Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Ray LaHood's European Vacation

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

US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has been touring European HSR systems in recent days and is coming away impressed:

Spain's bullet train system is a model to follow as America plans how to spend the money the government is injecting to stimulate the economy, the U.S. transportation secretary said Saturday....

The Spanish network is likely to interest the U.S. government because its specially designed, electrified tracks — first devised for the French TGV system — are not as expensive to lay and run as some German or Japanese alternatives.

And Spanish state-of-the-art tunneling technology has proved successful in boring efficiently through mountain ranges to reach the cities of Valladolid and Malaga.

LaHood met with Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero to discuss how investing in such a train system could stimulate job creation in the U.S.

"Yesterday I traveled on a train at close to 350 kilometers (215 miles) per hour, the fastest I've ever ridden on a high-speed train," LaHood said. He said he had enjoyed a conversation and beverage aboard and found the experience very civilized.

"Our leaders have made the decision that America will have high speed rail," LaHood said.

As a longtime aficionado of the AVE system I am pleased, but not surprised, to see LaHood taking to the Spanish system. Because the Iberian Peninsula had its own rail gauge, Spain had to build all-new tracks using standard gauge for the AVE - meaning they have dedicated HSR tracks just as California will. Of particular interest is the tunneling technology Spain has employed, as The Transport Politic points out:

What is clear is that the distinctively Spanish obsession with using tunnel boring machines (TBM) seems to be a model for the Transportation Secretary; these semi-automated devices save on both time and cost in building underground rail corridors. For example, the 3.5 mile tunnel under downtown Barcelona, which is part of a larger project that will allow high-speed trains from central Spain to reach France, will only cost 180 million Euros to build. That’s far cheaper per mile than any similar U.S. tunneling project, and part of the explanation is the efficient use of those TBMs.

TBMs will be a godsend here in California where significant tunneling in the Pacheco Pass and Tehachapi Mountain areas will be needed to complete the system. Of course, I am sure that the Peninsula NIMBYs will seize on this as well as an argument that their tunnel is financially viable - which it probably isn't, and besides, they need to defend the position that their tunnel is more important than the all-important Pacheco and Tehachapi tunnels which are sorta necessary for the whole project to work as intended.

It's also possible that the tour is going to reconfirm for Ray LaHood the importance of adopting European safety standards for HSR trainsets. The FRA's weight rules need to be modernized - the current rules are an embarrassment and an impediment to proper HSR development in America. As the head of the Department that includes the FRA, LaHood is in a strong position to insist that the FRA enter the 21st century.

Perhaps the most important aspect of LaHood's visit is intangible - a renewed commitment to building European-style HSR here in America. Currently the only project that meets that standard is California's. I have every reason to believe this trip to France and Spain will bolster LaHood's demonstrated conviction that California's HSR project is deserving of robust federal support.

46 comments:

jim said...

I think the FRA will allow the lighter trains so long as they are kept completely separate from fra compliant trains. completely separate means there has to be certain size strength concrete barrier between them - on ethat is strong enough to keep a derailed container train from falling over on the hsr tracks. The fra is not likely to bend on this.

Anonymous said...

Not on topic, but this is as good a thread as any to point out that for the price of the GM bailout ($30 billion), California could build out its entire HSR system.

Anonymous said...

Holy cow, Anonymous. :-(

elfling

Caelestor said...

Wow, fail.
And also, the CAHSR is planned to create 450k jobs IIRC.

Anonymous said...

some moles:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mXfmORL6kHI
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yFHrI3HFMDg

Anonymous said...

jim: Non-FRA-compliant traffic already runs right next to compliant traffic with no barrier in some corridors. PATH near Newark and Harrison, LA Gold Line in Union Station, and San Diego Trolley north of Santa Fe depot are all examples. The northernmost stretch of the Newark Light Rail actually manages to share track with freight trains with only strict signal-based (rather than schedule-based or physical) separation. Of course, what works for light rail doesn't necessarily work for HSR, but the FRA bends more often than one might think.

jim said...

@anon- well I hope so. I just think the speeds involved may be an issue. Certainly from a safety perspective, the unions will have issue with it at that speed. I know I would not feel at all comfortable working on board at 125-220 without complete physical separation of grades, other traffic, people, and property. American life does not lend itself to the same kind of self discipline, awareness and common sense that asian and european countries enjoy. I wouldn't trust americans with these speeds without complete separation.

Adirondacker said...

Anon, PATH is an oddity, a mass transit system that is FRA compliant. It shared tracks with the Pennsylvania Railroad until the PRR terminal and ferry slip in Jersey City closed.

Anonymous said...

@Anon @ 2:23

You're forgetting the $16.3 billion that GM already received late last year and earlier this year. We're already at far more than the cost of the full buildout of CAHSR.

Anonymous said...

I'm glad somebody's mentioning the weight issue. Seriously, the FRA needs to lighten up on this, literally and figuratively.

I think it's particularly worth analyzing the experience in Britain, where, due in part to Network Rail and Railtrack's gross mismanagement of infrastructure from the late BR era to about a couple of years ago, you have plenty of examples of crash safety of rail equipment. Put simply, the newer monoque designs like the Mk IV and the Pendolino have held up outstandingly well in severe high speed crashes such as Selby (a passenger train, an SUV and a freight trains all meeting more or less simultaneously at a 142mph closing speed, with 10 deaths), Grayrigg and Hatfield (both broken rails derailing single trains at high speed), in contrast to the carnage more than a decade ago involving a German ICE train, better even than our own heavy equipment in comparably high-speed crashes such as Chase, MD (108mph closing speed with 16 deaths). And the British cars weigh 20 tons less per car than our stuff does.

So to recap -- Selby, with lightweight British monoque train cars slamming into a moving freight at a combined 142mph, saw cars more or less not crashed and caused fewer deaths and injuries than Chase, with heavyweight American Amfleet cars slamming into three stationary Conrail engines at 108mph and being crushed beyond recognition, in a situation where only the many empty seats in the lead cars prevented many more deaths.

And the FRA wants us to believe that we need their regs because it makes things safer? As with so many US regulations, it simply makes things more expensive.

randyw said...

Interesting article on the spanish system...

http://www.technologyreview.com/microsites/spain/train/index.aspx

jim said...

i'm glad they are bailing out GM I don't want those guys losing their jobs and since I pay taxes anyway, Id rather my taxes go to keep good americans employed instead of being pissed away on deadbeats and losers from all over.

jim said...

I'm sure we will be using this one.

Anonymous said...

jim - why not just give each GM employee $250k and help them find a new job? That would cost a lot less than the bailouts.

jim said...

If there are new jobs but there aren't new jobs. Soon we will all be working for minimum wage if business has its way.

jim said...

I mean for all the things this county wastes money on, the least complaining should come when we are spending money to keep our own employed but ever since around 1980 ish the american people have been fed a steady diet of the "turn on each other and eat your own" message. I find it to be truly disgusting. There's an entire generation of people now who would just as soon drown their own mother's for a buck. It's not the america I grew up in. American working men and women have had the you know what screwed out of them without lube and after its all said and done where does america end up? At the bottom of the current port o potty. I just hope thes infrastructure projects bring back some of the jobs pride and greatness exhibited by the generations before ours. I'm embarrassed.

jim said...

and I'm embarrassed and shamed of all of you who make excuses for it.

jim said...

Does anyone have figures on how many jobs the construction of the project will create? I think the 450 000 number has to do the the resulting economic stimulus created once complete. I'd like to see people being put to work soon, so californians can start making their mortgage payments again. That in itself will help turn the state's economy around soon.

Anonymous said...

jim - $250k per employee gives them several YEARS to find a new job.

jim said...

A good job that pays the mortgage, raises a family, includes health care and pension for when you get old and can't work? Where will these jobs come from and If it were me for instance at 45, there's no way you can take a 45 or 50 year old and have them start over. I couldn't do it. these people are gonna lose everything. CAn I assume you did not want to bail out wall street either? As soon as the new green collar jobs are ready you can shift people over and young people can prepare for that. Until then I have no problem bailing out my own.

Anonymous said...

@jim: Why should government spend billions so that GM managers and union workers can live in big houses with cushy pensions and health care plans, when there are millions of people in this country who are far worse off, with no pension, no health care, and barely able to pay rent?

GM employees do work that no longer needs to be done. It would be cheaper to pay them to sit at home than to pay them to keep wasting resources. Expanding unemployment benefits would make a lot more sense, and help a lot more people, than bailing out a select few useless companies.

BruceMcF said...

Anonymous said...
"@jim: Why should government spend billions so that GM managers and union workers can live in big houses with cushy pensions and health care plans, when there are millions of people in this country who are far worse off, with no pension, no health care, and barely able to pay rent?"

Quite. Far better to spend the money on allowing managers and workers at financial services enjoy cushy pensions and health care plans, and on allowing people working at over 700 foreign bases to enjoy cushy pensions and health care plans. Much higher priorities.

If it were a question of bailing out GM or spending the money on something more useful, that would be a different question. Of course, if we were spending the money on things that were more useful, we would be generating the good jobs with the pension plans, and GM going bust would not have the same collateral damage. Might need Universal Health Care to afford it, though, since we are running out of the ability to afford spending twice as much on health care as the rest of the world with no better health outcomes.

TomW said...

Modern British/European style rolling stock tends to stay upright and coupled together, it does not deform under impact, and nor do passengeres get ejected through windows. Those are the thinsg which save lives - weight has nothing to do with it.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't cars in the USA undergo crash testing, rather than being told they have to meet some weight requirement?

Anonymous said...

I am confused why the transport politic acts as though using TBMs is a new, unique, or particularly inexpensive idea. It was my understanding that TBMs were used almost everywhere deep tunnels were built, from Amsterdam to New York to Vancouver to New Delhi, and that using them was significantly more expensive than cut-and-cover tunneling.

@BruceMcF, offtopic: If the government hadn't bailed out GM, it wouldn't have borrowed the money it spent doing so. While borrowing money is in many cases justified (especially for appreciating investments like HSR), getting needlessly deeper into debt has significant potential to interfere with the government's ability to do useful things in the future. Of course, the same applies to the other wasteful expenditures that you mention.

Regarding universal health care I would point out that to lower costs to European levels the government has to not just pay the bills, but also own the hospitals and pay doctors a salary rather than piecework. I'm all in favor of that, but it won't be easy politically.

jim said...

One does wonder why it is that these small counties can find the money to fund large project after large project- and these projects have been taking place all over europe for decades, but the so called wealthiest nation on earth can not find the money. Where did all our money go?

Andrew said...

Once again, great post Robert. Hopefully LaHoods trip will have the effects that all Transit Advocates are hoping for.

Anonymous said...

OT but...

Latest plans for LA-Anaheim have been posted at CHSRA website (under board meetings, june 2009).

Fullerton, not Norwalk.
Separate tracks for HSR, not mixed system (requirement by FRA).
Other juicy stuff.

Anonymous said...

A question concerning tunneling if I may: What is the status of the Devil's Slide tunnel on Rt. 1? How is it being built, and how is it faring compared to its budget?

Aaron said...

@Anon: TMBs may be more expensive than simply digging a trench a la cut-and-cover, but you can't do cut-and-cover through mountains - too much to cut :). Cut-and-cover also doesn't usually work in places where you can't easily follow a street grid, which is why it's a great tool for most of LA's red line (at least along Hollywood, Vermont, and Wilshire, but even then, the curves necessarily lose the street grid at points, requiring some modification) . My understanding based on the maps I've seen so far is that TBMs will be used where cut-and-cover can't be, and as to that, it's certainly a hell of a lot cheaper and even moreso much safer than older techniques.

Rob Dawg said...

Do we have anything close to a reasonable expectation of getting 3.5mi of tunneling for 180m Euros?

Anonymous said...

how will this project really create jobs in the US if we would have to buy the technology from other countries and have "specialists" come teach us how to use the stuff, install it, etc. (also from other countries)??

It seems to me that jobs for US workers is a long ways away on this project......

TomW said...

Re Anon @ 1:08 PM:
Firslty, please use your name or failign that, any name, rather than anonymous. Call yourself "green turtle" if you want, but please have some sort of identifier.

To answer your question abotu jobs... the vast majoirty of equipment will be generic construction equipment, and that can easilt be sourced in the USA. Further, even if some foreign experts do need to be brought in for training, I would be surprised if they exceeded 1% of the work force.

luis d. said...

Off topic but an interesting letter on High Speed Rail for California dated: 1981 on Architecture 21's website, supporter of the Altamont route as you can see.

http://www.arch21.org/index.html

luis d. said...

Not the blog to do it, conspiracy, I know. But if this is true then tunneling for HSR will be no problem, not to mention Maglev technology:

http://tinyurl.com/osj49o

Very interesting, and It's everywhere and not new info.

jim said...

The construction will be done by local construction companies who bid and hire local workers. They aren't flying in thousands of foreigners to build it.

Straight_Report said...

note: the CAHSRA board meeting will be live webcast tomorrow (per HSR's website) at 10AM

Here's the link:
http://sacramento.granicus.com/MediaPlayer.php?publish_id=44

Bianca said...

whoah luis d., your link just blew out my looney tune conspiracy theorist sensors. I don't buy the whole secret underground maglevs running at Mach 2, but I do enjoy a good chuckle.

Devil's Advocate said...

@ One of the anonymous: Job creation occurs even when substantial know how comes from overseas enterprises. In addition to general construction, which will likely be done by local companies (american companies know how to build bridges, viaducts and embankments, I hope), those projects which will be done by foreign companies (like rolling stock, maybe tunneling etc.) will employ substantial amount of local labor. Even for rolling stock, it is likely that some foreign companies might open substantial operations in the US, if they know that there are opportunities for business. If I'm not mistaken Breda has some assembly plants in the US since they built metro cars for SF, LA, Atlanta, Wash. DC and Seattle and others. They also build high speed trains (ETR500), so they might decide to bid and if they win, they might expand their facilities overhere. Others might do the same if they win the bid. I'm sure that if foreign companies opened assembly operations here, they would hire a lot of local workers, at all levels, they wouldn't send thousands of workers from overseas. If there is business, of course it'll make sense for them to move in. In these circumstances only upper management and some upper level engineers travel back and forth across the ocean, otherwise most workers are local. Look at Honda and Toyota in the auto industry, once business was established and prospered, they all opened up shop in the US and now employ americans throughout the nation, including in California, in my hometown Fremont (if you want to support California jobs please buy Toyota Matrix and Corollas, thank you).

Adirondacker said...

it is likely that some foreign companies might open substantial operations in the US.

Bombardier has plants in the U.S. and in Canada. Alstrom has plants in the U.S., not sure about Canada. And one of them has a plant or plants in Mexico.

Andre Peretti said...

@Anonymous 9:34am
The notion that European doctors are paid a salary by the state is an American invention. In France, all doctors are independent and paid by the act. You can choose any doctor you want. Every act has a social security code worth a certain amount of money. For example a short visit (10mn) to a non-specialist is worth €22 ($30).
Most doctors are happy with that and don't charge more. In that case you have nothing to pay, otherwise you pay the extra euros. I've had 3 operations in private clinics and the only things I had to pay for were the telephone bills and the TV set.
The only exception I know in Europe is the UK where they have a double system: a socialist one and an independent one where the patient pays for everything.
I wonder who, in the US finds an interest in spreading false information about European health systems. Maybe the insurance companies, who would be the only losers if the US adopted a European-inspired system.

Devil's Advocate said...

@Andre Peretti: as a former manager at the largest health insurer ( Wellpoint Inc., parent company of several Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans, including BX of California) I can confirm that your suspicions are right on the mark. There is an incredible effort on the part of health insurers to discredit universal healthcare systems like European and Canadian ones. They actually have a full staff and lobbying offices located in DC and in State Capitals devoted exactly to that purpose. As employees we were not immune to the propaganda (and requests for donations to these lobbying efforts). I work for a hospital chain now, and the attitude is different. Most healthcare providers (including doctors) are starting to see value in a universal care system. But don't count on the cooperation of health insurers! Health care reform is anathema to them.

mike said...

@Anon at 12:17 PM

The Devil's Slide tunnel contract was $272 million for two 30' wide, 0.8 mile long tunnels ($340 million/mile). That would be slightly less room, width wise, than you would need for 4 tracks. According to the Caltrans project site, they've excavated about half the tunnel length in the past 2 years. Since the original tunneling contract was for 4 years, it sounds like they are running on time.

mike said...

Incidentally, the original EIS cost estimate in 1996 for the Devil's Slide tunnel alignment was just under $140 million. Once again, delays are bad when it comes to cost escalation (Caltrans also had the misfortune of putting out the Devil's Slide contract right near the peak of the economic/real estate/construction boom).

Ed - Burbank said...

Biden's statement today

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-biden-rail4-2009jun04,0,7996565.story?track=rss

"The reason why California is looked at so closely -- it's been a priority of your governor, it's been a priority of your Legislature, they've talked about it, a lot of planning has been done," Biden said in a conference call with reporters.

YesonHSR said...

LOTS of info on the CAHSR web site about LA-ANA and Union Station.its under the June meeting agenda

Anonymous said...

@mike - Thank you. The comparison information is enlightening.