Monday, June 15, 2009

Monday Open Thread

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

Comment starter: Senator Denise Moreno Ducheny has been promoting a bill, SB 409, to create a Department of Railroads. Good idea? Bad idea?

UPDATE: Live from Porto, Portugal, it´s your blog proprietor! Currently waiting for the 11:45 Alfa Pendular south to Coimbra. I have some pictures of Portugal´s rail network but they´re not uploaded yet. The Alfa Pendular is a Pendolino tilting fast train that shares tracks with freight and slower rail (including the intercidades and suburbans). The top speed we achieved coming north from Lisboa was 210 km/h (about 130 mph), but that was rarely sustained, and in fact there were several dead stops in the middle of nowhere and plenty of slow orders. We arrived at Porto Campanhã about 15 minutes late as a result. I have no idea what the typical on-time performance of the Alfa Pendular is.

Still, I think it is a very good model for how some of the HSR corridors in the US can be upgraded. The Amtrak Cascades are intended to achieve similar speeds, and Amtrak uses Talgo trainsets on the route for precisely that purpose, although more sidings and trackwork needs to be done to enable the Cascades corridor to achieve the high speeds. I could also see the Midwest HSR corridors using a Talgo or Pendolino system to achieve higher speeds and quicker travel times (and I believe Ray LaHood has indicated this is his preference for that corridor).

Of course, tilting trains of 130 mph capability aren´t a permanent solution, even if they are a very good first step toward improving the passenger rail network. Today the Portguese parliament is holding hearings on the government´s proposals to build an AVE-like system to connect Lisboa to Porto, and to connect Lisboa to Madrid. Eventually the government wants to build south to the beach resorts of the Algarve, although that´s a lower priority for now.

45 comments:

jim said...

Well, this proposal sounds like it would give a lot of power to this agency to make decisions. A dept of railroads sounds good, on the surface, but, it won't fly unless the existing players see an advantage to it. BNSF, UP, Amtrak, Metrolink, and others all have existing relationships with caltrans, the fra, etc and this new layer of bureaucracy will be a hard sell unless they know things will be stacked in their favor. That means the same people being shuffled into newly created positions and very pro freight element from the get go. ( you may have noticed that the railroads really aren't fond of being told what to do unless they are getting something, and even then, not really)

Morris Brown said...

The SF Examiner is reporting that the Trans Bay Terminal in SF is being delayed by one year.

LINK

I'll let Rafael and others comment on this pretty import event.

BruceMcF said...

130mph is so a permanent solution, its just a permanent solution to a different problem than is solved by Express HSR.

And in the parts of the country where we can build out Emerging/Regional HSR 110mph and 125mph networks, when we turn to building Express HSR corridors, we can follow the French model of finishing a part of the corridor and starting services on it, continuing on the Emerging/Regional HSR corridors.

So a NYC/Chicago Express HSR corridor could run from NYC to western PA to run into the Pittsburgh/Cleveland section of the Ohio Hub, then a section to North Ohio to run into the Cleveland/Columbus section, then to Fort Wayne to run into the direct path to Chicago, then finish as far as its going before it relies on the Emerging/Regional path into Chicago.

But all the time, those Emerging/Regional HSR corridors continue to provide the primary regional connection services that they are designed for.

Anonymous said...

Morris - the Examiner is reporting that IF the Terminal is built with the Train Box built first (which was not the original plan), the opening would be delayed by a year (for bus and retail), but more than $100 million would be saved.

Did you even read the article?

Morris Brown said...

@anonymous

From the article:


The planned grand opening of a new Transbay Transit Terminal has been delayed by more than a year.

Directors of the Transbay Joint Powers Authority, an agency formed to oversee demolition of the existing center and construction of a new one at the same SoMa site, recently voted unanimously to modify construction plans.

Under the new plan, which will delay the planned debut by 14 months until late 2015, an unfurnished underground train station will be built into the transit center during initial construction efforts.

Under the previous plan, the train station would have been built after the transit center opened for business. Presently, no rail lines connect to the center.


Later in the article, the author mentions that, what is now a back up plan to build without the train box, would delay the project only 4 months. There seems to be no doubt that they are expecting the 1 year delay.

Aaron said...

I don't see what the big deal is here - it's a huge cost savings, and frankly, 2014 has always been a little more aspirational than operational. Even if it actually did pan out, they could easily stop at 4th and King while the new station was pending.

It will also guarantee that the train box is built at the outset, which would take care of a contentious issue.

Frankly, I don't see the news here - granted, the folks with AC and GG Transit are probably not happy right now, but in terms of the CHSRA, this is probably overall good news, not bad - building the train box first means that it's the upstairs that gets shortchanged if there are later funding problems.

jim said...

The upstairs isn't going to be "shortchanged" Must i remind you that this is not an hsr project? This is san francisco's transbay terminal project. If hsr is going to start causing more problems than its worth they can stay at 4th.

Aaron said...

@Jim: That's the fight that's about to happen amongst the Bay Area agencies who are slotted for space at the TBT. Doing the train box has the appearance of converting it into a Caltrain and HSR project.

Honestly, I wouldn't want to be the folks at GG transit today.

jim said...

actually as for the possible delay, no biggie. since here is always the possibility that amtrak might move our ticket office back to tbt where it was years ago-- and I'm not fond of that idea at all. so no rush. But there won't be any short changing going on. we are getting our new park and stuff.

jim said...

This is a SAN FRRANCISCO project and what do the BOS and city hall have to say about this. They are the ones who have all the power over any shovel of dirt that is moved in SF. Daly is on board, and makes sense even though everyone despises him and of course it makes sense to do the box first. BUT, there will NOT be any short changing going on.

Alon Levy said...

Bruce, unless the train can sustain 400 km/h, building new track between New York and Chicago is a waste of money.

You should also note that HSR trains can only continue on lower-speed lines if those lines are electrified.

Anonymous said...

Morris - exactly. The plan is to build the train box FIRST now, which will delay opening of the retail and bus poritons of the TBT by a little over a year. No news here other than we're delaying the opening of the non-train portions to save $100 million on the train portion.

Sounds like a great plan to me that doesn't affect when the trains start rolling at all (since they wouldn't have been coming into the station until LOOOOONG after 2014 or 2015).

BruceMcF said...

Alon Levy said...
"Bruce, unless the train can sustain 400 km/h, building new track between New York and Chicago is a waste of money."

Take care in projecting dirt cheap crude oil behaviors more than a decade into the future. The competitive advantage of rail at 2 hours and competitive parity of rail at 3 hours is going to expand over the next two decades.

And of course the advantage of this strategy is, there's no need to build the NYC/Chicago HSR unless and until it is competitive.

"You should also note that HSR trains can only continue on lower-speed lines if those lines are electrified."

The best Emerging/Regional HSR corridors will generate an operating surplus, so they'll be well capable of upgrading to electric traction.

BruceMcF said...

jim said...
"The upstairs isn't going to be "shortchanged" Must i remind you that this is not an hsr project? This is san francisco's transbay terminal project."

Of course its SF's transbay terminal project, and by majority decision that makes it an HSR project, since it was designated as the SF HSR terminal under the 1999 local proposition. Whoever is proceeding under the authority of that proposition has a responsibility to ensure that it can fulfill that role.

timote said...

"High-speed rail is happening in California. It’s coming to downtown San Francisco."

Ahh, music to my eyeballs.

lurking said...

I think what is being overlooked on the Trans Bay Terminal issue when you say it is not an HSR issue, is that they are trying very hard to get funds from the HSR 8 Billions that has been allocated for HSR.

If they don't have a train box, it could hardly quality for funding from this portion of the stimulus funding.

Brian Stankievich said...

I was one of the only two public speakers at the meeting, and the only non-agency one (the other was from AC Transit).

The decision to move ahead with the train box is a huge win for rail service in the Bay Area. Advocates have struggled for over two decades to get rail service extended to the Transbay Terminal. Now we are only one Federal decision and a few months from getting a fully funded train station box.

Building bottom up will also allow the TJPA engineers more flexibility in column location to take care of the issues discussed on this and other blogs.

This is a huge win for Caltrain and CA HSR.

Andrew said...

Alright, the train box is happening. Now to just straighten out the flaws in the entrance tunnel design.

Is anyone talking about something like a pedestrian concourse under Beale St, now?

Brandon in San Diego said...

Lurking at 5:30pm wrote:

I think what is being overlooked on the Trans Bay Terminal issue when you say it is not an HSR issue, is that they are trying very hard to get funds from the HSR 8 Billions that has been allocated for HSR.
.
.
That is exactly correct. Whether or not the City/County of SF gets stimulus funding, they are motivated to try and minimize use of their own funds to this project. In doing so they will turn their eyes toward California Prop 1A funds.

Some funding... repeat... 'some' prop 1A funding may have merit to go toward the TBT, but it should not be overwhelming and threaten the remainder of the planned system. It should be measured with the benefit to the overall system.

Leaders eleswhere in the state, from Southern California and Sacramento, should be congnizant of this.

Aaron said...

Honestly, since the TBT train box would be a whole lot smaller but for HSR, HSR should put in its fair share - otherwise, SF would have every right to say "stay at 4th and Townsend or build your own goddamned station."

Having said that, I think everyone involved knows that means they're not going to get full funding from 1A. What would be equitable is for SF to receive the increased cost associated with adding HSR components to the TBT, but politically, things are never that simple, and getting to that number would involve a lot of squishy math.

I'm hoping to see some good faith negotiations over this, but my guess is that it's going to turn ugly quickly. Frankly, it would be preferable if we could use stimulus money on the trainbox and duck the issue of NorCal vs. SoCal by letting the Feds pick up all or most of the bill. (As usual, the Bay Area will provide the more contentious issue since right now it looks like HSR will be accommodated in LA's existing Union Station with some modifications).

Spokker said...

I knew a girl whose box was so big you could run a train through it.

jim said...

Aaron your perspective is probably the most accurate at least that's likely how city hall feels about it. sort of yes we'll accommodate you for a price. Everyone is going to circle their wagons - they will all negotiate but it may not be pretty - just look at what kopp stirred up already with his previous - we'll stop at 4th street" comments. And unless the feds or chsr are gonna pay for the whole thing, the city isnt going to let anyone else dictate stuff. I mean, just understand that nothing happens here until everyone has a say, and the people via the BOS and planning comish, have a lot more power than the mayor. That said. I'm sure it will all work out in the end. just don't pull any stunts that might get the resident's panties in a bunch if they get wind of it cuz then there's real trouble.

jim said...

spokker you couldn't resiist.

BruceMcF said...

Aaron said...
"@Jim: That's the fight that's about to happen amongst the Bay Area agencies who are slotted for space at the TBT. Doing the train box has the appearance of converting it into a Caltrain and HSR project."

The electoral mandate from the proposition is that it has always supposed to be a project in service of Caltrain and HSR, among other things. Its just that city hall found it convenient to let that responsibility slide in the original design process, postponing the Caltrain train box and adopting the strategy regarding the local mandate to support HSR, "oh, and if there are ever HSR, they can go here too".

They obviously were not expecting that HSR money would be part of the funding pool for building the Caltrain box, or they would not have settled on such a crappy design.

Oops.

jim said...

It may not be the optimal design for purists but there is nothing preventing hsr trains from using the station. ( and I still don't get the fuss about the platforms. they are just platforms, like every other platform. They aren't suppose to be fancy. In fact I believe that all the HSR stations should be built in as spartan a fashion as possible to save money. I mean do we want a system up and running or do we want to piss away money on marble floors and gold leaf. We can't afford it. just make the train run.

Anonymous said...

Jim, If you think anyone here complaining about the TBT train box design is talking about marble and gold leaf, you're clearly not reading any of the comments.

Passenger on-load/off-load capacity is EXTREMELY crucial in the design of any train station (more crucial than the design of the trains themselves, really, since a crappy station anywhere on the line puts a limit on ANY and EVERY train used in the system), but especially multi-billion dollar underground ones that can't be changed easily.

jim said...

Okay well go ahead and keep wasting time and money and nitpicking and see when the project gets done. i thought kopp said the trains would be running by 2016 or something- My bet is 2022-25. An the posts I read about the platform areas was that they look oppressive and they "dank' or basement like. Those are the comments I was referring too. if the box needs to be longer or the curves adjusted, fine do it and be done with it. just don't jeopardize the rest of the tbt project and keep you hands out if the city's treasury. thats all.

TomW said...

Alon Levy said...
"Bruce, unless the train can sustain 400 km/h, building new track between New York and Chicago is a waste of money."
I agree that 400km/hr is needed, but I don't think that is such an implausible number. After all, Alstom's AGV is designed for 360km/hr, and vastly exceeded that in testing. I strongly suspect that a 400km/hr rtain will be available within 15 years.

Alon Levy said...

Bruce: the Northeast Regional breaks even operationally, generating surpluses in good years and deficits in bad ones. Why do you think that medium-speed rail corridors with diesel locomotives will generate operating surpluses?

BruceMcF said...

Alon Levy said...
"Bruce: the Northeast Regional breaks even operationally, generating surpluses in good years and deficits in bad ones. Why do you think that medium-speed rail corridors with diesel locomotives will generate operating surpluses?"

If the Acela was brought up to the trip speeds of the "medium speed rail corridors", I reckon it would do better too. Of course, its a hell of a lot more expensive to add capacity in the Northeast Corridor, because there is so little unused right of way compared to the Great Lakes and Midwest.

Alon Levy said...

The Regional is faster than the Midwest projects are designed to be. It achieves 125 mph on straight track, whereas the proposed top speed for pretend-HSR lines in the Midwest is at best 110 mph and for some lines 79 mph.

Spokker said...

Upgrading lines to 110 MPH is still a worthy cause. And even if the top speed is 79 MPH, it's a huge improvement if the time spent going 79 MPH is increased.

BruceMcF said...

Alon Levy said...
"The Regional is faster than the Midwest projects are designed to be. It achieves 125 mph on straight track, whereas the proposed top speed for pretend-HSR lines in the Midwest is at best 110 mph and for some lines 79 mph."

If the focus is on transport service provided, what matters is trip speed, not top speed. With the crowding along the NEC, it will be a long, hard, expensive slog getting improved trip speeds, but its probably worth the extraordinary efforts required. Especially given the relatively large number of Senators per square mile up in that part of the country.

BruceMcF said...

And for spacings of cities in the Great Lakes and tallgrass Midwest, 79mph to 110mph crosses important thresholds in demand for the rail. For example, at 79mph, the Triple-C is Cleveland/Columbus, Columbus/Cincinnati, and intermediate stations to each ... the 110mph tier of the Ohio Hub on the same corridor adds Cleveland/Cincinnati to the mix.

That's why the corridor is projected at around 80%-90% operating cost recovery built to 79mph, requiring ongoing operating subsidies, and 130%-140% operating cost recovery at 110mph, able to support revenue bonds for state side funding to continue building the system.

It would be a different story if there was the kind of costs that California faces along the alignment in getting out of the Bay or getting out of the LA Basin ... but for 110mph corridors, there is ample available ROW and no big cost hurdles like that between Appalachia and the Mississippi.

Alon Levy said...

Bruce, the NEC doesn't have crowding problems. It has slow zones, caused by tight curves in Connecticut and a hellish tunnel in Baltimore, but the Regional's problem is never track sharing with commuter trains. The Acela has problems with track-sharing, but the Regional runs at the same speed as the commuter trains. In fact, between NY and Philly, the Regional can maintain average speeds of 108 km/h. It's not much, but it's better than what the diesels achieve even on fast lines like Chicago to Kansas City or New York to Albany.

It's unfortunate that the Midwest is shooting so low, because available ROW there is so straight it could support almost any speed with minimal curve easement. The lines from Chicago to St. Louis, Chicago to Indianapolis, Chicago to Cleveland, and Cleveland to Cincinnati are straighter than the Shinkansen and the TGV, except for curves that appear once every 50 or 100 km.

Ideally, Amtrak would bet the company on true HSR on the NEC and then spend the profits on low-hanging HSR fruits like Empire and the aforementioned Midwestern corridors... but that would require people in the Northeast to care about rail improvements a lot more than they actually do.

Arthur Dent said...

What's required to go from 79 to 110 mph?

Alon Levy said...

Positive train control, new locomotives, higher standards of track maintenance, automatic train stop...

Arthur Dent said...

Is that it, or the beginning of a longer list? I was under the impression that there could be issues with sharing tracks with freight. If so, what's needed to get around those regulations?

Arthur Dent said...

I found the answer to my question. According to Caltrain which currently operates at 79 mph, they have FRA approval to operate at 95 mph after they implement their proposed PTC system, and they're expecting it to be approved at 110 mph after testing.
"This system is still in the process of undergoing its final verification and validation and is expected to be approved for operation at speeds up to 110 mph, after the testing is completed next year. It has not been applied to provide separation of rolling stock with differing levels of buff strength to date. Caltrain expects to be the first property to demonstrate the safety of mixing differing levels of buff strength as the first vehicles to be procured for the electrification enter service."
"By providing a positive train control system the safe separation of the different types of rolling stock can be maintained. At the present time the FRA has not approved any PTC system to provide for this separation, but we have reason to believe that the FRA would entertain an application for such a use."
If Caltrain is correct, then what are we gaining by placing 125 mph HSR next to 110 mph Caltrain? An increase of 15 mph over 50 miles is about 3.5 minutes travel time. When you look at the travel time vs. system costs, HSR doesn't look like a good value along the Caltrain corridor.

Alon Levy said...

The gain comes from making fewer stops. Caltrain is expected to make all or most stops between San Jose and San Francisco, while HSR will only make two intermediate stops.

Arthur Dent said...

Alon, if the gain really did come down to the number of stops made, here's a solution: run a few Caltrains with no stops. You'll save us all several billion bucks.

jim said...

@arthur - but if the upgrades are being amde to the corridor, the electrification and the grade separations and HSR is coming as far as san jose, then why not run it the rest of the way to san francisco since that is what the voters voted for not to mention the transfer times in san jose. Why spend billions on an hsr route and then leave out the last 50 miles?

Arthur Dent said...

Jim, because those last 50 miles aren't free.

I'm having a hard time justifying a few billion dollars for a 3.5 minute improvement. I realize you live in SF and would love to have non-stop service, but surely even passengers who stand to gain would draw a line somewhere that indicates excess. Where would you draw your line?

Alon Levy said...

Arthur, I draw the line at terminating trains at San Jose and forcing passengers to get onto separate trains to San Francisco. If you want to have through-service from the HSR line onto electrified Caltrain then I'm fine with it, but then you're going to need 4 Caltrain tracks to have a decent capacity. Caltrain gets away with running local and express trains on the same tracks right now because it's underused, but lines that expect even moderate ridership, for example most commuter lines around New York, have four tracks.

Arthur Dent said...

Alon, what I’m asking is how much is that non-stop service worth. 1 billion? 5 billion? 20 billion? 100 billion? There are ongoing costs, too. Then there are the environmental impacts, eminent domain takings, rebuilding stations, reducing current rail service, etc. etc. At some point we have to draw a line and say “it’s worth x dollars” (or homes or reduced service) but it’s not worth 2x or 5x or 10x.

I’m asking you to put a stake in the ground so we don’t end up with a regrettable boondoggle. Any HSR enthusiast who’s unwilling to do that loses credibility.