Thursday, November 20, 2008

False Consciousness

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

We've reported on some rather silly anti-HSR op-eds in recent months here at the blog. Typically these come from the far-right, specifically from the Reason Foundation and the Howard Jarvis Association.

This week brings evidence that HSR denial exists on the left side of the spectrum as well (although I have a hard time acknowledging anti-rail concern trolling as anything but fundamentally right-wing). Ben Adler, a writer at the Politico and a fellow at The Next American City (a wonderful publication), has an op-ed at titled "Alternative Travel for the Wealthy", arguing that high speed rail is an elitist plaything that does nothing for Californians who need passenger rail service. The concept is absurd, but the execution is stunning in its failure to grasp even the most elementary aspects of HSR and its place in the overall mass transit universe.

But the idea of long-distance high-speed rail is primarily of interest to business travelers and the relatively wealthy.

This is utterly ridiculous nonsense and shows an almost total ignorance of the lived experience of middle-class and working-class Californians.

Does Adler really, truly believe that only the wealthy have a use for long-distance travel? If so he must believe that nobody else wants to see family for the holidays. That nobody else must travel to seek a job. Has Adler ever heard of the concept of migratory labor networks?

As this summer demonstrated, soaring oil prices and the long-term prospect of peak oil - neither of which Adler mentioned - indicate that intercity travel is very much of interest to all Californians. Without affordable rail travel that runs on renewable energy, working-class Californians will not be able to travel around their state. That denies them economic opportunity and cuts down on jobs that their travel creates.

Further, as Matt Melzer pointed out in a comment to Adler's post, HSR is going to provide direct material benefits to all classes of Californians by the considerable numbers of jobs it will create:

a UC Merced study found that HSR will bring $3 billion in direct economic benefits to the Central Valley. State estimates show that HSR will create over 400,000 jobs across a variety of sector, which can only be good for the working class.

Those jobs are green jobs, jobs that can't easily be outsourced. Adler betrays his own class position by dismissing the need for such jobs in a state whose unemployment rate is 7.7% and rising fast.

Adler also shows a lack of understanding of HSR's role in promoting urban density:

Even if you’re considering the middle class who might make trips between cities fairly often, high speed rail does little to combat the fact that one cannot get around L.A. or San Diego without a car upon arrival. If people plan to take the train for shorter trips between cities, they may end up needing a car on the other end. For mass transit to really remove auto-dependence it has to connect walkable urban areas.

This section suggests to me Adler simply does not understand how HSR works. HSR acts as a spark for construction of other mass transit connections. Since the stations themselves are in city centers, they create demand for new transit links to ensure folks can get around without a car. Those stations, being in city centers, promote transit-oriented development (TOD) which, yes, create demand for new transit links. You want a walkable neigborhood? Build an HSR station. You want more people to get around without a car? Build an HSR station.

Adler also shows his ignorance by neglecting the fact that in fact, Californians DID vote for urban transportation programs of the very kind that he calls for:

This was the only smart growth ballot initiative on the ballot; there weren’t other initiatives for increasing city transit.

That's a jaw-droppingly ignorant statement. Los Angeles County, where most of the "housekeepers who commute from East L.A. to Westwood by bus or car" who Adler claims to want to help actually live, passed Measure R in November, which provides funds for a massive expansion of the regional rail network. Santa Clara County may have passed Measure B, which will bring BART to San José along the Santa Clara Street corridor, which will help working-class residents in East San José more easily reach jobs in downtown SJ and in other parts of the Bay Area. Marin and Sonoma counties passed Measure Q creating a passenger rail system there as well.

How can we take Adler seriously when he gets his basic facts so very wrong?

I don’t want to set up a false dichotomy between inter-city travel like the high-speed rail initiative and intra-city and commuter transit like city buses; each is beneficial in their own way.

But that's precisely what Adler has done in his article. That is the sole reason the article was written. Adler is arguing that HSR is a toy for the wealthy that sucks up money from transit projects for everyone else.

Those of us who actually understand the high speed rail project know that HSR is anything but elitist. It is a rising tide that lifts all transportation boats. It helps retrofit the suburbs by providing rapid, affordable commuter services. It helps spur creation of new transit links and TOD in the city centers where the HSR stations will go. It will make travel on Caltrain and Metrolink faster and safer by providing grade separations and dedicated tracks. It will bring reliable and fast passenger rail service to working-class cities currently underserved by rail, including Gilroy, Merced, Fresno, and Bakersfield.

I'm rather stunned that the Center for American Progress, usually a very solidly progressive organization, put their name to this ridiculous article. Adler's facts are wrong and he shows an almost total lack of understanding of the issue. Surely Campus Progress and the CAP can do better.


bossyman15 said...

Gov. Gray Davis signed the high speed train bond in 2002?! i never knew that! what happened to that?

Rafael said...

Ok, so there are uninformed people on all sides of the political spectrum and, Mr. Adler appears to be one of them.

Fact is, measures B, R and Q represent tax-based funding for rail projects that had been talked about for a very, very long time. It took gas at over $4 a gallon plus a foreclosure epidemic in the McMansion boonies, but Californians have now accepted that dependence on oil-powered automobiles alone is a risky transportation infrastructure policy. Let's hope other states follow suit.

IMHO, this recognition of risk is why so many voted in favor of every long-term transit proposition on the ballot this year, even though oil prices collapsed even before the vote. They, unlike Mr. Adler, "get it".

@ bossyman15 -

please provide a reference.

Brandon in California said...

I read his op-ed. It feels so wrong that I do not know where to start. Part of me, on this day, feels 'why bother.'

I know the argument to combat incorrect thinking, like Ben's, is that if they go un-noticed that the rug could slip from underneath HSR. That should not happen.

For me, what grabs my attention is that he claims efforts should be tuned toward local transportation, mass transit, before exhausting efforts toward HSR. He basically argues that local mass transit is in greater need and has more function because it handles a greater number of people, and a class of people, that need it or deserve it more; the working class.

There is some truth to that, maybe; however, local transportation is almost exclusively a local responsibility. Sure, the state helped kick things off for local transportation by authorizing a 1/4 cent sales tax to fund local public transit efforts, but planning and implementing efforts are a local responsibility. Many of the urbanized local governments have also adopted additional sales tax measures to further fund transportation, upwards of 1/2-cent or more, augmenting the state effort. LA's Measure R is one of a few passed this past session alone.

One could argue, as I would, that the state and local governments have gone far enough for now with local mass transit efforts and they can/should now focus some attention toward public transit for statewide travel; a state certainly to face immense traffic congestion and additional green-house gas emissions if we do nothing or only focus on existing modes (cars & planes).


I think what Ben wants is a benevolent dictator; one that can try and set aside politics, live in the here and now, and make the best decisions for the public. Perhaps a dictator that they do not need to respond to north vs. south debates, the realities of a constrained budget and the need to strategically use limited resources, or anticipate projected future conditions due to more and more people living in the state. However, I’ll hold a bit of opinion on Ben until I learn more about him. Based on this read it appears he is more of an academic and not in touch with the rubber meeting the road too much.

Anonymous said...

Update on Measure B (BART to SJ): passing handily now with 66.74% yes. I forget how many absentee are still outstanding, but it looks like it will almost certainly pass now.


Rafael said...

@ peter -

measure B is now passing by 481 votes, i.e. 0.08%. It'll probably end up passing, but not exactly "handily".

Anonymous said...

Rafael, bossyman15 is referring to the caption on the picture in the Ben Adler article.

Rafael said...

@ bossyman15, anon -

Found it. From Gray Davis Digital Library:

"[Gov. Gray Davis] signed the landmark High Speed Rail Bond Act to place before the voters in 2004 a bond measure that would fund the planning and construction of a high-speed rail transportation system for California, the largest public works project in history."

Gov. Schwarzenegger then twice deferred the bond measure.

Spokker said...

High speed rail is a millionaire's club for high rollers like us ;)

luis d. said...

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) Push for more HIGH SPEED Rail.

Yesterday, Wednesday 11/19/08

Rafael said...

@ luis d -

coming so soon after HR 2095 and its $1.5 billion for HSR, this proposal is most welcome - all the more so because it has sponsors from both parties.

Sure, only $5 billion or so of this would go to California, but the federal money was never going to come all at once anyhow. If this gets the go-ahead, it will make it that much easier for CHSRA to attract private matching funds.

This makes it all the more important that CHSRA and SF plus the other cities to be served put together a joint proposal for federal funding. Public bickering is detrimental to securing earmarks in Congress.

Rafael said...

@ luis d -

Arlen Specter (R-PA) for Secretary of Transportation?

That would allow Gov. Ed Rendell (D-PA) to appoint his replacement ...

Unknown said...

The op-eds comparison of High Speed Rail to the Second Avenue subway project is grossly incorrect. Yes, the subway is cheaper and will carry more passengers, but we are talking about a 7 mile underground tunnel here as opposed to a 500 mile high speed rail line. When you look at the costs of the two projects on a per passenger mile basis, high speed rail makes the subway project look extremely overpriced by comparison.

But again, each is serving very different needs and cannot be compared directly in fairness.

SantaTeresaHills said...

There is an article in the Modesto Bee to use some of the HSR Bond money as part of the money to buy and restore a freight line between Kern County and San Joaquin Counties. The main use of this line in the article is as a freight line. The justification for using the HSR money is that it can be used for ACE or Amtrak trains during the day and freight during the night. The problem with that is that it would be traveling along Highway 33 which is closer to the west side. This line would not go along the eastern side through cities like Modesto, Merced, Fresno, etc. It would go through towns like Patterson, Gustine, and Los Banos. This seems like a money grab.

The article can be found at

Anonymous said...

As I recall, former Gov. Gray Davis signed the HSR bill back in 2002 but part of the agreement to even get it out of the state legislature was to postpone the measure for 2 years, supposedly b/c they didn't want to threaten the post-9/11 economy with something like investing in state infrastructure and creating mroe jobs. This was later extended to a 6 year delay by additional votes of the legislature and the approval of Gov. Schwarzenegger, who preferred the construction of a "hydrogen highway" for automobiles to run between southern and northern California. Schwarzenegger only endorsed Prop 1a a week or two before the vote. This from the "green" governator.

Getting back to Davis, Gray was not even a HSR supporter prior to 2002, but the 9/11 bombings changed that temporarily.

When 9/11 happened it shut down our air transportation system for many days and then led to chapter 11 filings by several airlines and the idea that the entire passenger airline industry could crash, long screening lines at airports, and a need for massive government investment in airport and airplane security infrastrucure.

This had the side-effect of causing Davis and members of the CA legislature to change their position on CHSRA albeit briefly when they realized that it might actually be a good idea to have multi-modal transportation system in this country, kinda like what most developed countries already have. Dspite the brevity of interest in HSR, it was, however, enough to at least get the bill passed and set the stage for what became prop 1a six years later.

IMHO Davis really never showed any leadership on HSR and continually threatened the CHSRA budget appropriations despite campaigning for re-election in 2002 as a big environmentalist. I doubt anyone's going to be naming any trains after him.

Brandon in California said...

Santa TeresaHills,
Yeah, I saw that article this AM. I don't think the opportunity forwarded to do that really meshes well at all with HSR and I think it'll die very quickly.

That is for a number of reasons.

To start, I believe they cited was the $950 million or so for transit systems to conect to HSR to fund their improvements. However, that $950 million is already directed to specified transit systems by formula.

Admittedly, ACE is one, but would get a nominal amount due to their ridership and size relative to other systems. And, a small slice goes for intercity services operated by Caltrans, but I don't believe any of them are in the Central Valley.

The proposal seems SOL.

Functionally, I don't see HSR and heavy rail ever using the same rail... where high speeds are expected of HSR trains and are essential; like the Central Valley. Heavy rail is rough on the rail... and it's not complimentary to HSR... even if the heavy stuff only operated at 2am.

Rafael said...

@ Michael -

downtown rail projects are always much more expensive per mile than intercity projects. I don't think it makes sense to compare them on that basis, they serve very different purposes. Instead, planners need to look at return on investment, possibly including the opportunity cost of time spent unproductively while in transit.

Wrt the Central Subway in SF, which will be up 4th Street, I think the cost of that could be reduced with a level crossing of Muni tracks at Market Street. The planned underground passages to Powell Street Muni/BART would have to be adapted accordingly.

In theory, this approach could - someday - permit a Muni subway down Geary Street to Park Presidio Pkwy, past the DeYoung and the Academy of Sciences in GG Park, across to Sunset and down to Taraval (L line) and a loop track just south of where Sunset meets Lake Merced Blvd., possibly further.

@ SantaTeresaHills -

reviving the old SP line through the CV is worth considering for freight. Passenger service would be very limited, if any. The route cuts through prime farmland that is

Judging from Google Maps satellite view, most of the tracks have been ripped up. Laying new ones would create a lot of level crossing problems for farmers whose fields now straddle the old ROW. The short section between Riverdale and Laton (due south of Fresno) has been usurped by a country road, but that shouldn't be a dealbreaker.

Fresno has been trying to shoehorn all freight and passenger rail traffic into the UPRR corridor through its downtown, but that is only 100 feet wide. A local freight bypass west of the city was considered as an alternative - enter the old SP ROW.

This would involve laying regular-quality dual tracks there and making it a freight corridor shared by UPRR and BNSF (cp. Alameda corridor in LA). There is also a connector ROW from Ingle to Fresno, so that city could be supplied.

The BNSF alignment east of hwy 99 would remain in use for freight between Stockton and Madera.

In return, the existing UPRR ROW along hwy 99 would become a passenger-only corridor. Some of the sleepers and rails could perhaps be re-used for the SP alignment. Only two new HSR tracks would be laid down between cities, with bypass tracks in each town to be served by local trains. Those would have to use rolling stock with sufficient acceleration/deceleration and top speed to make it from one small town to the next without slowing down the 220mph express trains.

The connection of all this to prop 1A funds would be indirect: UPRR would use the proceeds from selling the ROW along hwy 99 between Stockton and Bakersfield to revive the old SP alignment. It's not clear if the land deal would cover construction costs, though. Also, it's not at all clear if UPRR is even interested in sharing a corridor with BNSF.

The idea of using part of the $950 million earmarked for HSR feeder services directly for this freight idea is DOA unless Amtrak San Joaquin decides it wants to use its share to switch from the BNSF to the hwy 99 UPRR alignment to reach the downtown areas.

That would only be possible in a decade or so, but there's nothing in AB 3034 that forces the money to be spent asap. With oil prices more moderate and likely to stay that way for a number of years, near-term demand for additional transit capacity (i.e. more trains) may be waning.

Tony D. said...

Rafael 10:40,

The SJ Mercury News stated today that at 66.74%, Measure B now has 1,444 votes "in favor" over the necessary 2/3's threshold. Come Friday at 5pm that lead will probably grow even more (I'm guessing 2,000+). Regardless if it's 2,000 or 481, 66+% in favor against 34% is pretty HANDILY.

luis d. said...

Yay, according to this article published 11/20/08 by the Independent, HSR still has a chance at running through the Altamont as regular HSR as a seperate line from Prop 1A's funds.

I am not sure what the "HSR Overlay" mentioned on the CHSRA website really is, I imagined it as the ACE train upgraded to full electrification and running on designated and straightened tracks of it's own as being the "HSR Overlay". Although I don't know if it is just regular HSR trains and tracks?

It's pretty obvious though that the question still remained about travel between Sac and Frisco and it was avoided in the animated map on their (CHSRA's) website. Opening a line through the Altamont corrects that problem and is the plain solution that will have to wait until their are funds for it.

Nevertheless it's good news, But WTF, the EIR's will "Take 3 1/2 years to complete"? Can't they do it sooner?

Rafael said...

@ luis d -

after Pacheco was chosen as the preferred option, CHSRA decided to offer up an olive branch to Altamont supporters by creating the notion of an "HSR/commuter rail overlay" connecting Stockton and Modesto to Oakland and San Jose via downtown Tracy, Livermore, Pleasanton and Union City.

As a first strawman, they used the alignment they had already developed (which did not include a Livermore station) but rejected for the main line. This strawman calls for a brand-new, dedicated alignment capable of supporting 100-150mph and even over 200mph in a short section between Tracy and Stockton. It also calls for a curved tunnel between Pleasanton and Union City, a stretch along the I-880 median (or perhaps, Trimble Road and the SJC terminals) between Miplitas and SJ Diridon and, an aerial structure along 7th Street in Oakland to West Oakland BART to retain the option of a future second transbay tube.

Total cost estimated at around $6 billion over and above the core HSR network. CHSRA already did some of the EIR/EIS work for this Altamont strawman. It may have revived it in part to deflect a lawsuit filed by TRANSDEF claiming that the Bay Area to CV EIR/EIS was not executed properly and should therefore be ruled invalid. The cities of Menlo Park and Atherton joined that lawsuit.

There were a number of reasons CHSRA cited for preferring Pacheco:

a) fastest way to LA (though its line haul numbers for Altamont alternative #9 were questionable)

b) Fremont didn't want 4 freight tracks plus 2 BART tracks plus 2 HSR tracks in the section to Milpitas. Truth be told, the WPML ROW owned by Santa Clara county is only wide enough for two tracks and CHSRA's cost estimate was based on the notion that it would be allowed to use it for its standard gauge tracks. This interfered with San Jose's ambitions to extend BART.

c) Pleasanton and Livermore were supposedly not happy with the prospect of all those extra trains and the construction nuisance. Perhaps CHSRA used that as an excuse, it appears to have few qualms about similar complaints from other towns along the route.

d) the UPRR ROW between Pleasanton and Livermore is quite narrow, which would complicate construction but not render it impossible. Note that some of the alignments BART is currently considering for the separate extension to Livermore would require short sections of that same ROW.

e) one reason CHSRA did not state explicitly is that choosing Altamont instead of Pacheco would have mapped the Manteca-to-Madera segment into phase 1, increasing its cost estimate by around $2 billion. Now, it is part of the phase 2 spur to Sacramento.

My interpretation:

Parsons Brinkhoff would love, love, loooove to build Pacheco and the BART extensions and the gold-plated HST/commuter rail overlay. Unfortunately, California may not be able to afford all that.


But ok, Pacheco has been chosen, so lets figure out how to make folks in the East Bay and the Delta whole.

Any solution should involve close co-ordination between BART, Caltrain, CHSRA, Amtrak, BNSF and UPRR planners working on future rail services in Northern California.

See this map for a better understanding of the ideas expressed below.

It might make sense to scale the HST/commuter overlay back to something more affordable by limiting speeds to 110/125mph. This is the maximum speed FRA permits for level crossings with suitable safeguards. Quiet zone measures should be implemented throughout. That means grade separations need only be implemented selectively.

The first core idea would be to extend broad gauge BART tracks only as far as Fremont Irvington and keep everything south of that standard gauge.

The second would be to dual track the existing alignment through Niles Canyon by pressing the old SP ROW on its north side back into service for all westbound trains. One new track would be constructed between Sunol and French Camp, another between Industrial Pkwy in Hayward and Oakland Coliseum. South of Industrial, the single track that runs past the Union City BART station would be pressed back into service. Northbound trains would halt several hundred feet to the east, the two UC stations would be linked via an enclosed pedestrian walkway with horizontal people movers like the ones you see at airports. This walkway would double as access to high-rise office buildings or a mall in-between the rail tracks. The tangle of tracks at Niles Junction would have to be upgraded as well.

The third is that UPRR and Capitol Corridor/ACE would share the resulting dual track alignments between San Jose and Stockton, Modesto and Sacramento via mutual trackage, track maintenance and dispatch priority agreements. "Baby Express" trains would continue to use the Alviso alignment between Fremont and SJ Diridon.

The fourth is that Capitol Corridor and ACE would purchase two-mode rolling stock capable of running on diesel or 25kV AC from the overhead catenaries. The simplest solution would be FRA-compliant bi-level DMU equipment (e.g. Colorado Railcar) combined into trainsets with EMU equipment from the same vendor, plus possibly some unpowered cars. Both power sources would be controllable from the driver cab at either end. To switch from one to the other, drivers would let their trains coast through the transition location (this is normal practice for two-mode operations).

The fifth is that in addition to the broad gauge service and the standard gauge Capitol Corridor trains, the BART organization would also operate the more frequent standard gauge service between Santa Clara and Fremont Irvington. This is a reflection of the fact that Measure B appears to have passed, which means Caltrain will stick to SF-Gilroy.

The sixth is that the BART extension to Livermore should have an intermodal station with the standard gauge overlay but not require the use of any part of the UPRR ROW there.

As a cherry on top, it would make sense to scrap eBART in favor of a standard gauge station right next to North Concord BART, in the inland section of the former Naval Weapons Center. The tracks are already there as is a rail underpass with hwy 4. Adding just a few turn-offs, FRA-compliant bi-level DMU trains could run on existing freight tracks to Oakland/San Jose, downtown Stockton, downtown Tracy and Modesto, Sacramento (via Stockton or Fairfield), Vallejo, Napa and even Vallejo. Sonoma and Novato/San Rafael/Santa Rosa may become accessible in the future.

/ t. joey said...

Amen to your post! I just finished my Master's Research Paper on HSR. We need visionaries not incrementalist small thinking people! I am so hopeful for California. I just wish on my side of the States we could've got Acela right. Stupid Acela - pretend HSR.

Rafael said...

@ t joey -

congratulations on your studies. If you haven't done so already, take a look at the following:

- 10 official HSR corridors

- grade crossing rules per speed class

- quiet zones

- HR 2095

- Caltrain's recent simulations (see appendix C) of standardized crash scenarios at grade crossings.

- the effect of FRA mixed traffic rules on Acela Express active tilt train MTBF

In the NEC, there are many reasons why those trains can only reach their top speed in a few sections. These include winding track, insufficient superelevation in curves, congestion caused by slower freight and commuter trains and, insufficient spacing between tracks.

The latter could cause windows to blow out when two Acelas pass each other at high relative speed. British Rail has the same problem, that's why they chose to run their trains at 125mph top speed but frequently. It's also why Eurostar features relatively small windows.

Another constraint is that the clearance between a fully tilted Acela train on the outside track of a sweeping curve passing a regular train on the inside track would be just 12 inches - too close for comfort. The only remedy is to tilt less, which means running at a lower speed.

The best solution would be a new passenger-only alignment roughly along I-95 between New York and Washington DC, switching to legacy track and lower speeds to reach downtown stations. That's essentially how SNCF has architected its TGV network, but in the US it would require an update to rules on mixed traffic if lightweight rolling stock is to be used.

Along with that investment, the overhead catenaries on the NEC should be upgraded to 25kV AC throughout. If that means retiring some locomotives or upgrading their power electronics, so be it.

Anonymous said...

HSR is for the rich. The Pacheco Pass Alignment proves it.

If it wasn't for the rich then CHSRA would be thinking about how to benefit the vast majority of the people who do not jetset between northern and southern California.

As it stands now, the current HSR alignment benefits no one except contruction unions, landowners in Los Banos, and Parsons-Brinkerhof.

As far as HSR being able to be used by families -- not likely. Even if it costs $20/person/one-way (cheap!) A family of 4 has to spend $160 roundtrip + rent a car at the destination.

Yes, you can change the equation if the car rental can be avoided with better transit alternatives -- but the point remains. Long-distance family travel is still cheaper over this distance with a car.

However, if the Altamont Pass is built then you make everyone's daily life better. Not just the occasional trip to DisneyLand.

If you want to disagree, point out how the HSR infrastructure is going to help Californians who are not going to LA regularly.

Until then HSR is for the rich.

Rafael said...

@ Pat Moore -

the fact that CHSRA decided to introduce the notion of an "HST/commuter rail overlay" that is "under consideration" speaks volumes. No-one would have asked for such an overlay through Pacheco if Altamont variation #9 had been chosen.

However, it's not true that Pacheco was chosen so this could be a plaything for the rich. Rather, the city of San Jose wanted both a broad gauge BART extension and every HSR train that entered the Bay Area to stop at SJ Diridon.

There's not enough room between Fremont and Milpitas for two new broad gauge plus two new standard gauge tracks. It was either-or because SJ felt that commuters from e.g. Hayward and Union City would not be prepared to change trains in Fremont.

Building any new dual track bridge across the bay that meets seismic code is horrendously expensive, especially near a wildlife preserve. Also, SJ did not want to be on a spur - the smallest operational unit of an HSR train is the trainset, which typically consists of 4-6 cars plus a power car with a fully equipped driver cab at either end. Most trains feature a single trainset, long ones two. Ergo, any option involving a new Dumbarton rail bridge would have more or less halved the number of trains serving SF and SJ.

SF didn't really care all that much either way as long as there would be no new bay crossing, express line haul times that would take pressure off SFO and, delivered high train frequency to the new transbay terminal.

Stopping at Santa Clara instead of SJ Diridon would have reduced the SF-LA line haul penalty for Altamont variation #9 by an insignificant 8 minutes. SJ decided it absolutely, positively had to be Diridon station, even though that's only one stop closer to downtown via the subway that will now be built.

That left Pacheco as the only option. As far as I can tell, the choice in favor of Pacheco was not made to create a plaything for the rich.

Rather, it was a combination of strong pressure to avoid SFO expansion, strong resistance to a new Dumbarton rail bridge, lack of political co-ordination by East Bay and Delta counties and, SJ city officials prioritizing their strictly local objectives over the wider benefits of an Altamont HSR alignment.

But, prop 1A passed with a clear expectation that Pacheco would be implemented, so that's what's going to happen now.

In addition, measure B in Santa Clara county has passed, so broad gauge BART tracks will be laid between Fremont and Milpitas. That means no true high speed trains will ever be able to travel between Pleasanton and San Jose, unless UPRR decides to sell its remaining freight ROW in the south-east bay area. If BART usurps part of the UPRR ROW in Livermore, even moderately high speed service through Altamont will be nigh on impossible to implement.

If I were you, I'd cut my losses on the full HSR alignment through Altamont (unless you have $6-8 billion to spare) and focus on lobbying to keep the ROW in Livermore and between Fremont and Milpitas standard gauge.

Btw, Parsons Brinkerhoff are the lead consulting engineers on both HSR and the BART extension to San Jose.


If it's any consolation, other countries have also made expensive blunders in introducing HSR.

France built the beautiful but expensive and hardly used Satolas station next to Lyon Airport - it never turned into the hoped-for relief airport for Paris because airlines were not interested in offering long-distance flights out of Lyon.

Spanish engineers worked off two slightly different sets of blueprints for its Madrid-Seville line. Now there's a S-curve in the middle of nowhere that forces trains to slow down.

Let's hope California at least learns from those mistakes.

Anonymous said...

@Rafael -- Building the rail bridge (or tunnel) near the Don Edwards is not horrendously expensive. Compare the numbers the CHSRA is pulling out and then compare them to the actual numbers for the Bay Bridge project.

The Bay Bridge which is over deep water, an active shipping channel, is higher, carries more weight, etc. than the Dumbarton Rail Bridge would costs less than what the CHSRA claims crossing at the Dumbarton would.

Next, every environmental group is opposed to the Pacheco Pass for environmental reasons -- including the Committee to Complete the Refuge (as in the DON EDWARDS refuge). Thats right -- even the groups whose sole mission is to protect the Don Edwards has said that they prefer the Altamont Pass.

As to San Jose's need to make everything revolve around them -- why should anyone defend that as a good reason for anything???

Next, there is a damn good reason why Pacheco Pass should get nada -- there is nada there. Look at the Altamont Pass -- 1+ million people there and they should settle for second best just because SJ needs its ego stroked?


Next, the pronouncements about the certainty of BART -- they have been saying this for 8 years now. They still haven't finished the EIR/EIS. Get back to me when the ground breaking happens and the FRA/FTA signoff.

As to the defeatist attitude of just give up and go home -- hell of an activist you would make.

No, the name of the game is to keep fighting and to not listen to the watercarriers for the political elite.

Say hi to Carl for me, when you go back on Monday to the SVLG.

Tony D. said...

Pat Moore,
You remind me of those Japanese soldiers fighting WWII in the Western Pacific...IN THE 1960'S!! Dude, the Pacheco/Altamont war is over! Get over it. It's the Pacheco Pass alignment with passage of Prop. 1A and SCCo.'s Measure B; let's move on!

Anonymous said...

@Tony D --

Not hardly. I bet you are also telling the No on Prop 8 people to move along as well now that the election is over.

I bet you were also telling the Democrats in 2000 to move along as well and accept whoever the media anointed.

I bet you were telling the people who opposed the Iraq War to move along as well, once Bush invaded.

"Decider has decided! He knows better than you move along, move along good little sheeple."

P.S. they were telling us to move along in 2000. And then we beat them in 2006. So I hope you don't mind if I ignore your concern troll advise to just give up.

Anonymous said...

@Tony D --

It took the Greeks 400 years to get their independence from Turkey.

It took Ireland about 500 years for independence from Great Britain.

I bet you would have been there at Valley Forge in 1777 -- telling Washington that he should just give up because things aren't looking so hot.

Go home and play on your PS3 and leave the real world to those who fight for the right thing.

We will call you up when it is safe to come out of your bunker.

Those who aren't doing something shouldn't get in the way of those who are.

Go home.

Rafael said...

@ Pat Moore -

I'm not sure how long you have been reading this blog, but I have actually been highly critical of CHSRA's decision in favor of Pacheco in the past. I absolutely agree with you that an Altamont-only alignment would make a whole lot more sense, because it would provide much better service for the east bay and Delta counties and, do so much earlier. The future spur to Sacramento would be shorter, greatly reducing the risk that the money to build it will never materialize. More importantly, HSR line haul time between Sacramento and SF via Altamont and SJ would competitive with driving down I-80 and across the bay bridge if traffic is flowing smoothly - which it often doesn't. Ergo, an Altamont HSR alignment would ultimately do a much better job of linking the bay area to the inland counties in addition to supporting north-south travel within the bay area, within the CV and down to SoCal.

Personally, I strongly preferred the option that routes trains around the south bay to a bridge or tunnel, primarily because that maximizes train frequency for both SF and SJ. It's also likely to be cheaper, advocates tend to underestimate the ultimate cost of new bay crossings.

Making an alignment around the south bay work well would require a run-through station to avoid substantial delays related to reversing direction. IMHO, CHSRA grossly overstated those (30 extra minutes for SF-LA and 20 for SF-SJ) but they are certainly on the order of at least several minutes.

A run-through solution would keep the SF-LA line haul penalty small enough for HSR to remain very competitive with flights between the bay area and SoCal. Mountain View or Santa Clara would fit the bill, with SJ Diridon it becomes much more difficult (tunnel through downtown or alignment down I-680 plus a bit of I-280).


So given all this, why on earth did I decide to hold my nose and support Pacheco? Three reasons:

a) in ten years, no-one has been able to muster the political clout to force south city to change their mind on either the broad gauge BART extension or SJ Diridon as the navel of the world. Their egocentric behavior is to the detriment of the NorCal megaregion and indeed, the state, but Silicon Valley does contribute more in taxes than any other part of California. Ultimately, he who pays the piper plays the tune - even if he's tone-deaf. Politics is the art of the possible.

b) the US has a long history of failed attempts at reviving passenger rail as a mass transit option. The FRA, officially charged with both rail safety and promoting the rail - i.e. rail freight - industry, did its level best to torpedo the Amtrak Acela Express with asinine red tape. HSR proposals in Florida and Texas were quashed before they ever got of the drawing board.

In California, Gov. Schwarzenegger's twice delayed the bond measure and then all but cut off funding to CHSRA for a year because they weren't paying enough attention to the issue of attracting matching funds for his liking. There were valid reasons for these actions, given the precarious conditions of the state government's finances. These were also why AB3034 was delayed for so long that prop 1 had to be relabeled prop 1A.

c) given voters' legitimate worries about the state budget crisis and now, the recession, it was anything but certain that prop 1A would actually pass. Even now that it has, it is still far from certain that the starter line - never mind the whole system - will actually be built and allowed to operate in the timeframe and at the cost estimated by planners. The political climate in Congress has changed dramatically in favor of HSR in a very short space of time, but at this point, those matching funds are not yet secured.

I could have rocked the boat on Altamont vs. Pacheco at the last public hearing on the matter in SF, but I decided to hold my peace. IMHO, getting HSR built at all is paramount and, passage of AB3034 was hanging by a thread at the time. California and the US really need electrified rail because it is the only medium distance mode of passenger transportation that does not depend on oil. The black gold was a key factor in North Africa and Russia in WW2, the Yom Kippur war of 1973, all three Gulf Wars, Sudan's civil war, Mark Thatcher's foiled attempt to overthrow the government in Equatorial Guinea, the recent spat in Georgia, saber-rattling in the Arctic, tensions between Saudi Arabia and Iran, etc.

If the US in particular fails to sharply reduce its oil consumption per unit of GDP, its relations with the rest of the world will continue to deteriorate - Obama's global appeal notwithstanding. Ultimate, perhaps 20-40 years from now, oil consumer nations could end up going to war over what little is left. That would make the most recent war in Iraq look like a cakewalk. Energy conservation and viable alternatives to oil are the only ways to avoid this outcome. Climate change worries come on top of that.

Transforming an oil-based economy into one that can ultimately get by without any at all is a journey of a thousand little steps, each representing billions of dollars. California HSR is but one of them.

FYI: I am not nor have I ever been associated with or a fan of the SVLG. I've been arguing for some time now that extending the BART broad gauge network south of Fremont would merely compound the suboptimal decision in favor of Pacheco.

Anonymous said...

@Rafael --

You can't be a supporter unless you are willing to rock the boat and tell the truth.

I have read this blog since its beginning. And I have repeatedly corrected your misconceptions and watercarrying about the cost of the Dumbarton Bridge.

I have pointed out in earlier comments exactly this point. Yet you continue to repeat the falsehood that crossing the Bay at a point where it is barely deeper than a pond is somehow going to cost more that over a deepwater shipping channel. Michael Kiesling also looked at the cost of the Dumbarton Auto bridge and came to the same conclusion. This is not some wishful thinking by some starry-eyed activist.

As to your bravely holding your tongue, congratulations Brave Sir Robin! Or is it the Cowardly Lion? Such courage to do ... nothing....

So when are things perfect enough that you will speak up and not try to hush others?

The point is there is never a perfect time -- in fact the perfect time for you to speak up was in the past when the other side is on the ropes because they are willing to compromise. Or are you so influential that one word from you will doom the project? Now they don't need you and could care less what you say.

You run around like the world was going to end if Prop 1A had failed. But now look at the Obama/Biden administration -- Prop 1A would have made no difference on Biden and Kerry's decision to support HSR. The world would not have ended if Prop 1A had failed.

I stand by my statement -- say Hi to Carl for me, Brave Sir Robin!

(P.S. what did I do? A few years ago, when the CHSRA was on the ropes I delivered 1000+ petitions demanding that CHSRA stop thinking about going through Henry Coe State Park -- which they then quickly dropped -- was it just me -- no but the point is that I didn't wring my hands about being the wrong time to make waves.)

/ t. joey said...

Rafael - Thanks for the information. I will, without doubt, have revisions for my research paper after my oral defense. Your resources could help me immensely. Your NEC suggestions are actually exactly what I proposed in the paper though on a broader level in general. The angle of the paper was: a message to transport planner, lessons learned on HSR.

I liked the compromise the French took with their approaches to their urban centers as in our case I surmise HSR would be speed limited anyway due to noise concerns so why pay for an incredibly expensive new alignment in an urban center when the trains may not get to reach their potential anyway.

My frustration with the NEC + Acela is that they took the incrementalist approach forgoing the true benefits of HSR and a dedicated alignment. All the while last fall my roommate was at a conference on I-95 corridor congestion and a whole bunch of high-level transportation officials were wringing their hands about how to relieve the congestions..... hmmmm? I wonder?

Thanks again for the resources!

Anonymous said...

@t.joey --

Haven't been out to inspect the NEC ROW myself, but from what I have read and pictures I have seen -- this is a very congested corridor in a very dense part of the country.

But don't slam all incrementalism. In France, the TGV started very incrementally. For four years, it was only Paris-Lyons. Also if you look at China -- there is another example of incrementalism there. But their incrementalism comes in the form of "speed-ups". In China, they are on their (6th, 7th?) speedup in which the top-speeds are raised.

The problem is not incrementalism... the problem is stopping the incrementalism!