Monday, October 12, 2009

San Joaquin Valley Cities Battle Over High Speed Rail Maintenance Hub

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

UPDATE by Robert: Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin's office is disputing the Merced County Times report cited below. From an email from the mayor's press secretary, Mike Lukens:

"Just wanted you to know that the comments attributed to her about the maintenance facility are not accurate. She has never made those comments. Had the reporter from the Merced County Times called us about it, I would have said the same thing."

Back to the original post...

Where should the San Joaquin Valley high speed rail maintenance hub be built? As we've discussed on this blog before, particularly in some of Rafael's posts, Merced's Castle Airport seems like a perfect place for the primary maintenance hub. The CHSRA agreed - as of March they claimed Castle Airport was their "first choice" for the hub.

However, the momentum for Merced to be the site of the hub apparently isn't sitting well with other cities in the Valley. According to a report in the Merced County Times, Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin is upset that Merced has been the beneficiary of some major projects in recent years, at Fresno's expense:

Dr. Lee Boese, co-chair of Merced County’s High Speed Rail committee, met Fresno’s Mayor Ashley Swearingen in Sacramento recently and she told him “You got the University, you got the WalMart distribution center, you’re not getting the high speed rail maintenance facility.”

“I was surprised she even knew who I was,” said Boese who said Merced was keeping a very low profile on its efforts to complete the first phase of the track from Fresno to Merced,” he said.

[See above update - the Fresno mayor's office disputes this report.]

This is a side effect of having split the Central Valley segment into two pieces, a decision that many Valley leaders opposed - potentially to head off divisive problems like this.

California is suffering worse than most other states from the economic crisis, and the San Joaquin Valley has been one of the hardest hit regions in the state. As of the most recent numbers, released in mid-September, Merced County's unemployment rate is 16.7% and Fresno's is 14.7%. Both cities would therefore have a strong argument for needing the jobs that the maintenance hub would create.

What Merced County has that Fresno doesn't is a readily available location for the maintenance hub. The county owns Castle Airport, making the construction of the hub that much easier. To my knowledge, Fresno does not possess anything similar.

That shouldn't put Fresno out of the running. But it does suggest that despite the Fresno mayor's annoyance, Merced is again in the lead for this piece of infrastructure. And Fresno isn't exactly going to lose out - it is poised to reap enormous benefits from HSR, from potentially becoming a commuter suburb of SF and/or LA to being able to land its own jobs and businesses using the easy connections to those larger urban centers that HSR will provide.

53 comments:

Travis ND said...

If they did move the maintenance hub away from Merced would they still build the stub out to it?

I sure hope so. Because, until the spur to Sacramento gets built the Merced station will be the closest one to me. If it goes then it would mean a 2 3/4 hour trip to the bay area to get on the HST.

Rafael said...

I think it's way too early to fight about where exactly the maintenance yard will be.

To frame that discussion, CHSRA first needs to secure a right of way through Fresno and up to Merced, if not all the way to Stockton. The plan of record is to hew close to hwy 99 but it's not at all clear that UPRR will be remotely interested in hosting HSR on or even above its right of way. All the indications are that it won't be.

Getting past UPRR's N. Weber yard in Fresno will be especially difficult, as there is no room for two additional, dedicated passenger tracks between it and hwy 99.

A second consideration is overnight stabling of HSR trains. So far, CHSRA has made some vague noises about leveraging 4th & King - as if Caltrain had oodles of space available there. The Alternatives Analysis for Los Angeles to Anaheim mentions (p45 PDF) that the HST Layover Facilities are under study. That's it so far. Nothing in San Jose, nothing in LA, nothing anywhere in-between.

A sufficiently large maintenance yard in the Central Valley could double as stabling. A substantial fraction of the first and last trains of the day would then make revenue runs from and to the Central Valley rather than all the way to the other end of the state.

Ergo, there are lots of major issues to be resolved before heavy maintenance can even be discussed in a meaningful way. The location that will ultimately be chosen has to make sense in terms of statewide railroad operations. County-level politics should be no more than a secondary consideration.

James said...

Off Topic (future topic):

Does the HSR typically burn the regenerative braking energy as heat, or is it practical for the on-board equipment to match the voltage and frequency and push it back into the OCS?

Maybe the steep down-hill stretches can be made with the largest possible curve radii to allow for a low-cost (free) high speed run? Unfortunately the steep run down Tehachapi and others may also need a little tighter curvature to stay along the canyon or trade with the cost of tunneling.

Maybe aerodynamic speed brakes (e.g. 'cat ears') can save on down-hill brake wear?

Rafael said...

@ James -

electric trains can recuperate energy back into the grid on downhill grades and when braking, but the grid must be able to handle that without a voltage spike.

In practice, that requires circuits that can respond within seconds or else, some advance warning from the central train management system that an electricity consumer is about to become a small producer. In nominal operations, that is actually a fairly trivial exercise but it does require appropriate communications standards and systems between the various parties' computers.

For reference, a fully loaded Alstom AGV train is rated at 12,000kW in traction and 8,000kW in recuperation. Sounds like a lot but in the utility world, that's small fry.

If there are other trains on the same electrification segment, the appropriate response is simply a temporary reduction in the current the OCS draws from the backbone grid.

If there are no other trains, the recuperated energy has to be fed back into the backbone grid, something utilities are generally not set up for. However, even 60 seconds of advance warning of such an event would allow the grid operator to briefly throttle back supply from a nearby gas turbine, solar, geothermal or small hydro plant. Other forms of electricity generation typically can't respond quickly enough.

Alternatively, the energy could be temporarily stored in stationary banks of e.g. supercapacitors co-located with the substation of the OCS segment in question. However, the wholesale cost of electricity is often too low to justify the additional capital investment.

The preferred strategy is to use all of the electricity produced immediately and, to match changes in demand with changes in supply within just a few seconds.

Emergency braking does not rely on recuperation into to grid. Instead, any electricity generated must be dissipated in so-called rheostats, essentially giant resistors that are typically mounted on top of the train. In addition, there are ceramic disk brakes as well as eddy current brakes that are lowered to just above the rails. The latter can only be used at high speeds, otherwise they cause the rails to overheat.

The retractable air brakes on the FasTech 360S development platform were not enough to bring the emergency braking distance down to the level of the much slower E2. Therefore, they were dropped from the E5 production model, which will operate at speeds up to 320km/h.

Peter said...

I'm normally not in favor of using airport property for non-aviation uses (you can expect a fight from AOPA and possibly the FAA against that, as well. However, Castle is in fact a vast, nearly completely unused airfield. If you keep the runway, maybe adjust the taxiways slightly (make sure you can still taxi large jets) and cut the aircraft parking in half, maintaining ample jet parking for big birds, you'll still have more than ample capacity to operate the airport at its current level, and likely still have room for expansion, possibly to airline service.

Rafael said...

@ Peter -

there is plenty of land at Castle Airport for an HSR maintenance hub without messing with aviation operations at all. They have an air museum there, that might need to be moved.

The biggest issue is getting HSR tracks out there, unless CHSRA capitulates and sticks with the BNSF right of way north of Calwa (south Fresno) after all).

Anonymous said...

Probably has been answered before,
But is there any reason why BNSF will allow HSR in its right-of-way and not UPRR?

Peter said...

Because BNSF realizes it can make more money off HSR than they increase their liability by?

無名 - wu ming said...

given the housing market in the san joaquin right now, people may be overjoyed to get an eminent domain notice. someone made an offer on the house! they might be able to carve a path from bak-o to sac just stepping from foreclosed house/farm to foreclosed house/farm.

Peter said...

Don't even need eminent domain, most likely. Just walk up to their house and offer some cash.

jim said...

"San Joaquin Valley Cities Battle Over High Speed Rail Maintenance Hub"

you mean palo alto doesn't want it?



HSR needs to just stick with BNSF the whole way and be done with it.

the approach to sac via the uprr through midtown is very problematic verses the elvas approach- train have to pull up over the river then back up into the station.

Adirondacker12800 said...

Getting past UPRR's N. Weber yard in Fresno will be especially difficult, as there is no room for two additional, dedicated passenger tracks between it and hwy 99.

There's a difference between difficult and expensive.

There's plenty of space east of the existing yard tracks to move the yard tracks east. It wouldn't be cheap but UP would get lots of shiny new freight yard tracks out of the deal.

Freight doesn't walk to the bus or streetcar from the station etc. Moving the yard a few miles up or down the line wouldn't make much of a difference to UP's operations. They'd get a whole new freight yard that way. Much cheaper than building an elevated structure or a tunnel.

...assuming HSR is in that bit of UP's right of way. Are they planning on using the existing Amtrak station, in the former Santa Fe station or the former Southern Pacific station or are they going to create a new station?

jim said...

also the southern versus eastern approach thru midtown sac will require tunneling or very slow speeds as it goes right through historic areas of midtown. map

無名 - wu ming said...

yeah, that's a crazy little hairpin turn, jim. the eastern route looks a lot more reasonable.

jim said...

the way it is now with that route into sac - amtrak uses the elvas approach but sometimes has to use the southerly approach and when that happens we have to go crawling through midtown, then out over the river to "wye" the train and then back into the station. There is no transition there. Or maybe we pullinto the station but then we have to back out, over the river, then south. I forget. Its been a while. in any case, its a real pain and time consuming.

jim said...

Im not sure hey hsr would even bother talking to UP when it very well known that BNSF has a good working relationship with passenger rail, and outstanding on time and preferential treatment of passenger rail verses UP's long time antagonistic attitude towards passenger rail. its part of UPs culture and why would you want to open that can of worms that will cause problems until the end of time, when you have a railroad right next door that is cooperative? I mean is chsra just hell bent on picking as many fights as they can along the way?

無名 - wu ming said...

on the other hand, from a purely aesthetic passenger's perspective, it would be really pretty to take an aerial route over sacramento's urban forest, gliding past the capitol building. not that that's a factor for any of the planning, admittedly. i don't know why people dislike elevated tracks, i love 'em.

john lindt said...

Pick this hub based on the location of the 100 mile test track which should be between Bako and Fresno. Plenty of room south of Fresno - midway between LA and SF. Based on need for stimulus you don't get any needier.
Tulare County has offered land and money. Kings and Tulare have over half million population to ride this rail right now. Merced has less than half that.
Only reason we are left out in the cold on this is lack of political punch. Tulare County was right behind Merced for UC site but lost out like always. To date we are the only region of California that does not have a 4-year college.
Now they don't want us to have a HSR stop either. Instead, as one post puts it- let it be in Merced where the town can be a Bay Area commuter community. Ya, that's what we ought to base our decision on.

john lindt said...

Pick this hub based on the location of the 100 mile test track which should be between Bako and Fresno. Plenty of room south of Fresno - midway between LA and SF. Based on need for stimulus you don't get any needier.
Tulare County has offered land and money. Kings and Tulare have over half million population to ride this rail right now. Merced has less than half that.
Only reason we are left out in the cold on this is lack of political punch. Tulare County was right behind Merced for UC site but lost out like always. To date we are the only region of California that does not have a 4-year college.
Now they don't want us to have a HSR stop either. Instead, as one post puts it- let it be in Merced where the town can be a Bay Area commuter community. Ya, that's what we ought to base our decision on.

jim said...

@john. The reason your counties are poor and missing out on opportunities is because your counties are heavily republican. Until you change that it will continue to be in a sinking economic boat.

john lindt said...

Provide opportunity and access and this boat will float. Hispanic population is approaching 70% and growing. They will be Dems if this economic train stops here too and Dems remember where their food come from.

jim said...

I think hsr is truly going to transform the central valley and help spread the economic wealth more evenly around the state. I mean when you can catch a train every 10 minutes and be in downtown SJ, SF, and LA in 60,80 or 90 minutes thats a big deal.

jim said...

fresno: its not just for breakfast anymore

Alon Levy said...

Dems remember where their food come from.

Yes, from the farm subsidies that city taxpayers foot the bill for.

jim said...

oooooooooo aaaaaaaaaaaaah shiny fresno living! sweet!

jim said...

let's remember that agriculture is still california's biggest money maker and show it some respect.

we have to eat. and Id rather have my food here than have to get it from some disease ridden third world country. Or Florida.

Alon Levy said...

Id rather have my food here than have to get it from some disease ridden third world country.

I'd rather have my food from a country that doesn't have swine flu. I'd also rather have food, rather than ethanol fuel.

jim said...

I know, ethanol is a joke. The best and easiest thing to do at this point is convert cars to natural gas in the interim until we get good electric.

get electric gen from nuclear instead of fossil. and use the nat gas for the vehicles instead of burning it up in power plants.

At low demand night hours, nuclear plants can be used to power hydrogen production at low cost.

that all makes to much sense though so we will do things the hard way.

jim said...

They have to do the merced spur. Merced is the yarts connection to yosemite. yosemite gets about 7 million visitors per year, many of them international, and the park continues to work towards reducing auto traffic and get more people on public transit. the yarts service is very good. right now you can get from sf to yos for $35 each way, that includes the drop off right in the park and inculdes park admission as well.

A high speed to connection to merced would make for easy statewide auto - free access to the park.

Caelestor said...

Has anybody ever considered connecting the Merced stub to the legacy rail (San Joaquins to Sacramento)? That way, CAHSR could provide rail service from Sacramento, running regularly until it enters the HSR near Merced. while the Sacramento extension is built. The time advantages wouldn't be too bad: 3-4 hours train ride or 6-7 hour car trip.

Anonymous said...

let's remember that agriculture is still california's biggest money maker and show it some respect.

No, it's not. Not even close. It's about 2% of our gross state product. Even if you count "related economic activity," it amounts to only about $100 billion of the state's $1.7 trillion total.

jim said...

Thats not what they said on the news yesterday when they were discussing the water project.

Anonymous said...

^Well, they were flat out wrong then. If agriculture made as much money for the state as Silicon Valley, Hollywood, or just straight tourism does, then we'd see mansions dotting the entire Central Valley.

It's important, I'm not arguing against minimizing it, but to state that it's [i]anywhere near[/i] the largest industry in the state is just absurd.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 9:38am -

BNSF's Northern California line runs from Richmond to Bakersfield via Stockton. The freight hauled is primarily petrochemical and agricultural products. There's not enough volume to justify double-tracking just for freight so there's more land than BNSF really needs.

In addition, the company's business model is different from UPRR's. For example, its trains operate to a timetable. That makes it much easier to host passenger Amtrak/Metrolink trains on the same tracks.

HSR is a different animal, of course, since it requires brand-new tracks dedicated to HSR trains (thanks to FRA/CPUC rules written to perpetuate ye olde tyme railroad practices). Still, it will bring grade separations for the entire ROW, something freight operators do appreciate. In addition to accident risks, traffic at grade crossings can delay trains, e.g. during harvest time.

Rafael said...

@ john lindt -

if you're referring to the possible station in Hanford, the question is how much long-distance ridership that might create.

Visalia, Tulare, Porterville etc. are all quite far from Hanford. The population is there, but not the population density.

Residents in the area might quite like to use HSR once in a while when they need to travel to LA/Anaheim or to the Bay Area. However, if they have to drive along way just to get reach an HSR station in Hanford, it's fair to ask how much ridership the operator loses if the nearest HSR station is in Fresno or Bakersfield instead.

The prospect for a Kings/Tulare county station would improve dramatically if Hanford had a credible concept for transit-oriented development, including a strategy for using recycled water for landscaping or for growing non-food crops (or else, for reducing agricultural water consumption by hosting e.g. solar farms in the area).

A concrete plan for regional bus or rail service between Hanford, Visalia, Tulare and Porterville would also increase the likelihood of an HSR station in Hanford.

Rafael said...

@ Caelestor -

CHSRA's plan of record calls for dedicated HSR tracks in the CA-99/UPRR corridor between Calwa (south Fresno) and south Manteca. From there, tracks are supposed to hew close to UPRR tracks all the way to the terminus in downtown Sacramento.

The planned Merced and Modesto HSR stations are in the respective downtown areas.

Amtrak San Joaquin uses the BNSF track(s) between south Stockton and Bakersfield. That means CHSRA's current plans do not allow for any intermodal stations with Amtrak SJ except Sacramento, Stockton and Bakersfield.

The BNSF alignment runs right past Castle Airport but it isn't nearly as straight as the CA-99/UPRR corridor. It also includes a much larger number of grade crossings in Fresno and crosses the UPRR lines up to Sacramento at an undesirable right angle in south Stockton. It would be possible to avoid that by leveraging an existing secondary rail right of way along CA-120 and E French Camp Rd. between Escalon and Stockton airport.

Tony D. said...

Put the Maintenance Hub through Menlo Park/Atherton! ;o)..

Rafael,
going back to SCCo./Gilroy, there's also more land than UPRR will ever need in its ROW. Oh well, just go east into Monterey Hwy./SR 82 and be done with it.

Glad to see that BNSF is cooperating with CHSRA in the Central Valley, and that the local governments/citizens are embracing HSR; even to the point of battling over key components!

Rafael said...

@ jim -

here are the LAO pie charts of California economy by sector (2006). HHNN, found using Google in less than 60 seconds.

Clearly, food production is important psychologically but perhaps less so in macroeconomic terms. Agriculture still uses 80% of all piped fresh water in the state. Half of that goes toward low-value crops like rice, cotton, alfalfa and pasture.

I could think of plenty of alternative uses that would generate greater economic value - last not least a massive population increase in central and northern sections of the Central Valley, based on green tech.

And don't complain about sprawl eliminating agricultural land. First, that's a consequence of poor local zoning laws and second, you can't use the land for growing food if you don't have enough water.

YESonHSR said...

I would think BNSF would ask CAHSR to route all central valley lines on there ROW as a way of getting those passenger trains off that single track and get a grade crossing free rebuilt row at no cost plus the sale of land. It could work and no fighting with the UP, the route would need to cut over above Fresno
to the UP for the short time it needs to acccess Downtown then back to BNSF to Bakersfield

Peter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter said...

Using the BNSF line would make sense also because it would allow intermodal stations with Amtrak, if I understand the above posts correctly.

How much distance/time would a BNSF versus UPRR alignment use?

Adirondacker12800 said...

HSR is a different animal, of course, since it requires brand-new tracks dedicated to HSR trains (thanks to FRA/CPUC rules written to perpetuate ye olde tyme railroad practices)

And that whole pesky thing with physics dictating only one object at a time occupy one place at a time. If a freight train leaves the Bay Area and heads to LA or vice versa at an average speed of 50 MPH it's going to take 8 hours for it to get to the end of the line. At 8 HSR trains an hour it would have to get out of the way 64 times. If you want to run two trains in that 8 hour period they have to get out of the way 128 times. Very very quickly all the passing sidings connect together and become a third and fourth track. There's that other pesky problem of the HSR train having to slow down for switches, I think the highest speed one is capable of 125 MPH for the train on the main track. Having separate tracks for the HSR trains has little to do with regulations and more to do with railroad operations and physics.

looking on said...

Palo Alto a bell weather of what's happening everywhere.

Palo Alto council candidates bash high-speed rail plans

http://www.mercurynews.com/breaking-news/ci_13512735


"I was opposed to high-speed rail in November, and I voted no on the bond," candidate Leon Leong said, referring to state Proposition 1A, which launched the rail plans with $10 billion in funding. "I believe the city needs to budget funds for litigation, for advocacy in Sacramento, hiring lobbyists, as well as in the federal government, to either get the route changed or get it stopped in San Jose."

The comment drew a burst of cheers from an audience that had been asked to hold its applause. For most of the two-hour forum at the Palo Alto Art Center, sponsored by a group of Palo Alto neighborhood associations, the crowd obeyed. Not when it came to high-speed rail.

john lindt said...

Rafael,
Region has both scattered population and dense areas like Visisa/Tulare with 180,000 folks today.
Tulare County has lobbied to get the HSR station closer to 99 - 8 miles east of Hanford- precisely to boost ridership.
As to regional transportation we are connecting the cities with local bus service. Tulare County is a self help county and is helping to pay for improving transportation(saving rr right of way , bike paths as well as roads) with its own nickle too.
As to water use is SF going to get its station without allowing Hetch Hetchy to return to its natural state? I love the way we get lectured on water use when SF has it personal pipeline to this far away watershed- river water that could help salmon come back no less.
Is LA going to get a station even though sprawl city never adopted smart growth philosophy? Why would our "prospects improve on getting a station" if we did not grow alfalfa and had to import all our feed for the largest dairy region in the world - where the Haagen Dazs at your Quickie Mart comes from.
The bottom line is get us station and we'll fill the train. By the way we are gateway to Sequoia/Kings Canyon - 3 million visitors a year and have a city operated bus shuttle service connecting travelers to the park.
How's that for "transit orientation"?

Anonymous said...

@ Looking on 9:27,

YYYAAAAWWNN!! What ever you say. By the way, "what's happening everywhere"? I'll take LA, SJ and SF any day over tiny little PA.

jim said...

@rafael

The food we grow here is the best in the world and we would be wise to keep it.

No where on earth can they grow the amount and variety of produce we do.

I for one as a californian want to make sure it stays that way.

I don't want the day to come when we have to go begging for a source of food the way we have to go begging for a source of oil now.

food is more important than oil, to the whole world. Keeping in abundance here is good planning for the future.

No local food means that who ever does have the food will have us by the balls.

Not acceptable.
Growth should be in the foothills along the east side of the valley above the soil and below the tree line. ( the elevations between 200-1000 feet arent good for much else as the soil is mostly clay.

Hopefully hsr will bring urban centers that allow for ample greenbelt and farmland to stay in place.

I know that southern california is an exercise in how much reinforced concrete can be used in one place, but up here that doesn't fly. The people who grow our world class food take a great deal of pride in it from the california raisins the the organic baby greens that grown in the most pristine of ag areas. That fancy stuff you eat at Bistro LQ ahs to come from somewhere.

You don't want us to make you go back to Swanson's and Tab cola do you? Honestly socalers, we know you're special but reign it in a little. You're not running ag out of the state just because the dust makes your cars dirty.

jim said...

Perhaps its not such a good idea to have a faster easier way for southies to get up here after all....
You know we have a big enough problem with those damn new yorkers trying to throw their weight around telling us how things should be, we don't need you guys up here doing it too. You're suppose to have our back.

jim said...

@John As to water use is SF going to get its station without allowing Hetch Hetchy to return to its natural state? I love the way we get lectured on water use when SF has it personal pipeline to this far away watershed- river water that could help salmon come back no less.

When hell freezes over will we give up that water. Its the best water in the state, I drink it everyday from the tap. refreshingly delish and pure.

You'll have to kill all san franciscans if you think your'e gonna take that dam out.

Besides, the state is planning to build more dams not take them down. we need more water. not less.

jim said...

STop hsr now and build an electric fence on the tehachapis instead. STay on your own side.

jim said...

Southern Californians must be STopped! They plan to steal our water, kill our crops, and wisk their gangs and crime up here on their fancy train.

stop them now before its too late.

Rafael said...

@ john lindt -

if you can persuade UPRR to share right of way between Fresno and Bakersfield, you're on for a station in Tulare.

CHSRA has had zero luck with those guys so far, so they're trying to get out of their hair to the extent that running trains at high speed permits.

As long as the route relies on the BNSF right of way, a station in the Hanford area is a marginal proposition.

NONIMBYS said...

@looking on..where was your link when the Judge ruled against your silly nimby towns??? bad news nimby

Alon Levy said...

John, Los Angeles is either the densest or third densest urban area in the US, depending on how you count. Its density is auto-oriented, but it doesn't sprawl as much as you think it does. It even has a medium-sized subway and commuter rail system connecting people to Union Station, if not to much else.