Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Detailing the Kerry HSR Bill

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

Yonah Freemark at The Transport Politic offered an in-depth look at John Kerry's HSR bill yesterday and it's a must-read. (Especially since I haven't had the time to go through it myself).

Some of the key parts of the bill:

If passed, the bill would create an “Office of High-Speed Passenger Rail” (we’ll call it OHSR here) which would operate within the Federal Railroad Administration. This would dramatically alter the priorities of the FRA, whose principal focus in recent years has been on improving the freight rail system in the United States. One wonders if FRA’s “safety” precautions, which require passenger rail trains in the United States to be far heavier than similar vehicles in the rest of the world, will be slowly phased out as the FRA’s mission is repositioned towards high-speed rail. Such a change, which would mean great monetary savings for rail operators around the nation in equipment purchases, might be necessary if a true HSR program is to be implemented.

That seems like a good move, giving HSR its own institutional position within the FRA (and the DOT itself) and as Yonah notes, this could also help finally change the FRA's outdated train weight rules.

This is the fundamental point: OHSR would not be the implementing agency, buiding the high-speed rail system. Rather, OHSR would simply distribute funds to other unnamed organizations (presumably mostly state governments, though Amtrak, which owns most of the Northeast Corridor, could also apply for funding). This means that Kerry’s bill, unlike the interstate highway system, does not establish a set group of priority corridors to finance. Rather, the bill necessitates that state and private actors work together to make HSR projects happen.

What this means is that under Kerry's vision there isn't going to be a national HSR plan, but that it will be left largely to the states to produce an HSR network with some federal support. That's a recognition of the status quo and likely of political reality - this approach lets more members of Congress believe that their states could get some of this money, whereas a top-down priority list might exclude more states at the outset.

In terms of money:

In a five-year period, the bill would authorize the following:

* $8 billion in tax-exempt bonds to qualified high-speed rail programs
* $10 billion in tax-credit bonds to “super high-speed” rail programs (we’ll get to this in a minute)
* $5.4 billion in tax-credit bonds to other high-speed rail prgrams

This would mean that the bill would produce a total of around $5 billion a year to be spent on high-speed rail infrastructure improvement. Most of that money would go to California in the initial years, which will need a lot of federal help to make its HSR program a reality.

As Yonah notes this would provide enough funding for our own project - IF the bill is renewed in 2014. That's a big if, given that we don't know what the political landscape will look like five or six years from now. Of course we'll likely be well into the construction phase by that point, and it's harder to kill a spending program once it's in place than to kill it at the proposal stage. States that have used the OHSR funds to start HSR projects will not look kindly on Congress or the White House refusing to renew their funding.

Still, I do wish that Kerry had been more ambitious with his numbers. Better to provide more money at the outset and then if you have to scale back the numbers in 2014 to please Republicans then you could still wind up authorizing exactly the same amount of money over 10 years that you've planned all along by having front-loaded it.

Overall this looks like it would meet our needs in California, though infrastructure stimulus would also be helpful. Kerry's bill would for the first time create funds for high speed rail and provide the kickstart that this country needs. We are going to need to ensure that we get a significant chunk of this money, especially since most of Kerry's cosponsors are from Northeast Corridor states.

Yonah offers some more commentary on the details of the bill, including how it defines "high speed" and "super high speed" rail, but I wanted to cut to the chase and discuss his conclusions about the bill:

The most important question, however, doesn’t relate to the amount of funding. Rather, we question whether the decentralized mode of planning represented by this bill makes sense. HSR is by definition an intercity service, and that would usually mean crossing state lines in the United States. If the planning is done on the state level, however, how can we ensure a cohesiveness to the system? How can we ensure similar levels of quality and network coverage? Unless the OHSR plays a significant role in planning, and in pushing state authorities in the national, united direction it wants, this will become an increasingly large problem as the rail system develops.

These are very good questions. Does it suit our national needs to have basically multiple HSR systems around the nation, with different standards and different technologies? Kerry seems to acknowledge that it's going to be some time before we have a truly national HSR system, and for our purposes in California perhaps that's OK, given our geographic isolation from the rest of the country. But it does suggest that Kerry is thinking modestly here, and not looking to offer the kind of broader rail revolution many have rightly called for in this country. Given the total lack of federal support for HSR in the past, even Kerry's proposal is welcome. Still, we shouldn't stop here and should continue to advocate for a much bigger and broader commitment on the federal level to passenger rail.


Brandon in California said...

It seems to me, without reading through the other persons blog post, that the role that the FRA takes in the future will largely depend on the director selected to lead the post.. and the FRA is a department of the USDOT.

The OHSR director will be at least 2 steps down.

Additionally, has Obama selected is cabinet post for Secretay of Transportation?

BruceMcF said...

While the Sec'y of Transport is critical for a wide range of transit projects ... for example, we need to shake the FAA out of restricting airport access to transit to only funding the airport-precinct portion of systems that terminate at the airport ...

... FRA is where a lot of the action is for regional rail.

It seems like it would be silly for the Kerry bill to contain anything in terms of designating corridors and establishing the Commissions for the various projects ... because we already have that. The DoT has designated corridors, others are in preliminary stages seeking designation, a variety of state and multi-state commissions have been established ...

... what they don't have is sources of substantial funding, so they hold hearings, commission reports, draw up preliminary alignments, if they are very lucky get a little bit of money for environmental impact assessment (eg, the Ohio Hub) or to do works to address bottlenecks facing existing Amtrak services (eg the Keystone Corridor and Midwest Hub).

Rafael said...

@ Brandon -

afaik, PEBO has not yet nominated anyone for Secr. of Transportation. I think he should give that task to Joe Biden, in addition to his role as VP.

Every other developed country assigns the role of emergency successor to a cabinet member, here it would be the other way around. Boils down to the same thing, though. It would also represent a departure from the antiquated US concept of a VP. "Change we need" and all that ...

As for the Kerry/Specter bill, I don't think it makes sense to create an office focused narrowly on high speed passenger rail, defined in the bill as anything above 110mph. It makes little sense to turn plain old commuter rail into an ugly duckling, nor to pit passenger against freight rail.

The FRA should provide regulations that enable the safe operation of whatever mix of rail services is appropriate in a given region and, migration paths for changing classifications for individual corridors or corridor sections.

For this purpose, I would welcome an approach based on three general classes of rail corridor, each of which may have subclasses as needed. These classes would be used to define rail zones with seamless interconnections, i.e. the boundaries would be regulatory rather than physical. Tracks are reclassified at the transition from one zone to another, no more. Traffic control rather than physical track segregation ensures trains only run in zones they are permitted in.

a) long-distance heavy freight lines owned and operated by private companies. Limited passenger rail service via Amtrak long distance. Grade separation optional. Max speed 79mph. Single track ok.

Electrification possibly a good idea, but would have to paid for by taxpayers unless tax on diesel is substantially increased.

b) rapid rail infrastructure owned by PPPs between individual states and private rail freight companies. Rapid rail zones would makes sense for identified US megaregions, possibly also for selected corridors connecting them.

The basis for individual corridors within a rapid rail zone would be existing rail ROWs. In terrain that permits heavy freight trains to actually operate near 79mph, it may make sense to upgrade and properly maintain existing freight tracks. Elsewhere, new tracks restricted to trains with moderate axle loads would need to be constructed, either as bypass sections or as new/revived alignments.

Zoning laws would need to favor transit-oriented residential development and industrial sites with rail spurs.

Grade separation only mandatory where rail traffic volume presents unacceptable disruption of cross road traffic. Quiet zone measures mandatory inside and near built-up areas. Max speed 110-125mph where possible. Dual track or better mandatory.

New regulations would define the additional safety measures required in the infrastructure and inside train cabs to allow FRA-compliant and UIC-compliant rolling stock to share track. Heavy freight and commuter rail operators would need to upgrade their legacy locomotives to comply with rapid rail safety standards and, receive grants to pay for them.

Rapid rail zones would permit a combination of long-distance heavy freight, medium-distance light/medium freight, commuter and intercity passenger services. Various private and public operators would all be subject to a timetable and dispatching by a monopoly infrastructure operator with a long-term franchise awarded in open auction.

Note in particular that even some express freight operators may choose to deploy self-propelled rolling stock.

Reliable wireless broadband internet access recommended on passenger trains, also useful for train control.

c) medium-distance true HSR in the sense of the California system, defined here as sections that support speeds of 186mph (300kph) or more. In Europe, this is sometimes referred to as very high speed rail. Passenger and high speed cargo services only, based exclusively on proven, off-the-shelf, UIC-compliant bullet train designs.

Grade separation and low curvature alignments mandatory. Very high construction cost, therefore only appropriate for connecting large population centers several hundred miles apart, to reduce dependence on short-haul flights and long-distance driving.

Most valuable if embedded in rapid rail zones that enable direct or connecting service to secondary destinations. This is essentially how SNCF operates its TGV network.

In practical terms in California, that might mean e.g. Sacramento to San Jose on rapid rail tracks, San Jose to Anaheim on HSR tracks and, Anaheim to San Diego on rapid rail tracks along the I-5 corridor. Once the HSR spurs to Sacramento and/or San Diego are available, the route would be changed accordingly.

Reliable broadband internet access very strongly recommended to make transit time productive, especially for business travelers. Also useful for train control.

Anonymous said...

So is there any "Free" money in this bill that does not need to be paid back? How much debt can this first segment take on?

Robert Cruickshank said...

We haven't yet seen a Secretary of Transportation announcement. There's some speculation out there, including this from the AP:

"Jane Garvey, former head of the Federal Aviation Administration.

Mortimer Downey, former deputy transportation secretary.

Steve Heminger, executive director, San Francisco Bay area transportation commission."

I don't know a lot about them, but Steve Heminger of the MTC has been talked up elsewhere as a good transit-friendly figure.

I'd seen Earl Blumenauer's name tossed around but he has said he's not interested and instead endorsed Downey.

Rafael said...

I forgot to mention that electrification would be mandatory for true HSR but optional on rapid rail corridors.

However, the use of Tier 3 and older diesel equipment should be grandfathered in only through 2025, with gradually rising fines from 1/1/2016 onward.

All new diesel locomotives and self-propelled trainsets sold as of 2015 must conform to Tier 4 anyhow, which means they must have exhaust gas aftertreatment systems for toxic emissions, i.e. CO, hydrocarbons, particulates and NOx.

BruceMcF said...

@ Rafael, we have a Presidential system ... not a Parliamentary system, where a new PM can always be picked by the governing chamber if the PM dies or is removed from office. ...

... more to the point, VPEJB has indicated that he does not want a particular "portfolio", and at the same time, we are best off if Biden's advice is taken on who should be the DoT and we get a change from the rabidly anti-rail Sec'y of Transport while also having Biden as an advocate.

Rafael said...

@ BruceMcF -

afaik, there is no legal impediment to a VP also acting as a cabinet secretary. I think your presidential vs. parliamentary system argument does not hold water.

However, if VPEJB doesn't want a cabinet post anyhow, then let's hope he can influence PEBO to nominate Secr. of Transportation who isn't a hard-core asphalt/tarmac-head. Virtually all of the transportation bureaucrats at both the federal and the state level see rail strictly in terms of heavy freight, with passenger rail tacked on to placate a relatively small but influential constituency. Changing that culture is critical to weaning the US off oil, since biofuels are unlikely to ever replace fossil fuels altogether.

Ergo, it's important to get someone who recognizes that rail is still the only transportation technology capable of moving very large numbers of passengers and very large amounts of freight over long distances using electricity, which can be produced in any number of ways.

Moreover, rail ROWs could and should be used to slash the cost of transporting renewable wind, solar, geothermal and biogas energy over long distances using HVDC interconnects between unsynchronized regional AC grids.

However, it makes no sense to electrify existing rail alignments that will need to be changed soon to increase their throughput capacity. You need to get the tracks in the right place first.

Partial electrification based on two-mode locomotives is an option that enables the construction of long rail tunnels in mountainous terrain. That would mean heavy freight trains wouldn't have to slow down to bicycle speed in places like Tehachapi Pass. Even without tunnels, grid electricity can supplement diesel gensets if the traction motors are dimensioned accordingly. Electrification also permits a certain amount of recuperative braking, which would greatly reduce brake wear on heavy freight trains and improve safety.

Anonymous said...

@Robert --

I think your best point was the comment about the decentralized nature of the HSR system. Its really not possible to implement an effective intercity passenger rail system without centralized oversight. Maybe, this bill can be allowed to stay in place as a source of funding but a more centralized authority could be established. This also segregates HSR from regular passenger rail which, in reality, should be working in conjunction as part of the same transportation plan. I'm glad this bill is providing money for HSR, but hopefully it won't define passenger rail policy in the future.

Alon Levy said...

It kind of makes sense to have 2 separate systems, separated by the Rockies. There just isn't any good route that creates a national system. So far the most obvious choices create 3 systems: one centered on the NEC, one centered on Chicago, and one centered on CAHSR. In the future it might make sense to have an NY-to-Chicago line, but coast-to-coast travel will be done by plane for the foreseeable future.

BruceMcF said...

@ Rafael ... "However, it makes no sense to electrify existing rail alignments that will need to be changed soon to increase their throughput capacity. You need to get the tracks in the right place first."

Precisely, I'm glad you approve of that aspect of my proposal at least.

Now, it is possible to overstress the point. For one thing, electrification on its own provides an increase in capacity, and the most direct way to expand capacity is to add track in an existing alignment. And while electrifying STRACNET and key connecting lines could be done in a six year program, changing right of way alignments opens up a tremendous number of potential delays across the country.

So the focus in my proposal is not so much on changing right of way alignments as on track alignments ... expanding track layout within right of way alignments.

And of course, in the high price oil environment where there would be the greatest clamoring for rapid expansion of capacity in existing electrified rail lines, it would be straightforward to finance and refund expansion of the electrical infrastructure ... it would be in the freight operator's commercial interest to pay an increased electricity user charge in order to allow them to take better advantage of what would still continue to be a massive cost advantage.

Still, it makes sense to prioritize provision of electrical infrastructure to those rail lines that can produce the best plans for expansion of rail capacity, and to lay out the infrastructure to accommodate the footprint of the expanded track layout.

BruceMcF said...

@ Alon Levy ... but coast-to-coast travel will be done by plane for the foreseeable future.

Precisely why median trip lengths on multi-day transcontinental Amtrak routes at present are in the range of six hours ... the long routes are not in support of coast to coast trips, but in support of a variety of origin / destination pairs along the route.

For Rapid Rail, as opposed to true HSR, we ought to be targeting an interconnected national grid, since the longer the route, the greater the commercial advantage that would be enjoyed by electric freight rail over diesel truck freight. But Passenger-focused investments in Rapid Rail would primarily be for specific gaps in the existing network, like the need for a Toledo/Detroit line, and for the transit into central urban stations.

But for true HSR, even the most optimistic scenario sixteen years into the future would see true HSR rail systems as distinct islands in a sea of other transport corridors.

Alon Levy said...

Bruce, intercity rail is most competitive when it links a pair of large cities: Tokyo and Osaka, Paris and Lyon/Marseille, Seoul and Busan, New York and Washington, etc. The in-between trips aren't very valuable, and generally don't sustain a profitable or near-profitable rail system; they work best as feeders and loss leaders for intercity HSR. In this formulation, by far the best HSR corridor to invest in in the US is the NEC, which both connects four large cities at ideal rail distance and has several natural feeder lines.

Rafael said...

@ nikko pigman -

FRA's job is not oversight - i.e. the effective application of taxpayer money - but rather, operational safety.

Oversight should come from a congressional committee, assisted by an organization within DoT tasked with keeping tabs on individual projects after public money has been committed to them. States will likely have a similar setup of their own, leveraging the DoT for information gathering where appropriate.

There's nothing more dangerous than making a body tasked with safety also responsible for cost containment, since that creates a moral hazard to cut corners by relaxing standards.

@ Alon Levy -

there are actually nearly a dozen megaregions within which rapid rail, possibly with a true HSR trunk line or network, would make sense. Each region should tailor its own solution from the regulatory building blocks and funding mechanisms available.

You do want national standards regarding equipment and operational safety, especially for heavy freight operators that need to operate in multiple rapid rail zones and on their own lines in-between.

@ BruceMcF -

there are limits to how much capacity increase you can achieve by electrification alone. Trains cannot safely run any faster through tight curves unless their superelevation (related to bank angle) is changed as well. Even then, safety can only be maintained if the track geometry is as well.

In many cases, straightening legacy track, i.e. increasing the radius of tight curves, often involves building viaducts or bridges or, digging culverts and tunnels. That's expensive in terms of EIR/EIS process, land acquisition as well as construction. Heavy rail operators cannot pass on the cost to their customers, so they won't invest in improving line haul speed. Same goes for electrification: unless taxes on all forms of oil-derived fuels are increased substantially, rail freight operators have no incentive to invest their own money into it.

Adding relatively short and straight sections to legacy heavy freight alignments would create bypasses for faster traffic such as passenger trains. Only where the speed differential is too extreme, e.g. on significant hill climbs, will faster traffic require a dedicated alignment that may stray substantially from the established rail corridor.

That doesn't mean the existing freight alignments cannot be electrified and, leveraged for building a national overlay electricity grid based on HVDC.

It just means that those HVDC lines will be substantially longer and, that the expense of electrification of the bypass sections and alignments described above will come on top of that. It boils down to a classic conflict between minimizing time horizon vs. minimizing cost.

IMHO, there is still quite some scope for moving freight from road to rail prior to electrification at the national scale. For example, ports like LA and Long Beach are running out of buffer storage for goods like cars. SCAG has plans for an inland transshipment terminal in the San Bernardino-Riverside area.

If the Alameda corridor concept were extended all the way to this inland terminal, it would make sense to electrify that because of the large numbers of shuttle trains going back and forth.

Cleaner locomotives and fewer trucks on the roads would also means less congestion and better air quality, especially in combination with the upcoming requirement that ships use ULSD in US territorial waters and leverage cold ironing infrastructure while in port.

Shunting rail cars within container terminals is an issue, given that overhead catenaries get in the way of container loading and, third rail would present an unacceptable safety hazard. Hybrid electric yard switchers are one option.

Alon Levy said...

Bombardier is working on an electrification system running between the tracks. It's only activated when the locomotive is directly above it, so it's safe to walk over, and doesn't interfere with loading containers.

Rafael said...

@ Alon Levy -

interesting, got a link?

Loren said...

To see what a fully-developed system of high-speed rail is likely to look like, I've put together North American High-Speed-Rail Proposals, complete with a Google Earth screenshot and Google Maps overlays. Many of them may end up lower-speed "rapid rail", but their overall geometry is interesting just the same.

There's a long strip from Maine to Texas along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts (the Atlantic-Gulf Belt?), and nearby, a Chicago-centered network (Greater Chicagoland? The Great Lakes Network?).

But west of this eastern-North-America network is four scattered corridors: Colorado, Alberta, California, and Pacific Northwest. HSR lines between them and eastern North America would be a big stretch.

BruceMcF said...

there are limits to how much capacity increase you can achieve by electrification alone.

Alan Drake cites 15%.

Trains cannot safely run any faster through tight curves unless their superelevation (related to bank angle) is changed as well. Even then, safety can only be maintained if the track geometry is as well.

And of course, this is one area where new track can be the most useful, since accelerating the slow stretches has much better impact than accelerating the fast stretches. And medium/light freight under electric traction in a grade suitable for heavy freight can normally accelerate and decelerate more rapidly to reach the prevailing speed limit more quickly and remain at it longer. While at the same time, running below speed generates generates substantially unequal stress on the track, which is even more serious if it is bulk freight.

Same goes for electrification: unless taxes on all forms of oil-derived fuels are increased substantially, rail freight operators have no incentive to invest their own money into it.

However, the capital cost of a public authority would be half as much as the capital cost of a private railroad and the operating cost of a public authority would not be burdened by local property taxes, as private railroad infrastructure is.

If available, freight operators would wish to use it under a much wider range of diesel prices, and if they would wish to use it, that is incentive to allow it to be built on their property.

IMHO, there is still quite some scope for moving freight from road to rail prior to electrification at the national scale.

However, electrification of STRACNET could be accomplished in six years if pursued with full commercial urgency, and there is nothing we can do in under a decade that can have that scale of impact on our crude oil consumption. Whether its for national security or addressing the drag on the national economy of our 15 year old bow-out in our balance of trade, or for addressing the climate crisis, its something we should be doing.

Shunting rail cars within container terminals is an issue, given that overhead catenaries get in the way of container loading and, third rail would present an unacceptable safety hazard.

Indeed, the proposal does not envision converting all freight rail to electric ... there are more route miles outside of the STRACNET and designated supporting corridors than inside, after all.

Diesel at the outset, bio-diesel, ammonia with bio-diesel priming, charcoal feeding direct carbon fuel cells ... once the majority of the transport task is on the grid, the problem is powering a variety of subsidiary tasks ... including the "first mile" and "last mile" freight of containers ... is a much less demanding ask.

That doesn't mean the existing freight alignments cannot be electrified and, leveraged for building a national overlay electricity grid based on HVDC.

It just means that those HVDC lines will be substantially longer and, that the expense of electrification of the bypass sections and alignments described above will come on top of that. It boils down to a classic conflict between minimizing time horizon vs. minimizing cost.

There are substantial costs in not minimizing the time horizon. Its not as if there is any security that our current transport system will be tenable in ten year's time.

It is, in total bonding authority, a big undertaking, but feasible, and primarily self-funding. The conversion of long-haul passenger services to use the Rapid Rail network would be a mere sideshow to the main event, and for the sections of the routes that would qualify as semi-HSR, the kind of funding in the Kerry Bill for the semi-HSR would be ample.

Rafael said...

@ Loren -

nice work, thank you. It's perhaps useful to keep in mind that the FRA considers anything above 90mph to be "high speed". This is at odds with international definitions, which tend to use 125-155mph (200-250km/h) as the lower bound and call anything over 186mph (300km/h) "very high speed rail".

My rapid rail proposal used 110-125mph as the top speed for that class of service because FRA still permits grade crossings at those speeds, provided certain criteria are met. Also, even rapid freight trains rarely move at more than 100mph in Europe - usually much less and often at night.

California can get away with building a completely dedicated very high speed rail network for five reasons:

a) it has two large population centers separated by several hundred miles of rural and semi-rural countryside

b) it has moderately well-developed connecting transit services at all of the network endpoints

c) extensive new tunnel systems are required to support north-south passenger rail at any useful speed, so you might as well go the whole hog

d) the state has strict laws on air quality and CO2 emissions

e) its voters are willing to accept relatively high income and sales taxes to pay for transit at all distance scales, in spite of a chronic and worsening budget crisis

This model is roughly analogous to Spain, which is aggressively pursuing VHSR.

In many other areas of the US, the case will not be so clear because one or more of these reasons do not apply. There, it may make more sense to build up rapid rail networks first and then overlay VHSR alignments to improve line haul times through the countryside, where it's relatively cheap to build them.

This is essentially the French model, but replicating it in the US would require a change in FRA regulations on mixed traffic, especially in built-up areas. It is typically extremely hard/expensive to acquire the a fairly straight new ROW just to comply with those regulations.

Anonymous said...

Electrification without catenaries:
this system is already used by Alstom for the Bordeaux light rail network. It is expensive, so the trains revert to catenaries when they leave the city's historic center. Dubai's Alstom tramway network will be catenary-free all the way.
Adapting the system to 25kv A/C would certainly pose major problems.

Anonymous said...

Loren, the one thing missing is the Las Vegas connection

timote said...


Not sure that I understand how it would be useful to go across Iowa to Nebraska but not include links in the CA region - LA/LV, LA/PHX, possibly PHX/TUC

Alon Levy said...

Rafael: yes, I do: http://www.bombardier.com/en/transportation/sustainability/technology/primove-catenary-free-operation?docID=0901260d800486ab

The current system is designed for light rail specs; however, Bombardier mentions that it can be tweaked for other specs, possibly including HSR.

Rafael said...

@ Loren, Frank, Timote -

I was wondering about linking up Phoenix and Tucson as well. See map of HSR spurs to Las Vegas and Arizona.

The spur along I-10 would serve the Palm Springs-Indio region and possibly, Blythe on the border, if that area ever becomes populous enough. It's just that the spur as a whole is more than twice as long as the one to Vegas and might attract less ridership. It's a more marginal proposition IMHO.

Rafael said...

@ Alon Levy -

so they use inductive transfer while stationary plus supercapacitor storage to tide them over between stops. Fancy schmancy.

It would be tricky to implement for yard switching at a transshipment terminal, though. First, you have to embed inductive couplers in asphalt in-between the rails, which is disruptive. Second, you'd need a lot of these couplers because yard switchers don't stick to a fixed route with well-defined stops.

timote said...

@ Rafael -

Ya, the LV line seems like a much better option for ridership: LA is obsessed with going to LV for the weekend. I don't think there would be issues getting private investment dollars for that one, especially if the main line CAHSR proves itself previously and the dollars aren't bad (maglev = bad).

PHX still seems like a good idea though - the distances are reasonable, the population center at the other end is pretty decent (although there is nothing between Palm Springs and Phoenix), there is definitely a Southwest-style travel pattern here. Not as good of an option as SF/SAC/LA/SD and LA/LV, but better interconnectivity than dealing with the Cascades or the Sierra Nevadas...

Now I know I'm dreaming when I'm looking past pure CAHSR...

BruceMcF said...

Yes, when I did my simplified geometric mean population between 1m+ SMA pairs per line-of-site mile, the extensions beyond the proposed CAHSR were, in order, LV, Phoenix, north to Oregon, with LV a strong pair with LA, Phoenix moderate, and the pairing of Sacramento with wherever it is in Oregon down there near the bottom of the list (nb. it was a crude spreadsheet model for a back of the envelope sketch).

So, yes, once stage one is completed and stage two under construction, definitely start working on whether Nevada and/or Arizona want to come to the party and join the system. Needless to say, there's plenty of time to work on advocacy in both states.

While a Rapid Rail upgrade between the Pacific Northwest and CAHSR would be do-able, as a standalone project it would be a diesel passive tilt-train and would be relying on HSR transfers to connect to major population centers ... true HSR to Oregon to link to any system looks really dubious, at least under any transport system with a vague similarity to our present one.

Rafael said...

@ BruceMcF -

I could see rapid rail from Sacramento to Redding via Oroville and Chico someday, but going beyond that seems a stretch. It's seriously expensive to build and maintain fast connections through mountainous areas. At some point, it really is a better idea to fly.

BruceMcF said...

@ Rafeal ...

Well, for that distance, there may be some market for air freight, but the primary competition is diesel trucks. In some difficult parts of that general alignment, Rapid Rail will mean establishing the ability to run at 45mph rather than 20mph, but getting through bottlenecks faster is also an important element of increasing the effective speed of freight, loading dock to loading dock.

While its focus on the task of a true overnight sleeper, able to leave well after close of business and arrive before start of business the next day ... enthusiast Hans-Joachim Zierke' work on the Shasta Route strongly suggests that it should be possible for the truck to pull out of the loading dock late in the afternoon in the Pacific Northwest, get the container to the railhead, and have the container pulling into the loading dock in Southern California early the next day, with high reliability.

Of course, the same improvements would allow precisely the kind of true overnight sleeper service to work, where you get on the train in the evening, watch a movie or catch a late bite, sleep, shower and get dressed, and arrive at an HSR transfer station for SF or LA in time to arrive at the office at 9am, rather than getting up in the middle of the night and catching the red-eye.

The potential passenger market is not, under present aviation fuel costs, worth spending a lot of capital works on ... but if the capital works are useful for getting diesel trucks off the road, you may as well run that passenger service as well.

The main thing for Rapid Rail is getting ton-miles of freight off of diesel trucks. That's where the big gains are on offer, in terms of both carbon emissions and in terms of crude oil import dependency.

However, while a lot of potential niche passenger rail markets are high hanging fruit if they have to carry the cost of the capital works, a Rapid Freight Rail system that is substantial enough to deliver the big gains on the trade balance, CO2 emissions, and freight transport costs would, as a side-effect, convert many of those niche passenger rail markets into low hanging fruit, which ought to be picked.