Thursday, February 12, 2009

$8 billion for HSR While Public Transit Starves

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

The latest news on the state and federal fronts is decidedly mixed. HSR is poised to make out like a bandit from the federal stimulus:

The most important news is the massive amount of money proposed for high-speed rail - $8 billion - and the large increase in Amtrak funding, up to $1.3 billion from $800 and $850 million in the respective House and Senate bills. This represents the largest single expenditure on rail in United States history and promises a new day for train travel. The U.S. Department of Transportation will lead the distribution of these funds; most of the money is likely to go to existing programs such as California High-Speed Rail, Midwest High-Speed Rail, and Southeast High-Speed Rail. States will get no supplementary money for rail programs, which implies that the bill’s writers want states to focus on implementing high-speed rail over standard-speed intercity rail.

I'm not going to argue with $8 billion for HSR - that's much more than the $2 billion I hoped would come from the stimulus. Still, I'm not quite comfortable with focusing on HSR at the expense of other intercity rail systems. The fact is that America needs more passenger rail period and needs a comprehensive program to implement them that includes high speed and non-high speed trains. Still, as The Transport Politic pointed out in the above quote, this is still the biggest amount the US has ever spent on passenger rail and should be considered a victory.

Less encouraging, however, is the doom about to face local public transit agencies, particularly those here in California. The final federal stimulus bill contains some transit grant funds, but zeroed out the proposed $2.5 billion for new starts. But the real catastrophe comes from Sacramento, where the proposed budget deal will eliminate state funding for local transit agencies in its entirety, a cut of $536 million that comes on top of nearly $3 billion in cuts that have been made since summer 2007. This is especially ironic given that the budget deal includes a 12 cent increase in the gas tax - but none of that will go to transit.

Many sustainable transportation advocates argue for a higher gas tax - but believe it should fund increased mass transit options. While schools and health care need more funding, that should come from other sources. Using the gas tax to do that is just not good policy.

Sure, this is an HSR blog, and perhaps we could be satisfied with the $8 billion coming to a high speed rail project near you. But as I have repeatedly insisted, HSR is just part of a bigger strategy to reshape American transportation. The big picture goal is to reduce our dependence on oil and sprawl. HSR is a good solution for the LA-SF corridor, but it won't help bring folks from Hollywood to Union Station, or from the Sunset District to the Transbay Terminal. HSR needs local transit to attain its highest ridership goals and to be the kind of success we know it can be.

The state budget deal is far from final, and Republicans may walk away from it once their wingnut base gets word of the tax increases. But the use of gas taxes for non-transit related funds, particularly when local transit is getting left in the desert with a canteen and a compass, is especially egregious.


BBinnsandiego said...

How are they going to spend that much money fast? California and the NE corridor are out in front planning wise but nobody is "shovel ready". Obviously the Transbay Terminal and tunnel project could use a billion or two right now but what are they going to do with the rest. I thought the infrastructure money was "use it or lose it".

Anonymous said...

This is great news. As for existing local transit they will survive. New starts can wait a year. In places like sf, Muni will chug along like it always has. The increase in amtrak funding helps local rail as they operate a lot of commuter rail and there is talk of brining back line routes that were discontinued. This means jobs. And the nice chunk for HSR is what we need for the cahsr as fed dollars are part of the deal. This is good news to me.

Rafael said...

@ Robert Cruickshank -

first off, $8 billion for HSR in the stimulus bill is a lot more than I thought realistically possible as recently as yesterday. It proves that lawmakers understand the need to invest in transportation alternatives to cars and planes, which depend on oil.

Unusually, the compromise version of the bill is smaller than either the House or the Senate version. The former had included $2 billion for new "fixed guideways", the latter $5.5 billion at the discretion of the Secr. of Transportation. Both were re-allocated explictly to high speed rail, because the longer distances involved arguably make it a better fit for a national program.

Moreover, rightly or wrongly, transit is still widely regarded as a service provided for the poor. There are exceptions, of course, e.g. New York, Chicago, San Francisco Bay Area, San Diego, Dallas, perhaps even LA by now. More affluent consumers tend to prefer rail over buses and, are unlikely to have any hangups about boarding a clean, modern high speed train. HSR is "sexy", so even Republicans are willing to support it.

This perception hurdle may well be a big reason why HSR systems generally attract enough ridership to at least cover the cost of day-to-day operations and network expansion. That's also a big plus for lawmakers, because having passengers pay for recurring costs is analogous to states collecting tolls and/or gas taxes dedicated to highway maintenance.

Another plus for true HSR is that it can be competitive with short-haul air travel, relieving constraints on growth in interstate commerce wherever airport expansion is infeasible for one reason or another. In a pinch, occasional travelers will be willing to drive to the nearest HSR station and park their car nearby, just as they are used to with airports. An HSR trip to a relief airport like Palmdale or Ontario becomes the equivalent of a short connecting flight.

Only cities with densely built-up downtown areas that cannot easily accommodate additional multi-story car parks absolutely must have local and regional transit systems to attract sufficient HSR ridership. This is the case for several cities in California, most notably San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego. Connecting transit and/or bicycle infrastructure is also a huge plus for long-distance commuters, but these are (optimistically?) expected to be just a small fraction of HSR passengers in California.

And let's be honest here, $8.4 billion in additional capital grants to states based on the established disbursement formula is a lot more than zero. That mechanism allows e.g. BART to quickly obtain some money for its extension to San Jose. Caltrain will get a little federal assistance for electrification, Metrolink for much-needed signaling upgrades etc.

The bigger problem is the state of California, but it's important to differentiate between capital improvements and operating subsidies here. The $536 million on top of $3 billion that you refer to are for operations and fare subsidies. Since the alternative - driving - will also become more expensive, chances are these cuts will not reduce ridership as you appear to fear. Yes, everyone will once again have to pay more for mobility and that will hit the poor and the unemployed especially hard. However, you can't balance a budget so completely broken without inflicting hardship on anyone.

In an ideal world, lawmakers would not waste this crisis on a 12 cent/gallon hike in the gas tax just to plug a hole in the budget. Instead, they would create a new fee on top of the gas tax - which is dedicated to highways - and continue to ramp that up for a decade, until it reaches several dollars per gallon. Proceeds from this fee would go to the general fund to make room for cuts in sales and payroll taxes for the sake of social equity and, to keep the total burden of taxation low. The prospect of future tax cuts is also essential to winning over the few Republicans needed to pass a state budget.

If urban planners and consumers know that gas prices will be going up sharply but gradually and dependably over the course of a decade, they can adjust accordingly: consumers will pay more for fuel efficient cars, electric bicycles will catch on, worker bees will seek jobs and homes close to transit hubs and, cities will scramble to establish high-density office and residential areas to make transit services and networks of bicycle path viable.

Neither a slightly beefier one-off national stimulus for transit nor an extra twelve cents a gallon for just two years will drive any of these highly desirable lasting changes in urban lifestyles.

Anonymous said...

We will take it boys!! I think if this goes thru it help get things moving on time until the state can
get it act together.Public transit get its funds from a number of options..and I ride it every day..but Im so glad this money is going to HSR programs.

Rafael said...

@ BBinsandiego -

you're right, but the HSR funding will be available through Sep 30, 2011. It needs to be spent soon but not immediately.

For a variety of reasons, including the fine print of both the stimulus bill and AB3034, CHSRA is going to have get a little creative. Indeed, it might make sense to prioritize the largest stations (SF TT, SJ Diridon, Fresno, Palmdale Airport, LA US and Anaheim ARTIC):

a) it puts some stakes in the ground for the project-level EIR/EIS work on how exactly the tracks should run and,

b) it forces cities to prioritize planning for the additional transit, auto, bicycle and pedestrian traffic flows that HSR will generate inside these buildings and in their vicinity. That means every federal dollar will attract several more from state and local governments. In addition, private developers will invest in nearby office, retail, entertainment and residential properties.

c) Moreover, once these highly visible architectural showcases go up, politicians will lobby Congress and court private investors to actually get the entire starter line built on time. NIMBYs will secure some concessions, e.g. sound walls, but the inertia of the project as a whole will become unstoppable.

Anonymous said...

I hope some of this is used for HSR improvements; NE corridor. I know the big push for improvement is between D.C. and NY, through private sector funding. That is extremely important and the worst part of the NE corridor, but it still takes 3h 40m to go from Boston to NY on Acela; that is quite pathetic. From what I know, they really need to fix the western Connecticut section. So hopefully, a lot of this can be used for Midwest, Cal. and Southeast HSR, but hopefully they can improve the northern part of the NE corridor as well.

Tony D. said...

This is great news and, like yes on prop 1A said, I'll take it. Remember, the Obama administration has only been at work now for about 3 weeks (out of hopefully 8 years); transit will get its pound of flesh in due time.

Rafael, I know the city of SJ is pursuing stimulus money for the Diridon Station at the tune of $100 million.

On a related note, Harvard Design Group will conduct a study of the Diridon Station and its future as a "New Regional Mega Transportation Hub."

Anonymous said...

How much of the $8 billion will California get for the HSR project? I don't mean for "HSR-lite" speed improvements to existing services, but for the "true" HSR project that was the subject of Prop 1a?

Rafael said...

@ Kyle -

the single biggest improvement for the NEC would be a regulatory path to permit mixed traffic, i.e. non-compliant active tilt passenger trains sharing track with FRA-compliant freight trains. That will require additional active safety systems and a major shake-up at the FRA.

The existing Acela Express trainsets have scheduled maintenance intervals of around 20,000 miles rather than the hoped-for 400,000 miles because FRA forced Bombardier to add a lot of weight that critical components of the original non-compliant design were never designed to support. In addition, modifications to accommodate ADA-compliant restrooms widened the car bodies such that the trains are now not permitted to fully exploit their active tilt potential - the clearance relative to non-tilting trains on adjacent tracks would be less than 12 inches.

The Japanese have arguably done the best job of combining lightweight construction with anticipative active tilt systems based on up-to-date track geometry databases. The most effective strategy for rapid rail service is to avoid having to slow down any more than absolutely necessary. Top speed is far less relevant to passengers than line haul times and comfort in corners.

Unfortunately, switching to lighter and slightly narrower rolling stock won't be enough. There are quite a few curves in the NEC that are quite sharp and/or lack the superelevation necessary for maintaining relatively high cornering speeds. In many cases, straightening the alignment would entail either eminent domain proceedings or the construction of new tunnels reserved for passenger trains. Both options are expensive.

Increasing superelevation is tricky because the high axle loads of heavy freight trains would cause accelerated wear and tear on the rails plus geometry creep of the trackbed. Track maintenance overheads would be reduced by requiring freight operators to use lighter non-compliant electric locomotives in the NEC. However, someone would have to pay for those loco's and the overheads associated with switching them at either end.

Finally, it may be technically feasible if politically difficult to offer multiple service levels in the NEC: express (e.g. NYC-DC), semi-express (e.g. NYC-Philly-DC), semi-local (e.g. NYC-Newark Airport-Philly-Baltimore-DC) and local (all 9 stations). Each service level should be available at least once every other hour. The current Acela Express corresponds to local service and only runs once an hour.

If analysis shows that the above package of measures does not deliver sufficient improvement in line haul speeds, then the only alternatives are to lower expectations or, to construct a brand-new direttissima alignment, part of which could run in or above the I-95/295 median. The really expensive part of this Italian concept is the construction of loops and/or detours that allow trains to reach whatever downtown stations are on their itinerary. If you force passengers to transfer to local transit, even if that is fast, chances are you'll lose a lot of ridership.

Rubber Toe said...

This is good news, and I am glad to hear of it. I do have a question, and no doubt this will be discussed down the road pretty shortly since actual federal $ are now available.

The question concerns the requirements for any portion of the 1a funds to be tapped into. I have some recollection that either most of if not all of the required money for the primary LA-SF segment had to be in place for the 1a funds to start being used. I'm talking about the $9 billion HSR funds, not the $995 million feeder money. If thats the case, then aren't we still very far off money wise from spending anything?


Rafael said...

@ anon @ 3:33pm -

I'm not aware of any "HSR-lite" aka rapid rail project in California, other than Caltrain electrification, which is now intimately connected to HSR construction.

The bill does not include earmarks for specific projects. Instead, states and/or private contractors will have to apply for grants with the federal DOT. Only projects in the formally designated HSR corridors are eligible.

That means projects such as Las Vegas-future Ivanpah Valley Airport-(Victorville(-Anaheim)), Atlanta-Chattanooga(-Nashville), Phoenix-Tucson etc. are all out of scope right now. However, DOT may well update its list of designated HSR corridors before long.

Beyond that, I'm guessing applications with a significant level of maturity and committed state and local funding that will kick in once bond markets recover will be preferred over those that are still at the beginning of the whole planning process. That puts California in an excellent position.

If someone comes forward with a solid plan for upgrading service in the NEC within a short period of time (see my response to Kyle above), that is likely to receive generous funding as well.

Finally, with Obama in the White House, I'd be very surprised if the Midwest didn't get any money. Chicago-St. Louis is one possibility, Cleveland-Columbus-Cincinnati another.

However, there is an expiration date on these stimulus funds, so it's possible that there will be an element of first-come-first-served. Again, California is fairly well placed, though it may need to fast-track the project-level EIR/EIS effort on selected components, e.g. stations. However, the first order of business is to get CHSRA the funds it needs to keep working at all and, to pay its consultants.

Anonymous said...

How can you fast track stations for a route design that has not passed environmental muster?

For example, what if its found that the speed requirements (per measure 1A) can not be met on the SF to SJ leg, without a massive redesign of some significant curves. Or what if water table impacts turn out to be consequential? Or whatever. So what if the costs of design/mitigation of the SF to SJ segment escalates by 2,3,4 Billion? But you've 'fast tracked' the stations for the sake of a few hundred million in Fed Stimulus???

Is it REALLY all that smart to start tearing down the kitchen before you have the building permits for your remodel?

Is this the part of the story where chain gang digging holes kicks in?

Rafael said...

@ Rubber Toe -

AB3034 actually spells out segments for the entire system: SF-SJ, SJ-Fresno, Fresno-Bakersfield, Bakersfield-Palmdale, Palmdale-LA, LA-Anaheim plus those for phase II and the Altamont Pass overlay.

It requires that CHSRA formally petition the state legislature to appropriate an appropriate fraction of prop 1A funds before proceeding with any given segment, as part of its annual budget deliberations.

As part of the petition, it must present completed project-level EIR/EIS documentation, updated cost and ridership estimates and especially, commitments from non-state actors to at least match state funding. In combination, state and non-state funds must cover the entire anticipated construction cost for the segment in question.

Priority is to be given to those segments that attract the greatest amount of non-state funding relative to total construction cost.

Note that the stimulus bill states explicitly that the federal share of projects that are awarded grants "shall be 100%". Not "up to 100%" but the whole enchilada. To comply with the language of both bills, CHSRA will have to structure the work in each segment into a set of component projects, some of which will pro forma be funded exclusively by the federal government, the rest by the state and/or private investors.

Clem said...

I agree with anon@5:04PM. 2011 is awful tight to get things "shovel ready". That's probably why the CHSRA is fast-tracking SF-SJ, since that part of the project is pretty well defined and it would be easy to spend $2B on it in that timeframe. Kopp's notion of doing grade separations first is a good one; that's where a lot of "invisible" money ends up.

Glitzy, award-winning station infrastructure (like the silly double-deck SJ pan-continental train station) should be left for last, right when the money is about to run out.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 5:04pm -

it should be possible to subdivide at least some segments into the end stations and the approaches to them on the one hand and, the tracks in-between on the other.

Once the interfaces between these sub-segments are defined - and there aren't a whole lot of options for how to get to e.g. SF TT or Anaheim ARTIC - then the project-level EIR/EIS work can proceed independently for each sub-segment.

Station design details will have little or no impact on line haul times, so there is no reason not to proceed with them once the EIR/EIS work for their sub-segment is completed. The objective is to press ahead such that California can obtain a generous slice of the stimulus funds allocated to HSR. The state badly needs both the new infrastructure and the construction jobs to build it.

I'd be very surprised if any prisoners or parolees were put to work on any HSR construction projects early on. Any form of prison labor would have to be structured to conform to both US and international law, which would be a complex issue.

Politically, construction workers would cry foul on competition grounds. They would be quite happy to build levees, highways, HSR and a bunch of new prisons, all at union rates. Something's going to have to give and, the stimulus bill includes billions for flood control, highways and HSR but zip-o for new prisons. The bill explicitly allocates the $39b in state stabilization funds to specific education-related expenditures.

Rafael said...

@ Clem -

beggars can't be choosers, the deadline is in the bill. Use it or lose it.

If ground can be broken on individual grade separation projects, I'm fine with that. It all has to get built in the end, I was just under the impression that many of the decisions on how to implement the alignment are still up in the air. That includes the northern approach to SJ Diridon, so the project-level EIR/EIS for that segment will take longer than the one for SF TT. As you have discussed at length over on the Caltrain HSR Compatibility Blog, Millbrae is another headache.

I also understand your concerns about the risk of overspending on lavish stations at the expense of humdrum but essential things like grade separations and increasing the radius of selected curves.

However, whether you like it or not, stations are the interfaces to connecting transit as well as the anchors for transit-oriented development. We want a lot more than just the basic HSR service to be ready in the 2018-2020 timeframe, so we should proceed as with any engineering project: define the interfaces properly, then execute the sub-projects in parallel, independently of one another.

Rubber Toe said...

So, we need a final EIR for a segment, plus Federal matching funds to proceed. And we have to petition the legislature that we are going to hit the bonds for a segment.

Given that, do you think they would do one of the LA or SF segments, combined with the valley test track segment at the same time? That way, they could get both started, and be able to test rolling stock when the first city segment is done.

Rafael, what would you guess is the earliest that shovels could hit dirt. Would it be 2010 sometime?


Andrew said...

Well, I for one am not going to look a gift horse in the mouth. Transit is badly needed, but can come later.

Tony D. said...

Clem 5:21,
What the hell's your problem with SJ and Diridon station?! A double-deck transit center that serves HSR, Caltrain, BART, VTA light-rail, ACE, and Amtrak isn't "silly."

For the record, like it or not these "glitzy" stations are needed for boarding the high-speed trains.

Perhaps still a little sore at Pacheco getting the nod over Altamont? Anyhow, stick to the subject...$8 billion for HSR, YES!!

Anonymous said... much does anyone think or guess what the CAHSR project will get at this point? I think 2billion
And is funding for the SFTT in this or another section of the package?

Alon Levy said...

Finally, it may be technically feasible if politically difficult to offer multiple service levels in the NEC

There's no reason to skip Philly, ever. Even the Nozomi makes a stop every 100 km; on the NEC, that translates to 3-4 stops between NY and DC, e.g. Newark, Philly, Baltimore, DC. The Acela did at one point run a limited stop train stopping only in Boston, NY, Philly, and DC; it was scrapped after it didn't save enough time to attract heavy ridership.

The current Acela stopping pattern, which you call local, actually has the same average interstation distance as the Hikari, not the Kodama.

From what I know, they really need to fix the western Connecticut section.

I'm pretty sure the problem with Connecticut is that the MTA doesn't allow tilting. The biggest infrastructure-related problem is that the catenary south of New Haven can't support speeds higher than 135 mph, even on those NY-Philly sections where the track is completely straight.

Spokker said...

The fact that Harry Reid wants some of the money to go to the LA-LV Maglev route is giving trains in general some bad press.

Maglev is not the answer, nor is a high speed line from LA-LV. Get the Desert Wind service up and running for now.

The priority for California is SF-LA. That Reid is harping about his casino train is hurting the cause.

Clem said...

@ Tony D: Glitzy stations are not required in order to board a high speed train.

San Jose has ambitions for its station that are a little bit beyond the scope of the basic transportation function required of the facility. Within the land that exists today, including an expansion into the former Caltrain maintenance facility, I believe San Jose would be well-served with a single level, at-grade facility. There simply isn't the need to turn it into "signature architecture" that is double the size of the transbay transit center in SF, other than a misguided civic inferiority complex.

The double deck design will certainly make the engineering and construction firms lots and lots of money, money that ultimately comes from my wallet (and my children's). No thanks.

That being said, I have nothing against connecting HSR with Caltrain, BART, the trolley and various other FRA relics at San Jose.

Anonymous said...

FRA "relics" ? Those relics are our nations history. they employ about 180000 americans and still have and will continue to have a valuable presence. As for the HSR stations... all of them -- I think they are ALL over blown designs. I mean a basic concrete glorified bart platform is all you really need. These stations designs about the egos of architects and city officials who want to make a statement. The cost of HSR stations beyond a basic covered platform should be the responsibility of the cities in which they are built. That is what is currently done in california. towns along existing routes have to build their own stations if they want one, and those old stations, are improved by the local municipalities if they want them improved. bigger better and glitzier stations should be funded by selling development rights.

Anonymous said...

In SF we had to accept a massive amount of planned, unwanted, private towers/development in order to get the new transbay built. teductin

BruceMcF said...

As far as how that money can be spent quickly ... a lot of the cost of the Ohio Hub / Midwest Hub projects are crossing upgrades ... eg, speed sensitive quad gates and the signaling upgrade to support their use. $500m on that kind of work per Rapid Rail "HSR" corridor could soak up $0.5b x "X", with X determined by the number of projects that can get off the mark. $2b is certainly not unlikely ... Strickland supports the Ohio Hub, the Midwest Hub sprawls over so many different states it would only take a couple of governors to agree to make a grab for the money under that umbrella, capital works money is the big stumbling block in the Empire corridor between Albany and Buffalo ... if Rendel were to get on board working out how to get some works money in the hard part of the Keystone Corridor, that'd be 4 of the designated corridors that could have their hands out.

While not all of the Ohio Hub or Midwest Hub are officially designated HSR corridors, part of both are, so both would be eligible for funding for crossing upgrades to support 110mph crossings.

For the NEC, identifying the alignments south of NYC that would not require any realignments to get the Acela up to speed, and upgrading the overhead catenary to constant tension to support a raising of the current speed limits. South of NYC is especially strategic for the long term, since there are alternate alignments to the NEC between NYC and Boston.

For CAHSR, if station and urban access work could fit inside the timeline, and there's opportunities to use up to $4b on that kind of spending, just package that into distinct projects and submit the list in order of priority to be sure to grab at least $2b of the money and to soak up whatever isn't taken up by anyone else.

BruceMcF said...

On public transit starving ... I don't know about California public transit, but the Chicago Metro Transit Authority has for years been raiding operating funds to do essential major maintenance to allow continued operation ... they will definitely spend every dollar that comes their way under the formula distribution, and if anyone is too slow and falls afoul of the use it or lose it provision, will happily spend the top up as well. And if they do not have to raid their operating budget to get some durable works completed, that will benefit their operating budget for years down the track.

"Delaying New Starts for a year or two" is of course economic insanity ... but it may not be a year or two. There is another bite at the cherry for New Starts funding later this year. And if it is part of a fully funded budget bill, it faces far fewer 60 vote Senate hurdles than the Stimulus package faced, which was under both Filibuster threat and under the requirement for 60 votes to waive PAYGO.

A Lynch said...

This is only the third week of the Obama administration. I'm sure there will be other spending bills and budgets where we can get the rest of transit the money it needs.

Rafael said...

@ Rubber Toe -

CHSRA's plans still call for breaking ground in 2011. The economic situation and the cut-off date for stimulus funds may prompt them to figure out a way to accelerate the schedule for selected components. To do that, they will first need some money to beef up their planning, preliminary engineering and public outreach activities (i.e. pay their bills and hire more staff and/or consultants).

@ Jim -

"a basic concrete glorified bart platform is all you really need"

NYET! BART is an subway system with ridiculously long routes. It point blank cannot support express trains that skip many stations. We're building HSR here, not some local-only BART or Amtrak service trundling along at an average speed of 30-40mph.

HSR stations should have two bypass tracks wherever there is space for them, but most especially in the Central Valley. In the larger stations, it's common for all tracks to have platforms - some trains will zoom right past those at well over 100mph. Passenger will be warned to stand back via loudspeaker announcements, this works perfectly well everywhere else in the world. Absolutely no bells, whistles or blaring horns from the trains, please.

In places where trainsets are split or combined or, where HSR feeder services operate infrequently, additional tracks are needed to permit longer dwell times. In the California system, that means Fresno and perhaps, LA Union Station.

End of the line stations may feature additional tracks so they can double as overnight parking for at least some trainsets. In the California system, that means SF, Anaheim, San Diego and Sacramento. I strongly suspect there will be a separate yard somewhere near LA Union Station as well.

Note that full-length HSR trains can be up to 1320' long (1/4 mile) and that ALL stations should support such trains eventually. This means that at the land needed for extending platforms from the initial 660' to full length should at least be reserved from the outset.

It is of course possible to have express trains pass slower ones in-between stations, but HSR trains travel so fast the bypass sections would need to be many miles long. Moreover, you can't run through turnouts at 220mph. That means stations are the natural locations for letting fast trains pass slower ones while they dwell at the platforms.

@ Spokker -

as discussed above, Las Vegas is currently not on any of the designated HSR corridors that are eligible for the $8 billion in the stimulus package. It's not surprising that SML Reid wants to change that. Afaiac, that's fine since it would make additional federal HSR funding in future bills much more likely.

The issue of maglev vs. steel wheels HSR has already been decided on the California side. While there might have been a ROW for maglev through the Inland Empire at one point, it no longer exists today. Nevada would be ill served by a system that could not be extended beyond the border.

A steel wheels spur off the all-electric California system at Mojave would make a lot more sense, especially if the folks behind DesertXpress are brought onboard and plans for Ivanpah Airport are canceled in favor of using Palmdale as a relief airport if need be. Note that about 1/3 of flights into McCurran are from California cities with or near HSR stations.

The strip of land Nevada has purchased for IVP could be used for a new entertainment Mecca or, for a solar thermal power plant. Running an HVDC power distribution line above or right next to an HSR spur to LV would help overcome resistance from Indian gaming interests in California.

I don't agree that bringing back the slow Amtrak Desert Wind service would be an adequate solution in the long run, though it might well be a useful stop-gap measure, especially if operated as a sleeper service. I'd suggest a modified route, though: SD-Anaheim-LAUS-SanB-LV. There aren't any major population centers between LV and SLC/Ogden, the original end point(s) of the Desert Wind service.

Anonymous said...

A large part of the California HSR plan is grade separations in the urban areas that need to be done NOW and will benefit both highway users and freight rail operators as well as rail passengers. Surely these can go ahead — it's not as though they have to start tunneling Tehachapi Pass right away to get the money.

I can certainly see some shovel ready stuff in Illinois too — upgrades to the rural portions of Chicago to St. Louis that were ready to go in 2003 but were held up by the nitwit crook we elected governor. Upgrading the rural parts and ordering appropriate trains such as Bombardier's SuperVoyager or Jet Train can be done almost immediately and lower journey times to under four hours — getting the final step to three hour journeys will involve extensive terminal work and possibly also electrification that they haven't really planned for yet.

Anonymous said...

Reading on another web site ..the text of the bill has 9-30-12 as the date that the HSR funds need to be spent..another extra year very good for CAHSR

Clem said...

@Rafael: in San Jose, CHSRA plans show that all HSR trains will make a stop and none will be turned back. The number of tracks required to support this is exactly TWO.

As for San Francisco, there will be just four platform tracks devoted to HSR, on which they plan to turn 10 - 12 trains per hour by 2030. That means a maximum turn time of 20 minutes, which is simply ridiculous if you ask me.

Rafael said...

@ Clem -

I expect that there may be a few trainsets that are parked overnight in SJ to compensate for the limited parking space in SF. In any case, additional platform tracks are desirable in anticipation of the future HSR overlay through Altamont Pass.

As for turnaround time in SF, I agree that 20 minutes is too long. With proper queuing on the platforms, one-way traffic along the aisles inside the cars and, a well-organized bucket brigade of cleaning staff, it should be possible to cut that in half. All it takes is some old-fashioned discipline. Passengers will get used to the drill quickly enough if it means more frequent service.

Clem said...

@Rafael, sorry I meant 20 minutes is ridiculously short. You need to de-board, clean, service, provision, and re-board in the span of 20 minutes. Even airlines have trouble doing it that quickly.

Anonymous said...

@ Rafael Of course there will be more tracks and longer platforms. What I'm saying is the overblown expensive ARCHITECTURE of the stations as shown in the cahsr videos could be trimmed down. of course build the tracks and platforms etc as needed but huge glass domes all manner of modern ornamentation and "statement making" design is a waste of HSR money and any embellishment beyond basic concrete platforms and stations should be paid for by the cities and not come out of the hsr budget.

Anonymous said...

This "a well-organized bucket brigade of cleaning staff" and this "All it takes is some old-fashioned discipline. Passengers will get used to the drill quickly enough if it means more frequent service"

are not gonna happen. You can not clean and stock a train in ten minutes. You can turn the train quickly, but it won't be clean and their won't be any bucket brigade. These jobs will kept to a minimum and you 'll get about two or three coach cleaners maybe. You can't vacuum a ten car train in ten minutes. Commissary can stock the train with enough for a trip or two up and back depending on how busy the route is. As for "passengers" and "old fashioned discipline" being used in the same sentence. Good luck. W aren't talking about o handful of civilized business dudes here. Its the "general public" and this "old fashioned discipline" isn't gonna happen. So yes you can turn em quickly, but they will look like a BART car after rush hour on the inside. What I am wondering though, is how they plan to implement service. I can't imagine them starting with more than 4 to 6 trains a day for the first year at least until rider ship builds so that will give them time to work out such details.

Anonymous said...

And what about luggage handling? How is luggage handled on an HSR train? Does that factor in to turn around times?

(Because these hoards of families bound for Disneyland and San Deigo Zoo.. you know they're going to have tons of luggage..)

Jim, you're right about lavish archictecural statements waste of money, but you said waste of HSR money - its way bigger than that. ITs waste of tax payer money via STIMULUS FUNDING - which as we know tends to make congress and Obama a teensy bit cranky.

If CHSR is groping for ways to grab quickly at stimulus dollars, and its not actual HSR creation, but just its lavish station building - that's not going to sit well. A lot of politicians, contractors, CHSR Officials - getting dragged up in to congressional hearings... wouldn't be good for CHSR's future.

crzwdjk said...

Rafael, I'm sorry, but you have no idea what you're talking about with the NEC. Almost all of the NEC is owned by Amtrak, and has very little freight service. That means that Amtrak can set the superelevation however they want, and they optimize things for their own trains pretty well. The southern half of the NEC is largely straight, aside from a few curves that the PRR never got around to eliminating. The thing that limits speeds to 135 rather than 150 is the electrification, which dates back to the 1930s and will replacement soon. On the north end, the western half of Connecticut, where the track is owned by Metro North, is by far the biggest problem, both because of the curves as well as the ancient overhead wires which are slowly getting replaced. In terms of operation, they tried running "super-express" Acelas at various times, and they failed to attract enough ridership. The current service also has hourly Regional trains, as well as the Keystones between New York and Philadelphia. There's also commuter service from New York to Trenton, Trenton to Philadelphia, and Philadelphia to Wilmington, with at least hourly service.

In terms of shovel-ready projects, I'd recommend accelerating the caternary replacement on Metro North and finishing the electrification around Boston. There's also at least one drawbridge that needs to be replaced, and a few curves that are just asking to be straightened, such as the one in Elizabeth, NJ. I also wouldn't be against a few improvements on the New York-Albany section. A bit more ambitiously, it might not be a bad opportunity to re-do the track layout at New York Penn for higher speed and better throughput.

Anonymous said...

Do bad Anno...a new generation wants HSR..if you dont well TOO BAD

Clem said...

Anon@11:52 asked about baggage handling on HSR. It's real easy: you roll your luggage right up to the train and haul it on board. There are racks for suitcases near the entry, within sight of the seating area, and smaller bags (a.k.a. "carry-on" in the airplane world) are stored in overhead racks and under seats, or (gasp!) on free seats. Getting on is easy: you wait at a designated spot on the platform where your train car will stop. Getting off is easy: you can get up and gather your belongings before the train pulls into the station. There is one boarding door per 50 passengers on HSR, vs. one boarding door per 150 passengers on an airplane. And not everyone gets on and off at the same stops. No baggage check. No struggle to stow bulging roll-aboards into tiny closed bins. No need to even put stuff away. Access to your suitcase at any time during the trip. No baggage claim.

In short, it is far more convenient, civilized and dignified than airplane travel.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Clem

It does sound easy.

Are there security issues with luggage? Are bags somehow scanned or checked somewhere in the station?

I think in airlines, they don't scan or x-ray checked baggage, because it flies physically separated from passengers. But they x-ray carry ons I think?

I guess that combination prevents prevents wacko dude from opening up his suitcase midflight to pull out his stash of (whatever...)

So how do HSR's take care of this?

Rafael said...

@ Clem, Jim -

HSR trains have a lot more doors than aircraft do, plus wider aisles. Unlike Amtrak trains and platforms, HSR will feature level boarding.

If and when service frequency reaches a level that turns the limited number of platforms at the SF TT into a problem, hiring a bucket brigade of ~30 cleaning staff will no longer be a luxury. Each would be responsible for half a car and need to work quickly, then move on to another platform to clean the next train.

Southwest already has its passengers queue up according to seat rows to speed up boarding. SNCF requires seat reservations for all TGV trains. JR uses markings on train platforms to encourage orderly queuing - add specific markings for car number and seat row to speed up boarding even more.

Don't tell me it can't be done. Where there's a need, there's a way.

@ anon @ 2:02pm -

Eurostar passengers traveling to or from the UK have to run their baggage through X-ray scanners. Not sure about RENFE in Spain. These are essentially the same as the ones used for carry-on baggage at airports, but there are enough of them to minimize the inconvenience.

Carlos the Jackal managed to get a bomb onto a TGV train in 1983, injuring two passengers. Since then, terrorists have focused either on the tracks (France, Germany) or on crowded commuter trains (Madrid 2004) or subways (Tokyo 1995, London 2005). There hasn't been a major attack on a station building since the Red Brigades set off a bomb in Bologna in 1980.

Clem said...

@anon, checked airline baggage is most definitely scanned, and flies under your feet in the cargo hold. The key difference lies in the harm that can be unleashed using a nefarious device carried aboard in a suitcase.

An aircraft is far more vulnerable to destruction than a high speed train because it carries enormous amounts of kinetic (speed), potential (altitude) and chemical (flammable fuel) energy that can be released in a destructive and deadly manner using a relatively small triggering device.

On the other hand, a high speed train carries only kinetic energy (zero altitude, no fuel on board) which is easily dissipated through emergency braking or even derailment. Derailments, like airplane crashes, do rarely happen. The majority of high speed rail derailments to date (with the notable exception of the Eschede disaster in Germany) have been quite benign affairs.

There have been bombings on trains, but none of them have been particularly deadly because they were on trains. They were deadly because they were carried out in a crowd, which just happened to be on a train.

Alon Levy said...

Rafael: also on the subject of the NEC, there's no other line between New York and Boston. The alternatives make big detours, through Springfield or Albany; the line through Albany also requires trains to change direction.

The Acela's slowness is mainly a function of FRA regulations and ancient catenary infrastructure. It also needs to share tracks with slower trains the entire way, which means no superelevation. For most of the way, there are three separate speed classes - commuter, Regional, and Acela - which means that Amtrak should increase Acela speeds with curve straightening projects or bypass tracks rather than superelevation.

Anonymous said...

I just wonder if we are gonna have good american union workers taking care of these trains or will it all be done with illegals?

Rafael said...

@ Alon Levy -

what's the issue with the catenary? New construction usually features 25kV single-phase AC these days but older systems in Europe (e.g. in Italy) were based on 3kV DC. That limits train speeds to ~250kph, i.e. 150mph. It's difficult to upgrade the voltage or switch from DC to AC because of all the legacy loco's and self-propelled rolling stock.

Some superelevation is perfectly ok even for slower trains and those that cannot tilt. For gory details, please check out Clem Tillier's post on the 10 Worst Curves in the SF peninsula.

However, mixing slow and fast trains on a stretch of track never works well. Bypass tracks at selected stations are arguably the best way to resolve the inevitable traffic jams, but there often isn't enough available land at legacy stations.

Eminent domain is an option for railroads, but one that should be exercised with care. Constructing bypass flyovers or tunnels is very expensive because even HSR trains can only negotiate small gradients (e.g. 3.5%).

Construction of brand-new tracks along a different alignment, e.g. from NY Grand Central via Danbury, Hartford and Springfield to Boston. The longer distance would be overcompensated by the higher speed and lower number of stops. Future alignments to Buffalo/Toronto and Burlington/Montreal via Albany would branch off at Springfield.

@ Jim -

ok, so according to you, anyone who isn't both a US citizen and a union member is an illegal (alien?)

HSR maintenance isn't something you'd let just anyone perform, it takes qualified personnel to ensure safe operations. See this video of workers conducting scheduled maintenance on a shinkansen train. The audio is in Japanese, but it's pretty self-explanatory. Bolts are checked for tightness, wheels and axles are examined for hairline cracks using non-destructive ultrasound testing, bearings are greased, pantographs are checked, driver controls and ATC function is verified etc.

Alstom TGV trainsets feature Jacobs bogies (located in-between rather than underneath cars) and require special lifting apparatus if worn wheels need to be resurfaced or replaced.

Talgo trainsets feature a single pair of independent wheels between unpowered cars, which presents similar maintenance problems. The company offers special lathe rigs that permit resurfacing of one wheelset at a time without lifting the whole trainset.

Decisions on who will be awarded the maintenance contract will be taken in the context of train vendor selection. Right now, Merced is preparing to persuade CAHSR that Castle Airport would be a good site for a central maintenance facility.

crzwdjk said...

Rafael: to answer your question about catenary, the main issue is that most of it isn't new, and most of the stuff actually does date back from the initial electrification of the line. On the New Haven-Stamford segment that's being slowly replaced, that's 1912. On the New York-Washington segment, that the 1930s. Only the New Haven-Boston section and New Rochelle-Stamford is new constant-tension catenary. The electrification system used on the New York-Washington section is the original PRR 12kV/25Hz system, partly powered by a special 25Hz generator at some hydroelectric dam, partly from frequency converters. New York-New Haven uses 12kV/60Hz, and New Haven-Boston uses 25kV/60Hz. The line is owned entirely by Amtrak, except between New Rochelle and New Haven, where it's owned by Metro North. A minimal freight service exists pretty much throughout the corridor, but the overwhelming majority of the traffic is passenger, and the track is optimized accordingly. Also, between Wilmington and Newark, as well as New Rochelle to New Haven, the line is four tracks, so "bypass tracks" aren't really needed. The biggest improvement in terms of Amtrak/commuter conflict would be an extra track or two between Newark and New York Penn, which is the biggest rail bottleneck in the country (there's 24 trains per hour in the peak direction during rush hour!). Island platforms at Metropark would be nice too, as would 125mph-capable commuter trains so as to keep the expresses more homogeneous. If there's a sudden pile of money to build a shiny new HSR line, I'd recommend starting with New York-New Haven, as that segment has the worst curvature (and drawbridges), plus heavy commuter traffic.

Anonymous said...

@rafael - in other I wonder if they are gonna try to bid this our to cheap walmarty workers or have the railroad unions do the railroad related work. I don't want minimum wage jobs being created and I don't want minimum wage workers in charge of safety and I don't want a bunch of illegal housekeepers cleaning the trains.

Alon Levy said...

Rafael: Grand Central would be a very bad terminus for an NEC station, since it doesn't allow through-service to Washington. In addition, the tracks leading to Grand Central are more congested, since all Metro-North service has to converge into the four-track Harlem line from GC to Harlem, whereas LIRR service is spread between the East River Tunnels and Brooklyn, and will by 2013 also reach GC through a new tunnel.

Besides that, I still don't see how ditching the Shore Line will do good for NY-Boston service. Going through Danbury skips the fastest parts of the NEC, those in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. Even the new track won't improve speed, since the Danbury-Hartford corridor is hillier than the Gold Coast, sprawls almost as much, and has no existing mainline to work off of.

Spurs to Toronto and Buffalo are best constructed via the existing Empire Corridor, for similar reasons. The Hudson has a lot of sprawl, but the interior route through Springfield sprawls almost as much, besides turning a 141-mile route to a 228-mile one.

Jim: if they offer citizenship to illegal immigrants first, they can employ them without employing "illegal housekeepers."

Anonymous said...

Jim: if they offer citizenship to illegal immigrants first, they can employ them without employing "illegal housekeepers." well lets hope that doesn't happen. We are already short on jobs for people who are here legally.