Thursday, November 26, 2009

Thanksgiving Open Thread

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

Enjoy your holiday, everyone!

I'm staying here in Monterey for the occasion, as I can't imagine a better place to spend a long weekend. But many Californians have taken to the crowded roads this week, an 8% increase over last Thanksgiving (on the roads, at least). I'm sure a lot of them could have used a high speed train option for their in-state travels.


Joey said...

Just drove from SF to LA to visit family. Would have killed to ride a high speed train instead.

HSRforCali said...

I'm not even traveling this Thanksgiving, but all I've seen on the news are reports about congestion across the country. Imagine if we had the choice of taking a high-speed rail system, far more convenient and less stressful.

Anonymous said...

we'd all be there, and back, lickety split with no hassle. Aunt Helga would pick you up at the station and you'd be in front of the tv in no time with no stress.

angeleno said...

An HSR option would benefit many holiday travelers in California. Let's give thanks that a majority of California voters decided in 2008 to invest in our futures. Let's give thanks that a new administration in Washington plans to strengthen our nation by funding HSR. And let's give thanks that once we build HSR in California, we will leave a cleaner and more prosperous state to our children. Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.

無名 - wu ming said...

the one where you really miss HSR in the valley is christmas, when the tule fog is so thick that they start diverting flights to SFO, and people camp out at sac metro, and there are all those fog-related mass pileups on 5 and 99. how freaking awesome would it be just take the CC to sac, switch to SUPERTRAIN, and zip down to LA in a couple of hours to see family.

AndyDuncan said...

Happy thanksgiving all. Supporters, opponents, pragmatics and dreamers all. I give thanks that we get to have this conversation. Please say hello to your families for me.


looking on said...

One of the many campaign themes from the Authority has been how environmentally wonderful the project wil be for California.

This was inspite of the objections of many groups to running though the rather pristine Pacheco pass and not the originally planned Alatmont routing.

The SF examiner in an article today,

High-speed trains are not so ‘green’ after all

points out some facts and links to an academic paper from the the Berkeley Transportation institute., which reveals a much more sane and realistic picture.

Like so many of the items the Authority has spread around making this project sound so wonderful, there are other views, and only now are more and more facts being exposed which really tell the true picture which is this is a very costly project which the State can't afford and which will never come close to living up the the outrageous claims being made for its construction.

Rafael said...

@ looking on -

Happy belated Thanksiving. From the article you quote:

"electric trains [...] contribute to CO2 emissions, if the electricity is generated by burning fossil fuels."

California HSR will operate on renewable electricity, so this general argument is not relevant in this specific context.

Yes, there will be some CO2 emissions during construction of tracks and trains. That applies even more to road and car construction.

Note that electric cars running on electricity produced in coal- or gas-fired power stations would also generate CO2. The point about total vs. tailpipe emissions of CO2 is very valid, but it needs to be made for all modes of green transportation.

Anonymous said...

Happy Black Friday everyone! Shop till you drop! Pacheco Pass "pristine?". PLEASE! There's a damn highway running through it already, and it resembles almost all Northern California foothills with grass and occasional Oak Tree.

Anonymous said...

How do you specifically allocate renewable energy just to HSR? Does HSR cost include building dedicated renewable energy power plants?

Horvath and Chester estimate that just building the HSR project in California will be the equivalent to 2% of the state's entire annual CO2 output! That's not trivial, especially considering that HSR will serve far less than 2% of travel mileage.

Horvath and Chester do compare all modes for a full life-cycle cost accounting of CO2 emissions. These guys will get serious policy attention.

Anonymous said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

anon -so I'm sure that all the countries all over the world who are investing in rail, are misguided. Even WArren Buffets 26 billion dollar investment in bnsf is misguided, because it says so in an article in the sf examiner, a newspaper they have to give away in this town to get anyone to read it.

Anonymous said...

California's high speed rail plan has no planning at all included for how to power it, and how to pay for the energy generating and distribution capacity that will be needed. That's someone else's problem.

I wonder if any politician is willing to say HSR plans sit idle until someone shows the plan for the energy generation capacity and how to fund THAT.

HSR proponents have their heads deep in the sand (or deep elsewhere) on the issue of the incremental energy generation and distribution that the state would be rquired to pull out of thin air for HSR.

In fact a lot of CHSRA's plans call for pulling stuff out of thin air - like funding to build the thing, and millions of passengers every day to ride it, and a reason that all these millions of people all of sudden have a reason to get from the Bay Area to Fresno every day.

looking on said...


Thanks for your holiday greeting -- let me extend an also belated Thanksgiving greeting to you, and to those who read and post to this blog.

On the issue of renewable electric power, that is a great goal. However, I don't think anyone believes that California or the nation will be anywhere near 100% renewable electric power for a very long period of time.

The cost estimates as I understand are renewable power will cost 2 to 3 times what conventional (fossil burning plants) produce for quite some time. This is all supposed to be mediated by a gradual change to the more expensive production plants, but at least on a long term time horizon, renewable power will be much higher in cost; many believe paying that higher cost must take place, even at the expense of making us less competitive in the global economy.

Now if the plans were included for the HSR authority to actually produce their own power, thus adding enough renewable electricity to the supply to meet their own consumption, your argument would have a lot more force. I don't see that happening --- I don't think it would make any economic sense, but it would make environmental sense.

Anonymous said...

Environmental concerns, pro or con, aside, the fact remains that california has to continue to invest in it transportation infrastructure. Roads, ports, air and rail. Even if there was no concern for the environment, this would have to be done.

The fact is that for certain types of trips, high speed rail makes more sense when it comes to a combination of speed and convenience. High speed rail is a better option for intermediate city pairs when it comes to driving and flying, and for intra-state travel, as it compares to flying.
YOu can argue otherwise till the cows come home but that doesn't change the very simple fact that neither cars nor planes can offer the amount of speed, flexibility and convenience that hsr offers. You can pretend not to see it but its obvious and staring you in the face.

Anonymous said...

...and other than than on this blog, which is populated by naysayers who clearly have a different agenda than what they argue, I've yet to come across anyone in my daily life who doesn't think hsr is a good idea. They are waiting for it.

And as the worst of the economic downturn is behind us, with only the job market lagging, expect to see interest increase even more.

Anonymous said...

Rafael, do you happen to know how many megawatts per year hsr would need in order to operate?

Anonymous said...

Ah here it all is right here: meet goals

Anonymous said...

the starting needs of the system equal about the output of one large power plant in ca. and the later needs will require the output of 2.5 to 3 typical plants in ca.
Altogether we will need 3, 1000 megawatt plants.
Existing wind farms in cali have just over half that capacity. Powering hsr with renewables is well within reason.

AndyDuncan said...

CHSRA can say that they're going to use renewables, but while that will provide explicit demand for renewable power and encourage the construction of more renewable generation, every KWH they use will be taken out of the grid. Until their contracted demand produces the incentive to create more renewable power, taking that renewable power out of the grid (not really how that works, but whatever), just makes everyone else's power usage less green.

That said, CA's power is already around 50% non-carbon emitting, ie: nuclear, hydro, geothermal, wind and solar. Our coal usage is around 1%, and the remainder is natural gas.

Any accounting of HSR's carbon output should look at what is going in to the grid in california, not some fantasy situation where 100% of the electrons are coming from coal, or 100% are coming from renewables.

The berkeley paper actually dealt with this, and they showed that CHSRA's carbon usage would be much lower than a hypothetical system, but as far as I can tell they didn't include it in their final analysis, choosing instead to use the hypothetical case of 100% carbon based fuels

Anonymous said...

THEY never cease to amaze! Now we shouldn't build high-speed rail because it will use electricity? Unbelievable! What straw will THEY grasp next?

Joseph Eisenberg said...

We flew from Long Beach to SFO to visit family in San Mateo. Jet Blue is a good airline, but we still had to show up 1.5 hours early to check, which meant getting at taxi at 5:15 am for a 7 am flight (the only one available on Thanksgiving morning, at least when we bought tickets). Then we had to get down to San Mateo.

With HSR, we could have left at 8 am, got to Los Angeles for a 9 am train, and been in Redwood cit at 11:30, without being crammed into an airplane or getting stuck in traffic. Faster, more civilized, probably cheaper.

On the flight, I sat next to a Jet Blue pilot who was on his way home. He mentioned that they may be pulling out of Long Beach, because the economics are not working out with high fuel prices and the bad economy. Yet another reason to build a new option for in-state travel

Spokker said...

It's interesting to note that travel from smaller airports worked because of cheap fuel. After all, Southwest Airlines only did well because it had a fuel hedge. Now that fuel prices have been getting higher, and aren't getting lower, airlines are having trouble. I can't imagine what would happen if fuel prices go up in 2010 like they did in 2008.

Flights out of Palmdale are defunct, and Ontario is spiraling into oblivion, even though flights at LAX were up this year.

So I don't disbelieve what that pilot was saying. It would be far better to handle in-state travel with electric trains, rather than jets.

YesonHSR said...

Palo Alto on line has a story and image of a very nice looking proposal for HSR

Peter said...

@ YesonHSR

I think that a design competition would be an excellent idea for the project.

The question should be, should a single design be chosen for the entire route, or should different sections have different designs?

YesonHSR said...
There site has alot more pictures on this.. very nice

Joey said...

I like the design. It shows a local effort to come up with an innovative, feasible, green, visually attractive, and locally acceptable solution. Unfortunately, it misses out on one thing: grade separating the CalTrain tracks. Nice otherwise though.

And let me add another vote for the design competition idea.

Alon Levy said...


Actually, right now Southwest's fuel hedge is a liability, after fuel prices have dropped. Southwest's fuel hedge was just that - a way of getting through $4/gallon gas.

Spokker said...

Nice effort, but their design is flawed in that there's no reason why Caltrain can't run electric commuter trains with high speed trains. There's no reason to put them on different systems.

Joey said...

Yeah, TBH I see no reason to separate the CalTrain and HSR tracks, except where horizontal space is severely limited (which it isn't in this case). Plus, consider that putting tracks under an areal structure requires it to be higher than just putting road underpasses (as trains require a few more feet of vertical clearance, especially if electrification and/or Plate H freight are being used.

I could still see those types of design principals being integrated into a four track solution though. If the two track solution REALLY only costs $36m per mile (50 miles=1.8b), then a four track solution is probably doable as well, well within budgetary constraints.

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

I can see the Bellomo Architects two-track design proposal being useful for other locations, such as the planned aerials for Morgan Hill or Gilroy.

Otherwise, any option that doesn't grade separate Caltrain and freight is likely to be a non-starter.

Peter said...

It could also be an option for vertical stacking for those very short sections where the the ROW isn't wide enough for four tracks.

Joey said...

I must admit though, despite its technical flaws, it's a nice departure from the usual "TUNNEL OR GTFO" mentality.

HSRforCali said...

It looks like the aerial structure only includes one track. Maybe that's why it has a low construction cost.

Peter said...

@ HSRforCali

They have designs for both single- and double-tracked aerials.

HSRforCali said...

This doesn't have to do with the discussion, but I recently cam eacross a map on the Transit Coalition's website that shows the permitted speeds along each section of the HSR system. Between Palmdale and Bakersfield, it shows speed will be between 150 and 200mph. But since it's flat empty desert land, (up to Tehachapi at least) couldn't trains reach 220mph on this segment? This could probably help cut travel time.

HSRforCali said...

Here's the web page URL by the way:

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 11:49am -

the 2% number would apply if CHSRA wanted to use FRA-compliant rolling stock. Lightweight, off-the-shelf but non-compliant equipment will only add 1% to total generating capacity installed in 2005.

In hard numbers, the fully built-out network operating at full tilt would require no more than 480MW of generating capacity. For reference, the Geysers geothermal plant in Medocino is rated at about 1000MW, the Ivanpah solar thermal plant (9 sq mi) at 400MW.

A single very large diameter wind turbine can deliver 2-3MW, so 160-240 units would be required. Not a trivial proposition by any means, but not impossible either. California is a very large state and there are a lot of places with consistently strong winds.

Small hydro and biomass (especially biogas) can be used to supplement wind and solar power, especially if a significant number of distributed generating units are integrated into a single virtual power plant.

As the report CHSRA commissioned notes, the biggest hurdle will not be technological or even economic feasibility but red tape and current grid management practices.

Fortunately, it isn't even a requirement that the HSR system never ever consume a single kWH of power generated in conventional caloric power plants. For the purposes of AB32, it would be sufficient if utilities could prove (and independent auditors confirm) that they

(a) installed additional renewable generating capacity rated at a total of 480MW and,

(b) actually generated at least as many GWh from this additional capacity as was sold to the HSR operator(s), summed up over the course of a year.

Ergo, if there's an excess of wind on one day, it can be used to supply electricity to the HSR system plus other consumers, who would otherwise have been supplied with juice from e.g. a gas-fired power plant.

On another day, there might not be enough wind to support even the HSR system, so it's demand would have to met in part by burning fossil fuels on that day.

Now, tally up the excess against the shortfall over the course of a year. If there's a net excess, the outcome is equivalent (in terms of CO2 emissions) to having supplied the HSR system exclusively with renewable electricity.

Rafael said...

Time to give thanks California isn't Russia. The derailed train was a conventional locomotive-hauled consist, but the tracks that were bombed are those also used by the Sapsan high speed train currently undergoing acceptance tests.

The incident underlines the importance of sturdy fences and 24/7 CCTV surveillance of the right of way. A 15lb TNT equivalent bomb on board a train will kill/injure some number of passengers and damage one or two cars. The same bomb placed on the tracks will cause the entire train to derail.

In addition, the incident underlines the importance of dealing with separatist terrorism on a political level. Russia has failed to engage with Chechen politicians to work out a deal for increased autonomy. Spain still has a problem with ETA, but it has become much smaller since it got France to co-operate in police actions and especially, since it granted far-reaching autonomy to the Basque country.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Anyone still looking at this open thread, have a look at the new blog. Avery Smith did some work to clean it up and I think it looks fantastic.

The orange text should probably go, right? I'm thinking blue, to match the header image. Thoughts?

(Note that the idea of orange text was entirely my own, so blame me for that.)

Robert Cruickshank said...

In fact, I just changed it to blue. I think I like that better.

HSRforCali said...

This doesn't have to do with the discussion, but I recently cam eacross a map on the Transit Coalition's website that shows the permitted speeds along each section of the HSR system. Between Palmdale and Bakersfield, it shows speed will be between 150 and 200mph. But since it's flat empty desert land, (up to Tehachapi at least) couldn't trains reach 220mph on this segment? This could probably help cut travel time.

Here's the web page URL by the way:

Joey said...

All that information is available in the business plan