Monday, April 27, 2009

How Exactly Will HSR Connect To Airports?

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

by Rafael

One of the objectives of the California HSR project is to provide effective connections to existing airports. This should allow airlines to offer connecting train journeys for their long-distance flights. It is also supposed to make secondary airports more attractive to air travelers, but success will depend heavily on getting the last mile transfer between platforms and terminal and other details right.

CHSRA claims the chosen route will achieve this for SFO, Palmdale and Ontario airports. Lindbergh Field (SAN) could now be added to that list, but the purpose of the multimodal transit terminal there is a different one: making it convenient for those arriving by car to take the train rather than fly to other California destinations. Freeing up slots for long-distance flights by displacing short-hop shuttles is another objective for California HSR, but other cities perceive downtown stations as more effective in that context. That is part of the reason why HSR trains will be not be tightly linked to Oakland, San Jose, Fresno, Bakersfield, Burbank, LAX or Sacramento airports.

So let's focus on SFO, Palmdale and Ontario: how exactly will long-distance flights and short-to-medium-distance HSR trips be combined into an attractive value proposition for the traveler? To answer this, we need to look at the following aspects:

  1. How many long-distance flights will be offered out of each airport?

    In the aviation business, there is no formal definition of "long haul". In the US domestic market, it appears to refer to flights of at least 6 hours, e.g. coast-to-coast and transoceanic. California-Hawaii is borderline. Of course, some HSR customers will take a short train trip to connect to a much shorter flight, e.g. to the Pacific Northwest or the interior west. Unfortunately, airports don't publish their statistics down to that level of granularity - at least not free of charge.

    SFO statistics reveal the airport handles 20,000-25,000 air carrier movements a month, 2.5-3.5 million passengers, of which 550,000-850,000 are international. The airport experienced robust growth in 2008 and now ranks among the nation's top 10, though passenger numbers still have not recovered to pre-9/11 volume. Note that in 2006/7, SFO commanded much higher fare premiums for long-distance flights than e.g. LAX. About 25% of all passengers flying in or out of SFO hail from or are headed to other California destinations. Factoring in aircraft size, this probably translates to ~1/3 of all aircraft movements.

    Ontario is a much smaller airport, with just 7-8 million passengers a year. Most of the long-distance flights appear to be to domestic destinations, with just a few flights to Mexico and other Latin American countries out of the small international terminal.

    Palmdale is another of LA's "world" airports, but it recently lost its one and only commercial service (United to SFO) when the subsidy ran out. There is now talk of converting part of the huge area to a solar thermal power plant, though it's unclear if that would prevent the resumption of commercial operations once HSR puts this airport within ~30 minutes of downtown LA. Note that the combination of elevation and high summer temperatures mean that air density at PMD is lower than at LAX, so any fully laden 747s or A380s would need an extra-long runway and a gentle ascent slope to take off.

  2. How many HSR trains will be offered to these airport stations?

    In general, this is still very much up in the air. A great deal depends on how easy it will be to find attractive fares, get to the nearest HSR station and, transfer between HSR and flights at the airports. The number and ease of transfers is especially critical for passengers with more than just carry-on baggage.

    In spite of the large volume of traffic at SFO, only a subset of HSR trains serving the Bay Area will stop at Millbrae. Expect fares between downtown SF and Millbrae to be artificially elevated to avoid low seat capacity utilization on long-distance trains and cannibalization of Caltrain and BART ridership. The purpose of the station is to provide connectivity for passengers hailing from or headed to destinations well south of SFO, e.g. Silicon Valley, the Central Coast and the Central Valley. Note that CHSRA expects just 3,000 boardings/alightings per day at Millbrae.

    Ontario airport is supposed to be on the phase II extension between LA and San Diego via Riverside. HSR trips to and from LA Union Station are expected to take 25 minutes and, CHSRA expects 10,000 boardings/alightings per day. For reference, the FlyAway bus between LAUS and LAX currently takes 30-50 minutes, depending on traffic. However, a new light or heavy rail link via the Harbor Subdivision Transit Corridor could easily cut the budgeted transfer time in half.

    It's too early to say what fraction of HSR trains will stop at Ontario, except that CHSRA is planning to use LAUS as a through station, with most trains continuing on to San Diego because of track capacity constraints between Fullerton and Anaheim. San Diegans may well decide to use HSR - possibly including Amtrak Pacific Surfliner at 110mph top speed - rather than fly within California, just so more long-haul flights can be offered out of Lindbergh Field. Taking HSR to catch a plane at Ontario would be an inferior solution for them, though perhaps not for residents of the Murrieta-Escondido area.

    Palmdale will be included in phase I. In addition to passengers that would otherwise have used LAX or Burbank, there will be some from the Central Valley. Commercial services to Fresno Yosemite and Bakersfield do still exist, but they are expensive. Even so, it will take some aggressive lobbying of airlines and sweet flight/train bundle deals to build enough ridership, which CHSRA optimistically (?) estimates at 12,000 boardings/alightings per day.

    Note that IFF a spur out to Las Vegas ever does materialize, Palmdale would be roughly 75min from Sin City, possibly close enough to serve as a relief airport for McCarran during crunch periods such as major conventions. Ontario via Cajon Pass would be a little further. The bulk of the relief would come from the gradual elimination of flights to California cities on the same bullet train network, comprising almost 1/3 of aircraft movements at Las Vegas.

  3. How will customers discover plane/train combo fares?

    If it has not yet done so, CHSRA will presumably request IATA codes for all of its stations so they show up as destinations in airline flight reservations systems. Systems like SABRE are also used as the back-ends to many internet travel portals. It is far more likely that a passenger would discover an HSR trip as a connecting service for a flight than vice versa.

    At many airports around the world (e.g. Atlanta, London Heathrow, Paris CDG, Frankfurt/Main, Amsterdam, Vienna, Oslo, Copenhagen, Geneva, Cologne, Leipzig, Kansai (Osaka)), the train platforms are within easy walking distance of the airport terminals. At others, there are frequent people mover connections (e.g. Birmingham UK) to those terminals that are beyond walking distance. However, IATA appears to permit code-sharing even if the train station is many miles away. This is disingenuous as it causes the reservation system to show the plane/train combo journey as having just two legs when it's really three. Many IATA codes for train stations not co-located with airports begin with a Q, X or Z, but this is also not enforced. The use of just three letters also means the most obvious combination may already be in use for an airport somewhere else in the world.

    For a sense of how long-haul customers would book a connecting train journey, consider United's GroundLink service to most of France via Paris CDG and SNCF TGV. An enterprising airline could just as easily offer transoceanic service to e.g. Palmdale plus connecting service to any destination on the California HSR network.

    In California, it would be desirable to use SFO for the Millbrae, PMD for the Palmdale and ONT for the Ontario HSR station. SAN could arguably be used for Lindbergh Field and BUR for Burbank IFF there's a courtesy shuttle bus. MER for Castle Airport would only be appropriate if CHSRA acquires part of the BNSF row for that segment and a terminal for commercial passenger and/or cargo flights is constructed.

  4. How will these be priced relative to connecting short-hop flights?

    The question may not be all that relevant as most passengers will use HSR to connect to final destinations that are too close to be served by connecting flights. The exception will be those in the Central Valley, e.g. SFO - FYI (Fresno Yosemite, previously called FAT). However, those are far more expensive than HSR will be, so expect them to disappear from airline schedules quite quickly to free up slots for long-haul flights that can achieve high seat capacity utilization (aka "load factor"). Passengers will also prefer the trains because they will run more frequently, more than offsetting the longer trip time by cutting the layover interval.

  5. How will passengers get from the train platforms to their gates?

    In SFO's case, BART really does run into the airport. However, anyone arriving at Millbrae by Caltrain currently needs to transfer to BART, execute a cross-platform timed transfer at San Bruno and then a third transfer to the Air Train to reach the check-in counters. See here and here for the gory details.

    One of the reasons the BART shuttle between SFO and Millbrae was discontinued is that the unions insisted that it constituted a line in its own right, so drivers should be permitted to take a 15-minute break at the end of each journey. Alternatively, each train would have to be operated by two drivers, each twiddling their thumbs more than 50% of the time.

    Running the AirTrain out to Millbrae would be very expensive, so either a BART shuttle or a SamTrans (?) bus would have to be paid out of airport taxes if that station is to share the IATA code with the airport.

    At Ontario, the last mile transfer depends entirely on the right of way CHSRA can obtain through the San Gabriel Valley. The plan of record is to leverage the UPRR Colton alignment that runs right past the gigantic car park in front of the three terminals on S Moore Way and E Terminal Way, respectively. Given how spread out the terminals are, the most likely solution would be a shuttle bus or people mover that also serves long-term parking. This approach is still viable if HSR ends up in the I-10 median. However, if HSR were forced even further from this secondary airport, e.g. to the CA-60 median, it could not act as an effective feeder. In that case, it would make more sense to extend the starter line from Fullerton to Riverside and San Bernardino, with a view to one day reaching Las Vegas. Any money saved should then be put toward upgrading the Pacific Surfliner route to higher speeds or else, on a spur down to San Diego at Corona.

    In Palmdale, the existing terminal is located almost 3.5 miles from the Metrolink station. The most likely connection would be a shuttle bus. Of course, now that commercial operation has anyhow ceased, it might make sense to build a brand-new terminal near Sierra Hwy/Ave N with detour tracks for HSR trains at grade and check-in/baggage retrieval on a concourse level. Note that Palmdale could also serve as a high speed cargo transshipment point, as the northern terminus for HSR trains serving only Southern California and as a maintenance facility.

    In essence, much the same logic would apply for Castle Airport in Merced county - right now, there's a long runway and a nearby rail line but not much else.

    Remote secondary airports have little or no chance of commercial success without a high speed train station within walking distance of the airport concourse. Even then, some caution is in order: the spectacular Satolas station was built right next to the airport in Lyon, France, in the 1980s. The hope was that the TGV would attract additional passengers from south of Lyon to the airport such that airlines would offer more international flights.

    However, in one of France's worst transportation planning failures, SNCF/RFF never constructed the turn-off that would have permitted regional TGV service between downtown Lyon (Part-Dieu), the airport, the Rhône Valley and beyond. As a result, Lyon was never able to emerge from Paris' long shadow. In 2010, a new express light rail service will finally provide a 20-minute transit link between downtown and the airport but that's no more than a consolation prize.

    The lesson from Satolas is that a secondary airport without a substantial local catchment area will struggle to attract the flights that would prompt passengers to ride a train to the airport in the first place. It's a chicken-and-egg situation that can only be overcome with a plan for integrated service. This has to be driven by one or more innovative airlines collaborating closely with one or more rail operators to offer a combined service that is hassle-free, fast, punctual and competitively priced. The notion that a government agency like CHSRA or LAWA can "build it and they will come" is false.

  6. Where will check-in and security screening happen?

    Some operators in Europe (e.g. Deutsche Bahn) do provide flight check-in facilities at selected train stations, but all security screening still happens at the airport. In 2010, the European rail networks will be opened to international competition. At that point, Air France and others intend to compete directly with Eurostar on the London-Paris route, where baggage and passenger screening is already performed at the train stations because the UK is not a signatory to the Schengen agreement. However, the rail and airport security zones are currently not equally strict nor integrated, so passengers will still probably have to submit to screening twice.

    Afaik, no rail operator anywhere allows passengers to take care of flight check-in formalities on board the train to save time. Reliable wireless internet connections are still a new phenomenon and there are also logistical issues, e.g. with weighing bags.

    However, consider this scenario: you go online and book a train/flight combo ticket with XYZ airline, which has decided to operate out of a secondary airport with an integrated HSR station. You print out your ticket/write down your confirmation code. At the appropriate time, you board the train with your baggage. Once you're underway, you head to the cafe car, which features a courtesy desk where you can check in for your flight. In addition to your boarding pass(es), you receive self-adhesive baggage tags that you need to attach yourself. Upon arrival at the airport, you need only drop off your bags. The person there will check that your bags are in order (size, weight, condition) and scan the bar code before letting you proceed. The airline would not be responsible for lost bags prior to this point.

  7. Will baggage be checked through to the final destination?

    Train stations that permit combined train/plane check-in on the outbound leg also provide the boarding passes and baggage labels for the flight. However, in most cases passengers still have to take their bags onto the train themselves. One exception is Vienna, Austria, where you can check your bags the night before or, up to 75 minutes before the shuttle train leaves for the nearby airport. Baggage is forwarded automatically to the airport's handling facility. Returning passengers do have to pick up their bags at the baggage carousels as usual, though.


nikko pigman said...

Great post Rafael.

One thing I wanted to note is that short connections (ie, a shuttle bus) between two transfer points that are presented as one station is very frustrating for a traveler. Its not terribly practical to be lugging heavy suitcases around an airport terminal, into a bus, down to the HSR station, and have it checked in again. Ideally, the train station should be located in the airport (perhaps treated as a terminal) and the luggage would be transferred by airport staff to the train just as they do on connecting flights. Obviously, this is not possible in all cases but that's the ideal scenario.

But like I said, the mid-transfer point leg is going to be the killer here. It'll be an inconvenience for the traveler and cause the connecting feature to become unpopular. The closest you could come to the ideal connecting scenario is to have airport staff unload the luggage from the plane, put it on the bus and handle it all the way until it gets into the train. The only thing you would be responsible for is getting yourself on the bus to the train terminal.

nikko pigman said...

By the way, I suppose there still haven't been any serious proposals to give LAX a branch has there? Irvine seems unnecessary IMO. Its just another city in the LAtropolis and it dead ends there -- no connection to San Diego. It would probably be best to prioritize a LAX branch over an Irvine Branch.

Alon Levy said...

Using people movers and shuttle buses is already common at airports with multiple terminals. Passengers who connect at JFK or Newark often have to get from one terminal to another using the AirTrain. When I connected at LAX, I had to walk outdoors a few hundred meters to get from my flight from Singapore to my flight to Las Vegas. In European airports, such as Heathrow and Zurich, the same airline would use a special terminal for flights to the US, because of security matters. This means that everyone flying in from the US to another European city who connects at these airports has to take a shuttle bus (as at Heathrow) or people mover (as at Zurich).

While at Heathrow and Zurich the checked baggage automatically gets transferred, at US airports you need to claim it when you arrive and then drop it off again at the connecting flight. This means that at LAX one has to walk with bags from terminal to terminal; at JFK and Newark, one has to load them onto the AirTrain.

Rafael said...

@ nikko pigman -

I agree that train platforms within walking distance of airport terminals are the preferred solution. It should definitely be considered for Palmdale and also for Castle Airport if there's a decision to leverage that for the Central Valley and to relieve the Bay Area.

Sacramento Int'l was built in the Pacific Flyway and is therefore right up there with the much busier JFK in terms of birdstrike events. Besides, that airport is far from downtown.

Unfortunately, 50 years of letting rail languish means it is now extremely difficult to run HSR tracks directly into busy primary airports like SFO and LAX.

In the former case, it would indeed be nice if CHSRA and SFO could agree that the BART extension to Millbrae was a mistake. With check-in on board the trains (e-ticket + touch screen) and security screening at an expanded Millbrae station, passengers could roll their bags directly onto special high-capacity level boarding buses (e.g. COBUS or an AutoTram).

The route would take buses across 101 and into the SFO terrain at S Area Dr off S McDonnell Rd. The buses would then drop off passengers directly at their concourse, where they would drop off their bags and proceed to their gate.

After dropping off all of its passengers, each bus would exit the SFO terrain at W Field Rd and pick up arriving passengers from the international and/or domestic terminals before using Rd 18 to return to McDonnell Rd and Millbrae station.

Wrt LAX, the only available ROW along Slauson features turns that are simply too tight for HSR trains to navigate. Most likely, it will be used for light rail. Hopefully tracks will run west from Century/Aviation past and in a single-track underground loop past all the terminals. There would be traffic disruption for a while, but the loop could be used by multiple lines serving Crenshaw, LA US, Norwalk and potentially, San Pedro and Long Beach.

crzwdjk said...

Rafael: how exactly do you figure that the Harbor Sub has curves that are too tight? More specifically, where are they? Keep in mind that any hypothetical service from Union Station would require building some kind of flyover at Redondo Junction, and maybe a few more grade separations along the way. It's not a "high speed" route by any means, but probably 80 mph on the straight bits and 55 on the curves is reasonable.

Andrew said...

I don't see HSR going out there, but I do think that LAX needs mainline commuter rail service badly. My idea was tracks elevated above the Harbor Subdivision, with bypasses at intermediate stations allowing for express and local services. They would connect up with the Green Line at Aviation and Century, then dive under Century and end at an underground station at the center of the loop, connected to all terminals by moving walkways.

As for SFO and Millbrae, just how expensive would it be to convert the unused leg of the BART wye to AirTrain service?

nikko pigman said...

As far as this whole airport-HSR transfer thing goes, the concept will not in practice have nearly the same effectiveness we have otherwise envisioned without the inclusion of direct HSR connecting service in LAX. A commuter rail/light rail line to LAUS is nice and all but in reality, that will not properly serve the passenger-transfer market. Its the same reason why discontinuing HSR trains at San Jose and running connection CalTrain service to San Fransisco won't work. You need to be at the heart of the market.

Granted, the line from LAX to the main line may not be an "HSL" per se. But that's not whats important. What's important is physically getting the HSR trains into LAX and providing a direct connection, even if it has to run at 79mph until it hits the mainline.

crzwdjk said...

Andrew: I don't see such a pressing need for bypass tracks, with local headways of 30 or even 20 minutes, there's enough space in the schedule for express trains to pass. Keep things simple.

pandasqueeze said...

From the airline perspective, these short connector plane rides are killing the airlines. When someone who lives in Sacramento takes a short commuter flight to San Francisco to connect to a flight to Sydney, the airline generally looses money trying to get that person to San Francisco. In some cases, the federal government looses money too because they subsidize the costs. This is why so many European airlines are doing well - they fly long distances and let people get to the airports using rail. I think it would be a wise move for United and other airlines with hubs at SFO to integrate their services with HSR in an effort to save money.

David said...

One thing that isn't talked about here is that airports are a great spot for auto-train connections as well, as they are already set up for long-term parking and rental cars. Definitely in the Bay Area, Millbrae would be the easiest way for someone heading to or coming from the outer Bay Area to park or rent a car.

Andrew said...

@Nikko: To be perfectly honest, I don't see airport connections generating all that much ridership for HSR. Definitely worth having if the airport happens to be near the HSR mainline, but not worth building a new leg of the system for. Besides, the Harbor Subdivision has value as a local transit corridor that shouldn't be gobbled up by HSR.

Airport express trains can also be just as sexy as HSR. Check out Tokyo's N'EX or Osaka's rapi:t. Those are in Japan's two largest cities which, by the way, don't have airport Shinkansen service. Come to think of it, I've never heard of an airport in Japan that does.

@Arcady: Maybe bypass tracks wouldn't be needed at first, but they simplify operations greatly and would be much more expensive to tack on later.

Brian Tyler said...

Rafael, A SIMILAR POST IS LOCATED HERE at the website. This article only discusses SFO, but that is the bulk of what if offered in this article too. (Also: You commented on the article - and I'm curious why you did not site that article in your post here).

Anyways, you make several key assumptions that are false:

1.) Airlines will not drop their routes just because HSR comes near the airport. If passengers have to board BART or a SamTrans bus the trip becomes far more complex and the conveniences that HSR can offer at one end, such as downtown stations, are lost. These short-haul routes are often not profitable for the airlines, but they keep them to feed passengers to their profitable long-haul routes. If HSR does not go into the airport these short-haul feeder flights will continue to exist.

2.) You overlook how most people book their flights - through Orbitz and similar websites. How do you propose that the Orbitz like websites of the world sell combined HSR/air tickets in one location - with just one click? You’re partnership idea won’t work because it isn’t better than the flights they already offer – it’s a complete pain in the neck for passengers.

3.) People will not take their luggage around the train, through different cars, etc. to check into their plane – especially not while the train is going over 100MPH. Can an elderly person do this? Also, a person will need a ticket to board the train, so you’re having people check-in twice, which is unnecessary.

4.) You DO recognize the fact that luggage transfers would require a huge logistical problem if the bags are to first have to move from an offsite location to the airport, if bags are checked. This would take hours and make checking bags not practical between HSR and air because it would necessitate a long lay-over. However, you neglect to mention that people having to take their bags on transit is horribly inconvenient when a checked allows bags to be checked through. Thus, the disparity in services will drive people to use their cars, which is precisely what HSR is supposed to supplant.

5.) Saying that the prices for tickets from the TBT to Millbrae will be high in order to deter “cannibalization” of BART and Caltrain ridership is ridiculous. How many people use Caltrain and make the BART transfer to get to SFO? Not many. If HSR was offered a higher ticket price could be commanded, but only to moderate increased as this service would reach out to new people.

I noted in an article called Learning From the Veterans: Paris’ new project highlights the need to bring HSR to SFO (located here) how other projects are correcting past mistakes by bringing HSR into their airports. Let’s do HSR in California right the first time! Your plan is a mistake. We shouldn’t do what you propose nor what the CHSRA has planned at SFO. We should truly integrate HSR with air travel as much as we plan to integrate it with transit in central cities, otherwise we miss and opportunity with HSR. It’s not just functionally either: we make HSR look inferior to the car – it should, and can be, better than the car.

resident said...

Wow, where to begin?
First of all, your estimates for usage of SFO for inner California travel - so far overstates the addressable SFO market for potential HSR trips. How many of the California SFO customers go to or from somewhere EAST of 101? (non HSR market). Probably 80%. Why? Because if you understood these Bay Area airports, you'd know that Peninsula flyers always opt for SJ or Oakland for short hops. SFO to be avoided at all cost, unless the trip is long distance that the other smaller more convenient airports don't offer.

So, how many customers could get off a plane at SFO and continue their trip on HSR? This question of who would continue their trip on HSR - needs to be preceded by WHY THE HELL WOULD THEY? Why wouldn't they just fly more directly to their destination (SJC? or one of the LA airports?) Who would fly to SFO instead of closer to their end point, unless they are traveling EAST or NORTH. And furthermore, how many of those that fly into SFO are heading to/from San Francisco itself, or North (probably most), and then obviously they are not candidates for an HSR leg via Millbrae either. Why the hell would they jump through those transfer hoops for an expensive Millbrae to Transbay jog - and STILL have to get MORE transportation modes on the other end?

But the real point here is point blank the HSR stations simply do not connect to these airports, and this elaborate bobbing and weaving of some semblence of connectivity between airports and HSR is just a pure joke! There isn't even any money for these connecting transit services, is HSR going to pay for all this as part of the HSR budget?

CHSRA has arrogantly or ignorantly failed the HSR concept by failing to directly touch SFO and SJC, which could easily happen by taking HSR down 101 corridor to directly hit both - but instead insisting on the Caltrain ROW Real Estate grab only about 1 mile to the west (purely for sake of Mr. Diridon and his RE Developer cronies)

The reality is that the true Bay Area to LA market moves through SJ airport. And there flatly is NO connectivity from HSR to SJ airport.

And by the way a Caltrain to HSR connection at Diridon is NOTHING compared to any of the connectivity hoops you're asking passengers to make in these ridiculous Millbrae scenarios. Caltrain and HSR would STOP IN THE SAME FREAKIN STATION. - What like a 50 foot walk across platforms? But THAT's too complex and offputting for travelers - but these bart to airtrain to grandma's horse and buggy connections are ok? Rafael, you've gone completely off your rocker.

It sounds like all of your posters here are just barely starting to admit what some have been saying all along. This Peninsula route is bad business, doesn't make sense, isn't going to draw the airport travelers in to the HSR stations. (But will draw hellofalot of cars into HSR station towns). Its the WRONG ROUTE by about 2-5 miles east of where it should be, but that 2-5 miles difference is going to make a HUGE difference in the viability and usability of the whole system.

I hope that if the readers on this blog can see this is a mistake (and a few do seem to see it), that someone other than disgusting useless idiot "Nimby Deniers" will start pressing on the CHSRA (and state of California decision makers) to get this right. LIke get it really right. This is a big permanent investment, it needs to be done right.

無名 - wu ming said...

SMF may have a light rail RT extension via natomas by the time HSR finally connects sac with the rest of the state. whether the two networks connect would be more of a function of how the sac station ends up being built. the bird strikes are less of a problem for sac than the tule fog every thanksgiving weekend; being able to take the HSR out of town to a non-fog shrouded airport would be a godsend.

crzwdjk said...

You DO recognize the fact that luggage transfers would require a huge logistical problem if the bags are to first have to move from an offsite location to the airport, if bags are checkedAnd yet, they manage to do this even in Russia, albeit only dedicated airport express train with a dedicated baggage car. You have to take the train at least 90 minutes prior to your flight (2 hours for international flights), and check in at least 15 minutes before the departure of the train. The baggage is transported in sealed containers from the station to the airport.

無名 - wu ming said...

shorter resident: "nobody goes to SFO anymore, it's too crowded."

here's a hint - peninsula < bay area. san jose is a rinky dink airport, even for the region.

Brandon in California said...

You should know what I think about the Airport - HSR connection... so perhaps I shouldn't bother.

But, Andrew stated the same... HSR to/from airport rider demand will be low relative to other markets.

If HSR comes near an airport and a station is compatible with the surrounding area and market... certainly place a station nearby.

But, don't let the tail wag the dog. The dog would be the airport...

Brian Tyler said...

"You DO recognize the fact that luggage transfers would require a huge logistical problem if the bags are to first have to move from an offsite location to the airport, if bags are checked And yet, they manage to do this even in Russia, albeit only dedicated airport express train with a dedicated baggage car. You have to take the train at least 90 minutes prior to your flight (2 hours for international flights), and check in at least 15 minutes before the departure of the train. The baggage is transported in sealed containers from the station to the airport."

Yes, you are right, it is done. But 90 to 120 minute luggage transfer times are not reliably possible at Millbrae, which was the point. If HSR went to SFO, no problem - we could see 45 minute layover times with luggage transfer.

Anonymous said...

Why is McCarran Airport always spelled wrong on this site (McCurran)? The guy's name was McCarran, not McCurran.

Alon Levy said...

The standard check-in time for long-haul international flights is 2 hours, including security. Why would SFO offer this connection in 45 minutes?

Clem said...

But 90 to 120 minute luggage transfer times are not reliably possible at Millbrae ... Many airport terminal complexes are larger than the distance between Millbrae and SFO terminals. I just don't see the problem, especially if AirTrain is extended to the Millbrae rail station. Then you can think of Millbrae as just another terminal.

Clem said...

Sorry, double comment... the whole notion of "checked luggage" arises because there's very little room in the cabin of an airplane... every square inch is at a premium, so you're left with these tiny aisles and diminutive overhead bins.

HSR is not like that. You walk in, and there are big fat luggage racks and ample wide aisles. Why would you ever want to check luggage if you don't need to have it stored separately from you, and don't need to go through a barefoot security screening? Is grandma not going to be able to haul her suitcase 10 feet from the door to the rack?

Brandon in California said...

Once HSR is up and running... I have doubts I'll venture beyond a reasonable distance of a station. Har har.

Can we please have more posts about airports? They are so so stimulating. I feel motivated to go watch planes land at Lindbergh. Maybe I'll take a camera.

Spokker said...

I've never checked a bag on a train and I never will.

Brandon in California said...

Carry on.... 100% of the time! If it can't fit in a carry-on... it's too much trouble. If I need more clothes... I'll buy them at the destination.

I did just that last year on a trip to Paris & London. Life was so so much easier for me... until I got to help my friend with 4 bags. I'll likely never travel with them again!

Anonymous said...

First, some data: According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics website,

the total number of travelers from SFO to LAX in the year FEb08 to Jan09 was 1,367,000. SJ Intl to LAX was 429,000. Oakland to LAX was 454,000. That's a grand total of 2.3M passengers per year between Bay Area airports and LAX. Doubled, to represent the number of passenger round trips, equals 4.5M passengers per year..

First observation - WOW. CHSRA passenger projections of 100M per year by 2030 are astronomically unrealistic.

Are these airline passengers time sensitive, cost sensitive or convenience sensitive? What % are we assuming convert to HSR travel? And why? I mean, what's the compelling story here?

(Maybe Disneyland was the compelling story? Wikipedia says 14M people visited Disneyland in 2007. Hmmm well, they obviously didn't all come in from airline flights from the Bay area! And even if every Disneyland vistor were to come in on HSR, that's STILL not enough for CHSRA ridership projections...

So what ARE all these riders doing on HSR in 2030???? Surely you're not going to suggest a SPRAWL argument, where, say, HSR makes it easier to live out in the boonies and work in urban centers? I mean, CLEARLY, that's antithetical to CHSR's argument - so please tell me, where are all these HSR travelers coming from and why?

By the way,
Is CHSR including the cost of the airport to train station connectors in their cost structure? Why not? That's clearly a cost of creating the system, in a way that works as advertised.

CHSRA's business model is complete and utter garbage.

Spokker said...


You'll notice that future scenarios are depicted on page 10 of this document.

The highest ridership they predict is 71 million for phase 1 in 2030. The lowest is 33 million.

Public policy will influence HSR ridership in the future and it's difficult to predict one single ridership estimate. It depends on whether or not the true costs of driving are borne on drivers. Perhaps we will tax gasoline more, perhaps not. Perhaps we will subsidize parking less, perhaps not. In essence, the more we move to a European way of looking at transit, the better for HSR. The less we move toward the European way, the worse for HSR, in my opinion of course.

Ridership also depends on more factors than just price and the costs of other modes of transportation. Making our cities more bicycle, pedestrian and transit friend (not to mention more livable), will no doubt impact HSR ridership in a positive way.

There's no way to predict with 100% confidence how things are going to turn out. It's an educated guess, so to speak.

Anonymous said...

Im sitting this one out.

Spokker said...

Diverting 6% of auto trips isn't anything to scoff at. That's quite a lot of trips, all things considered.

In Los Angeles the modal share of transit is relatively small compared to the automobile if you consider the region as a whole (which is a wrong comparison to make by the way, since many places in the region lack good bus and rail service). However, during the 2003 transit strike Metro bus and rail were absent from the transportation mix for 35 days. During that time researchers studied how it affected traffic on local freeways and the results were startling. Here's an excerpt from the study.

"We found that average traffic speeds on highways during transit strike declined by up to 20% over the 17-
hour period from 5:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. on weekdays. Speed declined by as much as 40% during the peak
morning hour from 7:00 to 8:00 a.m. And the average length of the rush expanded by as much as 200%. Speeds
declined the most at locations upstream from the places where queues normally end. The results suggest that
highways are very sensitive to the effects of transit strikes, even when overall transit patronage is low. As a
consequence the costs of a transit strike, measured in elongated travel time, and congestion related pollution
and fuel consumption, can be quite significant."

When what little trips Los Angeles' bus and rail network diverted from freeways in 2003, when they spilled back onto the freeway those lanes couldn't quite handle it. If anyone wants the full study you can email me.

Considering what I've read in this study, it is imperative for whoever decides ticket prices for high speed rail in California to offer competitive commuter passes for those looking for a faster commute into and out of downtown areas, such as Downtown Los Angeles. It might even be worth it to subsidize such a commuter pass. Santa Clarita to LA? Anaheim to LA? I say yes.

Rafael said...

@ Brian Tyler -

I didn't link to your article because at the time I commented it was no more than an announcement that an article was coming.

Besides, I disagree with you. Running HSR in a tunnel underneath SFO between San Mateo and Sierra Point would cost billions that simply aren't available.

You also didn't read what I wrote carefully. Connecting via BART + AirTrain is something I think is a non-starter. Connecting via a bus, operated by SamTrans or SFO or whoever, that gets you from Millbrae directly to your concourse is a different matter. However, it would require checking in and passing security before boarding that bus. The key is level boarding, not just for the trains but also for the buses.

There is absolutely no reason that Internet travel sites could not sell train tickets. See my discussion of IATA codes for train station.

If people were to check in on the train, they would obtain boarding passes and baggage tags that they would attach themselves, precisely to avoid moving bags around the train. You would not check the bags on the train, you would remain responsible for them until you drop them off at the airport already tagged. Walking on an HSR train while its moving is of course perfectly possible, because the wheel-rail interface is such that the trains don't seek from side to side.

The Vienna shuttle train is an exception, they actually do handle the bags for you. However, that particular train only has two stops, downtown and airport. If you take the regular commuter train instead, you have to take care of your bags yourself on both the outbound and the inbound legs.

Whatever solution will be used to transfer HSR customers from Millbrae to SFO will also be available to Caltrain customers. There is no value in using seats on long-distance HSR trains to go from downtown SF to Millbrae.

@ MissionPk -

Millbrae and the mid-peninsula station may both prove more popular than CHSRA expects, but with motorists hailing from the peninsula or the East Bay. At Millbrae, there are currently free parking lots for BART customers. Those will be abused by HSR passengers, so something's got to give. A multi-story car park between 101 and Aviador Ave would make sense, one that extended to Rollins Rd even more.

Rafael said...

@ arcady -

I double-checked and it turns out you're right. I thought the curve a S Santa Fe/E Slauson was really tight but it actually isn't. There are also a couple of curves on Florence near La Brea that looked tight to me (~600ft radius) but they're probably ok at moderate speed. My bad.

Getting into LAX itself would be more difficult, but there is a remnant of an old turnoff that could perhaps used as the final approach into a tunnel under W Century and Center Way.

Still, double tracking and fully grade separating that whole ROW, e.g. with one track in a trench and the other on an aerial, would be seriously expensive and controversial. Stacking two tracks underground might not be feasible at all.

Btw, at Redondo Junction, whatever tracks are laid will have to run under, not over the freight tracks and E Washington Blvd. CHSRA currently plans to cross the river via a new bridge just north of the Junction to reach Fullerton/Anaheim and later on, Ontario/Riverside/San Diego.

Perhaps the biggest problem of all is that a pure HSR alignment directly into LAX would likely mean no stops between the airport and LA Union Station. South Central residents, who arguably really do need better transit, could easily derail such a plan with environmental justice lawsuits, even if the trains run at moderate speeds (~50mph).

It might be possible to defuse that issue by adding three intermediate stations with half-length platforms that would only be served by a new Metrolink service based on non-compliant EMUs, cp Caltrain. Depending on the schedule, there might be a need for bypass tracks at those stations. One could be intermodal with the blue line, the second with the 110 Transitway, the third with the as-yet-undefined service up Crenshaw.

However, my guess is LA Metro will end up with a light rail solution, though. They care more about serving local communities by interconnecting with the Green Line and Crenshaw than they do about direct HSR feeder service for LAX. With CHSRA saying they're not interested in running HSR tracks out to the airport, there's no champion to change LA Metro's mind.

Perhaps more importantly, light rail doesn't require the same horizontal clearances as heavy rail, so it should be possible to fit two tracks into the ROW side-by-side. Grade separations would still be a sticking point (cp Expo line) though and, any tunnel out to LAX would be just as expensive.

Andrew said...


"Still, double tracking and fully grade separating that whole ROW, e.g. with one track in a trench and the other on an aerial, would be seriously expensive and controversial. Stacking two tracks underground might not be feasible at all."

What about putting two tracks on an aerial structure, and leaving the existing freight track in place?

And is anyone else as nonplussed as I am at the concept of another clunky light rail line, especially considering it would be serving the world's sixth busiest airport?

Rafael said...

@ Andrew -

afaik, the existing freight track is no longer in use. It's not clear what the point of retaining it would be.

Perhaps two tracks side-by-side on an aerial might be possible, but the ROW is extremely narrow in some places.

BruceMcF said...

(1) Checked bags at the train are for dedicated airport trains, built to allow a new airport to be built a fracking long way outside of town, as in Kuala Lumpur.

Not having checked bags through cuts into the mode share for HSR/Air trips competing against Air/Air trips, but then we already know that an HSR trip of two hours captures around 70% of an existing short haul air market ... not 100%.

Also, We need to keep the pointless performance art of security theatre out of HSR stations to the greatest extent possible ... that is likely more important to HSR mode share than the Air/HSR increment of the market, since it applies across the board to mode share captured from cars and mode share captured from origin-destination short haul Air as well.

(2) For connecting to the major airports ... SFO, LAX ... the best arrangements that can be made should be made. One thing is, it does not require mass transit ... if an Aerobus type technology is required to provide an express, traffic-independent connection between LA-US and LAX, that's the kind of system to put into place, and of course LA-US offers far more than just HSR connections to LAX.

(3) For airports that are supposed to be focusing on Air/HSR as a strategic priority, better to invest the money into one done right than to have three or four half-assed connections.

Remember that in transport modelling, when we are working from an established elasticity of time of travel (that is, percentage increase in patronage for each one percent reduction in time), waiting time is weighted double ... one minute waiting counts as two in transit.

So if there is any wait for the connector system, that cuts usage, even if the total trip time is the same. That is one reason for the popularity of people movers at airports ... they are hop on, hop off, so they do not add any perception of waiting to intra-terminal or inter-terminal movements.

(4) If one or more effective Air/HSR transfers can be provided, they have the opportunity to leverage a scale diseconomy for short haul flights. HSR will cut into the short-haul air market in any event, in the origin/destination passengers as opposed to the origin/transfer or transfer/destination passengers. That will cut into the frequency of short haul flights, which will increase the competitive advantage of HSR. The HSR market impact in that segment will increase the relative appeal of HSR in the Air/HSR segment.

However, unless the effective transfers are in place to bring a significant number of passengers onto the margin between HSR and short-haul air, increasing the relative appeal will have relatively little impact. Moving from being "second choice by a wide margin", to "second choice by a narrow margin" in the eye of a traveler is not a shift that generates an HSR ticket sale.

And a lot of investment in half-assed transfer options at a lot of regional airports could well be an investment in just that kind of marginal shift, for "loser by a wide margin" to "loser by a close margin".

The traffic through LAX and SFO is big enough that any marginal shift will draw in patronage, so you'd want to do the best that you can do. But for the smaller airports, better to concentrate where it can be done right.

Andrew said...

@Rafael: Wikipedia indicates that some portions of the line are still used by a token few freight trains. As for the section that is mothballed: sure, rip the old tracks out.

Rafael said...

@ BruceMcF -

re (1): agreed, Kuala Lumpur's shuttle train is similar to the one in Vienna. For regular trains with short dwell times at through stations, baggage handling is nigh-on impossible.

re (2): Clem has advocated running the AirTrain at SFO out to Millbrae. That would be a good solution, but an expensive one. Ironically, the original, sensible plan for the BART extension was to terminate at the San Bruno Caltrain station and to run the AirTrain out to there so passengers from both services could get to the SFO terminals with just one transfer.

For LAX, the Aerobus could be interesting, as long as it's a really long vehicle (~100 seats minimum). Ideally, a separate regular light rail train would run on tracks above the portal structures. That way, you'd have two stacked, fully grade separated tracks.

In technology terms, each would be a stand-alone single-track service going back and forth. In business terms, they would be operated as a single combined service. Throughput capacity could be doubled with a station at the mid-point featuring dual tracks both above and below the gantries.

re (3): the easiest places to put train platforms within walking distance of airline check-in counters are Palmdale and Castle Airport, precisely because there is no commercial service at either one right now and enough land to build a new terminal.

Running HSR tracks under SFO would mean tunneling under active runways built on landfill. It would be a construction nightmare, even more complicated than a second transbay tube.

re (4): I'm not at all concerned about transfer times from trains to short-haul flights within California. If you're going to stay within the state anyhow, by 2030 you'll be able to get to lots of places without ever setting foot in an airport.

Rather, the objectives are to make it easier for folks in e.g. the Central Valley to catch a long-haul flight out of SFO and, to relieve LAX before it handles ~78 million annual passengers.

Palmdale is far from downtown LA geographically, but people in California measure distance in terms of travel time. With HSR, passengers at LA US should reach check-in counters Palmdale or Ontario in about the same time (or less) than the FlyAway bus takes to get to LAX.

That means all three airports will be similarly attractive IFF the secondary ones can attract enough cheap flights to places people want to go to. In addition, airline reservation software could be tweaked such that the destination "Los Angeles" is interpreted as Union Station rather than LAX airport, thus giving Palmale+HSR and Ontario+HSR a better chance of being selected.

BruceMcF said...

"That means all three airports will be similarly attractive IFF the secondary ones can attract enough cheap flights to places people want to go to."

Bringing your discussion up to the beginning of my point (4).

Given that HSR will capture market share from origin/destination short-haul flights, it will reduce the frequency of short haul flights compared to the "No HSR" scenario.

"Cheap flight to Palmdale connecting to the HSR" is Air/HSR and HSR/Air competing against Air/Air. The reduction in the frequency of short-haul origin/destination trips inside California will increase the competitive appeal of the HSR/Air and Air/HSR connections ... but it will not be an actual positive feedback unless it implies more passengers.

So the tighter the transfer at Palmdale, the more likely that a positive feedback can be established, where connections to stations in areas poorly served by local airports justify some flights to Palmdale, those flights can then attract some increment of passengers with a more convenient Air/Air connection, increasing the frequency of flights into Palmdale, and etc.

And the HSR is acting as a rival against itself in terms of establishing that feedback loop if it provides two more or less half-assed connections to Palmdale and Ontario.

So if it is possible to get a very good connection at either Palmdale or Ontario for the cost of two more or less half-assed connections, it would be well worth it to pursue that ... it would, indeed, be worth pursuing one good connection at a substantial cost premium over the cost of two half-assed ones that undercut each other.

Clem said...


You're cherry picking the airline passenger stats. You need to include SFO-OAK-SJC up here and LAX-ONT-BUR-SNA-LGB down there. All together there are 10M seats flown each way every year. That's today, not 2030. Southwest alone flies nearly 100 flights a day each way between the Bay Area and the LA Basin.

Crymple said...

How many people rent cars out of SFO each day?

How many people are expected to access SFO by Caltrain/HSR each day from Millbrae?

If it made sense to build the AirTrain out to the rental car facility to eliminate all the shuttle buses from the airport's roadway, why is an AirTrain connection to Millbrae a reach?

The connection and an MOU could let SFO's garages work for peninsula residents who need to drive to catch HSR, relieving the need for such access elsewhere. SFO could make money off parking cars for HSR. Sorta a win-win, isn't it?

mike said...

@Clem, anon - I counted up the flights prior to Prop 1A last year. At that time, there were 356 flights between the Bay Area (SFO/OAK/SJC) and LA (LAX/ONT/BUR/SNA), plus another 42 flights between Bay Area/LA and Fresno (FAT) or Bakersfield (BFL). So basically 400 flights corresponding to routes served by "Phase I". Adding in "Phase II" (San Diego + Sacramento) added another 220 flights.

Total flights on routes served by Phases I + II was 618. Obviously this is likely to grow by 2020 or 2030 as the population grows and the economy recovers (the one unknown being oil prices...if those rise substantially then the number of flights may not grow, but obviously the demand for HSR would grow in that scenario).

Rafael said...

@ BruceMcF -

in that case, my vote is for making Palmdale whole, by building a new terminal with HSR and Metrolink at grade and airline check-in on the concourse level.

The platform tracks should be sidings to either side of the through tracks. There should be enough platforms and/or a yard to support purely regional service between Palmdale and Anaheim (later on, to San Diego as well) in addition to long-distance service to the Central Valley and Bay Area. Similarly, there may be some trains that run just between Merced and Palmdale.

Some thought should anyhow go into whether or not there is a need to accommodate high speed cargo services incl. transshipment terminals.

That airport is in phase I and will serve part of the Central Valley as well as LA county, perhaps even act as a relief airport for Las Vegas some day. The only caveat is that LAWA shouldn't develop a solar thermal plant such that commercial aviation via Palmdale would be hamstrung.

TomW said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anon 11:23 said...

Clem, the page I looked at on that website only listed the top 10 destination airports per airport (ie: SFO top 10 destination, LAX was in the top 10, none of the others you mentioned were in the top 10) The numbers drop off so significantly that I doubt adding those other minor airports double the number to 10M. (Where do you get that data?) But lets just say its true, they do. Only a fraction of those are reasonably HSR customer base (they don't go to or from where HSR can take them), so lets say HSR can capture 50% of the airline market? (Which I believe would be totally ludicrous to believe that a full 50% of airline people would forgoe time, convenience and cost benefit, to take HSR, especially with these painful connection scenarios). And by the way, how many of these are FAMILIES. Connections cost money (lots of money) for families, and the baggage and child hauling, and wait times for famlies with kids will be prohibitive in these funky connection scenarios... But anyway, using 50%, we're back to he same number (because I previously just stated the total, 100% for those 'cherry picked' airports. About 5M per year. Even at 10M per year (100%) - how do you get to 100M year ridership for HSR. Pure stupidity. At 10M passengers per year today, 5% growth every single year, that brings you to 27M in 2030. You'd need a full 10% growth EVERY YEAR to get close 100M riders per year around 2030. And that still 100% of airline ridership translating into HSR ridership. Ridiculous.

And which of those LA Basin Airports are on the proposed HSR line? All of them, or a few of them?

You can nit pick the 'cherry picking', but the points remains in tact; 1) Ridership projections are nonsense 2) need a sensible way to evaluate who actually becomes HSR market - its NOT 100% of the airline ridership. 3) nonsense connections are antithetical to the HSR promise, and will ruin the entire business model. People won't do it. 4)It needs to be done correctly. 5) CHSRA funding model doesn't even include creating any of these connectivity solutions! WHOS GOING TO PAY? CHSRA right now is saying, we'll just plop down a ridiculously placed station, and let the state of california and the tax payers figure out later how to make any reasonable use out of it.

Maybe we can move on the points about how and why people are not going to DRIVE (because, yes they will need to drive into the middle of small towns to catch HSRs (not in the numbers predicted) - where no mass transit, or rental car access, or proximity to actual end point destinations exists.

mike said...

Anon - You're assuming that the majority of HSR passengers will be diverted air passengers. That has never been true anywhere in the world, and it won't be true here. For example, the TGV Sud Est (Paris-Lyon) carries around 20 million passengers/year, and yet the Paris-Lyon air service that it displaced never carried more than a couple million passengers per year. The Madrid-Seville AVE captured 52% of total Madrid-Seville corridor traffic (car/air/bus/train) one year after it opened, and yet the Madrid-Seville air service only captured 11% of total Madrid-Seville corridor traffic prior to the AVE opening. In short, the assumptions underlying your ridership model are fatally flawed.

TomW said...

I agree with Rafael and disagree with Brian Tyler that very short trips within a city will be much more expensive on HSR then on local transit for seat utilisation reasons. Further, local transit providers might not be too happy to see people switch to other transit modes.

Consider the greater Toronto Area.... VIA rail (national) and GO Transit (regional) both operate Oshawa-Toronto. GO charge $8 for a stopping train, while VIA charges about $25 for a direct train. This is because VIA don't want seats on those trips occupied for only a short distance.

Similarly, GO Transit's fares ar never less than $3.95, so people will pay $2.75 to use TTC (local transit) instead, because GO doesn't want to compete with TTC for trips within Toronto.


Last time I travelled to Switzerland, I flew to Zurich, then caught a train to Interlaken. However, the airline looked after transferring the lugagge from the plane to the train's baggage car, so I just had to pick it up at Interlaken station.
Such as system should definately be something to aim for.

Anonymous said...

Explain to me how the entire southern part of this routing was driven by LA's desire to INCREASE international and long haul travel. I thought the primary point was to take cars off the road and decrease air travel.

Doing anything that encourages development in Palmdale is irresponsible.

Anonymous said...

The main reason direct and fast trips to an airport are priced high is NOT about limiting passengers on those segment. It is all about maximizing revenue because every minute counts to business travelers and they will pay exorbitant amounts for convenience.
Case in point is the Heathrow Express.
You can take the London Underground for $6 to Heathrow from anywhere in central London.

The Heathrow Express costs a whopping $25 and its only destination is Heathrow so there is no issue that they are trying to reserve seats for longer trips.

Ed - Burbank said...

It’s a mistake to not include LAX into the CAHSR line. LAX is one of the busiest airports in the United States. However I do not see a simple solution to connect the two. It is in LA County and City’s best interest to connect the two with a fast dedicated passenger line between Union Station and the Airport. This will help make CAHSR more useful and popular for business professionals and tourists. The current “Fly-away” shuttle just doesn’t cut it.

Anonymous said...

In terms of ground breaking readiness, the Desert Express looks like its ready for that federal stimulus $$$! Gruond breaking next year!? Makes California's plan look rather goofy and ill conceived, doesn't it? They seemed to have found the presence of mind to put this along existing I5 freeway corridor. See, now that's what most people think of when they think HSR! HSR speeding through middle of desert, bothering no one. Not many NIMBY's to contend with there either.

It'll be interesting to watch California High Speed Rail supporters either - get all gushy about HSR to Vegas breakind ground (because at least they can get their jollies), OR get all pissy, because its going to be siphoning off a piece (their piece?) of the stimulus pie. Funny.

BruceMcF said...

@ Rafeal ... if Palmdale airport is to be Palmdale's station, there is no need for the express track to go through the airport ... the Palmdale airport station could be on a diversion. If the alignment is that road/rail corridor that runs directly past the airport (as it looks to be on the CHSRA mapboards for the LA/Palmdale EIR/EIS), it would be a fairly short diversion to have a terminal station.

On that option, I guess they would of course want to put the platforms for the Palmdale Metrolink alongside.

A strategic decision to focus on Palmdale also increases the range of options available for the San Diego stage.

mike said...

Anon - DesertXpress is a privately funded project and is therefore ineligible for stimulus funds (which may not be entirely fair, but it is what it is...though if it were eligible for stimulus funds, the govt should rightly expect something in return, such as a fraction of profits).

Also, even with DesertXpress, there are still objections from local towns, mainly Barstow. There are always NIMBYs.

Finally, note that there are only 54 flights/day from LA area to Las Vegas. And most of those are US Airways flights to their Las Vegas hub (i.e., not actually LA-Las Vegas passengers). Total air traffic between LA and Vegas is perhaps around 1 million/year. And yet the private investors backing DesertXpress are expecting ridership of 5-10 million/year. Turns out that the majority of expected riders are not diverted air travelers!

Anonymous said...

The simploe answer for sfo is simply extend the airtran to milbrae. simple affordable, familiar to everyone. no big deal. also, code sharing is probably inevitable the travel websites will catch on.

Robert said...

I agree with the general drift here that a shuttle bus is still a transfer and makes an itinerary that much more difficult, whether inter-terminal (LHR, LAX) or between the terminal and another mode. Even with local transit - at PDX, ORD, and DCA, there are great connections in the terminal to local rail. Who uses local rail to get to JFK or LAX or IAD - practically nobody. And where there is a convenient intercity rail connection in the terminal, as in LHR, Gatwick, or Casablanca, ridership is high. At Tegel, no direct rail connection, so generally people get in a cab. The rail has to come right into the terminal so people can walk right on.

A note re use of IATA code SAN - if the airport is rebuilt as proposed, the HSR station will be integrated into the design, and use of the SAN code for the rail station would be entirely appropriate and not misleading at all.

crzwdjk said...

Who uses local rail to get to JFKApparently, 4.75 million passengers per year in 2008, 10% of JFK's total traffic of 47 million (and that includes those mere transferring without leaving the airport property). The total share of people getting to JFK by rail is probably about the same as PDX. Pick a better example maybe: I suggest LAX, as that really does have the awful shuttle bus with miniscule ridership. Perhaps the BWI/Amtrak connection would also be relevant.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Anon @9:33 pm, I try to catch that particular typo whenever I see it. It is indeed McCarran Airport.

Anonymous said...

air -rail code sharing arrives in US:

AMTRAK, the United States national passenger train operator, and Icelandair, Iceland's national air carrier, have pioneered train and plane codesharing in the United States. From June 20 travellers have been able to make a single reservation for train and plane travel based on Icelandair's daily flights from Baltimore/ Washington International airport (BWI) to Keflavik, which is about 50km from Reykyavik, the capital of Iceland.

Initially, the connecting train journeys apply only from Washington DC or Philadelphia, but Mr Gunnar Eklund, Icelandair's general manager for the Americas, told IRJ: "We expect this to open the way for additional codeshare cities in the months to come."

It could also be the precursor for similar schemes from other airports, notably Newark International, which is a major hub for Continental Airlines.

Anonymous said...

I don't know how many of thee are still in effect considering the downturn.

NEWARK, N.J. - Amtrak and Continental Airlines announced today that they have partnered to create a comprehensive air/rail code share. Travelers will be able to transfer easily between Amtrak's northeast rail service in four major cities to air service via Continental Airlines at Newark International Airport under the landmark agreement.

Under this air/rail code share, Continental Airlines will place its designator (CO*) code on Amtrak's Acela Regional and Keystone trains for connecting itineraries between Newark International Airport and four cities in the Northeast served by Amtrak – Philadelphia Pa., Wilmington, Del., Stamford, Conn., and New Haven, Conn. Also as part of the agreement, members of Continental's OnePass program may earn miles when traveling on Amtrak's premiere Metroliner and Acela Express services between New York and either Boston or Washington, DC.

Alon Levy said...

Arcady: where does your figure of 4.75 million passengers come from? The Howard Beach stop on the subway only gets 1 million boardings a year.

crzwdjk said...

Alon: the figure is total paying customers, I got it from some NJ newspaper citing PANYNJ data. Anyhow, my own subjective impression is that more riders go via Jamaica than Howard Beach, as Jamaica is more convenient from most of Manhattan and Queens, while Howard Beach is really only convenient from the A/C, F, and G lines in Brooklyn. Jamaica of course also has the LIRR.

Marcel Marchon said...

>> Running the AirTrain out to Millbrae would be very expensive.

Rip out the BART tracks on the Airport-to-Milbrae connector and put AirTrain in there? Or is it too far and would take too long?

Adirondacker said...

jim, you can do it. Just for my amusement I tried to book New Haven, Ct. to Pittsburgh, Pa on Orbitz. I was offered a choice of the New Haven Rail station or the airport. The code for the railroad station at Newark Liberty International Airport is EWR just like the rest of the airport.

Arcady, only line that serves the Howard Beach stop is the A train.

crzwdjk said...

Adirondacker: I'm well aware, but the point I was attempting to make is that very little else connects to the A in Brooklyn, so even most of Brooklyn doesn't go via Howard Beach (I suspect they use car services instead). Anyhow, I think that ideally, you have only one transfer between being in the train station and being in the terminal. In the case of Millbrae, that means extending the AirTrain out to the station, because BART would require two transfers for most terminals. In the case of LAX, that means either a shuttle rail line from Union Station with a station or two directly in the terminal area and a short walk to the terminal, or direct HSR service to an airport station with a people mover connection to the terminals. In the case of Ontario, I think a station on the north side of the airport and a short ride on a frequent shuttle bus would be fine.

Alon Levy said...

Arcady: oh, yeah - I remember now. It's this article - I linked to it a few weeks ago on this blog. My recollection is that trains serve Howard Beach and Jamaica at the same frequency, but apparently the ridership levels are still very different.

BruceMcF said...

arcady said...
"... In the case of LAX, that means either a shuttle rail line from Union Station with a station or two directly in the terminal area and a short walk to the terminal, or direct HSR service to an airport station with a people mover connection to the terminals. ... "

This is where I suggested something like Aerobus technology, suspended above the corridor to be used for the LAX light rail line, as an Aerobus route could easily end in a loop with second floor platforms for the distinct terminal buildings in LAX.

On Ontario ... precisely how many outlying secondary airports is it necessary to connect with in the vicinity of the LA Basin?

Wad said...

Bruce McF wrote: On Ontario ... precisely how many outlying secondary airports is it necessary to connect with in the vicinity of the LA Basin?The "necessity" of so many Southern California airports is subjective. Los Angeles city's LAWA operates LAX, Ontario (well outside city and county limits) and Palmdale. Other major airports are operated by Burbank/Glendale/Pasadena (Bob Hope), Long Beach, Orange County (John Wayne) and San Diego (Lindbergh Field). All of the other airports are hemmed in by a cap on the number of flights and restricted running hours.

LAX is the most dominant, but it would also be the hardest to connect with the HSR network.

The only available extant right of way is parallel to Slauson Avenue, but it is highly built up and would likely not allow for high speeds.

Interestingly, though, every other airport is within close proximity to train tracks. A station can be built inside Ontario, and Burbank, John Wayne and Lindbergh field can be easily accessed by a shuttle bus that would not take more than 10 minutes from airport to terminal.

Long Beach Airport has a right of way that can be connected to the HSR grid, but it is built up and the cap on flights means that LGB could not take on a surge of rail passengers. Also, it would miss Long Beach's downtown and beach, where most riders would come from.

Anonymous said...

It is not needed that every HSR train go to an airport, or that it goes at high speed. For example, conventional speed track with catenary on the branch from LA-US to LAX would be "terminating" in LA could carry on the branch to the airport; passengers on the "thru" trains would need to transfer at LA-US onto a local or one of the "terminating" trains.

crzwdjk said...

There's no real need to go out of the way to get to Ontario, but it's on the most convenient route from LA to Riverside and San Diego, so you might as well stop there. It would be a convenient stop to serve the Inland Empire, as the airport already has rental car facilities and parking lots.

Anonymous 8:08pm is totally right: the Union Station to LAX link doesn't need to be fast, it just needs to be there and be a one-seat ride. You can even split HSR trainsets into half-trains at Union Station, with half going to Anaheim and half to LAX for example, or send LA terminators to the airport. You only really need 1 tph to the airport, as it would still be vastly better service than the airline connections from Fresno and Bakersfield.

BruceMcF: enough with the Aerobus already. I find it highly suspicious that their last successful installation was in the 1980s, and also that the interior looks just like one of Muni's Breda cars. Anyway, it's got a top speed of 35 mph, which is why it's called an aero bus, not train.

BruceMcF said...

arcady said...
"There's no real need to go out of the way to get to Ontario, but it's on the most convenient route from LA to Riverside and San Diego, so you might as well stop there."

That issue was raised in the recent San Diego blog, whether that will be the alignment that is easiest to gain the use of.

"Anonymous 8:08pm is totally right: the Union Station to LAX link doesn't need to be fast, it just needs to be there and be a one-seat ride. You can even split HSR trainsets into half-trains at Union Station, with half going to Anaheim and half to LAX for example, or send LA terminators to the airport. You only really need 1 tph to the airport, as it would still be vastly better service than the airline connections from Fresno and Bakersfield."

If an LAX spur is feasible, its the superior option. If the rail corridor is developed as a light rail corridor, it may not be feasible.

"BruceMcF: enough with the Aerobus already. I find it highly suspicious that their last successful installation was in the 1980s, and also that the interior looks just like one of Muni's Breda cars. Anyway, it's got a top speed of 35 mph, which is why it's called an aero bus, not train."

What's the top speed of the people movers that are tossed into intermodal connection discussions at the drop of a hat? The FlyAway bus reportedly takes from 25 minutes to 45 minutes LA-US / LAX, and if a local stop light rail line is developed on the rail corridor, it won't be any faster than 25 minutes and will not offer drop off at the terminal front gate, so it will be a two-transfer option.

A suspended elevated light rail system that can go 35mph with no congestion delays could be 25 minutes, platform to platform, with a platform off a Mezzanine between the Caltrain and HSR platforms at LA-US and platforms for each terminal of LAX.

Of course if its possible to get access to the corridor between the two, that is the preferable option, but unless its a direct HSR line, it will be a two-transfer option, from the HSR to the train and from the train to the terminal shuttle / people mover.

crzwdjk said...

BruceMcF: the top speed of the LAX people mover doesn't matter, because you're going at most 2 miles (from Century/Aviation) or even 1 mile (from Parking Lot C). From Union Station to LAX is some 18 miles, so top speed does matter. I think the best feasible solution solution is to build electrified commuter rail here, with a mix of local and express trains. Not some imaginary suspended cableway technology that nobody has implemented on a scale of a mile, much less 36 miles of track (or wire or whatever).

BruceMcF said...

arcady said... "I think the best feasible solution solution is to build electrified commuter rail here, with a mix of local and express trains."

If, as seems quite possible, the corridor is built out with a local light rail line instead, that narrows the range of options.

But if its possible to build a line that is compatible with sending HSR services to LAX for a one-transfer connection via an extension of an existing people mover, that's obviously the second tightest connection, behind subway station(s) connecting directly to the terminals.

crzwdjk said...

We'll just have to wait and see what the Alternatives Analysis says for the Harbor Sub. The LACMTA is studying it now, we'll just have to wait and see what they come up with.

Alon Levy said...

Why is 1 tph enough for an airport connection? Flights don't land at one-hour intervals; having trains come every hour means you're forcing some people to wait an hour at the airport for their train. What people movers like the JFK AirTrain do is run short trains at intervals of less than 10 minutes.

crzwdjk said...

Alon: 1 tph of HSR is enough, serving travellers from Fresno and Bakersfield and the like. In fact, 1 service per hour is way better than the 3 flights a day that Bakersfield gets, and even Fresno doesn't have hourly service. If the passengers are going to transcon or international flights, the one hour wait at the airport is not all that bad, especially given that they'd likely have to wait for a connection at an airline hub no matter where they're going from Fresno or Bakersfield by air.

For local service from LA to Union Station, of course, you'd want a more frequent service. With a base 20 minute headway for local service on the Harbor Sub, you could run 2 Union Station-LAX expresses (probably a 2-4 car MU affair), and one extended HSR run open to Union Station-LAX passengers as well.

Alon Levy said...

Even 20 minutes is a bit iffy, by the standards of the service that Jamaica Station gets.

Rafael said...

@ Marcel Marchon -

the AirTrain runs a level above the BART tracks. That means the BART ramp to Millbrae cannot easily be converted for use by the AirTrain system, even if BART were willing to part with it.

Unknown said...


The airtrain runs above the BART tracks, sure, but it's a rubber tired AGV system that can handle steep grades and tight turns, the transition length to get down to the level of the existing BART line to Millbrae shouldn't be that long.

Anonymous said...

One of the big revenue sources for HSR is if you can go from cities like Fresno, Ontario, Riverside, and San Diego to catch flights out of LAX. There needs to be a connecting train (or subway or elevated train) from Union Station to LAX, not a bus. If it's not an train that runs an easy transfer, then people will want to fly or drive to take a connection from LAX. Anyway, I see this as a huge problem. Also, for years I've thought there should be a high speed train leaving every half an hour connecting SAN to LAX, instead of flights (and it would get people to and from these cities for trips other than flights). Bottom line is that I think not having the connection between the train and airports will make riders frustrated and severely limit public perception of HSR. It needs to run like it does in Europe.