Saturday, November 8, 2008

2008 Business Plan Published

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

As promised the California High Speed Rail Authority has published the 2008 Business Plan. Remember, this would have been ready in time for the election had Republicans like Roy Ashburn not blocked passage of the state budget for three months.

The plan itself is primarily an update of construction costs and ridership estimates. The overall cost of SF-Anaheim is pegged at $33 billion, of which $12 billion to $16 billion will come from the federal government. It's worth noting not all of that is going to be in the form of cash, but much will be in the form of low interest bonds that the feds will float - Obama has for example proposed a National Infrastructure Reinvestment Bank that could help provide construction cost support to high speed rail here.

The plan also anticipates that the ridership and operating surpluses are at their best when HSR fares are 50% of airfares on the LA-SF route. Some HSR deniers might scoff at the likelihood of that happening given possible cost increases - but consider that airfares will be rising over the next ten years, likely at a much faster rate than HSR fares will climb due to inflation. The airline crisis hasn't gone away.

The updated business plan also notes that if there are problems in getting funding to build the entire system, the urban segments can likely pay for themselves. Of course I have often railed against the possibility of turning HSR into a glorified commuter rail, and strongly believe that the first items that ought to be constructed are the tracks through the mountains - Pacheco Pass and the Tehachapis - which are the current choke points for intrastate passenger rail. In any event this is one of the issues we will need to monitor very closely over the coming months and years.

Of course, the HSR deniers are still out in force, getting their misleading quotes into the newspapers. Today's SF Chronicle article on the business plan is a good example, giving leading HSR denier Jon Coupal, of the Howard Jarvis Association, the chance to spew his truthiness:

Critics said they were disappointed by the plan released Friday, saying it lacked the necessary detail.

"We waited three months for this?" said Jon Coupal, spokesman for the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association, which opposed Prop. 1A. "I will say it's very pretty and has nice photographs. But as a business plan to present to venture capitalists to convince them to invest, it falls far short."

This from the guy whose organization's business plan involves bankrupting our state? I find it amazing that anyone in the media sees him as a credible source when it comes to government spending and balancing out the numbers.

Let's also be clear - the HSR deniers will claim that everything "lacks the necessary detail" up to the day the first passengers board the trains. If Coupal wants to see informed discussion about the details instead of misinformation intended to kill the project he would do well to click on our comments, where the details are given very intense discussion.

The business plan update provides the necessary information for our state to move forward on the project voters endorsed on Tuesday. At this point HSR deniers are trying to undermine the project - if they want to be useful, then join us in the comments and show how we can improve it. We all want the best possible HSR system for our state. It's time for Californians to come together and make it happen.


BruceMcF said...

I had one question on the new alignments through the bottlenecks ... are these corridors going to be exactly the size for the HSR line, or is there going to be leeway for a parallel conventional freight/passenger line?

Rafael said...

@ brucemcf -

in the Caltrain corridor, there will be four tracks between San Jose and San Francisco 4th & King, in the tunnel to the new Transbay Terminal there will only be 2-3 tracks.

In Fresno, city officials want to shoehorn UPRR, BNSF, Amtrak and HSR into a single corridor 100' wide - enough for four tracks.

In the LOSSAN corridor, there is apparently room for 4 tracks between LA and Fullerton but only for 2 between Fullerton and Anaheim/Irvine. The narrow section is currently used by Amtrak and Metrolink, presumably some freight traffic down to San Diego as well.

Widening the corridor in OC would be difficult. Mixing non-compliant and FRA-compliant rolling stock is normally a big no-no for FRA, but they do allow it if the applicants can demonstrate how their system will guarantee time separation between trains. Now that HR 2095 mandates PTC by 2015 on busy railroad sections, it may be easier to obtain permission.

What CHSRA wants to avoid is an FRA requirement to bring the HSR trainsets up to FRA compliance, as the agency did in the case of Amtrak's Acela Express. The extra weight drastically increases rolling stock acquisition, energy consumption and maintenance costs.

Anonymous said...

I've been reading more background information since I asked yesterday about a FAQ. I am concerned about the plan for the Bay Area.

My concerns:
*1 Will SF's Transbay Terminal be limited to 4 departures per hour? (The number of tracks leading in is not the most limiting factor unless you're planning on parking trains on them. Platforms at stations are limiting, especially at the end)

*2 An unused tunnel in SF has been blocked by 280 retrofit

*3 2-track station configuration on the peninsula precludes expresses or HSR passing trains at stations (Again, # of tracks isn't as limiting as # of tracks AT STATIONS, where expresses can pass)

*4 Will overhead clearance needed for electrification require rebuilding the SF tunnels? I recall the track maintenance ten years ago where most wood ties were replaced by concrete ties, EXCEPT for the tunnels, the reason being overhead clearance. Caltrain cars are double-level(horrible things compared to LA's far more modern double-level cars). Would this mean: Rebuilding tunnels/Not electrifying Caltrain/Forcing Caltrain and HSR to be single-level?

*5 Quentin Kopp is leading HSR? Seriously bad juju. That guy forced a BART-to-SFO extension on the Bay Area, promised huge profits from it's operation. The outcome was a blown budget, an operating budget in the red, and restricting the Caltrain station space to only 2 tracks. In the end, he led a campaign to spend about a billion dollars to make the airport's transit connections *worse*. I so hope that wasn't a warmup for CA HSR.

Thanks in advance.

Rafael said...

The business plan has been updated but IMHO there are still gaps that CHSRA ought to address:

a) the business plan is a distillation of studies done by economists and other experts in the field of infrastructure evaluation. CHSRA should make those studies available to independent analysts or else provide a cogent argument why it cannot do so. Given the scale of the project, it would be appropriate to organize a conference in which the authors of the documents the Authority relies on and independent analysts can discuss the assumptions and analysis methodologies used to reach these conclusions.

b) the plan does not spell out which local public sources will be asked to contribute a total of $2-$3 billion to secure sufficient total funds or, which components of the system those local funds will be allocated to (stations?)

c) the section on construction risk does not highlight geology risks for the tunnel sections. Since only so much is currently known about the geology inside the mountains at the small length scales relevant to tunnel construction, it may prove impossible or more expensive than forecast to find contractors willing to assume the full geology risk. Contractors may encounter unexpected aquifers, pockets of natural gas and/or soft rock strata. In Pacheco Pass, the secondary but active Calaveras fault will be crossed in a tunnel.

d) the risk analysis omits several critical sources:

- starter line funding risk. What happens if the Authority is unable to raise the full $33 billion required to construct the starter line or, there are delays in securing that funding that lead to cost escalations? The discussion of completion risk is very superficial in this respect. In particular, the risk related to annual bond appropriations in the context of the California state budget process is not highlighted. Also, there is no discussion of the impact the recent financial crisis may have had on the ability to secure the required private-public partnerships.

- network extension risk. There are no details on exactly how the extension to Irvine and spurs to Sacramento and San Diego will be funded, when they will be built and how all that depends on the success of the starter line.

- grade separation change order risk. Local authorities along the route may seek to use their political clout to force changes in how grade separations will be implemented. For example, a trench is much more expensive than a raised berm.

- station siting risk. The Authority does not spell out how and when it will decide where to site the second San Mateo county station (Palo Alto or Redwood City). There is also no discussion on how and when it will decide if there will be a station in Hanford/Visalia at all and, how that would impact operations and total construction cost.

- regulatory risk. The Authority's plans depend on obtaining a "rule of special applicability" permitting the purchase of off-the-shelf, lightweight and proven trainset designs from European and/or Asian vendors. These products conform to international rather than FRA crash safety standards. In particular, strict time separation may be required for mixed traffic near San Francisco and near Anaheim.

- right of way acquisition risk. The plan currently assumes that the right of way needed to implement the chosen route can be acquired at the projected cost and in the projected timeframe. Eminent domain proceedings could potentially delay project implementation in certain segments. Existing railroad operators may insist on special measures to reduce the risk of fouling adjacent HSR tracks in the unlikely but possible event of a serious derailment. There is no discussion of how the Authority will ensure the remaining unused sections of the I-15 median between Riverside and Miramar are reserved for HSR and, how it will deal with the sections that have already been used for additional road traffic lanes.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 12:40 -

the Caltrain downtown extension calls for a brand-new tunnel underneath Townsend and 2nd streets. Presumably, it will be high enough to accommodate both concrete sleepers and the bi-level trainsets Caltrain intends to purchase. It's not yet clear if CHSRA will opt for bi-level HSR trainsets for semi-express and local service; Alstom's TGV Duplex is limited to a top speed of 186mph, though a faster model is reportedly in the design stage.

It's not clear to me how I-280 is relevant to the Caltrain DTX. I also don't see why SFTT should be limited to 4 departures per hour.

There will be four tracks between 4th & King in SF and Gilroy. Some eminent domain proceedings may be necessary to widen a fraction of that corridor to the required 100 feet. It's not yet clear how this will be implemented between San Bruno and Millbrae, where there are BART tracks next to Caltrain's. It's also not clear if HSR trains will need to transfer to the tracks used by Caltrain to reach station platforms at Millbrae, in Redwood City or Palo Alto and, in Gilroy.

Quentin Kopp claims he wasn't responsible for the cost overruns of the SFO extension, that it was the county of San Mateo that decided the section between Colma and San Bruno should be implemented as a subway. According to him, the county also added stations to the route, which BART was forced to change because of the cemetaries in Colma.

It's not clear to me why planners did not extend the SFO AirTrain out to Tanforan Park in San Bruno and relocate the San Bruno Caltrain station north to Montgomery/Scott street to create a three-way intermodal terminal.

That said, given the scale of the project, it might make sense to make the chairman of the CHSRA board a directly elected position with e.g. a four-year term.

Anonymous said...

Looking at the plan it says Caltrain and HST will share tracks where possible and the top speed would be 125..if the FRA modifies the rules would they need 4tracks?
Also 4th and king is that being looked at as a staging yard for the transbay terminal?

Anonymous said...


I think a lot of the questions you bring up can only be answered with PROJECT level EIR and engineering. It was just not pertinent to do those studies when a major source of funding had yet to be available and program level (which has been completed and needs to be before program level) is almost a broad overview of the system. You can't nit pick unless there are a ton of people/firms working for the authority.

I think under the circumstances, things have been done right. Nothing will ever be perfect or satisfy everyone.

Anonymous said...

Anon 2:01,

Have a look at this link. I believe it is the most up to date drawing available. Shows the track configuration (just missing the tail tracks)


Anonymous said...

and ignore the two tracks coming into the staging area. It will be four tracks.

Anonymous said...

Well it looks like 4th and King will be run thru with stub tracks for ATT Park events...So where is the train yards?

Anonymous said...

Rafael @ 1:49: "It's not clear to me how I-280 is relevant to the Caltrain DTX."

The retrofit of the elevated section of 280 in the 1990's resulted in a column smack in front of an unused train tunnel in the vicinity of 23rd and Pennsylvania streets (see This permanently eliminated that tunnel for use in expanding the existing service to more tracks.

I'll look for a picture, but here's one that shows how constrained the existing pair of tracks are:

Anonymous said...

The cover of that document features a train that looks a lot like the 700 series Shinkansen trainset.

Is that merely conceptual, or is there any investigation into using Japanese technology on the line?

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 2:01 -

afaik, 4th & King will still be the terminus for some Caltrain trains during the day.

If overnight parking for the HSR trains turns out to be a severe constraint on HSR operations, I think they'll try to leverage space wherever they can find it. Perhaps CHSRA could obtain land for a new yard near Channel and 6th and tear down the warehouses there.

Also, Google maps satellite view shows what appears to have been a bunch of sidings at some point, located opposite the Caltrain station in Santa Clara.

@ eric -

maybe you're right, I just don't like it when important details are glossed over. The fact that CHSRA delivered an updated business plan at all when they said they would is a positive sign, but I'm not sure it's detailed enough to attract private investors - especially in the current market.

My understanding is that the tracks leading to the Transbay Terminal pass the 4th & King station to the left (when approaching SF). The drawing appears to show multiple possible alignments.

@ anon @ 4:05 -

I see what you mean now. Chances are, the HSR trains will anyhow be down to standard speed (less than 80mph) by the time they reach the 280 intersection. Perhaps Caltrain and HSR can squeak by on just two tracks for that short section in the approach to the SF stations.

It sounds similar to the situation between Fullerton and Anaheim. It'll be interesting to see if FRA has a major problem with mixing traffic as long as there is strict time separation.

@ anon @ 4:26 -

no, that is a 700 series shinkansen in Fly California livery. If you look at the various videos, you'll also see Alstom TGV and Siemens Velaro trains. The new business plan includes a photo of the new Alstom AGV.

Don't interpret this to mean that CHSRA has already decided on a vendor. It's just supposed to illustrate that they intend to purchase proven, off-the-shelf rolling stock from Europe or Asia rather to leverage the work that has gone into them.

Whether the designs will have to be modified depends on how FRA handles their request for a "rule of special applicability" wrt mixed traffic in the short sections at either end where it appears to be unavoidable.

For reference on why modifications are a bad idea, see here for a take on the saga of the Acela Express. Note that California HSR trains will not require tilt technology.

Anonymous said...

I've been a long proponent of 1A, but I sadly agree with the Jarvis Taxpayers Association guy to an extent. Is what got posted it, or is there more coming? This 30-page document does look more like a glossy propaganda summary than a real business plan. If you look at the original 2000 plan there are 100's of pages of dry text documents on financing, alignments, ridership, etc. That's what I expect form a business plan, not a 30-page glossy handout.

In an unrelated note, I'm really curious how the caltrain alignment is going to work in Mountain View, specifically at the Castro St station. It doesn't seem like theres even close to enough space for a Castro St crossing, the Caltrain station, 4 tracks, and Central Expy.


Spokker said...

"If you look at the original 2000 plan there are 100's of pages of dry text documents on financing, alignments, ridership, etc."

I'm hoping that the bond measure will pay for more detailed studies. The Authority has done some things that warrant criticism but it also seems like people are asking for too much.

How should Kopp know where the trains are coming from? Why would anyone expect them to pick a vendor this early in the project? The State of California has starved these guys for funds for so long that they could barely pump out these piece of shit business plans and documents.

Now that we passed the bond it's time for the Authority to get to work and really pump out some good stuff about where the actual track is going to be laid and how they are going to deal with LA-Anaheim, the peninsula, etc. I want to know who expressed private interest and in a couple years, yeah, a vendor needs to come on board.

I want to see answers coming from these people over the next few years. I voted yes on this thing. This is my money too, and it's time to see some action.

Brandon in California said...

I scanned through the new business plan and seemed to see some material on every subject that needed to be addressed, but at an insufficient level of detail.

I find it hard to fathom that private sector interests would be interested in financial participation with such shallow detail provided. I can only imagine that what was released was for public consumption and a more detailed version will be provided to financial institutions and other private interests.

What was released really does not seem worthy of my time. It seems others here may agree.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 5:02 -

Peter, my guess is that the VTA light rail will need to be reduced to single track and moved to the Central Expressway median, with a pedestrian overpass to access the platform.

The Castro street grade crossing could theoretically be closed permanently, since there is already an overpass at Shoreline. It might make sense to set up one-way circulation around the downtown area and, convert several blocks of Castro into a pedestrian zone.

Note that CHSRA hasn't decided yet if the mid-penisula station should be sited in Redwood City (optimizing access from the East Bay via Dumbarton bridge) or in Palo Alto. Both cities are in San Mateo county.

IMHO, Mountain View would make more sense than Palo Alto, because of the proximity to 101, 85, 237, Central Expressway, and a large office campus plus concert venue at Shoreline Park and the VTA line plus some buses and bike routes.

Mountain View has also been more proactive than other peninsula cities in anticipating HSR. However, that would give Santa Clara county three HSR stations vs. one for San Mateo county.

Anonymous said...

I will have to agree that the business plan does not look detailed on what is released. However, what I notice on page 30 is references to the economic studies of areas which have already been published to the site, making me wonder if this would be better as a summary rather than an actual business plan?

Brandon in California said...

^^^ Yeah, I would agree. I feel it must be intended for a public audience only.

Which, this does not mean anything negative, really. Just that more detail would be appreciated for an interested mind.

Spokker said...

Now that we have passed the bond measure, after we have defended the project on blogs, news sites and forums, it's time for we the supporters to start scrutinizing this project.

I would hope that if Robert Cruickshank sees something that the Authority is doing that he doesn't like, that he gives them a piece of his mind on this here blog of his. Not to say he shouldn't always be supportive, but we aren't friends of this train unless we can't muster up the balls to say that Judge Kopp might be full of crap once in a while.

Anonymous said...

Spoker..Dog.there is alot of work to do..BTW move to the CITY..and help us cut the ribbion on the first trainset out of Grand Central West

BruceMcF said...

back @ Rafael ...

My main concern in the question is current rail bottlenecks ... eg., LA / Bakersfield. In terms of electrifying STRACNET, an expansion of market share for freight rail will require untangling existing bottlenecks. For example, AFAIU there is not a lot of spare capacity on existing LA / Bakersfield alignments.

Robert Cruickshank said...

I don't intend to be the Authority's amen corner, that's for sure. I too would have liked to see a fully detailed plan, but I do not believe one was necessary at this time or that one won't be produced in the future. My guess is the Authority took the legislature literally and produced an "update" to the plan.

I do think we need to keep in mind that the HSR deniers are still out there and not going anywhere. We will criticize the Authority from time to time and rightly so. But we should also take care to make those criticisms as constructive as possible. The HSR deniers are going to take ANY criticism we make and say "omg even the supporters think this is fucked up." Which won't be true, and which should NOT mean we bite our tongues.

I really want our purpose here to be to build up, and not tear down. There will indeed be times when Kopp and others are, as spokker says, "full of crap." I won't shrink from pointing that out. But I also will be sure to offer ways for the Authority to improve and lobby to make that happen.

Like any government project, California High Speed Rail will need persistent citizen oversight and engagement for it to be a success. We are best positioned to provide that. And I hope that we will continue to provide it.

Anonymous said...

Don't forget that in some of the narrow right of ways, the HSR will use areal tramways. There wont be a need to reduce trackage, just build above it.

BruceMcF said...

Eric said...
Don't forget that in some of the narrow right of ways, the HSR will use areal tramways. There wont be a need to reduce trackage, just build above it.

My question was not about whether the HSR would be creating bottlenecks, but curiosity on whether there would be any side-effect in relieving the existing bottlenecks. The portions of the alignment that is new rail corridor are one obvious opportunity.

Anonymous said...

The Tehachapi connection should be built FAST.

As long as the FRA doesn't allow freight on high-speed lines, it won't be suitable for freight (except light fast freight, a special case) -- they're not going to build extra tunnels just for freight, so freight will continue to take the Tehachapi Loop.

However, Bakersfield-LA is already a major commuter corridor (horrifying though that is), so the "glorified commuter" aspect will play into getting that part done early. And there is little or no environmental or other opposition to this section. And a vast amount of the preliminary engineering has been done for it (because feasibility studies were necessary thanks to the fault lines). And the preferred alternative not going to require much adjacency to the freight railroads except at the Bakersfield station proper.

I would expect that proper agreements could allow an "extended San Joaquins" run to make it to LA until high-speed rail proper starts running.

Anonymous said...

Hmm, so I guess I think they should start running the various subprojects independently.

How have they broken the corridor down into pieces? I think all the pieces need to progress in parallel, though I'd lay bets that Burbank-Bakersfield actually gets trains running first. (The Central Valley might break ground before that, for the test track.)

Anonymous said...

Looking at Fresno, the UP corridor appears to be wide enough for six tracks *most* of its length (but not all). A number of parking lot demolitions would be needed, but not a lot of building demolitions.

CAHSR requires at least two tracks there. I think UP and BNSF are going to demand two tracks each (as they should). CAHSR and BNSF are not going to cooperate on BNSF track relocation if it hurts either of them (which it would if the ROW had insufficient room for six tracks).

Use of eminent domain by Fresno City Council might get a six-track ROW, with extra room for barrier walls etc. It looks like they just have to claim parking lots, mostly anyway.

Google Maps shows the only *actual* chokepoint (assuming widened ROW by eminent domain, without knocking down buildings) to be from highway 41 through the railyards, where the UP and BNSF lines already parallel each other. This may mean making an elevated line for high-speed rail over the existing rail lines or over Golden State Boulevard through this section.

The other problem is the Fresno station, which needs much greater width. Ideally, an extra two tracks for stopping HSR, to not block the mainline, and an extra two for other passenger trains (so freights can run straight through). Even if the BNSF is left alone, this will be difficult to place in the ROW. Eliminating some *large* parking lots like the one near Grizzlies Stadium could do it; that would probably require building large garages though.

Anonymous said...

Ok, so I'm not the only one who thinks the business plan is a bit short on details and heavy on gloss. Lets hope they release something more substantial soon.

My next question is what happens to all of the currently planned Caltrain capitol projects? I found that Caltrain actually posts very nice quarterly reports of everything they're working on. Only a few of the projects will be unaffected by HSR, like some radio stuff and real-time train location / prediction (finally!).

Most of the projects if they get done in the next few years will have to be completely redone for HSR. Basically all of the bridge and station improvements are planned for a 2-track system, and will have to be scrapped when going to a 4-track system. Since the bridge improvements are mostly for seismic reasons I could see delaying those a few years until HSR comes through at no great detriment. However the station improvements will have real benefits in the next year or two before HSR starts construction, due to removing the "hold-out rule" where baby bullets can't pass stopped trains at a station and only 1 train can be at a station at a time. Is it worth spending a few million for a few years of upgraded station performance, and then ripping it right out?

Then there's electrification of the track, which is the biggest capitol improvement on the list (along with making a Dumbarton caltrain bridge, which is a whole different story). It's unclear from the quarterly report exactly how far along the project is and when they plan to start laying wires, but my guess is that this won't be touched until HSR begins construction, or maybe a bit before with explicit planning to make it completely HSR compatible. I'd really like to see this timeline be pushed as hard as possible, as an electrified corridor will make current caltrain service substantially nicer.


Anonymous said...

Really I think they half hearted thought they would be packing boxes for the state archives this week..Now SUPRISE its a project! now for the real business plan since we have our end of the money

Anonymous said...

I believe what you are all griping about is the lack of source documentation. According to the official site, "it will not be
available for viewing until next week [from Nov. 7]." So everyone should just hold their horses and wait until Friday. Then you can download and pore over the details all you want.

Anonymous said...

bureaucratic documentation porn!

BruceMcF said...

@ anon-12:32pm and anon-1:13pm, thanks for the info.

Anonymous said...

While actual Caltrain wire-stringing will probably be delayed by HSR plans, some things won't: substation design and land purchase, train (locomotive or MU) design and purchase, signalling and safety systems design and purchase, etc. The actual on-the-ground right-of-way design *will* be delayed for HSR most likely, but the choice of what systems to use can (and should) go forward -- it was already going to be "HSR-ready". And that is actually a much larger part of the electrification than you might think.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the info
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