Thursday, May 14, 2009

Thursday Open Thread

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

Busy day here, and my train-related thoughts are currently occupied with a meeting this evening at Monterey City Hall on the debate between building light rail or bus rapid transit along the Monterey Branch Line from Castroville to Monterey. I'll be speaking in favor of a light rail solution, as that's likely to generate more riders and more transit-oriented development, but we'll see what the rest of the community's reaction is. The ROW is already publicly-owned. I'd like to think my city isn't populated by the same kind of NIMBYs we've seen on the Peninsula, but we'll see.

Not much happening around the HSR-sphere today. There has been an interesting discussion about the mid-Peninsula station in the comments to the previous post.

Arnold Schwarzenegger is busy trying to scare voters into backing his May 19th budget ballot propositions. Whether they pass or fail the state is still facing a multi-billion dollar budget shortfall, which may generate pressure to cut the CHSRA's budget, and will make it more difficult to sell the Prop 1A bonds. Democrats are busy lobbying Congress to pass legislation allowing the federal government to back California's short-term cashflow borrowing, which would greatly help matters.


Aaron said...

It's interesting that Monterey is considering LRT. People say there's no transit in California, but actually, California is the only state I can think of where every major community has rail transit (from south to north, San Diego LRT, North County's new rail system, LA's heavy and light rail services, San José's light rail and potentially the BART extension, San Francisco's Muni and BART, and Sacramento's LRT. Not all states have such comprehensive transit.

It's something to think about - a lot of people complain about how bad things they perceive things to be, but in the scheme of things, California is ahead of the pack in North America when it comes to transportation alternatives.

Spokker said...

Imagine the hundreds of thousands of rail riders spilling out onto California's freeways. The transit dependent will (and have during strikes) borrow cars or purchase vehicles they can't afford so they can get where they need to go. There are also a growing number of commuters who take mass transit to get to work despite the fact that they have a car.

All things considered, California is a mass transit behemoth and it's growing every year.

Spokker said...

The problem is when people look at say, West Los Angeles, and scream about how you need a car to survive in LA, but ignore how much the subway has revitalized Downtown and Hollywood. Once the subway goes under Wilshire all the way to Santa Monica, it's going to transform that part of LA.

Karl (In Santa Cruz) said...

Too bad Santa Cruz, Aptos, and Rio del Mar are a NIMBY-hood. Else a light rail along the UP tracks from Davenport to Santa Cruz to Watsonville could hook up with light rail to Monterey. That would make a nice way to get from one cusp of the Monterey Bay to the other.

Andrew said...

In my spare time, I put my ideas about LAX rail access in a Google map.Suggestions, criticisms?

Anonymous said...

Aaron: What about Fresno? Higher city population than Sacramento (and definitely higher than Escondido or Monterey) but absolutely pathetic transit. Nothing but a couple dozen bus lines, running at half-hour headways and averaging about 5mph, with most not even serving downtown. Are there any plans to sort this out before HSR opens there? The cost of building fast grade-separated HSR tracks right through downtown Fresno seems a bit of a waste if everyone will have to drive to the station anyway.

Karl (in Santa Cruz) said...

@Anonymous re Fresno:

I grew up in LA and remember the Pacific Electric in its final days. In its heyday it was a very significant system but one of the reasons it died was that it got slower and slower and slower because of grade crossings and other impediments.

When I lived in Mountain View a few years ago I tried using the VTA light rail to commute to my office at Cisco. What a disaster - it turned a 10 minuted drive into a 60 minute stop and go ordeal.

I agree that high speed rail and community rail need to be integrated. And both need to be faster than an automobile and be perceived as less expensive to the passenger.

Anonymous said...

Something that puts public transit at a competitive disadvantage in California is the fact that trains and buses must always obey speed limits, while California drivers never do (unless forced to by traffic). This particularly impacts slower local/regional transit, but could impact HSR as well when people consider door-to-door time for shorter segments. What do commenters on this blog think about the possibility of installing speed cameras on freeways, to measure the average speed of drivers between points and actually enforce the law consistently? The primary aim would be to improve safety, but it would have the added benefits of decreasing highway patrol costs and giving private car travel less of an unfair competitive advantage.

Rafael said...

@ Robert Cruickshank -

TAMC hopes to persuade Caltrain to run a limited number of commuter trains out to Salinas, with Monterey accessible via a transfer at Castroville. To the best of my knowledge, neither Caltrain nor UPRR have committed to make that possible just yet, though TAMC appears confident that money from the stimulus bill will close the funding gap.

A bigger problem may be the poor state of good repair of the UPRR track and resulting slow orders for passenger trains and an uncomfortable ride for passengers. UPRR claims it always gives Amtrak trains priority, as it is required to by law - but not everyone agrees.

The Caltrain extension to Salinas will not attract a whole lot of customers if service is not fast and punctual enough. Maintaining a rail line used primarily for heavy freight to the standard desired for commuter trains running at 79mph, never mind 110, is not cheap.

The infrastructure cost for building a light rail line is quite high, as is that of bringing the UPRR line up to snuff. It might make sense to split the whole project into two phases.


In phase 1, the focus should be on making the Caltrain extension to Salinas successful. In addition to an agreement with Caltrain, this will require a contract with UPRR regarding trackage rights, and targets for state of good repair, on-time performance and maximum speed.

MTS already operates multiple regional bus lines that commuters and tourists alike can use to reach the Salinas transit center. Unfortunately, that is located about 3 blocks from the Amtrak and future Caltrain station, so bus routes 2X, 20 and 21 should be extended to that station. In the morning, they should stop at the transit center, then the station before returning to the transit center for an extended stop. In the afternoon, the extended stop should be on the inbound leg instead.

It's relatively cheap to increase the frequency of bus service as demand for it increases.


If and when the Caltrain has established a dependable track record on ridership, a streetcar/light rail service from Monterey Cannery Row (Aquarium) to an Amtrak/Caltrain station can still be added in phase 2 as long as the existing rail ROW is preserved.

If full grade separation is too expensive and/or runs into excessive resistance from the locals, there would be four alternatives with grade crossings:

a) conventional overhead catenaries along the entire route and electric traction motors,

b) conventional overhead catenaries over part of the route plus superflywheel and/or ultracapacitor bank plus electric traction motors,

c) a clean-burning internal combustion engine plus mechanical transmission or,

d) a clean-burning generator set plus electric traction motors.

Which option makes the most sense depends on capital vs. operating costs, passenger comfort, desired local air quality, fuel vs. grid electricity prices and public acceptance of overhead catenaries near beachfront properties.

Rafael said...

@ Andrew -

I'm not quite clear on one aspect: would heavy and light rail share track in your proposal? In case you're not aware of it, that is not allowed.

Also, in case you haven't done so already, check out LA Metro's page on the Harbor Subdivision Transportation Corridor.

Andrew said...


You mean the stretch from Aviation Blvd. to the LAX terminal loop? I had thought of four tracks at first, so that the Green Line would have dedicated tracks. If that's too expensive than it could probably make due with two.

Why isn't it allowed? The EMU's I have in mind for the Slauson Line and LAX Express aren't tank-like FRA compliant, which I know has all kinds of ramifications for my Valley and Orange County legs, but I would hope that the drive for HSR would loosen up FRA regulations.

jim said...

Props 1A and F are a good idea. 1A for a rainy day fund and to help get spending back to a more realistic level. We should have a rainy day fund to cover these capitalist ups and downs. Plus it creates a pot of money for one time big ticket items.

also - read this today -May 14, 2009, By Matt Williams, Assistant Editor
SACRAMENTO, Calif. --Two centerpieces of President Barack Obama's economic platform -- "smart" electricity grid technology and high-speed train service -- are still in the formative stage, and it's generally too early to know when and where those systems will mature.
But two government officials speaking Thursday at Government Technology's Conference on California's Future weren't hesitant to talk timelines.
Quentin Kopp, chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, said some segments of a 200 mph bullet train that's planned for the length of California -- like routes between San Francisco and San Jose, or Los Angeles and Anaheim -- could be ready for passengers as early as 2014 or 2015.

Ill beleive it when I see it.

jim said...

re:monterey santa cruz salinas. - right now you can go caltrain to sjc then 17x to scz you can go amtrak to sjc 17x to scz you can amtrak to sjc #55mst" to mry 3 times per day, caltrain to sjc #55mst to mry and you can go surliner bus and or train 14 to sns and take local mst to mry. No matter how you do it its not very fast.

jim said...

There's also currently three daily rt via surfliner bus to sns from okj-sfc and its the quickest way.

Eric said...

You really want to help enable Monterey to become yet another Silicon Valley commuter suburb? Really?

david said...

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Eric said...

What about Fresno? Higher city population than Sacramento (and definitely higher than Escondido or Monterey) but absolutely pathetic transit.

Good grief, we get it already. You hate Fresno and you don't want those people on your pretty train. They've got at least a decade before HSR trains run to get their local transit sorted, and route some more bus lines to connect with the train.

Rafael said...

@ Andrew -

you mean quad track here or or here?

Dual light rail tracks side=by-side might just be possible in some parts of the HSTC without having to exercise eminent domain. I'm not familiar with the exact

That might be good enough, as long as the stations are all dual-tracked and located such that trains traveling in opposite directions can pass each other there without unduly long stops. The number of intermediate stops defines the number of simultaneously operating trains in each direction.

Your map shows ten stations between LAX and LA US, which implies up to 10 trains running in each direction at any one time, all day long. It's not clear why such a shuttle service should use the run-through tracks unless the route extends north or east from Union Station.

Due to the large number of stops, local trains would manage no more than 20mph average. The distance between those end points is around 17 miles, so the trip would take almost an hour, which is not even time competitive with the existing FlyAway bus.

Perhaps longer bi-level trains and just two intermediate stations (e.g. Crenshaw/W 67th and Metro blue line at Slauson/Long Beach) might be a better compromise, with the interior design of the lower level customized to serve airline passengers with bags. These could achieve higher average speed and crossing gates would be closed much less frequently, preferably after implementing FRA quiet zone provisions to avoid those infernal bells and horns.

A transit backbone used not just by an LAX-LAUS rail shuttle but also other light and/or commuter rail services would almost certainly have to be fully dual-tracked to avoid a capacity bottleneck and associated long delays. In addition, it would probably have to be fully grade separated, at least in one direction, by stacking tracks. You'd need transition sections to the conventional side-by-side configuration so trains can reverse direction, though at LAX you could conceivably deploy a train elevator (inbound above outbound track).


Similar concepts in service or in development:

NCTD Sprinter between Escondido and Oceanside also relies on a combination of single track and dual-track bypass sections.

Idem the future SMART service in Marin/Sonoma counties. They have the option of dual tracking if demand picks up. For now, they are preserving that ROW by turning it into a bike path.


Regarding mixed traffic, that is only possible with an FRA waiver or via guaranteed time separation today. Caltrain has demonstrated (p8) via the requisite computer simulations that the grade crossing crash performance of modern "non-compliant" EMU rolling stock is as good or better than that of FRA-compliant equipment. The original, full version of the report on mixed traffic was even more explicit about the results, which didn't make FRA look all that good - Caltrain now only has the less incendiary summary on it's web page.

Train-on-train collisions must be avoided via appropriate signaling and automatic train control (aka positive train control).

TomW said...

The numebr of sugegstions for using non-FRA compliant rolling stock show how silyl the FRA rules are. Unelss they update them with something sensible, we'll end up with a load of non-complient equipment, and the FRA will not have bee nable to set (sensisble) standards.
One option would be for the FRA to draw up a set of European-style requirements, but with the provisio that they can only used on routes with postive train control (which will be mandotory within a couple of decades anyway).

Andrew said...


Both the local and express trains in my plan would use heavy rail EMUs, the only potential sharing with light rail trains would be with the Green Line under Century Blvd. between Aviation Blvd. and the airport.

The route would be fully multi-tracked and grade-separated, probably with aerial structures. I added all of the intermediate stops because I envisioned a level of surface area coverage for the local trains to be comparable to that of the other Metro rail lines. Many if not all of them would have bypass tracks through the middle of them for express trains to pass locals.

As for using the Union Station run-through tracks, the express trains would decouple at Union Station with half of the cars headed north to Surfliner stations in the Valley, and the other half south to such stations in Orange County.

Expensive: yes, and it may seem pie-in-the-sky, but I believe it's the right way to use the corridor.

無名 - wu ming said...

fresno and sac have just about the same populations (400,000ish) and densities (4,000ish/sq. mile). given that fresno is going to have this HSR station, hopefully they'll get a kick-start on improving that transit by the time the HSR is actually running.

Clem said...

superflywheel and/or ultracapacitor bank ... at LAX you could conceivably deploy a train elevator ...

Visionary stuff! Could the train elevator potentially be powered by a superflywheel?


Robert Cruickshank said...

@Eric - we *already are* another Silicon Valley commuter suburb. Perhaps not to the same degree as Santa Cruz, but it is definitely a key part of our economy.

@Rafael - From what TAMC staff tell me the negotiations with Caltrain and UP are close to conclusion. Both have committed to making it happen, and most, if not all, details have been ironed out. State funding issues have delayed the start of the service, projected for 2010, to perhaps 2011. But it will happen and soon.

The Salinas Transit Center is going to be moved to the existing Amtrak station - MST has already finalized plans with the city for that. It was always a short walk anyway, but now it'll be a few feet instead of a few blocks.

As to the Monterey Branch Line (MBL), the meeting laid out some points I know you will find interesting.

First, there are two alternatives under study - LRT and BRT. In the case of light rail, there would NOT be overhead wires - they'd go with a DMU solution. This would have the added benefit of enabling the line to be used by intercity trains at some point in the future, which TAMC still wants to do.

A BRT implementation would closely resemble the Orange Line in LA. Some folks like that because it could offer a "one-seat ride" from Salinas to Monterey, even though only 5% of the riders on the MBL would ever use it. BRT's ridership would be much less than the LRT ridership over time.

The cost was the most interesting thing - there's really not much difference between capital and operating costs for BRT and LRT. BRT will cost about $190 million and LRT would cost around $210 million (both estimates are for the full line - Monterey to Castroville). Operating expenses are around $8.5 million, which LRT being slightly higher.

The main obstacle facing TAMC is paying the operating expenses. A local sales tax failed to get the necessary 2/3 majority in the November election (it got 62%), so the subsidy to make up the difference between the farebox revenue and the total operating cost is unclear.

Some of the representatives from the local hospitality industry questioned the need for either project (BRT or LRT) and seemed to think the status quo was working fine. These idiots clearly hadn't realized that most of their workers would use this line (getting them to work affordably and on-time) and that it would help boost patronage at their businesses. The industry is locked into a 1980s mentality and cannot imagine that anyone would ever want to visit Monterey without a car.

If TAMC can get some federal New Starts money, then it's possible that can generate enough enthusiasm for the county to find a funding source for the operating revenues. If I had to guess, I'd say that's what TAMC is planning on, although I don't know that for certain.

Anonymous said...

I live in the Northbay and I can assure you that it will prove impossible to reclaim any part of the NWP ROW that is relinquished to a bike lane. Local enviromentalists have been traditionally very leery of mass transit due to fears of sprawl. Once they get a load of the ghetto elevated Caltrain-HSR wants to impose on the Peninsula they wouldn't touch rail transit with the proverbial ten foot pole.

Besides public transit overall has been in decline in the Northbay for decades, primarily due to job losses in San Francisco. SMART's future is very dicey.

Bianca said...

Local enviromentalists have been traditionally very leery of mass transit due to fears of sprawl.

Really? Do you have links to anything to back this up? In order for mass transit to work effectively, a certain level of density is required. And the environmentalists that I know want to give people alternatives to cars.

Andy Chow said...

On May 7, the Caltrain JPB scheduled two public hearings on possible fare and service changes as well as to declare a fiscal emergency. Caltrain is facing a projected $10.1 million deficit for the next fiscal year which starts this July.

Over the years, the introduction of Baby Bullet service and other one-time measures managed to get Caltrain through several years of structural deficits, but it appears they've run out of one-time measures. However, raising fares and/or cutting service would be a dire hit to the positive momentum of the last several years.

BayRail Alliance believes that major changes are needed to address the structural deficits. Without major changes, Caltrain's plan to cut service and raise fares could be the beginning of a downward spiral.

BayRail Alliance 5-point plan:

- No elimination of weekend service
- No bicycle surcharge
- Establish airport parking
- Support dedicated funding
- Replace Caltrain JPB with an elected district

While some elements can be implemented by Caltrain in the short run, others will require changes in state law. Please support our effort by joining our Facebook group as we plan our actions in the next few months.

BruceMcF said...

Anonymous said...
"What about Fresno? Higher city population than Sacramento (and definitely higher than Escondido or Monterey) but absolutely pathetic transit. Nothing but a couple dozen bus lines, running at half-hour headways and averaging about 5mph, with most not even serving downtown. Are there any plans to sort this out before HSR opens there? The cost of building fast grade-separated HSR tracks right through downtown Fresno seems a bit of a waste if everyone will have to drive to the station anyway."

{voice tone="sarcasm"}
Yes, it is absolutely crucial to set up the bus routes 10 years before the HSR line opens, because establishing a new bus route has such a long lead time.

Talk about putting the cart before the horse.

HSR has the longest lead time, then local rail, then buses.

So a coherent plan of attack would be for Fresno to first sort out where the HSR station will be. Then determine what kind of local rail system it will be and how it will provide platform to platform transfers to the HSR system and to the Joaquin. Then integrate the bus routes to that rail line.

The local rail stage can start serious planning four years from now, the new bus routes timed to the new rail line, and the whole system still open before the HSR station opens for business.

jim said...

I'm actually surprised that Monterey county would wan more access. I would think it would be nimby central, and very wary of anything that would induce growth. Better connections though would great for tourism though because right now, SF tourists wanting to go ( and they all want to go) to that area, have to jump through a lot of hoops to get there.

Rafael said...

@ Clem -

Example of superflywheel for light rail applications:

Example of its application in a bus:

Example of a trainset lift, albeit one used for the maintenance of articulated TGV trains. Found on your old website!

A fairly straightforward variation on this theme would lift a stiff platforms with rails on it. A trainset would slowly roll on when raised, apply the brakes and then descend at a controlled speed. The potential energy released can be stored in a bank of stationary superflywheels with sufficient efficiency to lift the empty platform back up again once the train has vacated it.

It's not something I've seen before, because it's usually possible to find enough land to run tracks side-by-side to begin with. However, California has some legacy rights-of-way that are too narrow for that conventional approach. You'd have to balance the cost of stacking tracks vertically plus the above lift against the cost/impact of widening the ROW. At LAX, the latter could be more expensive.

jim said...

I also heard that BART is reconsidering its move to have a people mover to OAK and instead may opt for rapid bus.

arcady said...

Maintaining a rail line used primarily for heavy freight to the standard desired for commuter trains running at 79mphThe standards for track maintenance are set by the FRA. The regulations classify track by top speed, and prescribe specific construction tolerances and inspection intervals. Class 3 track allows for freight speed of up to 40 and passenger speeds up to 60 mph, which is what you see on much of the Coast line between Santa Barbara and Salinas. It has traditionally been a secondary line for UP, and they haven't been willing to invest in maintenance to improve it beyond that. Class 4 allows freight speeds of 60 and passenger speeds of 80, and I believe is what is on the majority of freight mainlines, regardless of whether they're used by passenger trains. Class 5 allows freight speeds of 80 and passenger speeds of 90, but of course to go 80 and and above, you need some form of cab signal or ATS. Nevertheless, freight railroads do have Class 5 tracks, in places where they run fast container trains. So even with freight railroad track maintenance practices, 90 mph should be possible on many tracks. Of course, that's before you look at the issues of signals/ATS, grade crossings, scheduling and dispatching, and so on.

Adirondacker said...

Your map shows ten stations between LAX and LA US, which implies up to 10 trains running in each direction at any one time.

What do stations have to do with how many trains run? Caltrain has 6 trains an hour during rush hour, they have more than 6 stations. PATH has 13 stations, 20 trains an hour leave 33rd Street. More than 20 an hour leave the World Trade Center...

The number of intermediate stops defines the number of simultaneously operating trains in each direction.

Then Caltrain is running too few and PATH is running too many?

A fairly straightforward variation on this theme would lift a stiff platforms with rails on it. A trainset would slowly roll on when raised, apply the brakes and then descend at a controlled speed. The potential energy released can be stored in a bank of stationary superflywheels with sufficient efficiency to lift the empty platform back up again once the train has vacated it.

I'm not grasping the concept. Why is this train using an elevator instead of a ramp? I'm coming up with the railroad equivalent of a canal lock. Since trains tend to travel in both directions along a line that implies the train slowing rolling onto the platform and being lifted. Or you are doing this to avoid building a high platform because the freight trains come through? I suppose the freight trains could go through while the elevator is up but wouldn't gauntlet tracks work just as well and be far cheaper?

And unless the elevator is out in the middle of nowhere why not just capture the energy, sell it to the electrical grid and then buy it back when it's needed?

Anonymous said...

Adirondacker: I think Rafael had missed the caption on Andrew's map explaining that the line would be multi-tracked and grade separated, and so was trying to think of "creative" ways that his very high proposed level of service could possibly fit into the existing single-track grade-crossing-full line.

Spending billions on elevated structures and eminent domain takings along Slauson seems like overkill to me for the near future. Local light rail service would be provided along much of the route anyway by the Crenshaw Line, and express service on the harbor subdivision could be provided by existing Metrolink equipment on the existing track with very little capital cost. Access to LAX from the Green Line would also be made easier by the LAX master plan, though the authors seem to have ignored all plans for the Crenshaw line and harbor subdivision.

Airports are actually relatively small trip generators. The JFK airtrain, for example, only sees about 12000 daily riders (not including airport-internal trips). The Heathrow Express carries 15000. Projects like the Wilshire Subway could serve a lot more people per dollar spent.

Andrew said...

@Anonymous (9:35):

I'll concede that the Wilshire subway is a much more important project, but the Harbor subdivision corridor should either be grade-separated or not done at all for the time being. Even with just a non-stop Metrolink LAX service, there are all kinds of safety and traffic issues with running trains at grade along Slauson.

Also, after a train line is built, grade-separating it becomes prohibitively expensive. Metro is running into that problem with the Blue Line, it's running at capacity and their isn't much they can do to improve it without pouring loads of money into it. Once you build it, you're kind of stuck with it.