Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Future's So Bright ...

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

we gotta wear shades. The city of Palmdale is stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, it is home to an enormous airport that has never lived up to its 1968 billing of a destination for supersonic passenger jets. Indeed, Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) reportedly gave up altogether on commercial operations when United recently canceled the last remaining commercial service to SFO because it had become unprofitable.

Although LA County voters seem to have narrowly rejected Measure B on March 3, it is still possible that the LA City Council may implement its conditions anyway and create a legal obligation to install 400MW of renewable electricity generation capacity in the county. LAWA is therefore proposing that a fraction of the 17,750 acres of land occupied by its Palmdale airport be used for a 100MW solar thermal power plant. For reference, LAX occupies around 3,500-4,500 acres (estimates vary by source).

On the face of it, this is excellent news for high speed rail, which is supposed to run entirely on renewable electricity. At full capacity - which won't be reached until 2030 at the very earliest - the fully built-out HSR network would require around 480MW or, approx. 1% of total installed generating capacity in California today (the vast majority based on fossil fuels).

However, the primary reason for the long detour via Palmdale and the Tehachapis was excellent access to a fully operational Palmdale airport to relieve LAX. Palmdale is the only existing airport in all of Southern California that could easily accommodate an additional long runway. Metrolink and the FlyAway bus evidently aren't fast enough to make it commercial viable, but HSR would take just 27 minutes to LA Union Station - a game changer. Ergo, HSR ought to be a huge shot in the arm for this struggling regional airport as well as maxed-out LAX.

The flip side is that HSR's short travel time also implies the risk of further population growth in the High Desert, already home to hundreds of thousands. Ever more growth would be problematic even if it were of the transit-oriented variety rather than traditional car-centric low-rise sprawl. That's because there is very little natural rainfall in the area, so any new residents would have to be supported at great expense to the state by pumping water up the San Joaquin Valley and uphill to the High Desert. The elevation data tells the story: Tracy ~400ft, downtown LA ~400ft, Palmdale ~2900ft. The High Desert is arguably the wrong place for California to grow in.

So, we now have three issues coming to a head - renewable power generation vs. high speed transportation vs. population growth - simply because LAWA happens to own a patch of temporarily unproductive land. It's not as if solar power plants could not be built anywhere else in the state. Complicating the issue is that LA took the airport land by eminent domain decades ago for the express purpose of commercial aviation, so it's not clear that the legal authority to re-purpose the land even exists at this time. Officials from the city of Palmdale complain they were not even consulted about plans to build a solar thermal power plant. From a practical point of view, the questions are if solar power generation would be temporary and/or have any impact on the resumption of commercial passenger flights a decade from now.

For that, we need to consider what a solar thermal power plant actually looks like. One indication is BrightSource's 400MW Ivanpah plant, located deep in the Mojave desert near I-15 and the Nevada border.

Covering 5 square miles, its ~200,000 heliostat mirrors will be computer-controlled to accurately track the path of the sun during the day and year. The reflected sunlight is concentrated in a small area, heating water (or other working fluid) flowing through pipes there to 550 degC (~1000 degF). The resulting steam is converted to electricity using a regular steam turbine and generator. The water is condensed by forced air convection to achieve closed-loop operation. Another emerging technology uses water-cooled high-temperature photovoltaic semiconductor panels that convert the power of sunlight concentrated 500 times directly into electricity. Either way, concentrated solar power plants are not the the sort of installations you can easily move to an alternate location after just a decade of operations.

In terms of airport operations, the risk inherent in a permitting a nearby solar thermal power plant is blinding glare for the pilots. The mirrors are not perfect reflectors and the boiler tower not a perfect absorber of sunlight. A significant amount of light scatters and could prove a threat to aviation safety. So far, FAA has not taken a position because there has been no formal submission to review. Considering that unhindered airport operations are the very reason for running HSR past Palmdale, I would argue that CHSRA should be treated as a stakeholder in any environmental review of siting a solar thermal power plant so close to the airport.

It's possible that glare turns out to be a non-issue and that a solar power plant and unfettered airport operations could coexist quite happily. My point is that no-one has actually verified that to date, so this potential problem should be nipped in the bud before too much effort is wasted on trying to secure ROW and viable tunneling solution for the planned HSR route. If a solar power plant is built and it permanently restricts commercial aviation at Palmdale airport, there's a good case for switching the HSR route to the I-5 Grapevine, cutting 12 minutes off the SF-LA line haul time. Those time savings might be sorely needed if CHSRA's preferred route through Pacheco Pass in Northern California proves impossible to implement for any reason.

The solar plant idea for Palmdale proves that once again, co-ordinated inter-agency planning appears to be in very short supply in the state of California.


resident said...

So, how WILL the incremental electricity for HSR be created? Does CHSRA discuss this in their EIR/EIS, and include the cost of incremental power generation in its costs? Does CHSRA pay for the capital costs of new, incremental electricity generation (through green non-fossil-fuel means), or does it just assume it appears when and where needed?

If not in Palmdale, where would these solar farms be placed? How funded? How many needed to support CHSR?

How would individual towns along the route be impacted by the incremental electricity needs of HSR?

Palmdale! said...


Where did you find that "the primary reason for the 60-mile detour via Palmdale and the Tehachapis was excellent access to a fully operational Palmdale airport to relieve LAX."

Palmdale Airport is not mentioned at all in the LA-Bakersfield Program EIR/EIS discussion of the choice of alignments.


The EIR/EIS cites issues with fault crossings as the reason to go via the high desert.

Rafael said...

@ resident -

the HSR system will purchase its electricity from utility companies that are anyhow required to generate a fraction of their electricity renewably because of other legislation (e.g. AB32). Wind turbines would be the cheapest alternative, but there's even more potential for solar and also some for additional geothermal (in Inyo and Imperial counties). Biogas is another renewable source of primary energy that California has hardly tapped into at all.

Solar thermal or concentrated PV plants can be sited anywhere in the Mojave desert, in completely unpopulated areas well removed from towns and airports. The hard part is getting the transmission lines installed, one reason why any putative spur out to Las Vegas should be a combo rail-power project.

The incremental electricity needs of HSR amount to just 1% of the total already being produced statewide. Utility companies should have no problem providing that power to the substations feeding the HSR network without any impact at all on supplies to the towns along the route.

The Ivanpah solar thermal plant will be rated at 400MW, the Geysers geothermal plant already delivers 1000MW. HSR at full capacity would consume 480MW. The number of additional power plants needed to support HSR is therefore one, or at least in the single digits.

Btw, CHSRA will not be paying for the construction of new power plants of any type, but there will be a small premium - estimated at $0.40-$1.00 per trip - on fares to cover the higher cost of renewable power.

Rafael said...

@ Palmdale!

Palmdale and Ontario are both explictly mentioned as examples of how HSR would meet one of its core objectives, that of connecting to airports in the state. LAX was not possible, but SFO and to a lesser extent, SJC, FAT and SAN are also served.

It is true that the Tehachapis would be easier to tunnel through, but a viable alignment along the Grapevine east of the I-5 was identified. It also crosses both the Garlock and San Andreas faults at grade, though it would skirt the Lake Castaic wildlife preserve.

Politically, the Palmdale detour had everything to do with the airport, though officially the program EIR/EIS cites the fast-growing population in the Antelope valley as a factor. Well, now that the housing bubble has burst, I'm guessing the population there isn't growing all that fast any longer and won't unless HSR comes to town.

That is still plan A, but it requires that CHSRA secure ROW from UPRR or else land next to it. IMHO, the incremental effort of that plus the extra distance and line haul time penalty makes no sense if LAWA were to compromise Palmdale airport with a solar thermal plant. CHSRA and especially, the FAA need to weigh in on the issue sooner rather than later.

Rafael said...

@ Palmdale! -

please see pp18 chapter 6a of the program EIR/EIS for details.

The 60 miles referred to the rough amount of additional track that would have to be laid down, but HSR is a dual track system. The document actually specifies trip length as 35 miles longer, with a line haul penalty of 10 minutes. The tunneling report estimates a 12 minute penalty. These numbers won't be nailed down until the exact alignment and the feasible speed limits on it have been identified.

Alex M. said...

My family are really close friends with the owners and creators (we actually invested in the company when it was just starting up) of BrightSource, I could ask any questions if any of you are curious. They recently signed an enormous deal with Southern California Edison to build a 1.3 GIGAWATT(!!!) solar thermal plant in the Mohave. I think there is planety of space in the desert for these farms, I don't see why an airport needs to be jeopardized just to the energy closer.

One very interesting possibility that I thought of was if the LA-Las Vegas spur is built through the Mohave, the power lines from the solar farm could be built as part of the HSR line and make access to the power cheaper for all parties. This link-up would be very interesting, possibly improving CHSR's image as a green form of transportation if it was connecting to a "green" solar farm.

resident said...

"The number of additional power plants needed to support HSR is therefore one, or at least in the single digits"

If its greater than zero, then how much will this cost, and who will pay? How will this incremntal capital outlay for power plant(s) be funded? When built? And where will the (one) incremental power plant(s) be located. New Power Plant brings a whole other level of EIR/EIS requirments.

When you say HSR at full capacity will require 1% of power already generated by state - is there a discussion of states power generation capacity in the 2030 time frame, WITHOUT hsr? In other words, 1% is only a little bit if 1% capacity exists at the fully built out phase, including coverage for all the additional housing and population growth that will be relying on that capacity regardless of HSR.

Also, (Question), is electricity generation totally without boundaries -can you use power generated at Ivanpah(wherever that is), to power a train in SF? Or do you need incremental electricity generation close to the train (or in other words, do you need power generation capability distributed somewhat regularly across the length of the HSR line?) In other words, does location matter for power generation?

In any case, even one new power plant would represent incremental capital cost to tax payers (or who?) due solely to creation of HSR, then this must be disclosed in the HSR plan, and factored into the cost equation.

Is this in the final Program EIR/EIS anywhere?

Rafael said...

@ resident -

other than the difficulty of getting environmental clearance to build a transmission line in the desert - cp. Alex M.'s comment - there is no issue in generating the power hundreds of miles from its point of consumption.

HSR is simply going to be a larger industrial consumer and, utilities will build the power infrastructure needed to support it down to the substation level. Indirectly, that will be paid for over time by HSR passengers. There has been no indication that taxpayers would be impacted at all by the need to expand electricity generation a little to support HSR.

Note that the overhead catenary system is part of HSR and accounted for in its cost estimates.

Gamecoug said...

Rafael, do you know what the exclusion of Palmdale would do to cost projections for the project? I realize it's a long distance out of the way, but does the reduced tunneling needed to go via Palmdale balance out the extra track distance? Or would it be a net cost savings to the Authority? I don't know if the skipping Palmdale idea is a complete nonstarter, but the opportunity to cut valuable minutes off the SF/LA trip might be worth exploring.

Your note about the energy expended pumping water to the high desert is something I hadn't thought about. It's a real concern, and additional sprawl-based growth in Palmdale (I'm okay with non sprawl-based growth... then again why would you live in Palmdale if you didn't want a big yard?) should definitely be discouraged. Thanks for posting.

Alon Levy said...

then again why would you live in Palmdale if you didn't want a big yard?


Rafael said...

@ gamecoug, Alon Levy -

CHSRA didn't price out the Grapevine alternative because it was dropped at the program level, so I couldn't tell if it was going to be any cheaper.

My soemwhat educated guess is that an HSR alignment across the Grapevine would end up costing at least as much because of the extra tunnel length and the lack if flexibility if geological conditions at the meter scale prove unfavorable. I don't want to stir the put any more than necessary, IFF Palmdale airport is fully available once HSR becomes operational then I have no problem with sticking with plan A. I just wanted to point out a potential problem for that availability in the hope that someone in LA county will look at the bigger picture.

As for population growth, I'd like to see that concentrated where the water flows to naturally, i.e. in the Central Valley north of Merced, to avoid creating demand for additional expensive water distribution infrastructure. Even so, agriculture of some thirsty crops (alfalfa, cotton, rice, pasture) will have to be reduced to support statewide population growth.

But that has to seen in the context of airport capacity in SoCal and, the economic growth associated with expanding it. HSR would make Palmdale and Ontario much more useful than they are right now, even if that means higher population growth in areas that need to have water pumped to them.

It's a free country in any event, so the best the state can hope for is to exert some influence on population growth patterns.

Rafael said...

@ Alex M -

just had a chance to re-read your comment. At this point, LAWA appears to be floating a trial balloon to decide if it should even move ahead with the idea of putting its vast acreage in Palmdale to productive use now that commercial aviation there has been suspended/canceled.

It would be interesting to learn if BrightSource had to provide any information on potential glare impacts to the FAA and/or drivers on I-15 in the context of its own - no doubt tortuous - EIR/EIS process for the Ivanpah plant. That is not located near any existing airport, but Nevada is planning one fairly close by in the Jean/Primm area to relieve McCurran.

Personally, I hope Nevada cancels that and maglev as well in favor of a plain old spur off the California HSR system at either Mojave or near Colton. A combo rail/power project would be appropriate, even if electrical engineering considerations mean the two infrastructures have to be deployed at a distance of up to a couple of hundred feet from one another.

Undsormi said...

"...CHSRA didn't price out the Grapevine alternative because it was dropped at the program level"

There are costs for the different alternatives;


Page E-6 of that document shows the costs for the Bakersfield-LA alternatives. Appendix F, at:


...shows the details of the costs.

Fred Martin said...

While I see the point of HSR serving congested airports, relieving them of their short-haul traffic, I am concerned about the prospects of HSR opening up access to relatively remote airports with plenty of excess capacity. Ontario is lightly used and Palmdale recently ceased commercial operations because they are rather out of the way, especially compared to LAX, SNA, and Long Beach. Now if HSR improves access to Ontario and Palmdale airports from the rest of the LA region, this could actually undermine the system ridership goals of HSR. Southwest and other airlines would have a strong incentive to offer more flights from northern California to Palmdale and Ontario, knowing that the access to rest of SoCal was greatly improved by HSR. Why would someone from the East Bay not just go to Oakland airport and fly quite inexpensively to Palmdale or Ontario, with HSR access to the rest of the SoCal? No Fresno detour required.

The HSR route going out of the way to Palmdale just to improve the competitive position of the airline also makes no sense. As Rafael pointed out, developing the High Desert is certainly not a desirable environmental objective either.

This is why the sloppy planning by CHSRA should greatly concern us. I watched the state senate hearing today, and it's amateur hour at CHSRA. Morshed had no good explanation about why their ridership and cost projections are all over the map. He is supposed to be the Executive Director, not some political hack! He didn't even stick around to answer further questions about the Transbay Terminal. Be afraid. Be very afraid.

Eric said...

@resident -

In any case, even one new power plant would represent incremental capital cost to tax payers (or who?) due solely to creation of HSR, then this must be disclosed in the HSR plan, and factored into the cost equation.

Power would be an operating cost, not a capital cost, as HSR would buy its power from power generating companies exactly as any other large industrial customer does. The power companies would incur capital costs but this is just one more factor that they will include in their growth plans. HSR doesn't use some special kind of electricity - it's the same 60 Hz stuff that comes out of your socket at home.

Now, it's true that on the East Coast there are some legacy 50 Hz electric railroad lines, with their own dedicated power plants, that date back to the days when large industrial concerns often did generate their own power, but nothing I've read from CAHSR suggests they'd pursue such an old-fashioned approach.

Alon Levy said...

I don't understand the capital cost report. Why are some items labeled Option 1.01, 1.02, etc., and others labeled PB?

ladyk said...

I'm skeptical about Palmdale as an intermodal facility. Even with population growth, the existing airports will have ample capacity to absorb whatever is left of the airlines once we get to $200-$300 oil.

Curious Observer said...

I know this is off topic - but I saw this announcement and I'd love to hear your thoughts...

Why would contracts be awarded for the Altamont Pass if the Pacheco pass was selected?


nimbyalto said...

Dont woory there wont be any solar farms in beautiful Palo alto..and you will have plenty of power for your TV and so on.

BruceMcF said...

"Why would someone from the East Bay not just go to Oakland airport and fly quite inexpensively to Palmdale or Ontario, with HSR access to the rest of the SoCal? No Fresno detour required."

Chicken and egg situation there ... if there are enough people who prefer to skip the early arrival at the airport and the transfer at Palmdale to the HSR, and just take the HSR all the way, there won't be the market to justify shuttles, and so there won't be those cheap flights, so there then those doing whichever is cheapest won't do it, and there goes more flights.

OTOH, a long haul airline that cannot get a gate at LAX at the time they want to fly into SoCal isn't facing that "just start with the HSR" competition ...

... so if some magical petroleum genie creates enough magical crude oil that there are large numbers flying on long haul airplanes in a decade's time, if Palmdale came back into use due to HSR access, it would be complementary to HSR, not rival.

However, to be realistic, there most likely is not a petroleum genie, the $40/barrel oil will be long gone in a decade's time, and even in recession fuel prices will be in excess of $100/barrel on production cost alone ... and obviously much higher during strong demand periods.

If this was being built in the 1980's, when the French started building the TGV, Palmdale could well be a worthwhile source of ridership. As it stands, devoting a lot of effort to airport connectivity could be like spending a lot of time getting good at shooting passenger pigeons.

Morris Brown said...

If Robert will allow me to go off topic with some information, I watched the State Senate T&H committee meeting this afternoon. The meeting lasted about 1 hr. 45 minutes and was quite informative.

Morshed stated that the Authority had not paid its consultants for more than 2 months; that they were broke.

He further stated that tomorrow 3/18/09, they were hoping that the States, pooled bond fund would get some money to them. He stated if they could not get funds from this fund they would be forced to immediately shut down.

This is probably posturing, but that is what he said.

The legislative analyst was quite critical of the Authority and named many issues that needed to be resolved. Morshed said he agreed with all of the analyst's statements.

The TBT representative and also Senator Lowenthal really came down hard on the Authority wanting the expanded space at the TBT; from the data presented it really seemed like the extra space was not warranted.

There was an overall theme that everything possible must be done to get as much money from the stimulus fund.

Under ordinary circumstances it was said California would get about 10% of these funds, or 800 million dollars. However, the opinion was rendered that California was was ahead of other regions and that the State should get much more than 10% of these funds.

Others might have different information.

arcady said...

Morris Brown: It's hard to say who's right here, because on the one hand, the HSRA's efforts have been lacking in many respects and there are many issues that need to be resolved (platform height, anyone?). But on the other hand, HSRA has been on a starvation budget for a decade now. Even if they had the competence and desire to hire some good engineers and work out the issues, they just don't have the money for it. And that, pretty much, is what the state government is like, and why it's such a mess.

Aaron said...

I don't mean to ask a silly question, but how much time does CAHSR buy us in terms of airport capacity? Acela and Amtrak haven't eliminated the IAD/DCA-LGA/JFK/EWR-BOS shuttle yet, but to my memory Amtrak is carrying over half of the traffic for that corridor, which has certainly bought a lot of time for LaGuardia in particular (LaGuardia not dissimilar from LAX, as an airport that was at one time in a more open area, but then the city expanded around it). LGA has been freed up to focus on medium distance traffic (not as likely to get a flight to Tel Aviv or Tokyo, but a lot of flights to paces like Chicago, Houston, etc.).

I am skeptical about the long-term viability of Palmdale as a major airport, HSR or not, although I have to think that it should eventually be able to serve as a profitable small airport a la Akron/Canton, OH or Gainesville, FL. I hadn't heard about the recent (and repeated) death of the airport - it's a shame, you would think that at least the PMD-SFO, PMD-LAS and PMD-SAN market would keep it minimally operational.

Rafael said...

@ undsormi, Alon Levy -

thanks for the links to the cost estimates, I had not been aware of them.

The PB (Parsons Brinkerhoff) estimates are from 1994, before the Quantm tunneling study. We can safely ignore them.

The I-5 options (Union Ave and Wheeler Ridge) refer to option for the southern approach to Bakersfield. Wheeler ridge would be cheaper but depend on co-operation from UPRR for a two-mile section between the Haley/Edison yard and the suburb of Algoso.

@ Fred Martin -

once someone is in the train, they're not going to switch to a plane to reach their final destination if the train will get them there as well. There would be a lot of hassle but no net time savings or even cost savings.

Palmdale airport would not immediately become a major long-distance airport because airlines will prefer LAX for some time to come. One critical feature will be the ability to book connecting train tickets via the airline reservation system, preferably using PMD as the IATA code for for the train station.

A second critical feature will be the ability to get from the train station to the check-in counters quickly and in air-conditioned comfort. Unmanned people movers are the preferred solution for the last mile problem if HSR tracks cannot be brought within walking distance of the terminals.

However, you are right to sound a warning in one respect: Lyon's Satolas airport never lived up to its billing as a relief airport for Paris. In spite of excellent TGV connections and a stunning TGV station it never attracted enough airlines offering long-distance flights out of France.

Mind you, France is a very centralized county and back in the 1980s, its economy was not nearly as integrated with the rest of Europe as it is today. Still, LAWA would do well to analyze the example of Satolas in its efforts to leverage Palmdale and Ontario for future growth in long-distance air travel.

@ ladyk -

I suspect we may see oil creeping up to $100 a barrel before long, but $300 might take a while. There is simply more spare production capacity now than there was just a few years ago. In any case, the most recent crisis has led to significant advances in alternatives such as BTL and algal oil (closed loop vertical bioreactors) at the pilot stage. A renewed run-up in the price of crude oil would make these alternatives commercially viable, at which point they would be applied on a much larger scale. Oil will become more expensive, but it's unlikely we'll see a repeat of the most recent speculative bubble.

@ curious observer -

because AB 3034 explicitly defines Stockton to Merced to Oakland to San Francisco (no mention of San Jose) as one of the corridors that is potentially eligible for prop 1A funds, provided that does not interfere with the SF-LA-Anaheim (again, no SJ) starter line.

@ arcady -

none of the smaller airports you mention has a bullet train station. Big difference.

BruceMcF said...

@ rafeal: "There is simply more spare production capacity now than there was just a few years ago."

Note, however, that is not due to expansion of production capacity, its due to a decline in demand outpacing the slow decline in production capacity.

And one thing the synchronised global recession does is accelerate the consumption of $40/barrel and less oil, by pushing oil back on the marginal extraction cost, shelving projects to bring $40/barrel to $80/barrel oil to the surface. With Russian and Mexican oil production past the shoulder of their plateau and into the period of rapid decline, we are going to hit $100/barrel at lower levels of global economic activity coming out of the recession than the levels of global economic activity in early 2008.

If the last oil price shock brought $140/barrel, it would not be surprising at all for the next oil price shock to bring $200/barrel ... and with a decade to bring the system up, with strong global economic growth we could be on our third or fourth oil price shock by then. With economic stagnation, instead of demand pressing up against available supply, an oil price shock will require supply to press down against existing demand, so under a "global lost decade" scenario, we might only have one or two oil price shocks in the next decade.

ladyk said...


3rd generation biofuels such as butanol show a lot of promise but the problem is scale in time and demand. Currently, biofuel companies are boasting how their plants will be producing hundreds of millions of gallons a year. Compared to how the world is using 85 million barrels a day the contribution is as yet marginal.

Then there is the problem of limited availability of biomass and the limited (single digit) energy return on investment of biofuel processes (oil fields can go up to triple digits).

Such things take a lot of time and capital to bring to requisite production levels. Maybe it's not such a good example to compare to, but the Prius has been around for more than ten years. However, just over a million have been produced while the total number of automotive vehicles worldwide is reaching one billion. That gives an idea how long it takes to make a significant impact.

On the demand side we can see the appetite growing to over 100mb/d in the next two decades. Meanwhile the central problem of oil production, the decline in existing fields, will be progressing at >=6% every year. It's good that there is new spare capacity but it can only do so much to alleviate and satisfy new demand.

So we have alternative fuels and propulsion systems which are on the margins for the foreseeable future, oil production reaching its limits, (inflexible) demand rising. Those things will clash rather uglily by the time CAHSR is fully up. And the most effective remedies are low-tech rather than high-tech. Less flying, driving, heating, ... whether it's pleasant or not.

Though I do hope I'm wrong.

BruceMcF said...

"The TBT representative and also Senator Lowenthal really came down hard on the Authority wanting the expanded space at the TBT; from the data presented it really seemed like the extra space was not warranted."

I've just been looking at that, and I don't see a problem for HSR if they get priority access to four platforms and use of the tail tracks. The problem would be Caltrain services ... if HSR made maximum use of four platforms and two tail tracks, they can comfortably run 8tph, using one tunnel track as access and one as egress.

Getting 8 Caltrain tph ... two levels of service, local and express, 15 minute frequency per service in peak ... out of the two extreme platform tracks requires crossing. At 3 minute headways, getting the train out in the slot available for the crossing could mean a 9 minute turn-around for the Caltrain services.

At 2 minute headways, 8 tph for both Caltrain and HSR seems plausible, as a maximum capacity, with no slack.

Or if Caltrain services adopt a pattern of all Express services stopping at both 4th and King and locals terminating at 4th and King with passengers transferring, and only take 4tph into the box, there'd be capacity for that. And, plus, it gets the platform occupancy up to 27 minutes, which is a comfortable turn-around for regional rail transport.

After looking at it in more detail, a double dive is not needed ... a single dive relieves the track capacity constraint, either P:1 and L:3 or P:6 and L:1.

For CAHSRA, they could back into protection of their interests ... by all appearances entirely by accident ... if they take the assurances that they are being offered adequate access by turning around and asking for that to be written into the funding.

jim said...

I was never under the impression that the palmdale airport had much to do with HSR except for the marketing of prop !A which needed to throw in everything but the kitchen sink to make its point. What I have always understood about the palmdale lancaster area of LA county was that is where LA county growth WOULD be directed once the san fernando valley built out. There is a lot of land up there for the developers and theses areas of the state -- Central Valley/ High Desert/ and Inland Emprire ( Riverside) are always projected to be the next big growth population centers and this is why hsr is planned to serve those areas. The majority of the next 20 million folks will live in these areas. As for the availability of water - that has never stopped californias from building where they want to. Not to mention the Mojave route brings northern californians closer to an eventul vegas route. You Know, this plan was presented to the voters as being ready to go and now we are talking about I-5 and altamont and how theres no room to get it to san diego. This is very bad. Here wwe are expecting to have a est track up and running in a few years and the CAHSR doesn't know where its going? This is exaclty the kind of thing that the deniers said would happen.

Rob Dawg said...

Getting 8 Caltrain tph ... two levels of service, local and express, 15 minute frequency per service in peak ...

Minor math modification. 8 tph is 2x 12 minute head ways. You don't get to double count the two at the top of the hour.

jim said...

@fredmartin "The HSR route going out of the way to Palmdale just to improve the competitive position of the airline also makes no sense. As Rafael pointed out, developing the High Desert is certainly not a desirable environmental objective either.
This is why the sloppy planning by CHSRA should greatly concern us."

The reason hsr goes to the antelope valley is for the devolpers not the airport. I don't care what doc. says what. This is the reason. The developers have long planned for this part of LA county to be a large growth area and as soon as the next boom cycle is upon us that is where growth will be and don't let anyone tell you different. The growth of 20 million new californians will be in the central valley, antelope valley and riverside county. and if yo look at the hsr route map -- where does it go that makes it look "out of the way" -----those three places.

Fred Martin said...

Palmdale and Ontario have limited prospects as long-haul airports. Even before Palmdale ceased commercial operation, I believe all of its flights were to northern California.

Several reasons exist why the central, big airports such as LAX and SFO will keep the dominant share in long-haul service, leaving the cheaper short-haul services to the remote airports:
1) Critical mass: long-haul service requires a critical mass of feeder services and a base local population to fill the larger planes.
2) Hubbing: Business travelers prefer many regular, flexible services to multiple destinations, and airlines also like to centralize their operations in a single airport in a region. This helps them to operate a 'hub' where all their different services are coming together. In order to attract business travelers, the core profit center, the big airlines create their hubs at the central airports. The exceptions to this rule are some low-cost carriers such as Southwest, because they are flying smaller planes to short-haul destinations.
3) Prestige: Lufthansa, China Airlines, JAL, and others have no plans to ever fly to Palmdale or Ontario, because this is not the premium destination for international travelers. Prestige is a big reason why international carriers prefer flying into SFO as opposed to OAK. In many ways, Oakland is a more convenient airport, even to San Francisco, but airlines like the prestige of "San Francisco" on their schedule for international customers. Never underestimate the role of prestige and image in airline marketing.

Due to these reasons, only low-cost and/or short-haul airlines services will find Palmdale and Ontario attractive with improved access. The premium long-haul flights can justify the peak landing fees at the big, central airports. The big carriers will avoid Palmdale and Ontario, except to spin off their less profitable short-haul services. It's the short-haul flights that will go to the remote airports, NOT the long-haul flights. HSR would only enhance this trend, making short-haul flights at remote airports more attractive, undermining the competitiveness of HSR inter-regional service.

Just look at the London airport situation. Hyper-congested Heathrow handles most of the long-haul international flights, with Gatwick taking up some of the slack. Much of the short-haul traffic is handled by the more remote airports at Luton and Stansted. Luton and Stansted certainly handle almost all of the cheaper short-haul services. Heathrow and London City do handle some short-haul flights, but it is the premium service for business travelers. Just compare the short-haul fares between Heathrow and Luton. This is what will happen with LAX and Palmdale/Ontario with HSR.

If you are banking the success of CA HSR on air travel just abandoning the market due to high fuel prices, you're kidding yourself. Airlines can do all sorts of things in increase per-passenger fuel efficiency, as long as they have the time to adjust and make new investments. I'll wager that airline planners are smarter than the current CHSRA regime, so they are recognizing that oil prices will be high over the long term and making plans to acquire more fuel-efficient fleets with sound system management. Airlines have done a remarkable job of filling their planes to full capacity over the last decade.

Full aircraft going between SF-LA will actually be far more energy-efficient than 12tph HSR trains at 20% capacity. HSR should aim to get the bulk of its passengers from diverted auto trips, but it should aim to get its premium fare business travelers from diverted air trips. The fewer diversions to Fresno and Palmdale the better.

jim said...

Again, my bet is that the hsr is going to serve the inland population of cali much more than the sf-la travelers. some LA SF business travelers will get hooked on the train because of comfort and service and the downtown aspect. Others will prefer to fly. The system is not being built for them in particular. The will be a fraction of the ridership. Other ridership will be access from domestic and international passengers who are trying to get further inland via code sharing. The bulk of passengers on HSR will be the ordinary average not so glamorous californians will ride up and down the valley and inland empire. People going from riverside to san diego, frenso to sacramento, san jose to fresno, san jose to anaheim, and so forth. That intermediate ridership combined with the tourism aspect will be a lot larger share than the suit and ties going from la to sf and that's wh the route serves those populations as it should. Otherwise there's no point in building hsr at all if all you want to do is Joe suit and tie from la to sf. HS will be "the people's train" if you will.

Anonymous said...

The amount of time and hassle it takes to get on an airplane says to me that there will be little demand for people who get on the HSR to transfer to air at Palmdale for a flight to SFO or OAK. Indeed, I expect the train would arrive at about the same time if not sooner, drop you off in a more convenient location, and your traveler can work the whole time at a plugged-in laptop without moving any luggage. Longer, regional flights, like Seattle, SLC, and Phoenix, could be viable for people out of the Central Valley, who I think might be more interested in flying through Palmdale than people living in the LA basin.

As for Acela not killing the northeast shuttles, as I understand it, Acela is running near capacity.


Aaron said...

I'm not an NEC expert, but I don't think the corridor is at capacity. It's very busy, but much of it has 4 tracks, and the tracks are owned by passenger carriers between Boston and DC, so you don't have any of the nonsense we're going to have with UP.

Amtrak tries to run the precisely correct number of Acela trainsets so as to sell out without creating statistically significant unmet demand - they could probably still add trains or replace Regional service with Acela trainsets, but capacity on the NEC will definitely be an issue during my lifetime.

Having said that, my point wasn't that Acela is underutilized, but that it bought the NEC airports a whole lot of time, and thus we may not need all of these High Desert/Central Valley relievers, if gates at LAX and SFO can be converted from in-state shuttle service to usage for medium and long-haul flights. My bigger concern is that folks in the High Desert area be able to access airports for getting out of California, but to a certain extent, that's on LA City/County to find a way to make Palmdale viable, or to resolve some sort of transportation for Union Station-LAX. FlyAway is a great service, but it's not going to withstand substantial increases in demand.

BruceMcF said...

Rob Dawg said..."Minor math modification. 8 tph is 2x 12 minute head ways. You don't get to double count the two at the top of the hour."

8:00, 8:15, 8:30, 8:45, 4tph, 15 minute frequency. You do not get to double count at the top of the hour, but you do get to count it once.

arcady said...

Palmdale Airport isn't going anywhere, for simple reasons of geography. LA is far away, across a lot of mountains. So is Bakersfield. The local market is too small to support air service. Ontario, on the other hand, has at least some prospects. It's the most convenient airport to Riverside and San Bernardino as well as the surrounding areas at as far west as Pomona. Getting to LAX from there is a major pain, and involves going through downtown LA. So ONT definitely has a future with low-cost operators and flights to Mexico. But HSR access is unlikely to be a significant factor in any of that. A local commuter rail and/or light rail service would be much more useful for the kind of clientele and service likely to develop.

BruceMcF said...

arcady said...
"Palmdale Airport isn't going anywhere, for simple reasons of geography. ... Ontario, on the other hand, has at least some prospects. It's the most convenient airport to Riverside and San Bernardino as well as the surrounding areas at as far west as Pomona. ... But HSR access is unlikely to be a significant factor in any of that. ..."

The question being raised is whether HSR can provide the kernel of demand, or whether HSR requires an existing kernel of demand, which it builds upon by offering the equivalent of the transfer to the small regional flight.

It is certainly easier to see it in the second role than in the first.

But if best available alignment to San Diego does not go close enough to either Palmdale or Ontario to permit a diversion, it might be necessary to stop hanging on so fiercely to the notion of acting as a relief valve for airports via long-haul to HSR transfers, when jet fuel prices over the next decade could well provide more than enough capacity relief to go around for all the major airports.

jim said...

HSR is routed through the central valley, the antelope valley, and, on the way to san diego, through the inland empire (ontario riverside san bernadino) because those are the the places where the next 20 million in population will live. It's really just that simple.

Rafael said...

@ jim -

I think you underestimate the cost of constructing a second California aqueduct. Already, LA county has had its water supply cut by 15% by court order to protect the Delta smelt, a little fishie that is highly sensitive to water salinity. Too much water going to SoCal means the Delta is becoming more brackish.

Possession is 9/10ths of the law and, Northern California has the water.

BruceMcF said...

Jim: "HSR is routed ... through the inland empire (ontario riverside san bernadino) because those are the the places where the next 20 million in population will live. It's really just that simple."

HSR hopes to be routed through those locations ... if it cannot get the right of way, the Corona alignment would require additional dedicated transport corridors to connect into Riverside and Ontario.

But, yes, certainly that would be the hope ... given that the Corona alignment was not not considered as a main alignment option.

jim said...

@Rafael The fish won't stop the southern california developers. They are already planning to start using desalination plants and they I think they get most of their water from the colorado river and a portion from the ca aqueduct. While the environmentalists, and many of us who might be considered "forward thinking" think the idea of high density urban development is a good thing ( but don't even THINK about cramming more yahoos into my city) most people who will come to cali in the next boom, and there will be one, will come here and expect the house and the yard with the pool and the swingset in the back yard. That will call for more suburban development in those outlying areas. In addtion to that, haveing live for many years in the less urban parts of the state - i have to tell that most californians despise density, and look upon La nd the Bay area with utter disdain. They don't like minorities, they don't like people living on top of eah other, they don't like the dirty streets, they don't like the "liberal" politics they just don't want anything to do with urban living. So, there will continue to be a demand for central valley high desert and inland empire growth as usual. I'm not saying I agree with it, but I have watch how this state operates since I was a kid, and I know what is going to happen. It will be business as usual.

Brandon in San Diego said...

I am celebrating. I have my wireless network backup and can post. But, I have so much to catch up on, I am not goign to read through the above posts. I'll leave it at this...

Green energy is fantastic; I am green.

But, it's a publicly energized agenda's (pardon pun)

Ideas like this insert higher costs into a publicly provided services.

The public eventually questions higher costs... and beaucratic responses and sentiment wanes.