha surrounding the $8 billion for HSR did not change their minds. Check out Rachel Maddow's interview with Ray LaHood on this topic.

Still, it would be nice if the courts in Minnesota finally confirmed Al Franken (D) as the winner of that extremely close Senate race. At least the court case is now turning in his favor.



The ink is not yet dry on the compromise version of the stimulus bill that was hashed out in conference. The House and Senate still have to give their final approval before the President can sign it on Monday. As we discussed yesterday, this final version boosted Amtrak and HSR capital projects funding while cutting that for brand-new transit systems.

Yesterday, an Associated Press report on the conference result included a paragraph that has sent the blogosphere into a tizzy:
"In late-stage talks, Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., pressed for $8 billion to construct high-speed rail lines, quadrupling the amount in the bill that passed the Senate on Tuesday.

Reid's office issued a statement noting that a proposed Los Angeles-to-Las Vegas rail might get a big chunk of the money."
Predictably enough, the right wingnut faction of the Interwebs (e.g. Michelle Malkin) immediately decried this as a last-minute earmark. Under normal circumstances, I wouldn't pay any attention to such partisan diatribes. However, the fate of the entire stimulus bill rests on the votes of just three Republican Senators. If any two of them were to get cold feet on Monday, using this fake controversy as an excuse, HSR funding could get cut just to save the rest of the bill.

Unfortunately, perception is reality, so we need to fix this misperception:

a) I was unable to find a copy of this alleged statement on Sen. Reid's official website. Perhaps it was just a verbal comment, but everyone else is simply referring to the wire service as their source.

b) The full text of the conference report on the bill contains the final passage related to High Speed Rail. Please refer to pp237 of the full text of Division A and p82 of the Joint Explanatory Statement for Division A.

The latter refers to HR 2095 (110th) as the basis of the High Speed Passenger Rail program. That bill was passed last November and included $1.5 billion for capital projects in corridors where passenger trains could reasonably be expected to reach speeds of at least 110mph (see Title V). It also specifically enumerated the eleven officially designated HSR corridors:


(click to expand image)

Evidently, Las Vegas to Southern California is currently not a designated corridor and therefore not eligible for any of the $8 billion reserved for HSR in the stimulus bill. However, existing laws give the Secretary of Transportation the authority to modify existing and designate new corridors.

c) Neither HR2095 (110th) nor the stimulus bill explicitly allocates HSR funding to any one corridor, whether designated or not. Instead, the bills spell out a process for DOT to make a decision based on competitive tenders. There is no earmark here.

d) The compromise version of the stimulus bill, formally "The American Recovery and Re-Investment Act of 2009", does raise the amount available for HSR projects to $8 billion, available through Sep 30, 2012. The generous timeframe reflects the fact that HSR is part of the re-investment aspect of the bill. It will have a stimulative effect right away in terms of planning, environmental reviews and preliminary engineering work. The California project involves the construction of brand-new tracks that will support true non-compliant bullet trains at speeds of up to 220mph. Certain other corridors, notably the NEC, may be able to break ground earlier if the officials responsible for them decide to make do with upgrades of existing alignments.

Nevertheless, it is quite incorrect to insinuate that any extra money for HSR was snuck into the bill at the last moment as part of some shady deal between Sen. Reid and Speaker Pelosi. Rather, the $8 billion figure came about as follows:

  • $2 billion allocated to "Fixed Guideway Infrastructure" in the House version were targeted more narrowly at HSR in the Senate version.
  • $2.5 billion at the discretion of the Secr. of Transportation was increased to $5.5 billion in the Senate version and targeted more narrowly at HSR in conference.
  • $0.5 bilion was added for each of Amtrak and HSR in conference, but the amount allocated to brand-new transit systems was cut by a greater amount.

Ergo, the bulk of the increase for HSR between the Senate and conference versions of the bill is a result of Congress making a policy decision rather than giving the administration a lot of leeway, given that there was too little time to spell out a fair arbitration process between highway, aviation and rail spending. Some may disagree with the preference for HSR, but there's nothing sinister about the process that led to this result.

Conclusion: the statement allegedly issued by Sen. Reid's office reflects a political ambition rather than legal reality.

Personally, I think HSR from Las Vegas to Southern California is an idea worth pursuing in the context of a broader, national review of the designated HSR corridors. The last one occurred in 2002 and FRA's map is out of date. However, any actual award of federal funds from any bill should IMHO come with the following strings attached:

  1. Rather than create a brand-new one, Las Vegas should be added as a new destination within the existing California corridor. This would then be renamed e.g. the Cal-Nev corridor. In practice, that would boil down to operating steel wheels electric bullet trains instead of incompatible magnetic levitation technology. There is no need for any part of California to be served by more than one HSR system.

  2. The simplest option would be a spur to Las Vegas via Barstow, originating near the town of Mojave. There would be no stops between Palmdale (or Bakersfield) and Las Vegas.

    A more complex alternative would be a line from LA Union Station to Las Vegas via Ontario airport and Cajon Pass, with a future spur to San Diego originating near Colton. In that case, it might make sense to modify the route from Bakersfield to Los Angeles to the I-5 corridor at Grapevine, bypassing Palmdale airport. However, that would require revisiting the geological and environmental reasons that led to a decision in favor of crossing the Garlock fault near Tehachapi.

  3. Since roughly 1/3 of all flights into McCurran airport in Las Vegas originate in cities with or near stations on the future California HSR system, plans for the new Ivanpah Valley relief airport near Primm on the California-Nevada border would have to be shelved. If any relief is needed, either Palmdale or Ontario airport can provide it.

  4. The investors behind the diesel-based DesertXpress project (the official website was down) should be invited to instead participate in a public-private partnership to build a cleaner and much faster electrified system. Parts of the environmental impact study already conducted may still be valid.

  5. If either state requires it, the environmental impact study for any HSR service to Las Vegas should include a feasibility study for also constructing a high-voltage DC power distribution line above or else next to the section between Barstow and the Nevada border. West of Barstow, it should run through Cajon Pass irrespective of the HSR alignment. This infrastructure would be electrically separate from the HSR catenaries except at designated feeder substations. Its purpose would be to transport CO2-neutral electricity (e.g. wind, solar, geothermal, hydro) to population centers in both states.

Bullet trains carrying passengers and/or high-value cargo to and from Las Vegas would relieve traffic on I-15, but any such project would face stiff opposition from anti-gambling advocates as well as Indian gaming interests in California.

36 comments:

Robert Cruickshank said...

Excellent work, Rafael. This is a fantastic post. I was thinking of writing on this today, but saw you were doing a great job at it already.

Remember that to Republicans, passenger rail is pork. Inherently so. Amtrak, light rail, subways, high speed trains, streetcars - to them it's all pork, all a waste of government money, a socialist plot to force the white suburban upper class to get mugged and shot by poor people.

Anonymous said...

The perception is the reality. You can list off the various sources for the $8 billion but no one is going to make that distinction. The fact remains that the comment was apparently made by Reid's office, and he hasn't denied it was made. That's all that matters and that is the reality. Harry Reid seems to believe that his district is entitled to a significant chunk of that money, for a HSR rail project that is far down the list of needy corridors, particularly since HSR rail funding is in its infancy. If that isn't an "earmark" then what is?

For the Senate majority leader to have himself or his office go on record as being hopeful to claim a large chunk of the HSR money is monumentally stupid, considering the concern out there by various factions that the money is being misspent or used as earmarks. That this money can not technically be used for LA-LV HSR is a subtlety that will be lost, besides, who is to say Sen. Reid won't figure out a way to extract the funds regardless? As far as the public is concerned, money should be at minimum going to useful, needy HSR projects, not to a project that just so happens to be in the Senate majority leaders backyard....

If anything happens to the $8 billion, you can blame Harry Reid. The worst thing he could have done was bring unwelcome attention to this otherwise good news of $8 billion funding....and that's exactly what he did.

As a side note, and I imagine this will discount my comments in most readers minds, but some of you might be surprised to find out there are quite a few Republicans that support transit and HSR. It might make more sense to work with people rather than to constantly point the finger of blame. Comments like the one above by the sites author "to Republicans, passenger rail is pork." etc.... are tired and juvenile, and frankly make me less interested in reading this blog. To some Republicans these projects are pork, but to many others no. To have an effective, nationwide HSR and transit network its going to take people from both sides of the aisle working towards this.

Spokker said...

Maglev IS pork.

It was irresponsible of Reid to suggest that the LV project would get any money at this time.

A steel-wheel on steel-rails project to Vegas is a good but it's a long way down on the list of priority projects.

Rafael said...

@ Robert Cruickshank -

I agree with anon @ 2:34pm, not all Republicans are created equal. It's not productive to paint them with quite so broad a brush, especially since Obama will continue to depend on securing at least one or two Republican votes in the Senate on any given piece of legislation until the 2010 midterms.

Rep. Mica (R-FL), for example, was instrumental in getting HSR funding added to HR 2095 last year. Sen. Specter (R-PA) co-sponsored the Kerry HSR bill and will presumably do so again when it is re-introduced in the new session. Gov. Charlie Crist of Florida was standing right next to Pres. Obama when he again endorsed high speed rail during his recent town hall meeting in Fort Myers. Other red or reddish states such as Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, South Carolina, Wyoming and Arizona were all evaluating potential HSR services even before the stimulus bill.

The Republican leadership is currently eager to label anything other than tax cuts as waste and pork in an effort to reposition the GOP as the party of fiscal rectitude. Their credibility on that ought to be well and truly shod, but the US electorate is famously forgetful.

@ anon @ 2:34pm -

an earmark, by definition, is a clause in a bill that allocates a certain amount of taxpayer money to a specific project.

This stimulus bill allocates money to federal programs but actually not to specific projects. Sen. Reid probably does want some of the $8 billion for his pet maglev choo-choo and, he has a lot of clout with the Obama administration. However, so do other politicians.

This is not at all a done deal, nor did the statement made by Sen. Reid's office claim that it was. What they said is that the HSR project to link Las Vegas to SoCal might get a big chunk of that money.

The rules have changed since Obama took office. Eligible projects must now compete for federal grants in a competitive tender process run by his administration. Just how fair and unbiased that process will really be is unknown, but at least the there is the promise of full disclosure.

Bureaucratic processes are often slow but also more thorough and non-partisan. That ought to translate to public documents detailing the administration's reasons for awarding or denying grant applications and, an appeals process of some sort.

Rafael said...

@ Spokker -

now that California has settled on the lower technology risk of steel wheels, maglev to Las Vegas makes a lot less sense to me. However, there may be other projects for which the lower noise levels and higher gradient capabilities of maglev are worth considering.

The US doesn't have an extensive network of legacy tracks that bullet trains can use to reach existing downtown stations. With the exception of the NEC, the country is a blank slate with regard to high speed passenger rail service.

As for priorities, a spur Las Vegas may be well down your list. I suspect that more than a few Californians would disagree with you, because they visit Sin City more often than they cross the Grapevine. Folks in southern Nevada would presumably be thrilled.

That said, I agree that the NEC and the California system in its current state ought to be first in line. However, there's nothing fundamentally wrong with scoping a spur to Las Vegas into phase II, especially if that avoids the construction of a new airport in the desert and includes a segment of Obama's new electric grid.

Therefore, spending some of the stimulus money on an environmental impact study would be appropriate, subject to the constraints discussed in the post. However, that probably translates to less than $100 million, hardly a "big chunk" of $8 billion. Harry's bite is even less impressive than his bark.

Alon Levy said...

Actually, the US has a very good legacy network, consisting of rail lines frozen in time since the 1940s. The cities that would make the most sense for HSR do have good downtown stations. Ironically, California is the main exception, with San Francisco particularly poorly served by intercity rail. I'd say LA-SF would be the best maglev line in the US next to NY-Chicago.

Anonymous said...

@ rafael

I know what an earmark technically is. The only point I was making is that to the average person watching the evening news or CNN or whatever, they'll hear that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid was fighting for $8bln (up from what will be reported as $0 or $2bln) for a fantastical train that runs through his district. The technicalities will be lost and I think that's the point. Its not technically an earmark, but it sure comes across to the average person as one. Reid managed to put HSR funding into the arena of criticism with regards to the stimulus, something which it wasn't (at least prominently) before.

I hope this doesn't jeopardize HSR funding. Since the bill passed the House maybe things are in the clear, but we'll see.

Also, if any of these people had any sense at all they would get on board with a regional HSR network along with California. The fact that they don't might lead one to believe Harry Reid does have some kind of pork-barrel motivation for the LV project. What other reason is there, it just doesn't make sense? Piggybacking on CA-HSR would be much, much cheaper and would allow the possibility of a one-seat-ride to LV from practically anywhere in CA. What's not to like?

Robert Cruickshank said...

Anon, there are maybe one or two Republican elected officials - and that's who I meant in my first comment - who do not oppose HSR. John Mica, Arlen Specter, Arnold Schwarzenegger. That's about it. Maybe Johnny Isakson.

The Republican Party, both in California and in the Congress, is dominated by elected officials who believe that all forms of passenger rail are pork, that transit funding is something to cut instead of embrace. McCain, the party's last presidential nominee, openly boasted of his desire to kill Amtrak. And the Republicans in the House moved a stimulus amendment that would have done precisely that.

I am fully aware that there are some individual Americans who are both registered Republicans and passenger rail supporters. But the party itself - its leaders, its electeds - have made opposition to passenger rail spending a core of their politics.

I'm not going to refrain from calling that out. It's not a few Republicans pushing the "omg Harry Reid wants a pork train!!!" argument, it's a whole lot of them. And it fits their overall method and policy goals.

If elected Republicans want to embrace HSR and passenger rail they're welcome to do so. But I'm not so naive to think that they will just because one blog is nice to them. As I said, opposition to transit spending is a centerpiece of their political agenda. I'm not going to be able to change that.

Rafael said...

@ Alon Levy -

I was referring to non-compliant off-the-shelf bullet trains. FRA rules currently prevent such trains from using legacy tracks and, the Acela Express experience has shown that active tilt and FRA crash safety rules don't mix very well.

@ anon @ 3:51pm -

it is precisely because Joe Average cannot be bothered to read bills and FRA documents that allows right-wing demagogues to grossly misrepresent the situation. Given the poor track record of both parties regarding earmark practices, it is fair to insist that the Obama administration actually prove its commitment to transparency. However, that means withholding judgment rather than reflexive condemnation.

Jim said...

I heard the republicans in the house on cspan today pitch a big hissy fit about 8 billion dollars going to a "sin train" for Harry Ried. They are so full of hyperbole these days ( you know, cuz they lost so bad..) I couldn't believe when I heard them spreading this blatant misinformation. As for HSR to Vegas is there any one alive who can't see that the most common sense approach would be to at a future date, have the spur from Mojave via Barstow to Vegas. Teh damn is there. I am asked every day by passengers.. how they can take the train to vegas. I mean every day. and they are willing to pay more than airfare for a 6 hours train ride and a six hour bus ride to get there from the bay area. So yes there is demand. it should be filled using the same tech, ( standard hsr) and it must ser NORTHERN californians every bit as well as it serves southern Californians which mean a spur no further south than mojave. I would also argue for a stop in Bastow because those poor souls are trapped out there in the middle of no where and its a pretty big place.

Jim said...

Teh damn is there" I meant "the demand is there. "

BBinnsandiego said...

The stimulus money is all about putting people to work. Mr. Reid is just looking out for his constituents, that's what they elected him for. To bring home the jobs.

the problem is that "Las Vagas to Anaheim" isn't a designated high speed corridor. It may have merit as a corridor but so do a lot of other places. They aren't on the map either. Are they going to get money too? If that's the way it works why have a map at all.

When Hoover dam was built they didn't put it in the Senate Majority leader's district. They put it where the studies indicated it should go.

Nothing will sour the electorate's acceptance of HSR funding faster than the perception that the money's been diverted to a low priority corridor for political reasons.

Anonymous said...

I know huh? How dare a few creepy politicians conspire in a backroom to blatantly load this stimulus package up with Billions for a pet project, that is:
A) No where near ready to break ground or create any jobs (other than perhaps for a handful of marketing and PR consultants, a few engineers, and of course the politicians themselves.)
b) Is devoid of any details for design, engineering, or EIR/EIS’s (let alone approvals), to get to ground breaking. In fact years away from viable project level details.
c) Where the only foreseeable market for ridership would be for (frivolous) tourism purposes.
d) Robs other more ready and more worthy transit programs in more needy places, of desperately needed stimulus funding.

It’s shameless! Tsk tsk. Imagine the gall, the nerve, the..
Oh wait a sec.

Rafael said...

@ Jim -

connecting at Mojave would have several benefits:

- connects well to both LA US and Anaheim
- connects well to CV, Bay Area and Sacramento
- least amount of additional track
- avoids a second crossing of the San Andreas fault
- leverages Palmdale airport to relieve McCurran at peak times (e.g. major conventions)

The downside is that it represents a detour for anyone from the Inland Empire and doubly so for San Diegans.

Connecting at Colton would provide a better connection for all of SoCal, at the expense of everyone north of Tehachapi. It would be possible to construct both options, but only at substantial cost.

It might make more sense to stick with plan A and resurrect the Amtrak Desert Wind as a sleeper train from San Diego to Las Vegas via Anaheim, LA US and San Bernardino.

Wrt Barstow: its population was just 21,000 back in 2000, an order of magnitude too small to justify an HSR station. Unless it has enough local water, capital and a transit-oriented development plan to support growing that large within the next 20-30 years, new tracks should bypass the town to the north rather than run through it.

jon said...

just saw this on CBS evening news tonight...

Video

"...buried inside the 1000 page bill, republicans argue is a long list of so called egregious spending such as $198 million for Filipino veterans of World War II and $8 billion for high speed rail most of that money added at the last minute."

Spokker said...

"I suspect that more than a few Californians would disagree with you, because they visit Sin City more often than they cross the Grapevine."

The symbolism of building the "Disneyland train to Vegas" so people can gamble their few remaining dollars away is a strong one. Any conservative would be stupid not to attack it.

As an HSR supporter I am actually embarrassed at how much HSR is getting compared to light rail, subway, and buses.

I wrote a paper last year on high speed rail in developing nations. In one section I focused on Argentina and decided that it was a bad idea because, among other things, Argentina didn't have a well-functioning mass transit network (riots over horrible service). I went on to say that the image of a super train for the rich being built while mass transit suffers is a really, really poor one.

I had mentioned the CAHSR project earlier in my paper and my instructor asked the obvious question, "But does California have a well-developed mass transit network?"

I didn't explain Measure R and all the rail initiatives that were passed in November because that would be too much of a tangent in a paper about developing nations. However, after seeing how much HSR is getting compared to mass transit, the image this creates is really, really poor.

I just hope the transportation budget corrects this major mistake and mass transit gets the funding it desperately needs right now.

Spokker said...

I have noticed some Los Angeles transit advocates decrying the news as well. I thank Robert for writing the entry "$8 billion for HSR While Public Transit Starves". I feared the news might split mass transit advocates into pro-HSR and anti-HSR camps. I let them know that HSR supporters are right there with them in their fight for more mass transit funding.

arcady said...

Rafael: did you know that an ICE train ran in the US? An actual live ICE train, on regular Amtrak tracks. An X2000 did that too. You can find videos on youtube. The only obstacle really is the rules, and the rules themselves are neither old, nor fixed in stone. If there's someone with enough motivation to challenge these rules, as Caltrain is attempting, they may well be changed. And it would be astoundingly foolish to use an incompatible technology that requires all-new (and all-elevated) rights of way for regulatory, rather than technical, reasons.

Completely unrelatedly, a hypothetical train from San Diego to Vegas would likely run San Diego-Anaheim-Riverside-San Bernardino-Barstow-Las Vegas. It doesn't make sense to detour to LA.

yeson1a said...

@ spoker Dont be embarrased at high speed rail getting something for once.After 30 years of the rest of the worlds countries some much smaller out spending us by a mile this is more like a steak bone than the usual chicken bone rail is thrown..Were still waiting for the real meat..and we need 16billion from Uncle Sam...but I am very happy for this amount at this time

Jim said...

All I know is that it's a good thing america is not facing something like ww2 because we no longer have what it takes to get on the same page enough to get something like that done. * billion is not too much for HSR consider there are 11 designated corridors and the most receptive population and the most receptive and powerful politicians all reside in represent the NEC they will grab a chunk. we need 40 billion for phase one we get 10 billion in bonds, we need at least 10-15 billion from the feds - just for cali, and another 15 billion in private money.

Rafael said...

@ jon -

typical, "journalists" doing what they do best: reporting "facts" without bothering to check them. The money for HSR was not added at the last minute. It was re-allocated from other parts of the transportation section of the bill.

@ spokker -

$8 billion sounds like a lot is actually not a whole lot of money for improving the NEC plus getting HSR off the ground in multiple corridors around the country.

Then again, HSR is arguably a matter of strategic investment, so it would be inappropriate to allocate more than 1% of this bill to it. A fraction of that will be spent on planning and environmental impact statements, most of the rest on signaling and station upgrades, grade separations and quiet zones grade crossings (in corridors with a top speed of 110-125mph).

Transit projects have historically been driven by states and cities, with matching funds from the federal government. The stimulus bill includes $8.4b for upgrades to and/or extensions of existing systems, with no requirement for state funding. This money can be spent fairly quickly on things like additional rolling stock, station upgrades (esp. pedestrian flow capacity) and passenger-friendly ticketing (zone-based fares regardless of transit provider, with equalization payments based on usage accounting).

I would expect both HSR and local transit to feature more heavily in future transportation-related legislation, since it meshes well with Obama's policy of gradually weaning the nation off imported oil. It also eases congestion on roads and at airports.

Going forward, I wouldn't be at all surprised if mass transportation projects based on renewable fuels or electricity were given funding priority over those based on petroleum distillates.

Jim said...

@anon its only shameless if you are on the side that lost. If you are on the winning side then it's great. I for one am thrilled to finally have a government that is focusing on spending my tax money on things I want my tax money spend on for a change. tech, education, transportation, arts, culture, healthcare, energy and the list goes on. Where did all the money go that we had last time? The money that evaporated during the last 8 years with nothing to show for it? As for transit, this is only the first month. Transit will get plenty of money under this administration. Transit doesn't need a big up front jump start the way HSR does. Transit's money will come along shortly.

Rafael said...

@ arcady -

yes, I'm aware of the ICE and X2000 trials that Amtrak conducted many years ago. They never got beyond the evaluation stage because FRA insisted on its crash compatibility rules. Only Bombardier, a Canadian company with a manufacturing presence in the US, was willing to take on the challenge - with mixed results.

I would love to see FRA relax its rules for Caltrain and later on, other corridors. Mixed traffic is integral to the rapid rail concept I posted on some time ago.

The Kerry-Specter HSR bill, which is expected to be re-introduced in the current session of Congress, explicitly calls for a re-organization of FRA to break its reflexible habit of making rules that favor freight over passengers.

Also, HR 2095 was amended in the wake of the Metrolink disaster in Chatsworth such that busy corridors and all locomotives/self-propelled rolling stock that runs on them must be upgraded to support positive train control (PTC) by 2015. Freight rail operators had long resisted this measure because they can make do without it. PTC is really necessary only if you have a lot of passenger traffic, exactly what freight rail companies don't want on their networks because Congress has set fairly low rates for Amtrak's trackage rights.

Of course, now that Congress is starting to open up its purse strings and pay for things like bypass tracks and grade crossing gates, freight operators may start to come around.

---

As for that idea of an Amtrak sleeper train from SD to Las Vegas: it could avoid LA Union Station, but why should it? Since it would be a sleeper anyhow, there's no rush. If the train departed San Diego at 6:00pm, it would reach LA Union Station at around 8:30pm and be in San Bernardino no later than 10:00pm.

A detour past Riverside in the route would be fine by me, the whole point of the concept is to collect as many Vegas-bound passengers as possible. Note that a new Metrolink service linking San Bernardino to UC Riverside, Perris, Hemet and San Jacinto is already being planned.

The return trip would be timed to reach San Diego no later than 9:00am. All Amtrak would need is two loco's, two sleeper car consists, some cleaning staff and trackage rights - arguably the hardest nut to crack. The train doesn't have to be fast, but good on-time performance is essential, especially on the return leg. Passengers will need to show up at their jobs on time.

yeson1a said...

One thing this bill shows is how important that a true multi-year funding bill for HRS comes about. look how much the numbers changed
and how much whining about "pork"
Our system will need 2-3 billion for 6 years straight..that will never fly as our project would become a lighting rod for there attacks

Rafael said...

@ yeson1a -

you forget that three Republican Senators did break ranks with the presently irrational GOP leadership. They will be pariahs in their own caucus for a while and, Dems will court their votes for future bills.

Ideally, the President would seek to lock in their votes by negotiating a formal coalition agreement with them, valid through end of year 2010. After the mid-terms, the balance of power in the Senate may shift. About half a dozen Republican senators have already indicated they will not be seeking re-election.

arcady said...

Rafael: from your statements it's not clear to me if you actually know where the rail lines are in Southern California. Basically, there's the ex-Santa Fe line from San Diego, which splits at Orange, with one branch going north-west, and one going north-east, both joining the BNSF transcon line, which runs from LA to San Bernardino via Fullerton and Riverside. There's also the Metrolink San Bernardino Line, which runs directly from LA to San Bernardino via Claremont, but it has significant commuter traffic during rush hours, and is basically at capacity. And if you are looking to run a viable sleeper train service, the ideal travel time is 8-9 hours. You get on the train, go to sleep, and when you wake up, you're there. With some reasonable assumptions on travel time and schedule padding, the San Diego-Santa Ana-Riverside-San Bernardino-Barstow-Las Vegas route takes roughly eight and a half hours.

arcady said...

Rafael: I'm also not sure that PTC is quite as strictly needed for all passenger operations as it's being made out to be. Despite the fact that the Long Island Railroad was a pioneer with their Automatic Speed Control, the outer branches of the LIRR were operated with manual block and train orders at least into the early years of this decade, and that worked quite well. I also worry that they're not taking into account such globally accepted practices as overlaps beyond signals (so that there's some margin for stopping the train even if it passes a red signal), and flank protection, which would have among other things prevented the Chase, MD crash. But now we have a mandate to install a PTC system, presumably of a brand new variety tried only on a few freight lines, nationwide. I'm sure the signal vendors are all quite happy about this.

Rafael said...

@ arcady -

actually, I have studied where the existing rail lines run in Southern California. Check out Metrolink's Riverside line.

The route I suggested might well take 11 or so hours from San Diego, but only about 8.5 from Los Angeles. Considering that the destination is Las Vegas, I figure those San Diegans who would rather ride on a sleeper train than fly aren't going to change their minds just because it takes a little longer to get there.

But ok, if there is enough demand, it might be possible to run one train from Chatsworth via Burbank and LA US and another from San Diego via Orange and Corona, possibly joining up into a single train in San Bernardino.

Rafael said...

@ arcady -

afaik, HR 2095 did not spell out any specifics on the PTC system(s) that will be used. Obviously, they should all be interoperable and effective in preventing train-on-train collisions. Ensuring that they are is the FRA's job.

It's time to stop trying to run America's trains on a shoestring budget. Humans can and do make mistakes, so it's unwise to rely on them just because that's almost always good enough. Other developed nations have managed to install similar safety measures, e.g. ETCS level 1 in most of Western Europe's network and ATC in Japan. I believe ATCS is in service on the NEC.

As I understand it, PTC is an approach that typically relies on GPS positioning and wireless data communications to track trains. This is hard to get absolutely bulletproof, as evidenced by the saga of ETCS level 2. Wireline systems are substantially more expensive to install, but they are proven.

Considering that passenger rail operations in the US are likely to grow substantially only at regional levels, it may be possible to combine both approaches. In large parts of the country, the primary line of defense against train-on-train collision will remain the low number that pass by during any given hour, so existing signaling plus PTC should be good enough. In populated areas, something like ATCS might be a better bet.

Locomotives would have to be equipped with gear that supports both and transparently switches from one to the other when instructed to do so by beacons embedded in the trackbed (or other identified scenarios).

Clem said...

@Rafael, ABB and Siemens did submit bids for the Acela Express contract. Bombardier just happened to win.

Also note, both the X2000 and ICE carried fare-paying Amtrak passengers for a period of several months! Evidently the FRA let that one slip.

I lived in the area when this was going on; I saved a copy of the ICE Metroliner timetable.

Jim said...

There isn't going to be any Amtrak to San Diego to Vegas train. The Desert Wind could be revived, but it wouldn't happen until after and if the Pioneer is restored and reviving the desert wind would likely defer to an hsr option by then.

Rafael said...

@ Clem -

yes, FRA did give all three vendors a waiver to operate during a commercial trial period. The crunch came when it decided the waiver could not be made permanent, forcing ABB and Siemens to substantially increase their bids to cover the extensive cost of modifications to meet crash safety rules.

Bombardier probably thought/hoped that there would be follow-on orders from either the US or Canada for its FRA-compliant Acela Express, so it came back with the most aggressive bid.

@ Jim -

Amtrak got a lot of money in both HR 2095 and HR 1. Why not revive the Pioneer and also introduce a modified Desert Wind (sleeper train between San Diego and Las Vegas)? HSR to Las Vegas is at least 15 years away.

Alan Fishel said...

We need to take the Anaheim Los Vegas HSR off the table. The line does not even go to Los Angeles where it could actually do some good. There is a HSR authority and bond funding for an LA, SF Sacramento and later a San Diego extension on the HSR map. This project is in process and it goes where the need is. The Anaheim Las Vegas HSR is only to serve the casinos and pleasure seekers. If this is such a needed and important project let the casinos and the Las Vegas convention authority pay for this line not us tax payers.

Alan Fishel said...

We need to take the Anaheim Los Vegas HSR off the table. The line does not even go to Los Angeles where it could actually do some good. There is a HSR authority and bond funding for an LA, SF Sacramento and later a San Diego extension on the HSR map. This project is in process and it goes where the need is. The Anaheim Las Vegas HSR is only to serve the casinos and pleasure seekers. If this is such a needed and important project let the casinos and the Las Vegas convention authority pay for this line not us tax payers.

Spokker said...

"We need to take the Anaheim Los Vegas HSR off the table."

It isn't on the table. But with Reid mouthing off like he did, there's a lot of confusion.

Jim said...

I agree that reid needs to hush although I heard the comments came from staff, not him. As for the desert wind. The pioneer has been mandated to be studied for possible restoration I believe so it would be a priority over the DW. As for the money amtrak is getting, a lot of it has got to go to new equipment, and refurbishing older equipment. With the recent increases in ridership and with the maintenance yards working feverishly to to do restoration and keep things running in good repair, there is still a shortage of rolling stock. The NEC will as usual get a big chunk for upgrades including some very expensive bridge projects that are going to be a nightmare to complete no doubt. I mean that corridor is old as hell. I believe the first priority is to get the railroad in a state of good repair before doing any expansion.