Sunday, May 17, 2009

Sunday Open Thread

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

Been an unusually busy weekend for me, and there doesn't seem to be a whole lot happening on the HSR front (still looking into details about the recent Senate Budget Subcommittee hearing). So use this as an open thread.

Ray LaHood tells Midwest "you need a czar" to coordinate HSR efforts. I think it runs deeper than that - there has to be extremely strong commitment from the top levels of state government. California has a kind of HSR czar - Quentin Kopp has a strong position as chair of the CHSRA board - but he lacks the support in Sacramento that he needs to get his job done. Some may lay the blame for that at Kopp's feet, but I'm not seeing anyone in Sacramento really step up to help HSR either.

• Florida HSR was given a big boost by Ray LaHood's recent comment that FL and CA are "in the lead" for HSR funds. The FL HSR Commission met last week to decide what to do about their newfound (and judging by the articles, unexpected) position as likely HSR stimulus recipients. Back in '03 they had selected a bid from Fluor-Bombardier, but Jeb Bush's opposition helped kill the plan. The FL HSR Commission decided to wait on whether to consider the Fluor-Bombardier bid still alive or whether to solicit new bids.


Greg said...

The problem in CA is that for now, things like "Green" anything or HSR are more of a fashion statement or a fad instead of a policy.

Plenty of politicians will go to France or Japan and pose with a train, and talk talk talk, but when it comes to putting down the Rich People Rebellion on the Peninsula, the silence is amazing.

BruceMcF said...

From the linked-to article from Florida: "Rather than take DOT's advice or more ahead with negotiations, the panel decided not to decide."

Grab the ball and ... call time out.

Clem said...

I think the "rebellion" is overblown. The peninsula is an under-developed transit corridor, and HSR or not, some day there will need to be grade separations to support increased levels of service. The uproar over grade separations would happen with HSR, denser Caltrain service, or even BART between Millbrae and Santa Clara... it's a bullet these communities will have to bite within the next generation.

Besides, I suspect that there will be some good solutions that are neither elevated nor a tunnel. Those haven't been properly described yet.

Anonymous said...

You're right Greg; the silence is amazing. However, I believe the "silence" is for another reason.

When SF, SJ, the SVLG, Sac politicians, Ca. senators, etc. say nothing about the "Rich People Rebellion on the Peninsula," it goes to show how much power (or lack of) the NIMBY's really have.

Kind of like that tiny fly that keeps buzzing your ear.

Brandon in California said...

The silence is because it is standard NIMBY talk and responding to it elevates their argument.

Additionally, this blog site provides a sufficient medium for vetting their concerns and a non-district rep stepping intop teh fray provides no substative benefit to the discussion and woudl only upset teh apple cart in Sacramento.

Alon Levy said...

If there's one thing the Midwest doesn't need, it's something with Quentin Kopp's background running HSR. It'll be far better to have someone with experience running a railroad.

Rafael said...

@ BruceMcF -

Gov. Charlie Crist appears quite keen on Florida HSR but the project was dormant for so long that its chief proponent, C.C. Dockery, resigned in April.

Now that Ray LaHood is rolling out the red carpet so the congressional delegations of both CA and FL will logroll more HSR funds into the next quintennial transportation bill, Dockery's leadership is sorely missed.

The HSR Commission cannot decide whether to stick with the already-selected Flour Daniels - Bombardier bid based on steel wheels or, to spend the next two years putting the whole thing out to tender again.

The original design-engineer-build-operate contract was awarded on Oct 31, 2003 (p7). Since FD - Bombardier would most likely not take the project for a price settled on almost six years ago, giving that consortium alone the chance to re-price its offer would almost certainly prompt competitors to sue for lack of due process.


For reference, the Final EIS for phase 1, Tampa-Orlando, was published in 2005, but no Decision of Record was rendered. Note that NEPA requires re-evaluation of a Final EIS (19.b.) if ground is not broken within the first three years after a final EIS is approved (mere publication does not imply approval).

If Florida were to now submit this four-year old document for a Decision of Record, FRA would need to determine if anything has changed on the ground in the interim. If significant findings or route preferences are no longer valid, Florida's HSR Commission will anyhow spend at least another year on getting a DOR.

It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to ask any vendor to price out his bid before there is a high degree of confidence that the Final EIS won't require significant modification because circumstances have changes since 2005.


In addition, USDOT should put some pressure on Florida to chip in at least 20% of total construction cost for phase 1, lest the fickle sunshine state decides to call the whole thing off a second time. Note, however, that the language of the stimulus bill does allow for a federal share of up to 100%.

Anonymous said...

BART news - they are buying a huge new fleet of cars with a new interior configuration. The new cars will have three doors per side rather than two and they are removing seats to add more floor space. There are several examples here: I prefer the concept 2 with linear bench seating which leaves more flexible open space for luggage, wheelchairs standees and so forth. One concept has these "leaning posts" which is about the dumbest thing Ive ever seen. Just put in linear bench seats and plenty of straps and floor space and be done with it. get id of all carpet and cloth. use plastics seats and rubber non skid bar type flooring that can hosed down.

Anonymous said...

my preferred.

DBX said...

Bottom line is that there will be no California high-speed rail if the state can't sell the bonds, which if the special election fails is very likely. Nobody wants to buy bonds from a state that requires 66.67% to pass anything and has a highly organized minority of marginally more than 33.33% determined to pursue a scorched earth policy even if it means ruining their state, because they think the tax rate is the only public policy that matters.

This is the big problem right now with California HSR -- not the rich people on the peninsula, who can easily be bypassed with a line to Oakland. Besides, the East Bay needs it more anyway, and San Francisco needs extra Transbay tunnels no matter what. And if the crowding on the 101 and 280 in and out of San Mateo gets too serious, there's always the toll booth.

DBX said...

On Midwest HSR, I say a formal regional compact between the involved states. This is an ambitious move, and it might be difficult to get Mitch Daniels' involvement given his long-time antipathy to things Amtrak. But the rewards are worth it; a strong regional entity and visible involvement of the state governors. Failing that, perhaps begin with an joint compact of Illinois and Wisconsin -- with other states able to sign up as they feel ready. Political reality check; it's going to be hard to get a serious commitment out of Illinois until the budget impasse is resolved. Governor Quinn has the right basic idea on how to solve Illinois' budget troubles, but he doesn't give nearly enough attention to rail and transit and has proposed an extremely highway-centric capital plan. And the legislature won't be any help as long as they go on insisting that Illinois be the Midwest's principal tax haven for very rich people.

Anonymous said...

@DBX What is likely in the midwest is upgrades on exiting and future amtrak corridors to 110 mph or 125 using state partnerships. State partnerships with amtrak have been very successful and are the future of amtrak and state rail transportation. Lines that cross state lines will form joint powers to make decisions.

Aaron said...


Bottom line is that there will be no California high-speed rail if the state can't sell the bonds, which if the special election fails is very likely. Nobody wants to buy bonds from a state that requires 66.67% to pass anything and has a highly organized minority of marginally more than 33.33% determined to pursue a scorched earth policy even if it means ruining their state, because they think the tax rate is the only public policy that matters.You correctly identify that the 2/3 majority is a large part of the problem, but the special election won't fix that and nor will it improve California's standing within the bond market. Even assuming it's a good idea (it's not, really), 1A doesn't have immediate effect.

Frankly, I'll be glad for tomorrow to pass so that we can stop having to talk about these things :(. The special election is a distraction to the real solutions needed for the budget.

Rafael said...

@ jim -

I agree with you that a generous center aisle with benches to either side hast the greatest capacity. However, commute distances on BART tend to be far longer than on most subway systems, so passenger comfort needs to be considered as well. In particular, the centrifugal forces that result from taking curves at a fair clip have a significant effect on standees.

One way to combine the best of both worlds is to combine a new, high-capacity and clean interior with traction control systems that are gentle and C3 continuous, i.e. not just acceleration but also its change over time have no jumps.

In addition, active tilt would improve standee comfort during cornering. Slight modifications to the car body might be required to maintain safe clearances in tunnels.

However, perhaps the most important things BART could do to improve the passenger experience would be improved pedestrian flow at downtown SF stations and, a roadmap toward a unified fare structure and ticketing system shared with every other transit agency in the Bay Area.

Successful public transit systems have many transfer points and fares based on geographic zones, regardless of the mode of transportation.

James Jonas said...

High-Speed Rail Feed:
Here is a RSS aggregated (many news agencies) feed for California High Speed Rail. It is a work in progress so feedback is welcome.