Friday, November 7, 2008

No Rest for the Victorious

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

We've been rightly celebrating our victory on high speed rail and Prop 1A all week. But already there are reminders that the fight is by no means over, and that the HSR deniers who were rejected by the voters on Tuesday are regrouping in their effort to kill high speed rail.

One of them is the Contra Costa Times, which distinguished itself during the campaign by writing one of the most ridiculous anti-HSR editorials of the season. Today they have published an editorial calling on the state to delay the sale of Prop 1A bonds. This editorial is an excellent example of the strategy and framing that the HSR deniers will use to try and overturn our victory on Tuesday.

California has a huge budget deficit and a record high bonded indebtedness, which would increase by nearly $10 billion if the rail bonds are sold.

This state has far more pressing transportation needs, such as highway construction and maintenance, better metropolitan rail and bus service, and retrofitting bridges and overpasses.

Just because voters have authorized the sale of high-speed rail bonds does not require the state to sell them. At the very least a credible business plan and commitment of matching private and federal funds should be obtained before any Prop. 1A bonds are sold.

As usual the editorialists at the Contra Costa Times don't read the newspapers - if they did they'd know that federal money is on the way (unless they think Dianne Feinstein will be powerless in a Democratic Congress and with a Democratic President). The California High Speed Rail Authority has received letters of interest from over 40 private companies.

But what's really significant about this editorial is the way they set up their next line of attack. They trot out nearly every one of the zombie lies that have circulated about HSR - won't get enough riders, sure to soar in cost, not something that meets the state's transportation needs - and attached it to a political strategy of delaying the bond sale.

This flies in the face of economic reality. Numerous economists have called for the infrastructure bond sales to be accelerated in order to provide jobs and economic stimulus that the state badly needs. In particular, the $950 million in Prop 1A earmarked for non-HSR passenger rail ought to be sold immediately to provide increased passenger rail service. Gas prices will start to rise again in the spring, putting the screws to an already weak economy. Improved passenger rail provides jobs and cheaper commutes, putting more money in consumers' already stretched wallets.

Of course, it has always been the plan to spend Prop 1A money in concert with private and federal funds as they are secured. The Contra Costa Times again demonstrates its ignorance of just how this project will work when they frame it as a budget-busting boondoggle without plan or method. Unfortunately that has always been the M.O. of the HSR deniers, and this editorial should serve as a reminder that they haven't gone away, and will continue to try and derail this project at every opportunity.


Anonymous said...

I'm a big proponent of HSR in the U.S. and am writing from Boston. I was ecstatic when I heard that Prop. 1A passed in California, it sets a great precedent for the rest of the country; hopefully they can invest in improving the speed of Acela on the NE corridor.

The question I have, is will ticket sales be able to be purchased through Amtrak as well? I think it gets really complicated when you have a lot of different companies selling tickets. I definitely think Caltrans and Amtrak should put together a ticket selling procedure via websites, ticket windows etc... somewhat like the airline industry.

Has anyone heard any information regarding this aspect?

Brandon in California said...

^^^ I bet that remains to be seen. California high speed rail will not be up and running for several years. If there is synergy between the systems, which I am sure there will be, I suspect they'll work together.

Brandon in California said...

The business plan should be out today. I look forward to its review.

Rob Dawg said...

Of course, it has always been the plan to spend Prop 1A money in concert with private and federal funds as they are secured.

No, you yourself have even said that once CA starts spending the matching funds will follow.

But don't believe me, look at what is happening. The $950m ancillary and $1b is on the short list for issuance.

It is only beyond the first $2b that the plan is to only go forward with additional funding.

I should also add another thing that will happen. Siemens or whomsoever is picked will "pledge" a billion or two to the projected cost of $3 or $4 billion to purchase Siemens trainsets. It happens all the time and isn't illegal but it will be counted as "private investment." Likewise, the r-o-w that can be acquired from BNSF and UPRR will be presented as at a discount. Understand that discount is a tax savings for them. Again, not illegal and happens all the time.

Robert Cruickshank said...

I would hope that such an arrangement would be made between HSR and Amtrak California, which is itself primarily supported by the State of California.

HSR should also adopt codesharing, as is done in Europe, so travelers can book a flight and an HSR trip as part of the same purchase.

Anonymous said...

The Governator himself is calling for an acceleration of bond spending on roads and transit.


Anonymous said...

This same newsgroup out of Denver
has been on full attack mode for months...outside of the San Jose paper everone of there CA paper ran some kind of anti-1a opinion and more than once..who are these people?

Anonymous said...

For all the naysayers that kept reiterating no one will buy these bonds because of the economic times. Need to wake up people.

Something people forget

Brandon in California said...

As for the $950 million in the Prop 1A measure... no, the majority of transit agencies that will have access to these funds are not currently poised to leap forward and grab the cash.

That's for a couple reasons... the main being project readiness. Many agencies do not have plans sitting on their shelf ready to pull off and begin tomorrow; let alone in this fiscal year. Maybe next fiscal year, or the year after.

Funding transit capital projects is extremely complicated. Most projects require financial infusions from multiple sources to get them going. And, each source have their own requirements and needs to be lined up and secure before a project moves forward. Federal funds are a good example.

The first projects to move forward would be those lacking that last bit of funding to move forward... and certainly, I suspect very few projects will be funded entirely with Prop 1A funds.

I'd suspect that of the $950m for operators, the majority of which will not be tapped for a couple-few years. BART and maybe LA MTA may be the most ready. Maybe SF MTA too.

Spokker said...

Found this on the Bottleneck Blog.

"I was a guest on Larry Mantle's Airtalk program on KPCC on Thursday, talking about Measure R and Prop 1A. Also guesting was Quentin Koepp, the chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, who said it would cost $32 billion to take the line from Anaheim to S.F. and said that the federal government would kick in another $9 billion to $18 billion. Okay. He also said there would be no right-of-way issues, ridership would be more than 65 million (more than twice what Amtrak currently has) and would not answer a listener's simple question about where the rail equipment would come from."

Any comments?

Anonymous said...

Here is the new info from CAHSRA posted today:

2008 Business Plan


Read Away!!

Anonymous said...

Caltrans and Amtrak already sell tickets together seamlessly via Amtrak. I would assume HSR will go into that.

What is lacking is a seamless connection to Metrolink and BART, from a trip planning point of view if not a ticketing point of view.

And, it would be good to have a better site that shows all connections, to airport shuttles, airports, city buses, etc.

We did a trip with the outbound by air and the return via Amtrak. I hunted for months trying to figure out the best way to connect back with our car. Eventually, completely by accident, we realized that the Sonoma Airport Express bus has a stop in Petaluma (at the fairgrounds) and Amtrak California has a stop at the public library across the street.

Amtrak and Amtrak California have done a lot of work on this, it's true, but we'll need more to help make all these connections as friendly as possible.

Brandon in California said...

^^^ Well, that is something to think about in 10 years.

Anonymous said...

"As for the $950 million in the Prop 1A measure... no, the majority of transit agencies that will have access to these funds are not currently poised to leap forward and grab the cash."

Caltrain is pretty much ready, and has stated that money is the bottleneck right now (though it's a special case because its plans may have to be altered to fit HSR, unlike everyone else).

"That's for a couple reasons... the main being project readiness. Many agencies do not have plans sitting on their shelf ready to pull off and begin tomorrow;"

Actually a lot of them do. Metrolink has a few such small plans (not a lot), and the LA Metro has large plans; the Capitol Corridor has very modest plans but they're ready; and the Pacific Surfliner has some rather extensive plans which are ready.

For several years we've had a starvation of transit *funding* but not of transit *planning*, which is why there are so many plans which are verging on the ready-to-go.

Rafael said...

@ robert cruickshank -

now that prop 1A has been approved, CHSRA should indeed request IATA and ICAO codes for each of the proposed stations in the entire network. This will signal a desire to integrate with long-haul aviation while competing with Bay Area-SoCal flights. Booking a connecting HSR train should be just as easy as booking a connecting flight.

That said, the devil is in the details. Buying a combo rail/flight electronic ticket from e.g. Gilroy to JFK via SFO ought to include transportation from Millbrae/SFO to the SFO terminal by BART or SamTrans shuttle bus. Same applies for transportation between airport and the nearest HSR station in San Jose, Oakland, Sacramento, Fresno, Burbank, LA and San Diego. In Palmdale and Ontario, the distance will be short enough to walk or support via a courtesy people mover paid for with airport taxes.

One option would be to include automatically generated barcodes on the electronic tickets that can be scanned at the access points to the rail services. Just print out your e-ticket (fold along dotted lines only!) and swipe it at the barcode reader. Access will be granted after obtaining authorization from a database.

@ spokker -

I suspect that at least some of the groundwork on obtaining the ROW has already been done behind the scenes via options to buy, subject to funds becoming available. They're not discussing it publicly because that would invite even more speculators and eminent domain NIMBYs.

The ridership numbers haven't really changed, but they have been misquoted. The system is supposed to have spare capacity in 2030 because the population will continue to grow after that, as well. Comparisons with Amtrak ridership are essentially meaningless because the HSR trains are both fast and punctual. In approving the bond, voters have implicitly signed up to some lifestyle changes.

A discussion of vendor preference would be premature at this point, especially since CHSRA will ask them to become investors in the project as well. Essentially, the trains are purchased at reduced cost in return for a share of operating profits over a long period. Alstom did that for the project in Argentina. Siemens entered into a JV to manufacture the second and subsequent batch of Velaro trains in China, where they are called Hexian.

For obvious reasons, CHSRA will be negotiating with vendors behind closed doors in preparation for the formal tender. However, it is fair to ask for details of the vendor selection process not just for the trains but also for the construction projects. In particular, the process must be open to multiple credible vendors to avoid charges of shenanigans.

@ eric -

haven't read the whole plan in detail yet, but here's a first take:

a) CHSRA delivered when they said they would

b) the numbers are up to date

c) while the state is still only on the hook for $9 billion, the projected private investment no longer covers 1/3 of the starter line. CHSRA hopes to cover the shortfall with contributions from the cities and counties served (not new but previously not highlighted) plus a much bigger earmark from Congress. Getting that much could be an uphill struggle even with a pro-rail administration and a Congress prepared to prime the pump.

d) scraping together $33 billion requires all non-state parties to contribute at or near the upper end of their projected contribution range. CHSRA needs to articulate and obtain buy-in on a solid implementation process, especially for the project-level EIR/EIS work, ROW acquistion and FRA rulemaking.

The Authority should hire a stakeholder management team to keep its web site much more current and add moderated discussion forums to it. People will have a lot of questions and opinions, in the 21st century they will insist on being part of the gestation process to a much greater extent than was the case for previous mega-projects. Web-based town hall meetings with professional production values would be very useful, too. So would reference pages on HSR technology (including video clips illustrating visual impact, noise, vibration, safety etc.), a glossary on planning and HSR lingo, ...

In particular, the Authority MUST hold the line on grade separation solutions and features (e.g. WiFi) that would lead to cost escalations. Anyone who wants something extra will have to bring the additional funds required to the negotiating table themselves, at an early date.

e) CHSRA is committing to renewable electricity

crzwdjk said...

I suspect that the most ready, and most immediate, use of the $950 million is for Caltrain electrification. It's basically a matter of finishing final design and starting to build. The Union Station Run-Through Tracks project was also fairly well along when it stalled for lack of funding, and I imagine it can be restarted quickly.

By the way, I'm looking at the business plan right now, and they're predicting 10.8 million boardings a year at Union Station, 9.1 million at SF Transbay, and 6.5 million at Sacramento. Amtrak only gets 4 million at NY Penn, and that's with lines to DC, Boston/Springfield, and Albany all converging on one station. Their high ridership scenario is based on an LA-SF average fare of $68, while the lower ridership/higer revenue scenario is based on a fare of $104. They're expecting to pay $4 billion for the SF-SJ segment, and by far the most expensive cost per mile is the LA-Palmdale segment. Also, they're counting on $2-3 billion in funding from local agencies along the route. It seems that they want to have the whole thing be privately operated (both infrastructure and operations). Finally, it's reassuring to know that they have given some thought to a phasing plan and to opening the system in stages, with the initial work being on the LA and SF ends, and progressing from one or the other to the Central Valley.

Anonymous said...

arcady - The LA and SF numbers will include a substantial number of commuters, whereas the Amtrak Penn Station number includes basically no commuters now that NJT has taken over the Clocker service. If you were to add in "long distance" NJT and LIRR commutes (say, over 30 miles), Penn Station would easily top 10 million boardings per year. And don't forget that all of the long distance Connecticut commuters are going into Grand Central.

Overall, their ridership numbers look quite reasonable for most segments. LA-SF ridership of 10.8 million in 2030 should be easy to achieve since the airlines already carry 10 million between LA-SF today with more expensive, inferior service. Everything else can then be compared to that number. The Central Valley-LA/SF numbers look high at current populations (the area they are serving has about 2.5 million people) but don't look high if you assume that those areas will continue growing (which is almost certain, the housing bust fact, cheap real estate is what will allow them to continue growing). The Central Coast numbers are also reasonable relative to the LA-SF numbers, though I didn't realize that until I looked at the map and learned just how limited the transportation options are for those living in the Gilroy/Santa Cruz/Salinas/Monterey area.

The one ridership number that looks too optimistic to me is that SF-SD number, which is basically one-third of the SF-LA number. With the Surfliner taking 2 hours from SD to Anaheim, total SD to SF travel time prior to the SD extension will be a minimum of 5 hrs. It doesn't look bad against a car since the Surfliner is almost as fast as a car (so you're still saving 3-5 hours, depending on traffic), but it won't be time competitive with air. They'll have to compete on price for that route.

Anonymous said...

I bet the Caltrain corridor will have construction commencing on it right away. Caltrain has already got the plans to electrify the line and have 4 tracks, just didn't have the money to do it themselves.

I have a feeling they are going to need to redo the rail configuration at the new Transbay Terminal. There is no way 6 platforms can handle all the rail traffic from Caltrain and CAHSR with a stub end configuration without causing scheduling delays.

Anonymous said...

Are there any plans to connect the new Transbay Terminal to the BART network via something like a 420 m single-track people mover tunnel to the Embarcadero station?

Rafael said...

@ arcady -

now that prop 1A has passed, I would expect Caltrain to change its plans and integrate electrification with grade separation of the peninsula corridor. Otherwise, the work has to be done twice over.

@ eric -

space at SFTT will be very constrained, all they've got to work with are six tracks and some parking slots in the curved sections underneath the access ramps for the buses. The operators will have to minimize turnaround times to support headways of approx. 10 minutes during rush hour.

Both HSR trains and the EMU commuter trains Caltrain wants to use feature full driver cabs at either end. Reversing direction does not require shunting a locomotive, just that the driver walk the length of the train (or use a folding bicycle, electric cart or similar). Alternatively, a new driver can board as the old one exits his cab at the other end.

In Japan, there are paint markings on platforms instructing passengers waiting to board where to queue up. SNCF requires passenger to reserve seats on TGV trains to avoid overcrowding. In principle, CHSRA could combine the two to mark platforms with the exact spot each passenger is supposed to wait at prior to boarding. Inside the cars, traffic along the aisle should be one-way. Additional markings would direct alighting passengers past the boarding queues and away from the platforms.

These simple and zero-cost flow management concepts would permit orderly concurrent boarding and alighting along the entire length of the train. New passengers would all reach their seats and stow their carry-on bags at the same time. It would be possible for hundreds of passengers to alight and hundreds more to board within just a few minutes.

A separate but related issue is cleaning the restrooms and removing trash after each run. It would makes sense to employ crews of two cleaning staff per car so the work is done along the entire length of the train at the same time.

A bigger headache by far is parking a sufficient number of trains overnight, since it will take a few hours for the first train to arrive from the other end. In the Bay Area, this could mean that some of the earliest and some of latest trains running on any given day will have to use 4th & King rather than SFTT. Caltrain also needs parking for its trains, of course, but they're not as long as the high speed variety.

In addition, some northbound trains may be parked overnight at San Jose Diridon and proceed to SF in the morning to serve HSR commuters. Much the same logic may apply in Los Angeles and Anaheim.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 6:34pm -

the Caltrain downtown extension component of the TT project includes a pedestrian passage underneath Fremont street to Embarcadero BART. It would presumably include horizontal people movers similar to those found in some airports.

However, this passage is marked "optional" in the planning documents for TT, perhaps because it only makes sense in the context of HSR, which voters have now approved. It's also possible that SF wants BART and Caltrain to chip in on the construction cost of this passage.

Other considerations include keeping homeless persons, drug dealers, pickpockets, drunks, buskers etc. out of this passage, especially late at night. Security guards should do the trick, especially if the passage is legally private rather than public property so that undesirables can be forced to leave.

Brandon in California said...

Anon 2:49p,
The core of my post was that a large portion of the $950m will remain untapped 2-3 years from now. That post was in response to another indicating that stream will be drained right away and creating a financial liability for the state up front. I think it'll be later than that.

njh said...

A large portion of the caltrain route is grade separated, so starting on the overhead wire work now would seem a reasonable choice. And actually, even where grade separation needs to be done, I can't imagine the cost of restringing some wire is significant compared to the benefit from early electrification.

I presume caltrain and CAHSR will both be built to the 25kV european standard?

Given the amount of thought and reports made already, why can't they start digging holes in the next 6 months?

luis d. said...

@ njh

They can't start electrifying before the grade seperation, it's not possible. First you grade seperate then you electify.

I hope they can start doing something though. They should'nt rush the project and make sure it get's built right, but I can't wait for some quick progress.

What I'm also hoping for is that they use experienced engineers for the construction and management of this project from Europe and or Japan as opposed to some American Contractors who have no idea. I don't know what is to happen but the safest thing to do is to get people with expirence building HSR successfully in other parts of the world and bring them here for our system.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I came looking for information on the Prop 1a since the passage of that proposition, and even on the official site's FAQ section I don't see information like "Construction will take 10 years" or "Service is estimated to begin in 2039".

Also, will FRA require heavy survivable vehicles rather than the European/Japanese lighter vehicles that emphasize crash avoidance? Vehicle mass is antithetical to high speed; currently FRA requires mixed-traffic trains that share tracks to be built heavily to survive a crash. Will FRA exempt CA-HSR, or will CA-HSR be required to maintain exclusive HSR-only tracks for high-speed operation which will horrendously undermine the economics?

Thanks in advance if you can direct me to the answers to these questions.

Anonymous said...

Luis d. @ 9:03:

Grade separation isn't required for overhead electrification, as long as clearances are available (road overpasses, etc) and NIMBYs don't sue to stop the 'visual clutter'. Ground-level (third rail) electrification can't be done if there are at-grade crossings, maybe that's what you're thinking of. Examples of at-grade overhead electrification can be found almost anywhere there are electric street cars (or in the case of San Francisco, electric buses).

Also, HSR can cross at grade, as long as they follow established speed limits (79 mph, IIRC), but that makes them as slow as the regional expresses.

Spokker said...

"Also, will FRA require heavy survivable vehicles rather than the European/Japanese lighter vehicles that emphasize crash avoidance?"

FRA standards aren't very survivable, as we saw in the Chatsworth crash.

njh said...

luis, I have plenty of experience with electrified at grade crossings. There are two within a mile of both my house in the US and my house in Australia.

It's just a piece of wire, most of the cost is the distance and the replacement motive equipment. Neither of these change with a few new bridges.

Anonymous said...


I agree with you that the train can be turned around in a shorter period of time because of the cabs at both ends. Europe as well as Japan have the trian car numbers marked on boarding ramp, 1 - 12 I think it was in Europe, which definitely help people board faster, but without a loop and only six ramps, it will be a little too crowded there. Hopefully they change the plan and add a through track. Even in Europe, those trains are not turned around as quickly as you think in a terminal such as Gare de Lyon in Paris which is a stub end for TGV's. But they do have a lot more parking there too.

Brandon in California said...

I think more credit needs to be given to Caltrain and CHSRA. No one is going to spend substantial funds on a project only to see them tossed or discarded a few years later.

On the other hand, catenary and poles can be taken down and relocated using the same materials. What appears would be lost would be initial foundation work for poles. More challenging would be how HSR construction will be phased while retaining existing rail operations.

There are certainly enough qualified engineers around to handle that one. Engineers are tasked with stuff like that on many projects. It's not new; however interesting or new it may appear.

luis d. said...

@ njh

My apologies, I don't know what you might know. What I meant was that it would be a waste of time and money to electrify now only to tear it down later when HSR is built and then rebuild it. I don't know the cost of the wires, poles and such but that's what I meant.

I also think that the SF Transbay Terminal should have a loop vs. reversing direction. it would be probably less of a hassle and faster if it just kept going in the same direction, take the loop and then come back on the main line.

Personally I'm stoked about the SFTT, I'm looking forward to seeing how it turns out even though I don't live in that area. I probably would go their to catch the train.

luis d. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
luis d. said...

I've reviewed the updated business plan and I give it the thumbs up, the numbers and estimates seem reasonable and very possible.

Also I've read a newspaper article and a quote from the Howard Jarvis group Bitchin' about the Business plan as usual and trying to throw dirt on it by saying that "it wasn't what was expected". But they aren't trying to be pleased with any business plan for HSR so who cares what they think. They don't want HSR even if it's a PERFECT system! This also goes for all you "Deniers" out there.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 9:36, spokker -

the new tracks will be dedicated to HSR in order to obtain a "rule of special applicability" from FRA, enabling the use of lightweight, off-the-shelf European or Japanese train technology. No country has ever stepped up to HSR speeds without drafting some new rules.

Caltrain wants to do the same, but with standard-speed rolling stock. It has already begun the process of getting FRA approval by demonstrating crashworthiness at grade crossings in computer simulations (pp23). This work was done before prop 1A was approved and was reportedly well received by FRA. It showed that the lighter European equipment performed as well or better than the FRA-compliant alternative. No amount of additional buff strength will do much good in collisions between trains at elevated relative speeds, signaling and PTC are the appropriate solutions for that.

Another reason for dedicated HSR tracks is capacity. CHSRA is talking about a maximum of 96 trains in each direction every day. That's one every 10 minutes for 14 hours and one every 20 minutes for an additional 4 hours of the day. It will take a least a decade of operations before ridership is high enough to justify running that many trains, especially if bi-level rolling stock is used.

However, a brand-new railroad through populated areas is very difficult and expensive to build, so it makes sense to design plenty of spare capacity into it. Future generations will thank you for it. Some of Japan's shinkansen ("new trunk line") network has been running near capacity for some time now.

There are three exceptions:

- in the Caltrain corridor, "baby bullet" trains would use them to bypass local trains. This is assuming there is still sufficient demand for this intermediate level of service once HSR is available and local trains are sped up by switching to European EMU rolling stock. Caltrain's overhead catenary is designed for top speeds of 90mph, with an option to support 125mph. HSR will run at no more than 150mph in that corridor, quite possibly less.

- the tunnel to SFTT will have 2 or 3 tracks used by both Caltrain and HSR.

- in the LOSSAN corridor section between LA and Anaheim (later Irvine), HSR, Metrolink and freight trains will somehow have to coexist. I'm not familiar with that area, but apparently part of the ROW is quite narrow.

Spokker said...

LA-Fullerton is not that narrow. There are already four tracks in some places and I think there's easily more room for another track where four doesn't exist.

It's when the train branches off the BNSF right of way onto Metrolink owned right of way that things get sticky. There's two tracks, and hardly room for more. The saving grace is that freight traffic is relatively light on this stretch.