Saturday, January 31, 2009

Destination Lindbergh

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

While the Peninsula debates how to best implement the detailed plans for the high speed rail line that will serve their communities, San Diego is dealing with a somewhat different question altogether - a big picture "how do we bring people to and from our town?" issue that is now centered on Lindbergh Field. And HSR plays a potentially major role in determining San Diego transportation policy for decades to come.

The North County Times has a long article on the debate over Lindbergh Field's future, a debate made necessary by the apparent failure of long-discussed plans to build a new airport at Miramar. The basic problem, as anyone who has ever been to downtown San Diego knows, is that Lindbergh Field cannot be expanded beyond the one-runway configuration it already has. Hemmed in by San Diego Bay, the highrises of downtown, Interstate 5, and a residential neighborhood, it is impossible to expand capacity at Lindbergh Field. So San Diego officials are considering a $4 billion improvement project - and looking at a Lindbergh HSR station as a way to connect the airport to not just the city but the rest of the state, thereby creating new capacity at Lindbergh:

San Diego County Regional Airport Authority board members say they have no choice but to settle for Lindbergh's limited capacity. After a decadeslong search that cost tens of millions of dollars, voters overwhelmingly rejected the idea of building a new airport at Miramar Marine Corps Air Station in 2006....

It's not as if increased capacity is totally out of the picture, said committee member Steve Peace, the former state lawmaker who wrote legislation to create the airport authority. He said the train station ultimately would be served by California's planned 800-mile statewide high-speed rail system and indirectly increase the capacity.

That's because 11 percent of Lindbergh's planes fly short hops to Los Angeles, carrying passengers bound for Los Angeles International Airport to catch overseas flights. With high-speed rail, people could take a bullet train instead, Peace said.

Of course, the HSR trains are not going to serve LAX, and even with a Green Line extension to LAX a traveler from SAN to LAX would still have to take two rail lines (Blue and Green) from Union Station to LAX, on top of the HSR trip up from SD. It's not clear that HSR would really work as a connection for those passengers.

A point that Wendell Cox, perhaps the chief HSR and passenger rail denier in the nation, uses to try and call into question the entire "HSR as airport relief" concept:

Cox, the transportation expert who has studied California's bullet train, countered there is "not a chance" that that part of the plan would fly.

For starters, Cox said the huge Los Angeles airport is not on the high-speed rail system, as proposed. And he said that with funding uncertain for the chosen route, it is unlikely the state would find money for a spur to LAX.

If it did, he said, the route would be so circuitous and lengthy ---- passing through Temecula, Riverside, Ontario and downtown Los Angeles before reaching L.A.'s west side ---- that it would fail to persuade many San Diego County residents to take a train instead of a plane.

But let's move this beyond Steve Peace's claim about overseas travel. It *would* make much more sense for folks trying to get to or from San Diego to other destinations around the continental U.S. to use HSR as a connecting system - to Ontario Airport, not LAX. Ontario, unlike Lindbergh Field or LAX, has room to grow, and is already slated to receive an HSR stop on the LA-SD spur. The estimated travel time from Ontario to downtown SD is 57 minutes - a reasonable method of connection for travelers headed to or from SD.

It's also worth considering San Diego's continued importance as a destination for travelers going to or from other destinations in California. Whether it's an Angeleno looking for a weekend getaway, or a family from Fresno looking to visit relatives on the other side of the border, Californians make up a big part of San Diego's travelers. HSR would play an extremely significant role in handling that traffic, easing the burden on not only Lindbergh Field but on Interstates 5 and 15 as well.

What HSR means to Lindbergh Field isn't a different option for folks headed to Tokyo or Sydney to catch their flight at LAX, but a new and expandable method of bringing people to and from San Diego, period. With HSR San Diego isn't forced to shoehorn a huge number of passengers into Lindbergh Field, but now has a completely new and high-capacity option for moving people around. It's no longer "Lindbergh or Miramar or Bust" but a more balanced set of transportation options.

Which makes Wendell Cox's closing line so absurd:

"It's time San Diego woke up to the fact that it is a world-class city, and probably the only world-class city without a world-class airport ---- certainly the only one in the United States," Cox said.

"I continue to be completely amazed that the leaders of San Diego settle for being a suburb of Los Angeles when they should take a back seat to no one. It shows a lack of vision that is astounding."

If "world-class" is to be defined as "on a par with other major first-world cities" then it should seem obvious to everyone except Cox himself that "world-class" cities in the 21st century are defined not by the number of runways at their airport, but by the number of high speed rail lines serving them. San Diego is larger than Málaga and can be compared to Marseille in several respects (both are the third-largest metro areas in their state or country, both are important maritime centers, both serve as a sunny beach destination, both act as a crucial link to the developing world to the south), and both of those cities are important destinations on their respective HSR networks.

Ultimately San Diego should be asking itself how it can use HSR to dramatically improve its connections to the rest of North America, instead of relegating HSR to a role supporting Lindbergh Field. HSR isn't a junior partner to a transportation strategy focused on interstate freeways and airports, but should be seen as a fully equal - and equally important - solution to San Diego's mobility needs for the rest of the 21st century.


Aaron said...

To be fair, LAX is actually easier reached via the FlyAway from Union Station. Yeah, it's a bus, but it goes entirely by bus lanes until entering LAX so the times from DTLA to LAX are very reliable. Even after the Blue Line is "connected" to Union Station" via the Downtown Connector, the FlyAway will still be the better bet because it also eliminates the transfer from blue to green to people-mover. A Metrolink extension to the airport is occasionally discussed, but if you ask me it's a waste of resources compared to the improvements that could be made to the LRT networks to achieve more-or-less the same results while benefiting those living between DTLA and LAX.

Having said that, LAX has its own capacity issues and doesn't make a very good reliever for anybody else. Ontario is a much more viable choice, to my knowledge it has room to expand, and LA is anxious to move more people to Ontario and Palmdale due to limits at LAX and Burbank.

At any rate, when are cities measured solely based on their airports or access to HSR? San Diego is an important city moreso for its ports and its status as an international city, but it's certainly not on the level of LA, Chicago, or NYC. San Diego's airport problems are a function of San Diego's topography, proxomity to a limiting international boundary, as well as surrounding military bases providing boundaries not subject to eminent domain; the city is better compared to the Keihanshin or Tokyo, although San Diego is obviously dwarfed by both regions.

Of course, by comparing to those areas, it's notable that Narita has a Shinkansen station in the basement and Haneda and Kansai have reliable local and limited train access to their respective cities.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

When people go to LA, I can't imagine that LAX is the most convenient for people, especially those that live closer to Union Station.

Brandon in California said...

I have many thoughts on HSR in San Diego. I live here.

First off is the error by the North County Times... voters rejected providing support to local elected officials/leaders in talking with the DoD about a joint use facility at Miramar. It was an advisory vote only. Many people locally interpreted it as a vote on kicking the marines out of Miramar. And b/c the regions' ties to defense, it gained little support. That said, if the Marines and all defense functions left Miramar, this region would very likely get behind the site as a replcement to Lindbergh... b/c it makes sense and relieves the burden on downtown.

But to HSR...

People are destined to city's and city centers, not airports. Airports are way points. To that, HSR to Downtown San Diego (as planned) would reduce in-state air travel in and out of Lindbergh... and push back the projected date that it reaches capacity. Btw, so will higher oil/gas prices. But, Wendell Cox is right, HSR to the Lindbergh has little opportunity to replace short-haul flights to LAX b/c as he says, it is not well connected.

In my opinion, given two stations options of a downtown station or an airport station, the downtown one would likely affect flights in/out of Lindbergh the greatest. I wonder what modelling would have to say about that?

An HSR station at Lindbergh as a way to relieve flights to LA is short-sighted if that is the main motivator.

Either way, the planning work being done by the airport is part of an effort to examine relocated/additional terminals on the east side of the runways with a transit hub (bus/trolley/train/HSR). If the HSR station element moves forward it would do so as an alternative to the Downtown Station.

And to that, a Downtown Station is superior in my opinion. That is where there are people, events, jobs, and lots of transit. Downtown is the destination for many.


Fwiw, as an aside a poster on the city skyscraper forum with first hand knowledge indicated design efforts are being done with HSR in a trench from the San Diego river to points south. Prior planning efforts showed the alinement as airial. They would not indicate who the work is being done for, such as the airport, CHSRA, the city, or the downtown redevelopment agency.

Alon Levy said...

This is mostly a good post, but toward the end, you're boosting HSR more than warranted. World class cities are defined by their economic and cultural strength, not by their transportation options. Chicago and San Francisco are more world-class than Madrid and Berlin. Osaka, with the same metro population as LA and far better rail connections, is barely even a global city, where LA is close to the top of the list of global cities.

And San Diego is most definitely not comparable to Marseille. Marseille is poor and has very high unemployment even by French standards. Its Californian equivalent is not San Diego, but Fresno. It got a TGV connection because it's the second largest city and third largest metro area in the country; even then, the LGV Mediterranée only opened in 2001, compared with 1990 for the LGV Atlantique and 1994 for the LGV Nord.

Spokker said...

Alon, perhaps that's because oil is still cheap and plentiful. When the era of cheap gasoline ends, the cities with better mass transit will probably fare better than the sprawling Los Angeles type cities of the world.

Electric car this and that, but time is running out, and people are already asking who killed the electric car.

Brandon in California said...

Yeah, San Diego is not a major international city. The commentor in the article must have been thinking of another label for the city.

Heck, if it were not for the 3 million people in the county (1.2 in SD city), it's tough to say San Diego is, let alone, a major American city. We're too much in the shadow of Los Angles and plus, were' third in urban area population in the state.

"Major" anything does not come to mind for this city... other than vacation spot or conventions. Maybe, majorly nice weather? Har har.

Rafael said...

The planning committee for the airport has come up with multiple options for the final build-out of the airport.

Several of these call for an intermodal transit center (ITC) located just west of I-5, incorporating the existing railroad ROW. This ITC would be served by local buses, possibly light rail, NCTD Coaster, Amtrak Pacific Surfliner and later on, by HSR. Car parks, rental cars and taxis would round out the ground transportation options.

The advantage of locating the HSR station at Lindbergh field is that it would allow the airport to act as a long-distance transportation hub for all of San Diego county. Understandably, the county does not want to rely too much on Ontario airport.

Having only one runway represents a serious capacity limitation, but less so if most of the planes are large jets. Siting the HSR station at the ITC would eliminate many short-hop connecting flights. It would also avoid the thorny problem of building a HSR station around the historic Santa Fe Depot downtown.

If need be, Brown Municipal Field in Otay Mesa could be upgraded to serve as a relief airport, especially if its single runway were extended. In terms of access, this would involve constructing HSR tracks south along I-5, then east along the Otay river valley (elevated, since this is a flood plain), then across to a station underneath a new terminal just north of the runway via a short tunnel.

There are, however, two flies in this ointment. First, Caltrans is currently usurping the I-15 median between Temecula and Miramar for carpool lanes. Afaik, the construction plans do not include box tunnels underneath those lanes, to be used by HSR once that gets built.

Second, any HSR service down to San Diego will require a rail yard for overnight parking. Unless the line is extended all the way to Brown Municipal Field, one possible location would be just south of the Convention Center and Petco Park, between Crosby Street Park and Harbor Drive. Alternatively, there is room between Harbor Drive and I-5 just north of 8th St.

Rafael said...

My apologies, the northern end of Caltrans' I-15 Managed Lanes project is actually Escondido, not Temecula.

SANDAG has produced an animation of how managed lanes will work.

There is an I-15 Interregional Partnership that established HSR as a strategic long-term objective for the corridor back in 2003. It published several reports in 2008 but nothing that refers to exactly where HSR is supposed to lay down tracks in the Escondido-Miramar section.

CHSRA's Google Map of the route suggests an expensive combination of tunnels and aerial alignments. It's not clear if the access bridges to the new managed lanes (see above video) will be tall enough to support an aerial alignment for HSR.

It might make more sense to switch back to the I-5 alignment after all and dig tunnels at San Clemente and Del Mar to avoid the beachfront there. track stacking might be required between Irvine and San Juan Capistrano. This would have the advantage of connecting LA, Anaheim and San Diego on a single line.

Such a drastic change would require revisiting HSR plans for the Inland Empire and specifically, for Ontario airport, in the context of the project-level EIR/EIS. Escondido residents could catch HSR trains at Oceanside via NCTD Sprinter, but Murrietta and Temecula would be left without passenger rail service.

crzwdjk said...

"Having only one runway represents a serious capacity limitation, but less so if most of the planes are large jets."
Unfortunately, the single runway is also quite short, and the approach to the airport is limited by the topography on both sides, but especially on the east. When winds are coming from the east, large jets are very severely weight restricted, to ensure that they can clear the hills and other obstacles.

Rafael said...

@ arcady -

perhaps it would help if the Lindbergh Field runway were extended to the water's edge at its western end, with the extra distance only used for taking off to the east. The extension would change its length from 1.64 to 1.92mi. Every little bit counts.

Rafael said...

@ arcady -

perhaps it would help if the Lindbergh Field runway were extended to the water's edge at its western end, with the extra distance only used for taking off to the east. The extension would change its length from 1.64 to 1.92mi. Every little bit counts.

Brandon in California said...

Fwiw, one constraint not yet mentioned about Lindbergh is topography. Yes, it is hemmed in by many things, the Bay, I-5 and other roadway infrastructure, and nearby land uses. But, the ever so low, but rising land, affects runway orientation. And, even lenght for heavier planes.

Anonymous said...

LA is only a world class city in the way that São Paulo or Mexico City are world class - full of people. As a place to live or a tourist destination it's rather over rated (tourist destinations per person). NYC and SF are far more interesting, and Berlin would be my favorite of the list.

Rafael said...

@ Brandon -

I don't think anyone is seriously advocating a change in the orientation of the runway at Lindbergh Field. If the extension I suggested is on a slight slope, it could probably be corrected with a suitable foundation.

The problem is that there is basically no location near San Diego that could accommodate two runways at least 2 miles in length - except Miramar. Voters decided they did not want to ask the Marine Corps to vacate its base there.

The idea of turning Tijuana into a cross-border airport is also being explored, but it would be much harder to provide HSR connectivity there.

Brandon in California said...

CNN's John King hosted California Senator Dianne Feinstein this morning, along with another senator via remote from Nevada.

Much of the subject and questions revolved around the stimulus program. When Feinstein spoke to infrastructure projects, high-speed rail was the first that she cited.

Although no additional interview discussion spoke to HSR, I am feeling Feinstein is investing her political capital on it.

And, althogh we have not heard her, or Senator Barbara Boxer, speak to HSR in the stimulus legislation very much... it could be a part of a strategy. That strategy could be to vet HSR in the stimulus for when the House and Senate meet to work-out differences between their competing bills.

It seems Feinstein cannot sit idle on this subject. If she does, she could be labelled "all talk and not show.' ???

Brandon in California said...


I know, I am familiar the challenges faced by Lindbergh, in addition to the past and present efforts to find a solution. A re-aligned runway is not currently being vetted; however, fwiw, in the past it has been to varying degrees. So has a 2nd runway. But, nothing like that is considered now.

And for all the recent discussion in San Diego or on this blog, no forwarded solution/action has a greater than 50-50 chance of happening. That includes terminals and 'super' transit hub on the eastside of the runways, or a cross-border airport.

The challenge is that there is no local leadership with sufficient political capital to affect real change and real solutions. We need a leader, someone like a Gavin Newsom or Antonio Villaraigosa. Until that happens, we're stuck with decisions having the least amount of oposition.

Anonymous said...

To get from Union Station to LAX you have to take the Red/Purple Line to 7th street metro center, then transfer to the Blue Line and then again transfer to the Green Line, then catch an airport shuttle which hardly ever runs because this entire process is so inconvenient. We need a DIRECT rail stop inside the airport. Most major airports around the world have rail connections and they are essential for growing the usage of mass transit.

Aaron said...

Anon #17: As I said above, the better way to LAX is the FlyAway, and will continue to be - FlyAway can increase capacity pretty significantly yet.

I would venture to say that most airports don't have a Philadelphia or Chicago-style one-seat ride. (By the way, Philly's R1 only runs every half-hour and the price is artificially inflated as Zone 5 service, even though the airport is plainly not as far out as most Zone 5 suburbs).

At any rate, some examples:

SFO: AirTrain to BART

OAK: Bus to BART

LGA: Bus to subway. Cabs often more convenient. Extension of the N,W has been periodically discussed but other projects have clear priority; will probably not happen in my lifetime.

EWR: Multiple train lines for NYC access. Cabs often more convenient.

JFK: AirTrain to NYC MTA or LIRR, fairly long trip to Manhattan by all means.

BOS: Silver Line busses to subway; busses are frequently over-crowded and you have to wait outside in the snow for them. Silver line capacity was maxed out on the first day of service - it makes LAX look downright pleasant. Hell, it makes a root canal look downright pleasant.

So, while an LAX people-mover to get people to the green line reliably is definitely needed, and it would've been preferable if the green line had been built into the airport, it doesn't render Metro useless. Airport service is important, but it shouldn't be built at the expense of local service.

Eventually, the FlyAway will be unable to add capacity (probably once it's running busses every 5 or so minutes). Once that happens, the Dept. of Airports will need be talking to Metro about providing higher capacity service. But in the meanwhile, the FlyAway is a pretty good service, and I would rather see us talking about Metrolink weekend service to Burbank and other less-costly means to increase regional connectivity. There is no pot of gold out there, and we need to be realistic; there are many projects in LA County that are rightly in line in front of Green Line service inside LAX. Build a people mover and the regional connector so that people can go straight from Imperial/Wilmington to Union Station, and move on with more important projects.

Anonymous said...

Stimulus allocations broken down by city, state, most expensive etc.

A lot of money for Los Angeles, but Puerto Rico has everyone beat.

Spokker said...

lol nobody likes anything on Stimulus Watch. They are voting up or down projects as if their vote actually means anything.

Alon Levy said...

Spokker, I don't get your point about cheap oil. Eight months ago, oil prices were at an all-time high. This led to some cutbacks in air traffic, but their effects even on air hub cities were minor. The current cutbacks due to recession are far larger. The main effect of high oil prices was to lead to inflation in commodity prices in general, some of which were at 200-year highs.

Anon at 1:17, cities' importance isn't based on how much they esthetically please you. LA is the world's third largest urban economy and the center for the world's largest entertainment industry by revenue.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 4:40pm -

are you aware of LA Metro's Harbor Subdivision Transit Corridor project for rail service between LA Union Station, LAX and San Pedro/Long Beach?

IMHO, the best solution might be dual track light rail, with am aerial wye at Aviation/Century and a one-way single track underground loop past all the terminals at LAX.

@ Alon Levy -

transportation demand is fairly inflexible, so consumers don't stop traveling right away just because the price of oil goes up. In the sort term, it does indeed just push up inflation.

However, if high prices last long enough, consumers will purchase more expensive but also more efficient cars and, they will use trains more frequently when they are available. Europe and Japan are proof that high fuel prices do change consumer behavior, it just takes at least a decade (and the political will to impose high fuel taxes).

Rafael said...

Off topic but possibly of interest to readers in other parts of the country and Canada:

UK hit by largest snowstorm in 18 years, severe disruption to transport infrastructure, especially at airports.

Eurostar operating normally but subject to possible delays. Gotta love those all-weather trains.

Note, however, that there was a severe fire on board one of Eurotunnel's auto trains in September, damaging the north tube. Repairs are expected to be completed about three weeks from now. Until then, traffic remains limited to a single track for about 1/3 of the tunnel.

Rafael said...

Slightly less off topic:

San Diego might want to implement a bike-sharing service about to go into a pilot trial in San Francisco. The concept is based on similar services in Paris (Velib') and Vienna (CityBike). Such systems would be an excellent complement for HSR.

It'll be interesting to see if either city goes the whole hog and buys a fleet of electric bicycles for rent, complete with automated inductive coupling at the designated drop-off points to recharge the batteries. Tourists with bags or small children might appreciate electric versions of Dutch cargo bikes for rent, though those would have to be stored separately.

Much cheaper passive vertical or bi-level bike storage might be useful for regular bikes at train stations, as would grooved ramps next to stairs leading to and from he platforms. Note that this gentleman is pushing a folding bicycle, which can always be taken along on any train at no extra charge. Electric versions are becoming available.

Rafael said...

Stimulus news:

WSJ reports that Senate Democrats are pushing for an additional $20-$30 billion for infrastructure in the stimulus bill, but of course Republicans want more tax cuts instead. They remind me of medieval "physicians" who prescribed bloodletting for any and all ailments.

If anything, all tax cut provisions in the stimulus bill should be limited to 2009 and 2010. At that point, the Bush tax cuts expire and the whole issue of fair taxation can be revisited. At some point, someone is going to have to service all this extra debt.

Meanwhile, StimulusWatch reports that San Jose has included two requests for a total of $146 million for its BART extension as a down payment. Of that, $46 million is for a station underneath the Bank of America building. Didn't taxpayers just fork over $45 billion to that company so it could blow a wad on a superbowl party?

There is also a request for EIS funding for high speed rail - from Ohio. Either CHSRA is asleep at the wheel or they've got a cunning plan for getting out of the cashflow pickle the California budget impasse has put them in.

Anonymous said...

Rafael - I found the Harbor Subdivision line as well after reading Robert's post. Light rail might be a good option as a transit line, but it would be rather slow for an airport line. My guess is that if you had electric commuter rail running down the Harbor Subdivision, it would be ~20 minutes from Union Station to LAX, non-stop (this would be a service similar to Heathrow Express or Gatwick Express). And then CHSR could also use that track to access LAX (running at 79 mph or below). But that's unlikely to happen.

Rafael said...

The Senate's initial version of the stimulus bill (S.336) is here.

The rail-related section is p236-241.

Note the addition of $2 billion for high speed rail programs, to remain available until September 30, 2011. Also, the federal share of such projects may be up to 100%.

This would get CHSRA out from under the state's broken budget process for a few years so it can get on with the project-level EIR/EIS work and pay its consultants. For the starter line project as a whole, the target for the federal share should remain at $12-$16 billion. Prop 1A bonds would simply be sold later than anticipated, hopefully at reasonable rates.

TJPA and CHSRA to submit a joint request related to SFTT so everyone can save face and get it all built. In particular, there is no reason not to ask for a slice of the transit stimulus funds to help pay for the bus depot + ramps, the underground pedestrian passage to Embarcadero BART and the fraction (2 of 6 platform tracks, i.e. 1/3) of the trainbox + DTX tunnel reserved for Caltrain. The HSR project needs to chip in the other 2/3, but TJPA must not cook the books to misrepresent the fraction of the total construction cost related to heavy rail operations.

Straight HSR feeder projects such as the BART extension to Santa Clara and Caltrain electrification should seek federal funding from the transit, rather than the HSR portion of this bill. Grade separations should be characterized as highway improvement projects, since they add zero functionality to the railroad.

Rafael said...

@ mike -

top speed for light rail is 55mph. Given the sharp corners in the ROW, you'd be hard pressed to run any faster anyhow. I don't think line haul time is a particularly good argument in favor of commuter rail (Metrolink) in this case.

More relevant is if BNSF is willing to abandon its remaining easement on this ROW, which is now owned by Metro. It has retained that in case the Alameda Corridor ever becomes unavailable, e.g. due to an accident or earthquake damage. Heavy freight trains require rails that weigh much more per foot and are correspondingly more expensive. Also, FRA currently does not permit light rail trains to share track with heavy rail rolling stock.

Light rail would mesh better with plans to extend the Green Line to LAX, approved as part of Measure R in November. In addition, it would mesh better with plans for the Crenshaw corridor. Finally, the extra capacity of bi-level Metrolink cars is of little use to passengers with bags bound for LAX.

For these reasons and for the sake of community buy-in, I expect Metro will prefer a light rail approach. From my point of view, the most important issue is not light vs. commuter rail but whether there will be an aerial wye at Aviation/Century and an underground single-track loop past all the terminals, served by multiple lines. Forcing a transfer to an unmanned people mover would be a really ugly cloodge.

Brandon in California said...

The link provided for the Senate version of the stimulus bill (S336) has January 27th date. I am unsure it is the latest.

The same may be true with a US News and World Report summary released in the past couple hours. In it, it forwards the following for transportation:

- $27 billion is included for highway investments.
- $8.4 billion for investments in public transportation.
- $5.5 billion for competitive grants to state and local governments for transportation investments.
- $1.3 billion for investments in our air transportation system.
- $3.1 billion for investments in rail transportation, including High Speed Rail.

- $830 million for repair and restoration of roads on park, forest, tribal and other public lands.

emphasis mine.

The HSR amount appears to be a $1B increase.

The Senate version is a work in progress. After something is passed, possibly later this week, the House and Senate will work togetehr to hammer out differences.

All-in-all, I am cautiously optomistic. My concern is the position of the Senate Republicans, maybe all republicans, and tactics to say know to everything until they get what tehy want. ... Like the California Seante Republicans.

Anonymous said...

"Grade separations should be characterized as highway improvement projects, since they add zero functionality to the railroad".
Flatly dishonest.

The functionality that grade separations provide to the HSR is that they allow it to exist at all. Non HSR railways (ie: Existing Caltrain) don't require grade separation at all. And the crossing don't require them either. The towns don't require them either...

Are you really going there? With a straight face?

Next you'll say the pantograph should be requested as energy infrastructure, since its carrying electricity, not passengers.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 1:14pm -

since HSR will be traveling at no more than 125mph in the SF peninsula, FRA does in fact not require full grade separation, only impenetrable barriers.

However, the combined volume of HSR and Caltrain traffic would severely restrict the throughput capacity of cross roads.

Furthermore, approx. one person a month currently dies on Caltrain's tracks. Some are suicides, but many others are accident victims. I would argue that avoiding fatal accidents is a benefit to a community.

Ergo, full grade separation is a wise choice that voters have endorsed even in the SF peninsula section of the HSR network, because it benefits both motorists and communities.

And no, pantographs are of course not part of the national energy infrastructure. There are significant public health, AB32 and energy security benefits to rail electrification, but HSR is a transportation project.

Anonymous said...

CSHR designs without grade separation (especially since grade separation has been just about the one and only selling point for these communities), is a non-starter. And you know it. And the communities don't prioritize grade separations highly in and of themselves (or else THEY'd be asking for the $$$ - you wouldn't have to be forcing it on them.) Grade separation for CHSR's benefit is simply not a highway infrasstructure improvement project.

Now, if suicide prevention is your worthy goal (?!)... The money should go to a safety net on the golden gate bridge.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 2:12pm -

it's possible, indeed likely, that voters would not have endorsed a watered-down HSR proposal that retained any grade separations anywhere.

However, that does not mean that those separations are necessary for HSR, merely that something many transportation planners in California have long sought is a very valuable fringe benefit. It's the additional rail traffic volume that will be generated by the combination of upgraded Caltrain plus HSR services that prompted voters to bite the bullet and take on the extra debt.

Grade separation works are voluntary highway improvements in track sections rated at or below 125mph top speed, so why shouldn't California apply for a slice of the $27-$30 billion fund allocated to highway improvements in the stimulus bill?

Andrew said...


No, Narita does not have a shinkansen, there were plans for one but they never got off the ground. Narita has two underground stations served by JR and Keisei local and express services.

However, JR's Narita Express is a pretty awesome service that I think should be replicated in LA, using the Harbor Subdivision ROW. I like how the N'EX decouples at Tokyo Station, with one half heading to Shinjuku and points east, and the other half heading south to Yokohama. My idea of an LAX Express would decouple at LA Union, with one half continuing north to Burbank and Van Nuys, and the other half going to Anaheim.

This is all pretty pie-in-the-sky, but I like to dream. A lot of people seem to be all starry-eyed for light-rail service to the airport, but small trains with numerous stops would be just begging for low ridership in my opinion. It needs to be heavy-rail EMU's with luggage racks and comfortable seats in order to work.

Spokker said...

"However, JR's Narita Express is a pretty awesome service"

It is. I've taken it!

They are clean, sleek trains. They look cooler than the regular Japanese trains, at least. It was really fun.

Anonymous said...

And by voluntary, you mean... like getting porcelain caps after you get your two front teeth knocked out by a line drive? Or like having your arm set in a cast after getting it broken in three places in a motorcycle accident?

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 8:51pm -

"voluntary" because it was democratically decided. Beats the alternative, don't you think?

Have fun on your gas-guzzling motorcycle on the way to the emergency room.

Spokker said...

"top speed for light rail is 55mph."

Los Angeles' Metro Green Line does 65mph.

"Grade separations should be characterized as highway improvement projects, since they add zero functionality to the railroad"

I disagree with this. Grade separations reduce the risk of accidents due to someone accidentally or intentionally leaving their car on the tracks. Should an accident occur at any speed, the line would be shut down for an hour or more, depending on the severity of the accident. Such accidents would affect the popularity of the line negatively in the long-term.

Brandon in California said...

In my opinion, 98% of the benefit provided by grade separation projects benefit roadway users and those nearby affected by horn blasts.

By and large, grade separations do not enhance the capacity of rail systems.

Yes, there are some instances when higher train speeds are permitable with separated grade; however, in such instances the entire, or majority, of the rail line would need to enable those higher speeds to have any measurable benefit. Additionally, vehicles may need to be upgraded too.

Rafael said...

@ spokker -

my bad, I mistyped on the top speed. It is 65mph for light rail.

On the grade separations: I don't think people stop using a railroad because there are motorists - even school bus drivers - who take foolish risks at grade crossings and occasionally pay the price. Admittedly, there are delays whenever there is an incident, damage to rolling stock and psychological impact on the train driver - especially if someone gets hurt or killed.

So I'll agree with Brandon on the 98/2 split here.

Aaron J. Grier said...

as a child I used to follow the old ROW that ran parallel to laurel and harbor streets when my family went to the airport. all(?) the rail has since been pulled, and the ROW converted to parking lots -- it's easy to see in satellite photos. (does anyone have any history on this?)

raised ROW for the trolley has been added parallel to the BNSF mainline; it seems like an "offramp" to the old ROW would be straight-forward enough, and take a lot less time to construct than a completely new multi-mode terminal.

Rafael said...

@ Aaron J. Grier -

the satellite photo does suggest a yard for HSR trains might be possible at that location.

The problem is that the BNSF ROW is too narrow to accommodate two tracks each for freight/Amtrak/NCTD Coaster, SD trolley and HSR. Current FRA rules do not permit these services to share tracks and, the differences in their speeds would anyhow make that impractical. This is why the HSR tracks will run on an aerial structure near the airport.

HSR trains need a minimum curve radius of 800 feet, so there isn't much room to allow them to turn the corner onto Laurel. Also, aviation safety means you can't run elevated tracks that close to the runway - it's dicey enough as it is, especially for eastbound take-offs. Ideally, the ROW would be widened to permit six tracks at grade.

Running HSR in a tunnel instead would be far more expensive than the current proposal.

Douglas said...

There is support locally for extending the HSR line to the international border. We get a lot of through traffic between Mexico and points north. The line should help reduce that.

With this in mind, I think a station at the border and one in Centre City will be optimal. A transfer and a short ride to Lindbergh Field should not pose insurmountable difficulties for travellers trying to reach our airport.

Lindbergh Field is not a major airport and I do not think it ever will become one. Local people are often characterized as laid back where it concerns being "world class". I think they are comfortable with the city's status and their lifestyle. Great cities are not defined by the size of their airports.

HSR will add to the many public transport options now available in San Diego County and will dovetail nicely with Lindbergh Field.