Thursday, April 10, 2008

"The Whole Definition of Commuter is Changing"

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

The Christian Science Monitor published an article on the HSR plan, and it has this interesting quote from CHSRA Executive Director Mehdi Morshed:

"The whole definition of 'commuter' is changing," says Mehdi Morshed, executive director of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. "The old model is people going to factory jobs from 8 to 5 … now people are driving 150 miles from one place to another two to three times a week for work, recreation, travel, once-a-week meetings – this generation is changing, and so will the next."

Now, it seems to me that this change took place about 30 years ago. But Morshed's point is that our state's transportation systems haven't caught up, and that HSR is needed to match it. It's an interesting angle - BART has become an all-day, multidirectional transit system and Metrolink is moving in that direction. HSR would supplement that with much faster speeds along some of those routes.

Will this be enough to convince voters? It always seemed to me that HSR as intercity travel was the strongest pull, but perhaps I'm wrong. What do you think? Is HSR as commuter travel - in the Mehdi Morshed sense - going to be what gets us a bond measure win this November?


Unknown said...

If medium to long distance commuters are supposedly the savior of this bond measure, then why OH WHY wasn't Altamont chosen?? Not only does Pacheco completely ignore the Sacramento to San Francisco express market, it does nothing to serve the emerging Northern California megaregion (

This bond will pass if and only if Silicon Valley business interests spend enough time and money advocating for their hijacking of the route planning process. Don't get me wrong, I'm 100% pro high speed rail, but am still very disgruntled by the Authority's route choice into the Bay Area.

Anonymous said...

There are people in France that use the TGV to commute 100 miles each way because it's so fast and the cost/benefit ratio of housing is better there.

It's quite possible that HSR would make Gilroy, Fresno, Bakersfield and Palmdale much more attractive for people who work in the Bay Area and Los Angeles, respectively. After all, that is precisely why residents of San Joaquin and eastern Alameda counties lobbied so hard for the Altamont pass option.

Financially, long-distance commuting only works in the long run if they can get to and from HSR stations in something other than a dedicated commute car. If the aforementioned cities want to attract this new type of resident, they will need to adapt their zoning laws and local transportation infrastructure to gradually increase population density in the vicinity of their HSR train station.

In other words: HSR may well shift population growth to places that are currently relative backwaters, but it need not lead to the low-rise urban sprawl induced by the motor car.

In addition to long-distance commuting, there may well be increased white-collar business travel back-and-forth between city centers during the day. Today, videoconferencing is not yet perceived as equivalent to personal meetings.

Anonymous said...

CHSRA now promoting urban sprawl

So now the CHSRA which is promoting itself as being a “green” alternative to air and auto travel, is inviting more and more travel and suggesting that you should move 150 miles from your work site, which would boost its passenger trip projections, which are just plain “off the wall”. Somehow they just want it both ways.

get real facts go to

Anonymous said...

Mr. Morris Brown, the CHSRA is not telling you it's Okay to move 150 Miles away from your job to commute, that is your assumption. This is not promoting srawl, the auto industry does that. I have already taken a look at and their is very, very little truth to it, you guys are wrong. You guys try to dig up all the negatives and IGNORE all the positives wich are tremendous. At this point HSR is the only way to go. Sorry, no truth at that site!

Robert Cruickshank said...

Pfft. As I have said before, sprawl is NOT a force of nature. It is a product of cheap oil, cheap credit, and favorable land use laws. We no longer have the first two.

HSR will probably induce population growth in places like Fresno and Bakersfield. But there's nothing that says it must induce sprawl. With expensive oil and expensive credit alone sprawl will become unlikely. If we make new development conform to AB 32 goals, and boost land use reform movements in the Central Valley, we can prevent any new sprawl entirely.

Anonymous said...

Daniele -

the Altamont option died partly because proponents insisted on a new rail bridge at Dumbarton, which would have stirred up a lot of contaminated Bay mud and cost upwards of $2 billion. The old, partially burnt-down single-track bridge with its two swing bridges would be completely unsuitable for HSR service and anyhow not up to seismic code.

The campaign for Altamont might have been more successful if the proposed route to San Francisco had called for a new alignment alongside 680 between Sunol and Warm Springs and on via Santa Clara/SJC - especially if additional funding for the troubled BART extension from Fremont to Santa Clara had been part of the package. Unfortunately, the time for making this argument has passed.

The Altamont vs. Pacheco debate needs to be over. Trying to re-open it again would jeopardize the entire HSR ballot initiative in November and drive up costs down the road thanks to lawsuits. Instead, get creative on how to improve regional rail services. AB 3034 reserves $950 million for feeder infrastructure.

For example, the ACE route from Stockton could be upgraded, e.g. by bringing the old alignment on the north slope of Niles Canyon back into service as one half of a one-way system there.

In addition, the Navy is about to return the inland portion of its Weapons Center in Concord. IFF the Army is prepared to expand Amtrak's existing right of way through the tidal portion, a new intermodal terminal immediately next to North Concord BART could be constructed. This is not part of Concord city's current reuse plans, perhaps it should be.

Existing standard-gauge track could be used for a new diesel-electric service running a loop in both directions, serving Pittsburg, Antioch, Oakley, south Stockton, French Camp, Lathrop/Manteca, central Tracy and Brentwood. This would be much cheaper and serve more people than the proposed eBART extension.

With just one additional turn-off in Stockton, existing track could also be used to reach central Stockton (ACE & future HSR station), Lodi, Elk Grove and Sacramento. Just two additional turn-offs would be required to connect North Concord to Fairfield, Vacaville, Davis and Sacramento as well as Vallejo and Napa Valley via Suisun City.

Express service from Modesto to North Concord would require just a few additional spurs at E. Briggsmore Road (future HSR station).

Increasing ridership via an intermodal station could justify a new BART service from Bay Point to Dublin/Pleasanton, increasing train frequency and establishing direct service to Oakland Coliseum/OAK via the proposed Air Train.

What is more, the old munitions bunkers on the NWC property could be used to house an array of flywheels to support recuperative braking of electric trains (i.e. BART and HSR). Over 1000 acres of soil around and on top of those bunkers is contaminated with arsenic, which the Navy used as a herbicide. Getting the Navy to clean that up properly would cost a fortune and take forever (cp. Alameda Point). Ergo, put a fence around it, take cash compensation and invest that into rail-related infrastructure.

Anonymous said...

One way to reduce the risk of urban sprawl in Central Valley locations with HSR stations would be to invest early in dGPS-guided Autotram service. This gives you the capacity and almost the ride comfort of light rail, without the need for tracks or an overhead catenary.

A variety of drive options have been developed, including pure EV operation based on ultracapacitors and docking stations for temporary grid connection at selected stops.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, the formatting cut off the URLs for the Autotram references. Here they are again:

Fraunhofer Autotram project
Fraunhofer Autotram rollout

Anonymous said...

Re: "the Altamont option died partly because proponents insisted on a new rail bridge at Dumbarton, which would have stirred up a lot of contaminated Bay mud and cost upwards of $2 billion" ...


The Altamont option was killed solely to ensure that there is no rail "competition" (ie something, cheaper, faster, more modern, not controlled by PBQD, better in ever way except for kickbacks) $10+ billion BART to San Jose boondoggle in that corridor.

The alignment was superior in every way -- including cost and environmental impact -- as a reading of even the CHSRA's contractor-authored (surprise! PBQD is front and center) document.

It's outright corruption like this -- putting welfare for selected private companies first, putting cost-effective public investment last -- that shows why the CHSRA and its present "plans" need to be put down ASAP.

HSR for California is desperately needed, but as long as proven failures like Kopp ("BART to Millbrae" -- 100% overbudget and 30% of "predicted" ridership) and Diridon ("Father of VTA Light Rail" -- least successful light rail system in the entire world) are involved and are sabotaging the project in order to pimp for their masters and perpetuate the unbroken pattern of cost overruns, contractor welfare, and least effective projects we've seen in the last four decades in the Bay Area well, we can do without for a few more years.

HSR, yes, but not at any cost.
And certainly not while a crew with a proven record of defrauding the public is at the helm.

Jack Duluoz said...

I agree that we need to put this altamont vs. Pacheco debate behind us, and that yes I'm sure that there was a perfunctory level of corruption in the alignment selection (Welcome to California.

However, As I understand it this project is about creating a high speed link between northern and southern regional transit networks. In order to do that, the train needs to make as few stops as possible, and travel through undeveloped land so that it can accelerate to 200+ mph, as opposed to the 100 or so mph it can go in urban/suburban areas.

If the train took the Altamont route you all would be complaining that it didn't actually make a stop in your town.

Seems to me that a "feeder line" makes the most since to connect the east bay to the HSR mainline.

Or how about a second transbay tube linked directly to caltain and HSR at the transit center in SF?

What do you think?

Anonymous said...

The claim the Altamont alignment was not chosen because it would compete with BART makes little sense to me. HSR via Altamont would still have been a long-distance service with a stop in Fremont and the next one at either San Jose Diridon or Santa Clara.

The BART extension would be a regional service designed to serve locations in-between, i.e. Irvington, Warm Springs, Milpitas, East San Jose and the SJ downtown area.

It's a troubled project because the already high projections for its construction cost have skyrocketed. This is partly due to an engineering-driven major alignment change that better project management at an earlier stage might perhaps have avoided.

Construction materials like cement and steel have also become much more expensive on the world market, largely because of demand from China and, because speculators are switching from mortgages to commodities.

Here's an academic paper analyzing why construction projects suffer cost overruns, based on data for both road and rail projects.

Anonymous said...

"> I agree that we need to put this altamont vs. Pacheco debate behind us,"

So sabotaging of the public interest should always win out?

"> However, As I understand it this project is about creating a high speed link between northern and southern regional transit networks."

No, you misunderstand completely.

Nominally the purpose of publicly-funded investments is to maximize public benefits.

It so happens that correctly routed HSR infrastructure -- which is mind-numbingly expensive in its own right -- is far more than adequate to support trains other than "flight level zero" airlines direct from SF-to-LA-and-screw-everything-in-between.

What you don't seem to understand is that a SF to LA train will run at most a couple times an hour, which means that the expensive tracks running through soon-to-be-profitably-subdivided cow fields to the south of San Jose would be sitting idle, wasting public bond funds, over 85% of the time. Quite the return in investment, just because somebody arbitrarily decrees that there must never be more than one purpose to some infrastructure!

It's fortunate that we have so very many voters in California who have never seen or even read about a successful rail system -- you know, the sort that exists pretty everywhere else in the first world -- or fraud of this level would be much harder to pull off.

It so happens that the Altamont routing would serve San Jose, San Francisco, the East Bay, Stockton, Sacramento and the entire of norther California better, at lower cost, providing superior regional and longest-distance service on the same infrastructure.

Which of course why the cost-maximization forces have gone all-out to ensure it doesn't happen.

"> If the train took the Altamont route you all would be complaining that it didn't actually make a stop in your town."

You have no idea what you are talking about, I'm afraid.

"> Seems to me that a feeder line makes the most since to connect the east bay to the HSR mainline."


Thanks for playing: you've fallen right into the trap!
Give that (wo)man a consulting contract!

"> Or how about a second transbay tube linked directly to caltain and HSR at the transit center in SF?"

That is now completely infeasible due to extremely incompetent planning of the Transbay Terminal, and even before then (five years ago) this was a $10 billion project -- ie over 25% of the entire state-wide HSR price for just five miles.

So not only is it stupid, not only is it impractical, not only could it never provide the service promised, but it is ruinously expensive. In other words, just what we like in the Bay Area.

"> What do you think?"

Three things

1. We've seen this all before in the Bay Area: the most wasteful and least useful and most harmful political choices of transportation spending are always made, and this will be no different.

2. Saying "I told you so" in 20 years will be no compensation for being proven correct.

3. You ought to be on the payroll! It's quite a gravy train that's leaving, and everybody who can ought to get a piece of the action.

Robert Cruickshank said...

There are very strict growth rules in south Santa Clara County, around Gilroy. HSR alone will not be able to cause a mass of sprawl along that route.

I have always been agnostic on the Altamont vs. Pacheco question, because both have their pros and cons. Neither alignment is perfect and neither alignment is a deal-breaker. Pacheco has been chosen for now and I, for one, am willing to live with it.

The main goal needs to be getting the first line up and running. From there it becomes MUCH easier politically and financially to build extensions, including to the East Bay and from the Bay Area to Sacramento.

Brandon in California said...

A few things for everyones consideration....

The idea that HSR will induce sprawl in the Valley has no merit when considering that the Valley is already expected to grow by millions! HSR was raised as a solution to that areas growing and anticpated transportation problem. The message should be that HSR is a part of the solution, not a contributing factor to the problem. The benefits of HSR far out-weight the possible consequences.


Pacheco vs. Altamont is a dead issue. One way to end the conversation about it is to stop writing about it. But, allow me to add... Altamont meant less service between LA and SF and SJ, not more, as it meant all northbound trains would have to be routed to eventually SJ or SF and could not do both. And, why should HSR be built to address a local commute problem with Altamont that occurs only M-F at peak times... at the expense of statewide weeklong travel demand?

That's a rhetorical question.