Monday, May 11, 2009

West Coast High Speed Rail?

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

by Robert Cruickshank

I'll be honest, I never expected to see this story this soon. From The Olympian (based in Olympia, the state capital of Washington):

Washington state and California officials have held preliminary discussions about a high-speed, state-of-the-art rail line that would connect San Diego and Vancouver, B.C., with trains that could travel in excess of 200 miles per hour....

But Scott Witt, director of the Washington state Department of Transportation’s rail and marine program, said that though he and others are focused on the “here and now,” high-speed trains running nearly the length of the West Coast aren’t just a fantasy.

“They would go like a son of a gun,” he said.

This topic has come up every so often when discussing either long-term HSR planning, the California and/or the Cascades HSR corridors, or when we're sitting around with nothing better to do than draw lines on a map and say "wouldn't it be neat if...?" (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Objections to a border-to-border HSR route are several. The first is that numerous studies have shown that HSR is only competitive with airlines when the route is around 400 miles or so. Beyond that, the travel times tend to be off-putting for many passengers, who prefer the convenience of flying. Of course, that's given present conditions, and spikes in oil prices and other events that could make flying undesirable or costly might change the calculus.

The second issue is the geography. Vancouver to Eugene and Redding to San Diego is pretty easy. Eugene to Redding is not. There are a lot of mountains in the way, and the easiest route - the current Coast Starlight route, over Willamette Pass, parallel to US 97 through Klamath Falls, and through the Shasta Lake region - almost totally misses the population centers of Southern Oregon.

Both issues contribute to the third, which is cost:

Constructing a truly high-speed West Coast rail corridor wouldn’t be easy. It would require entirely new rails and a new corridor that smoothed out grades and corners. Picking a route and deciding where the trains would stop would be politically bruising. And the cost could be astronomical.

The 1,500-mile line, by some estimates, could cost between $10 million and $45 million per mile to build. Witt said he has been talking with his counterpart in California for about three weeks.

“It’s very, very preliminary,” Witt said. “But it makes a lot of sense.”

An alliance with California and perhaps Oregon would make it easier to leverage federal planning funds, he said.

The Olympian didn't do the math, but at $27.5 million per mile (the midpoint of the estimates) that comes to $40.5 billion. Which is about the cost of just building the CA HSR project (SD and Sacramento phases included). So I am not confident in that estimate.

Still, as the above quote shows, these conversations ARE happening. As far as I can tell it may be part of an effort by Washington State, which recently cut passenger rail staff at WSDOT, to get a more favorable position regarding the federal stimulus and longer-term federal HSR planning for the Cascades corridor by allying with Oregon and California. Show USDOT that the California project is part of a wider vision for the West Coast, so let's fund stuff in the Pacific Northwest too!

I'm all for helping fund HSR along the Cascades corridor. It's a perfect place to implement HSR - most of the Northwest's population lives there, the stations are in the city centers, and in Portland and soon Seattle will be linked by a robust network of local rail and transit.

And I'm not opposed to upgrading the West Coast passenger rail corridor. Upgrading the Eugene-Redding corridor where possible to allow for some higher speeds could make it possible for an overnight connection from Eugene to Sacramento, and someone could get from Seattle to LA in about half the amount of time it currently takes via rail.

One of Washington's US Senators, Patty Murray, suggests we take this seriously:

“This is real stuff about moving people, creating jobs and reducing greenhouse gases,” Murray said.

As for a high-speed San Diego to Vancouver run, Murray said not to dismiss it out of hand.

“Obviously it would be in the future and it would be great,” she said. “But if this (stimulus spending) can lead to that, it would be amazing.”

Patty Murray is fantastic, and if she says to not dismiss it out of hand, I won't. But I'm going to remain highly skeptical.

Especially since I'd be a frequent user of a West Coast HSR route. I just came back from a weekend in Seattle, and as someone with friends and family in that town and in Portland, I'd love a faster and more reliable way to get there and back via train. But I'm not convinced this is a particularly high priority for us right now.

My own conclusion is that my views all along have been right: that we must first focus on building HSR in the key corridors, and then work on upgrading passenger rail between states and regions. A Eugene-Redding HSR line would come at the end of a national passenger rail project and not at the outset. Something I'd envision for 2050, not 2030.


Anonymous said...

Might make sense to link the CAHSR and the Cascades corridors with a "rapid rail" service that allow single-seat rides. This would mean electrifying the *existing* route and minor changes. Just because CAHSR will have 220 mph trainsets doesn't mean they have to travel that speed all of the of the great things about the French TGV or German ICE networks is that they run at maximum speed when possible, but happily go on existing routes too.

Alon Levy said...

Anon: the French and German standard-speed networks have extensive electrification, which allows HSR to run. The US network doesn't. Just electrifying an existing line can cost billions - I believe the cost of electrifying from New Haven to Boston in the 1990s was on the order of $3.5 billion. That's not much cheaper than building a new electrified rail line from scratch.

Cas said...

As a Washington resident and rail advocate this would be my dream come true, but I'm also highly skeptical. Eugene to Redding just doesn't pencil out and won't unless air travel becomes a lot more expensive.

What might be doable with a lot of political effort would be to build HSR in the Vancouver-to-Eugene corridor with improved standard rail service on the Eugene to Redding segment, and good integration with air travel between the two separate HSR networks. Airlines could redirect their Seattle-Portland-Vancouver flights to add more trips between these cities and SF/LA/San Diego (or airports along the CAHSR lines). Airport HSR stations in the Northwest cities are unlikely given the current rights of way but Seatac, for example, could get people on light rail to a new HSR station in Tukwila less than two miles away.

Integrating ticketing and baggage between modes would be ideal, so that people could try out a coastal train trip with a slow mid-section. Maybe this would build enough demand in time to complete a coastal system. My guess is that corridors like Chicago, Florida, and Texas would be finished well before a complete coastal HSR makes sense.

But as a political technique to get started on Cascades HSR, this is a good thing. I'll believe it when I see it.

Anonymous said...

What wil happen first are the upgrades that will increase Cascades speeds as those talgo trainsets were purchased with higher speeds in mind once track upgrades take place in addition to that there will be an extension of san joaquin service - a round trip a day from sac to redding. Right now there isn't a lot of call for rail service north of sac except from rail enthusiasts. The cities and counties have been studying possible rail service for over a decade and so far have concluded that it's not worth the money.

Al2000 said...

One look at this map equals a thousand words.

A Vancouver BC - Seattle - Portland - Eugene definitely looks doable from a Geography point of view.

Not sure the last leg of that (100 miles) for the 300k people of Eugene would be worth it though.

Anonymous said...

Alon: There is something seriously wrong if electrification of an existing track will cost as much as building a brand new electrified track! Sure it will cost money, but it should be less, should be typically faster into service, and would allow segments with improved alignment to be slowly added over time. It would also provide a back-up route for use during maintenance disruption.

Alex M. said...

I agree that a "West Coast High Speed Rail" system would be amazing, but also that it is highly unlikely at this point. I think people will still fly from the bay area or socal to Portland if they need to get into Oregon. Looking at the terrain, I think it would be great for the Cascades route to become completely electrified with new tracks to enable 200+mph service, the population centers are lined up fairly well. As for the extension from Portland to Eugene, I think that segment of the route should be electrified at a later time. The population of Eugene does not justify spending the money to electrify 100 miles of track. I have a bunch of friends who go to the University of Oregon (which is in Eugene) and would love if they had a faster connection to Portland and the airport there. I think upgraded the tracks to allow 150mph DMU service between Portland and Eugene would be ideal.

mike said...

@Alon I don't know what the exact cost of NHV-BOS electrification was, but it certainly was nowhere near $3.5 billion. The original contract with Balfour Beatty was $321 million in 1995 ($2 million/mile). Due to delays and accidents, the Office of the Inspector General estimated that the total cost was "over $600 million" ($4 million/mile) shortly before it opened in 2000.

Brian Stankievich said...

One factor that would help true HSR instead of rapid rail is max. grades. The CA HSR system will be capable of 5% grades + but the decision to limit it to 3.5% grade was based on max. speeds and a wide range of potential train designs.

The HSR trains for Sac-Portland could easily be spec.ed to do 5%+ That would dramatically reduce tunneling cost compared to straightening the old line with its 1-2% grades.

The TGV Sud Est line uses no tunnels because the TGV trains can climb 3%+ grades, making tunnels unnecessary.

TomW said...

A desire for high-speed rail down the entire west coast does not indiacte an expectation that peopel will travel fomr one end to the other. Think of the all the city pairs that would be less than four hours (say 600 miles) apart... Portland-San Fransisco would be amongst them.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Alex, the politics of the route virtually demand that the existing Cascades corridor - Vancouver BC to Eugene OR - be upgraded to HSR. Political support in Oregon to contribute to the project isn't going to be there if the HSR train ends a few miles south of the border at Portland Union Station. Salem, Albany-Corvallis and Eugene are major population centers in the state and I think it's right to provide them HSR service.

Rob Dawg said...

VC-SF is the logical cachement. Interesting that the people expected to pay for it aren't likely to vote for that. Just like 2/3rds of California counties voted against HSR we could expect the same here.

Alon Levy said...

What's VC?

Devil's Advocate said...

Between Sacramento and Portland, the only 2 cities with a population which could justify an HSR between CA and OR, are 580miles apart. That is way above what is considered optimal for HSR use. Unless the population of Redding and Eugene (300+ miles apart) significantly increase (twofold at least) from the current levels, I see no reason for embarking on a project that would be destined to economic failure. That would give additional ammunition to the conservative opponents to HSR who are always ready to jump on these facts to discredit passenger rail travel for being nothing but a useless burden on taxpayers. For now, those who need to go from Redding to Eugene should drive a car, or take a bus.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Devil's Advocate, there is a train from Redding to Eugene - the Coast Starlight. It's not going anywhere and I'd love to see it upgraded.

Alon, my guess is "VC" means Vancouver, British Columbia.

Daniel Jacobson said...

On a similar subject, has anybody looked at the feasibility of a 150 mile Sacramento-Lake Tahoe (Truckee)-Reno line? The current right of way I'm guessing is pretty old and has a lot of turns, but I feel like that would have a much greater potential ridership base because of the short distance, high traffic, and often poor weather conditions. Trips from Sacramento to Reno could be made in an hour(3.5 hour bus ride), and Bay Area-Lake Tahoe trips could be made in two (4-6 hour drive). Granted, a 200+ mph line is probably out of the question due to terrain, but a 125-150 mph line would have a significant impact, especially if this could be combined with the Capitol Corridor line to give direct link between San Jose/Oakland-Reno/Lake Tahoe.

Reno/Lake Tahoe, along with LA-Las Vegas seems like the next logical place to look to extend CAHSR, rather than Sacramento-Redding-Eugene. We also haven't talked about LA-Palm Springs-Phoenix that much, but I have a feeling this wouldn't merit the investment (at least right away).

Here's a rough sketch of what it could look like:,-120.893555&spn=2.091857,4.943848&t=h&z=8&msid=110191604548938416963.000469aa54f711225a7a1

Daniel Jacobson said...

Sorry my estimates are form before I actually traced out the route, they'd probably be closer to 1.5-2 hours and 2.5-3 hours, respectively.

Rafael said...

@ Alon Levy -

I think he means Vancouver, BC.

Anonymous said...

I agree, there is no reason to build an entire West-Coast route. It will be much better off using the federal money to build more high population short haul routes. It just doesnt make financial sense early on. Just make a sleeper service from Sacramento to Eugene or even Salem.

I agree with the statement about high speed rail to Eugene. That is a long way for a city like that. The most use will be to and from Oregon Duck games for their 8 home games a year. Keep it at Salem and save the money for now.

Even in Europe there are plenty of slow sleeper car routes for areas that dont have high speed routes and it works out fine. I did that from Barcelona to Geneva, Switzerland.

Also the other thing to consider is the cost factor. From L.A. to Portland or Seattle the ticket prices are usually around the $300 range round trip. With the rate of the L.A. to Sacramento route being $106 round trip, I would imagine the Portland Route would be around $225, and the Seattle trip closer to $275. That seems to eliminate the prospect of the rail for the mass since they will feel they can get a shorter flight for a slightly higher fee. It would be worth it from the bay area or Sacramento to Portland or Seattle, but for the most part the Southern California crowd will always fly with the exception of the holidays.

Rafael said...

I'd start with Washington - Portland in phase 1 and then expand it to Vancouver BC and Eugene in phase 2.

Someone would have to make a very solid business case for SF-Portland, especially given the CHSRA has decided on Pacheco over Altamont. Electrification alone won't do much for line haul times on the single freight track between Redding and Eugene, you'd need to construct a new line.

Btw, HSR trains can handle 5% gradients, just at a lower top speed. Example: Germany's ICE3 is rated at 330km/h at 3% and 300km/h at 5% gradient. Ironically, the bigger issue is the ability to hold position and accelerate away on an incline if circumstances should ever make that necessary.

Linear induction motors could provide a traction boost without adding significant weight to the trains, provided that the stator and associated power electronics are embedded in the tracks. Bombardier uses this principle in some LRT systems, but with the stator in the vehicle. The advantage is basically that your traction is no longer limited by the low (~0.001) friction coefficient between steel wheel and steel rail. For reference, rubber tyres on road surfaces generate approx. 10x as much friction per unit of weight.

Devil's Advocate said...

@ Robert Cruickshank: I know that there is the Coast Starlight, but that's not a transportation option, it's a Disneyland ride for tourists. It's only one a day per direction, takes almost 10 hours between Redding and Eugene (for 300miles). If I need to go to Eugene from Redding (or viceversa) and I'm not a tourist, I'd better stick to driving. You'd like to see it improved, but resources are limited and we can't accomodate everybody's whims and desires. HSRs are expensive to build and operate and should be limited to lines with cities large enough and close enough to justify it. I don't see the need for such service between Sacramento and Portland, and especially between Redding and Eugene, due to the asperity of the terrain.
@ Daniel's Jacobson: Same argument is true for that route. Although I'd like to see it built, since I often go to Lake Tahoe during the ski season, however, I don't consider it economically feasible or profitable. Construction costs would be very high due to the necessity of tunneling and overpasses, and the volume of traffic may not justify the expense. The route would be used primarily on weekends (by skiers and gamblers), but not much during the week. In addition the grade would be prohibitively steep since the freeway climbs 1800mts in 90km between Auburn and Truckee. It would probably make more sense to upgrade the existing line for freighters, which could help relieve truck traffic on I-80. Service to Reno might attract some passengers, but in my experience taking the train to Lake Tahoe is a non starter. Once in Truckee you still need to rent a car to go to the slopes or drive around (and prices of car rentals in Truckee are astronomical). Also since people go to Tahoe usually in groups (unless you're so awful that people don't like to hang out with you on weekends), it's cheaper to share a car and drive rather than buying several train tickets and rent a car from there. I've done it once, but I won't be wasting my money like that again, even if you get me to Tahoe from the Bay Area in less than one hour by HST. HSTs aren't cheap. It cost my family 36 Euros one way per person last week to travel 150 miles ($200 for 4 people). I can go from SF to Tahoe and back several times with that kind of money. People do make these calculations before buying a train ticket.

Anonymous said...

I think a West Coast HSR line would be fantastic, but only, of course, if it is completely undergrounded ala Palo Alto/Menlo Park. I mean, can you imagine the horror of a forest somewhere being bisected by a rail line? Sure, the spotted owls could just fly over it, but they would have to put up with the visual blight and it would severely depress property values. Is it too early to sue someone?

Adirondacker said...

Before they start stringing catenary to the thriving metropolis of Redding, with 100,000 people how about bringing trains, any trains to metro Scranton which has half a million people? Or Binghanton NY? Which is only 60 miles away with a metro population of 250,000? Or maybe Bloomington IL with a metro population of 175,000, only a few miles from Springfield IL, metro population of 200,000. As a bonus they would connect that small city on the shores of Lake Michigan with the other small city on the banks of the Mississippi - Chicago and St Louis? Or how about adding a second track between Schenectady with 150,000 in the county and Albany county with 300,000 with Rennselaer county 150,000, it's only a few miles. I'm sure the 100,000 people in Saratoga county would be interested in that project. Probably the 100,000 people a few miles north of Saratoga county in greater Glens Falls/Lake George too. And the ones in between there and Rutland Vt. Or that Montreal... Lets see in round numbers 20 million people in metro New York and 3.5 million in metro Montreal. They'd be able to hit all the places with 100,000 in between. And the places with more than 200,000....

Or speaking of that little place on the shores of Lake Michigan, how about electrifying the line the between there and that other bitty little city on the shores of Lake Michigan. Chicago and Milwaukee...

mike said...

Germany's ICE3 is rated at 330km/h at 3% and 300km/h at 5% gradient.
This sounds off, Rafael. The CHSRA commissioned run simulations show train speeds falling as low as 220 kph (Pacheco) and 240 kph (Altamont) when crossing mountain passes for a train that demonstrates acceleration profiles similar to the ICE3. Note that these speed drops are clearly due to grades - the maximum authorized speed does not drop in the cases I am referring to.

luis d. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Al2000 said...

@Rafael, I can't believe you are equating:

Vancouver BC - Pop ~2.7 million (growing fast), is a major west coast transit hub (Port of Vancouver, Rail (CN,CP, BNSF), has a major international airport, and home to the 2010 Winter Olympics..

to Eugene (pop 300K)?! Crazy to lump them together in a "phase 2" as if they are equally important, IMO.

And Frankly, I think an argument could be made that a Seattle - Vancouver link could be the one to do first.

The distances between Seattle and Vancouver, and Seattle and Portland are similar. The terrain looks similar too (if anything, maybe a bit easier on the Seattle to Vancouver route).

But, it would all come down to politics. Which would depend on the Canadian Government. If you could get the Canadian Government, and the BC government to kick in 1/2 the cost of the Seattle - Vancouver line, it could happen that much sooner. And would be a lot easier to do financially then a Seattle to Portland line.

Of course, that is the downfall too. If the Canadian/BC governments aren't up for it, nothing will happen.

luis d. said...

Has anybody thought that if the route makes sense like this one does for the future. That once HSR is built SD-VC that cities like Eugene and Redding will be more appealing to live in if their is a way to travel (HSR) out of those areas faster than a car without flying? I think the route can be successfull.

I know that I would be more willing to move to Eugene as I once was and be able to come back to the Bay Area to see family.

Alon Levy said...

Luis, unless they build a new Transbay Tube and an Altamont overlay, you really won't be able to get from Eugene to SF effectively. Eugene to LA will be a piece of cake, though...

crzwdjk said...

Electrification is $2 million per mile if you do it right, plus of course the cost of rolling stock, but electric locomotives are cheaper than diesels, take less maintenance, and last longer. It seems like (judging by Amtrak's northern NEC electrification) a 50 or more mile spacing between substations is fine using the 2x25kV system when you only have fairly sparse intercity traffic and no commuter rail. And HSR's grade-climbing ability comes from the fact that it goes so darn fast, and if you remember your physics, kinetic energy is proportional to the square of velocity. A train going 360 kph has in it quite a bit of energy that can get it up a small but steep hill without losing too much speed. If you don't care about speed, pure steel wheel railways can go as high as 7%.

ian said...

whether or not it's cost-effective, it's definitely great that they're talking this early... that way they can create standards together and have compatible trainsets, so that *eventually* service could be provided first on the upgraded coast starlight corridor (perhaps while the dedicated line is being built), and trains can travel the entire distance with no compatibility problems.

and euge would def. benefit from better connectivity.

plus, this would probably be one of the most beautiful train rides in the US. although, something about taking a train automatically makes the scenery more beautiful...

Tony D. said...

Off topic Robert,

You need to do a thread to counter the B.S. over at Clem's blog. He's actually giving credence to a lawsuit by special interests hell bent on trying to overturn the choice of Pacheco Pass over Altamont. Peninsula NIMBY' this! Special interests (TRANSDEF, BayRailAlliance, to name a few) who didn't get their way on Bay Area/Central Valley alignment and who will now try and use the courts to promote their selfishness. Unbelievable! I guess 10 years of study/debate wasn't enough to decide the primary HSR route into the Bay Area. A frivilous lawsuit to promote a selfish agenda...enough said (for now)!

luis d. said...

@Alon Levy

Well I have hope with the news from last Thursday of CHSRA working with San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission (ACE Train) and the City Of Sacramento on the Altamont overlay. The goal they say is to improve the Corridor for future HSR and electrification. That gives me hope.

I kind of think that's the strategy from CHSRA, build Pacheco first then Altamont will be necessary later. But if you build Altamont first, their WILL BE NO PACHECO later. I am not worried that it won't get built later. You cannot ignore the large populations in the East Bay and growing.

Adrirondacker said...

Luis, unless they build a new Transbay Tube and an Altamont overlay, you really won't be able to get from Eugene to SF effectively.

Luis, you can get from Redding to San Francisco right now. The Coast Starlight goes through Redding and stops in Oakland. You have to get on one of those dastardly buses to get to San Francisco but you can get to San Francisco. Takes forever but you can get between Redding and San Francisco.

Why would a train between Redding and Oakland go anywhere near Altamont?

Alon Levy said...

An HSR train would probably use existing lines, rather than a brand new water-level line from Sacramento to Oakland.

Adirondacker said...

An HSR train would probably use existing lines.

Between Redding and Oakland wouldn't that be the one that the Capitol Corridor trains use? Or the route the Coast Starlight uses? Or the route the California Zephyr uses? A detour south from Sacramento to Stockton so you can go west to Fremont and then north to Oakland is better?

Anonymous said...

Arcady says:

"Electrification is $2 million per mile if you do it right,...."

That's why CalTrain estimates 1.5 billion (including rolling stock) for the electrification of the 50 mile stretch from SF to SJ.

Where do you get such miss-information. CalTrain says $5 billion to electrify and grade separate that section.

CHSRA says they can grade separate,and electrify, that segment for 4 tracks for 4.2 billion. Who are they kidding.

Kopp now saying the project is at $45 billion. He says costs keep rising, but we all know that is another big lie right now, since construction costs are well down on projects from 1 year ago.

crzwdjk said...

Anonymous: a) rolling stock, b) more substations c) more tracks. Caltrain is designing their system for heavy use, including HSR, so they're building two substations instead of just one, and they have significant sections with more than two tracks, including the terminal areas and the three sections of quad track. Plus of course they're replacing all their rolling stock (not just the life-expired locomotives), and planning on a 50% increase in service. There's a big difference between a 2 tph intercity line running through the middle of nowhere and a 12 tph commuter line with many local stops.

By the way, electrification costs in the UK though are also estimated at around the same $2 million per mile. And remember, electrification lasts practically forever: the overhead itself can have a useful life of at least a century, the electrical components probably 50 years.

BruceMcF said...

Adirondacker said...
"Between Redding and Oakland wouldn't that be the one that the Capitol Corridor trains use? Or the route the Coast Starlight uses? Or the route the California Zephyr uses? A detour south from Sacramento to Stockton so you can go west to Fremont and then north to Oakland is better?"

This would imply an incremental upgrade path toward a 110mph Emerging HSR corridor or a 125mph Regional HSR corridor, with crossover transfers with the Express HSR at Sacramento, San Jose and LA-US.

That could well make more sense ... trimming eight or more hours off of Seattle / Sacramento would allow it to depart after the close of business to arrive before the opening of business in Sacramento and Oakland, with a transfer to SF. The capital investment wouldn't be dirt cheap, but it'd be a small fraction of the cost of a new Express HSR corridor between Redding and Eugene.

Alon Levy said...

Adirondacker: I'm talking about existing HSR lines, as of when CAHSR is fully built. If there's electrification north of Sacramento, I doubt trains will go down to Sacramento, change locomotives, and head down the CC route. More likely they'll go down the HSR line and get to SF via the shortest possible route - at least, if there's some Altamont overlay, even one through Dumbarton.

Clem said...

> Note that these speed drops are clearly due to grades

It's really easy to figure the balancing speed on a grade.

Take the power to weight ratio (in kW/tonne), divide by the grade (3% = 0.03), divide by 9.81, and there's your equilibrium speed in meters/second.

For example, an ICE3 has 20 kW/tonne... on a 3% grade, it could only hold 68 m/s (245 km/h or 150 mph).

The secret ingredient is momentum: a roller-coaster has zero kW/tonne and yet manages pretty good uphill speeds. The same is true of HSR for grades up to a few miles long; after that, gravity kills off the speed.

That is why stopping in Gilroy (or slowing for the 125 mph crawl through downtown, followed by a sharp curve towards Pacheco) is really going to kill southbound HSR timings over Pacheco. They should avoid Morgan Hill and Gilroy downtown areas, crank up to 200 mph and let momentum do the rest.

Anonymous said...

Most people in the sad rdr corridor still don't want rail service and sure don't want to pay for HSR. They don't want bay area and LA folks, especially foreigners, to have that kind of access. sad but true. They like being cut off from the rest of the state. The only thing that will happen any time soon is one daily round trip via an extension of train 701 northbound and 704 southbound possibly. That's step one and not even for sure yet. There won't be any HSR north of SAC for at least 25 years or more. The VAC-EUG route will most likely be upgraded to higher speed rail in the same manner that many of the midwest and east coast corridors are planning. 110mph. I mean I like to dream but let's keep it real. your talking about decades before you see a true TGV in place anywhere between SAC and VAC. As for the SAC-RNO route, that is part of the official capitol corridor jurisdiction but they have not as of yet been able to get UPRR to allow additional trains through that very busy freight line. One thing that would be helpful in this blog is less day dreaming and more actual information about the HSR that is going to happen. SF-LA can we get some solid info on construction timetables? Final decisions on row, things like that. While its fun to wonder what if, let's face it, it's all dreaming. I'd love to have real info on what is really going on.

無名 - wu ming said...

it's not a bad idea to think about how that might happen decades down the line (or earlier, if we start hitting peak oil hard), but just fixing the existing track up and enabling the eugene to redding leg to move at rapid rail speeds would make a huge difference WRT competing with car travel on I-5.

and keeping in mind that there's a ton of wind power in western washington and oregon, both in the cascades and along the coast, electrifying that leg and running high power transmission lines in the right-of-way, as per alan drake, would certainly be a huge help when natural gas production follows oil and leaves CA in a hard spot, given all those natural gas power plants we built in the 90s and zeroes. but that'd take a ton of funding to make that work.

vancouver to portland is a no-brainer, and to eugene's definitely a good idea, in terms of knitting the region together effectively. anything faster and more reliable than driving would make my life a heck of a lot better, personally, seeing as nearly everyone i know is distributed along 5. taking the coast starlight can be exhausting right now, with the combination of worn down rolling stock, repeated delays, and slow running times. if they could cut that in half by non-HSR means, it'd be a godsend.

Anonymous said...

they will- the talgo cascades can easily be upgraded to 110 and save some time off the trip

Anonymous said...

11 may 2009 --State sees potential for increasing service between Seattle and Portland to 110 mph, from 79 mph -
After New York and Illinois, Washington has announced that it will be the third state to apply for some of the $8 billion in rail funds to be released by the federal government as a part of the stimulus package. Seattle Transit Blog points out that the state has identified $692 million in investments that would improve the Cascades corridor, which connects Vancouver, British Columbia and Eugene, Oregon, via Seattle and Portland, and which opened for service in 1993. Washington state’s request is moderate enough that it is likely to receive something close to the entire amount demanded once the grants are appropriated in June. It will also allow the state to take better advantage of its Talgo trainsets, which have the potential to travel at speeds up to 125 mph, but which are currently limited because of track issues.
Eventually, the service will be increased from four daily roundtrips between Portland and Seattle to 13, and four trips extending to Vancouver, versus only one today. The trip between the two major cities would decrease from 3h30 today to 2h30.

無名 - wu ming said...

i hope they get those frequencies up ASAP. is the capitol corridor getting any of those funds as well? what i wouldn't give for a train coming back from the bay area late enough to catch an opera, get dinner or hang out at a bar after sundown.

Rafael said...

@ Alex -

Vancouver BC could be included in phase 1 IFF the Canadians step up to the plate, both financially and in terms of customs/immigration.

On the US side, the Dept. of Homeland Security would need to treat HSR trains just like commercial aircraft, i.e. passengers go through customs and immigration where they alight, not at the actual border (Blaine/White Rock).

That implies a very limited number of stops for trains that do in fact cross the border, possibly just Portland, Seattle and Vancouver BC - at least initially. Passengers hailing from/destined for secondary destination would have to transfer from/to strictly domestic trains.

@ jim -

I agree that the Cascades route may be better served by rapid rail at 110-125mph, with a possible future upgrade to new, dedicated tracks for operations at 186-220mph in selected sections (Vancouver WA - Olympia, Everett-Richmond BC with a station in Bellingham).

The biggest obstacle, as usual, is FRA's draconian rules against mixed traffic (drafted at the behest of freight rail operators like UPRR). An FRA-compliant bullet train with active tilt technology is a maintenance nightmare, cp. Acela Express.

Note that CHSRA also plans to run trains at or below 125mph in the SF peninsula and the LA basin, i.e. as a rapid rail service (albeit a fancy one on dedicated tracks).

Brandon in California said...

In the whole, a West Coast Vancouver to San Diego HSR system is silly.

Functionally, it provides very little benefit to the West Coast. There simply are insufficient numbers to justify the project.

I am from the future and I have come back to say so.

What this idea really does it generate new or additional interests in HSR to get individual projects rolling.

The Washington-Oregon contingent gets to tag onto the support of the California system. And California gets to point to our northern brother as an example for the need to increased Federal support for HSR.

It's a win-win from that perspective.

But, no political body should get behind a full West Coast system right now.... because it lacks appropriate planning efforts to exhibit its benefits.


I also fear that Washington-Oregon are simply jumping on teh bandwagon that is HSR.

Alon Levy said...

Rafael: on Cascades trains, customs and immigration checks are done at Vancouver. Passengers board or alight via a special fenced off platform for international operations. This is in line with airline practice: on Canada-to-US flights, US immigration is done in Canada in order to speed up the process and allow the plane to land at a domestic US airport. Thus flights between Toronto and New York use LaGuardia, which reduces US immigration from a 1-hour line at JFK to a 20-minute line at Pearson.

TomW said...

I'd take a leaf of France's book, and make the stretch between SF and Portland 125mph "rapid rail".

BruceMcF said...


An Express HSR corridor, Sacramento to Vancouver, sounds like some politicians from the PacNW trying to work out how to leverage the CA-HSR into getting bullet trains between Portland and Vancouver.

Given the time versus population catchments for the various station pairs along and on either side of the Eugene/Redding corridor, even the more populous alignment, its simply silly ... its a strategy of trying to use an egregiously expensive link with no conceivably sane Cost-Benefit ratio as leverage.

By contrast, upgrading the Cascade corridor from tilt-trains running as conventional rail to tilt-trains on an Emerging HSR corridor to electrification and tilt-trains running on a Regional HSR corridor is a strong project sequence that stands on its own merits.

Ditto upgrading the Capital Corridor to Regional HSR. Of course, California's public finance processes are well nigh unworkable, but in a state without one of the worst chronic structural fiscal imbalances in the country, and in the new context of $4 federal matching funds for $1 in state funds for that type of project, that ought to be pursued in parallel with CA-HSR Stage 1.

In terms of the CA-HSR system, the other two main Californian Coast Starlight route segments, LA-US / SJ via the coast and Sacramento/Redding, are obvious candidates for upgraded service to connect to the CA-HSR system at LA-US and SJ, in Stage 1, and Sacramento, in Stage 2.

In the context of an Emerging HSR corridor along the Coast Starlight alignment from Redding to LA-US, and a Regional HSR corridor from Seattle to Eugene, there may well be a network economy to upgrading the existing alignment or creating an alternative alignment for an evening departure / morning arrival and morning departure / evening arrival Seattle/LA-US. But far from being the lever, Eugene/Redding would be the last link worked on, leveraging network economies after the improvements are already in place for Seattle/Eugene, Sacremento / San Jose, San Jose / Salinas / LA, and finally Redding/Sacramento.

crzwdjk said...

The way customs an immigration checks are done in civilized parts of the world (like pre-Schengen Europe) is neither at the border nor usually at the station, but rather on the train. For a train going from country A to country B, B's customs people will get on at the last stop before the border in A, and walk through the train checking everyone's passports. If anyone doesn't have the proper papers, they get put off at the border. The check-at-station option really only makes sense when there's just one station in country B, as is the case with the Cascades to Vancouver and (almost) the Adirondack to Montreal, but not the case with the Maple Leaf to Toronto, nor with many other potential US-Canada (and maybe even US-Mexico) routes.

Alon Levy said...

Bruce: it depends on train speed, mostly. With a top speed of 350 km/h, there's no point - even with a new HSR line along the Delta, Portland-SF will take 4 hours. However, as top speed increases, this becomes more feasible. PDX-SFO takes 1:43, which means that HSR needs a travel time of about 3:15 to be time-competitive. This requires an average speed of 314 km/h if you go through the Delta, which is feasible with trainsets that can reach a top speed of 380-400 km/h; with Altamont, make it 420-440.

At speeds like this, a West Coast HSR line can succeed, because of SF-Portland traffic. It can also capture some SF-Seattle market share, and a lot of market share for intermediate trips, especially Portland-Sacramento. If HSR can be projected to reliably reach 400 km/h in the next 20 years then it's worth building now. Otherwise, not so much.

Alon Levy said...

Arcady: the Maple Leaf can't really use the European system, either - the two Niagara Falls stops are too close together for the inspectors to have enough time to go through the entire train between them.

BruceMcF said...

Alon Levy said...
"At speeds like this, a West Coast HSR line can succeed, because of SF-Portland traffic."

To speak precisely, a West Coast Express HSR corridor.

With capital costs that can be justified for the local corridor services alone from Regional HSR from Sacramento to LA via Oakland / San Jose / Salinas, and the same for Regional HSR from Seattle through Eugene, a Regional HSR corridor from the PacNW to NoCal would be a matter of lifting those bottlenecks in the intervening alignment for which the benefit exceeds the cost.

Anonymous said... for complete rail plan.

crzwdjk said...

Alon: sure it can. Canadian customs gets on in Buffalo, all the passengers bound for Niagara Falls, NY are moved to the front car on the train, and the customs people go through the train from the back. Once they've checked all the cars but the first, they close and lock the door between the first car and the rest of the train. At Niagara Falls, NY they let everyone off the first car, inspect the car, then check people as they board. Same things happens in the other direction with St. Catharine's instead of Buffalo. There would still be an extended stop at the border, maybe 15 to 20 minutes, but that's still faster than the current hour and a half, and you need some padding time anyway to decouple the canadian section from delays in upstate NY and vice versa.

Anonymous said...

that current state rail plan - if you have the patience to read through it - contains a ton of info on upcoming goals including express service between LA-SAN and implementation of rail once daily RT SFC-SLO in2010 and a 2nd daily rt SFC-SLO in 2013,
originating addtl SJ trains at FNO and implementing premium services on SJ and CC trains.

BruceMcF said...

Link: California State Rail Plan 2007-08 to 2017-18 (pdf)The New Corridors section (pp. 166-83, sheets 204-21) notes funding of work toward three proposed new corridors ... the Coast Daylight, Sacramento/Reno, and Sacramento/Redding, in combination with ongoing improvements to the existing Capital Corridor (pp. 121-32). So an Emerging HSR version of the Coast Starlight alignment would leverage the Cascade corridor, and represent additional incremental improvements to Redding/Sacramento, the Capital Corridor, and the Coast Daylight corridor south of San Jose.

In that context, upgrades between Eugene and Redding in support of a Regional HSR service would seem to be far more capital efficient than establishment of a new Express HSR corridor from Sacramento to Seattle.

Of course, if there is PR raising the prospect of an Express HSR service Seattle to LA, then a "mere" 110mph or 125mph service would be a bit of a letdown. Maybe it would be better to talk about how many hours each stage would "slash" from the time of the current Coast Starlight.

Perspective? said...

Robert is a big believer is stepping back for a little "perspective" - so here's a little perspective:

Governor predicts $15 billion state deficit in 2010

Caltrain may cut weekend service, raise fares

"Califorina State Department of Finance proposal to use local property-tax revenues to help close the state's $15 billion (and growing) budget gap." (aka: State plans to TAKE cities budgets to close STATE overspending.)

1. If we can't fund or attract enough ridership for a needed local commute service (Caltrain) that we need, why are our state politicians in such massive denial about our need or ability to pay for a fast train to Disneyland? How will CHSR support itself? (in what universe?)

2. If the STATE can't pay its bills, and needs to tap into the STRAPPED city's accounts, why is HSR such a massive priority? Any politicians pushing HSR in this economic environment is either purely nuts, purely stupid, or pure evil.

3. How and why is the STATE taking from cities, which means literally stealing from the budgets of local services its citizens need - like fire, police, feeding the poor, and other locally funded services - and where the hell do the politicians get off supporting High Speed Rail at the same time?

Alon Levy said...

Oh, God, they actually plan to run diesel trains on the electrified Caltrain line, just so they can double the LA-SF HSR?

Spokker said...

"How and why is the STATE taking from cities, which means literally stealing from the budgets of local services its citizens need - like fire, police, feeding the poor, and other locally funded services - and where the hell do the politicians get off supporting High Speed Rail at the same time?"

Obama Man will swoop in and save the day. I know he will. I believe in him. He won't show up unless you believe!

Morris Brown said...

Rod Diridon was on KGO radio this morning (5/12/09). The show is archived, and you can listen at:

Audio LinkTotally amazing how he can continue to state positions like, "SF to SJ construction can be started by 2012", while the consulting firm HTNB hired by the Authority to do the outreach and EIR says, the EIR won't be ready until 4th quarter of 2012 and that the EIR will contain project construction drawings at the 3 - 5% level only.

Even though he says only 80 or so people are putting up the opposition on the peninsula, its amazing how many of the callers seem to be of that persuasion.

BruceMcF said...

Perspective? said...
1. If we can't fund or attract enough ridership for a needed local commute service (Caltrain) that we need, why are our state politicians in such massive denial about our need or ability to pay for a fast train to Disneyland? How will CHSR support itself? (in what universe?)

Caltrain has no problem attracting the ridership to provide the benefits needed from the system. However, like similar systems around the world, enough of those benefits are external benefits that its not possible to fund the entirety of the operating costs from the fraction of the benefits experienced by the riders themselves.

That is not a cost-benefit problem, its just that the state of California has a structural problem with its public finances, now exacerbated by the economic downturn. So the immediate problem is mostly to be laid at the door of the anti-tax ideologues, abandoning the basic principles of support for infrastructure and industrial development that the US built our economy on from the 1790's to 1970's, who are willing to shrink the economy so long as the private sector has a larger share of a much smaller pie.

As to how HSR would operate, by the same experience that shows that a conventional regional rail service normally needs some public funding to correspond to its net external public benefits, an HSR service on a corridor with strong population catchments between station pairs one, two and three hours apart is able to cover its operating costs from passenger benefits alone.

The Federal Government's bias toward funding new capital works, and strong bias against funding transit operating budgets, increases the appeal of a system such as the California HSR.

However, the strongest argument is the ongoing fiscal crisis itself. The California HSR system is the cheapest way to provide that transport capacity, and therefore until the state of California gets its sorry fiscal house in order, it would be grossly irresponsible to set it aside in favor of more expensive public subsidy of roadworks and airport infrastructure.

Perspective? said...

In other words, the state's revenues are not enough to fund public transit, and everything else they should be providing as a public good. Agreed. Brilliant deduction.

"The Federal Government's bias toward funding new capital works, and strong bias against funding transit operating budgets, increases the appeal of a system such as the California HSR"

Wow, in other words; Build It (because we can, and someone else will pay for it) then let the State of California run it in to the ground, because we can't afford to operate our current transit systems, let alone a brand new one - and let the taxpayers and citizens of California suffer - sometime later - but lets just jump on the bandwagon now because they're showering cash out of airplanes. For now.

And how do you figure HSR is the cheapest way to provide transportation capacity - in what world are you living. Especially since HSR will not serve even a single local commuter need, will not take ANY cars off the roads (isn't even claiming it try to do so - its a long distance transporation, not a commute solution; every person that owns a car today will still need to own a car tomorrow.) AND even after HSR is built we STILL have to maintain every other bit of transportation infrastructure that the state already maintains? Plus some because HSR will require all this build up of LOCAL public transit that doesn't exist today! It does nothing but INCREASE long term operating costs of the state, for negligible, if any local or long distance transportation benefit.

The bottom line is, the state can't pay the bills. Whether you argue that they need to raise taxes or cut spending - THEY CANT PAY THE BILLS THEY ALREADY HAVE.

Clem said...

SF to SJ construction can be started by 2012 ...

Diridon is probably talking about Caltrain "HSR-compatible" projects like the $300M San Bruno grade separation. I would be surprised if shovels didn't hit the dirt in San Bruno by 2012, possibly before the HSR EIR is complete.

There have also been these rumors of grade seps being exempt from CEQA? The bulk of construction on the peninsula will be grade separation of 46 existing crossings, so there may be other backdoor ways to turn dirt using ARRA stimulus funding, before any bond funds are spent (with all those strings attached.)

YESonHSR said...

KGO is the wing-nut station here in the BayArea

Devil's Advocate said...

@Perspective: It is true that HSR will not relieve traffic from the freeways (or not by much). Experience in other countries shows that the system is used primarily by business travelers and some leisure travelers as an alternative to air travel or other public transit travel. That will be even more true in America, where gas and freeway tolls are cheap. In other words HSR provides an alternative to those who would probably not use the car for that trip anyway, and that's why the car traffic won't decrease. However it does relieve air traffic congestion, since airlines in those countries have reduced air service for the short haul segments served by HSR.

The issue of construction cost for the State should be seen as an investment, like any other infrastructure, since, if built appropriately, HSR may pay for itself in the long run (when we are all dead, Keynes would say). I do agree that from a public policy point of view, the government should fund commuter transportation more heavily, since it will benefit many more people. I know it's sad that governments will fund more readily projects like HSR which will benefit primarily the few (rich business travelers and their firms), rather than the masses. But the operating costs of trains for the masses (commuter trains) need to be subsidized for the tickets to be affordable for the masses. But the tax paying rich businessmen (who will use HSR the most) don't like to pay taxes to subsidize commuter train service that they won't use. And that is why even in transit friendly Europe, so many countries readily invest billions in fancy HSTs but less so in commuter trains. My grandma used to say: "if shit acquired value, the poor would be born without an ass".

Spokker said...

In other words, the state's revenues are not enough to fund public transit, and everything else they should be providing as a public good. Agreed. Brilliant deduction."

In other words. Brilliant deduction. Sarcasm! Wow.

BILLS THEY ALREADY HAVE. In what world are you living? Randomly CAPITALIZED words. BOONDOGGLE.

Spokker said...

Construction begins on widening 405 FreewayTHE state IS broke. BoonDOGGLE. Straddling our children's CHILDREN with DEBT. ZERO traffic relief. More lanes, MORE cars. 405? More like FOUR or FIVE miles per hour.

Only THOSE types will use these extra lanes to come into MY neighborhood and rape my WHITE DAUGHTER.

Gosh, now I know why NIMBYs do this. It's so much fun.

BruceMcF said...

Devil's Advocate said...
"@Perspective: It is true that HSR will not relieve traffic from the freeways (or not by much)."

That is mostly true, because most traffic congestion on freeways is due to intra-regional travel.

But in US conditions, HSR will attract a substantial share of inter-regional car travel, especially for those trips like the Central Valley to LA and the Bay that are dominated by car travel.

"Experience in other countries shows that the system is used primarily by business travelers and some leisure travelers as an alternative to air travel or other public transit travel."

How AVE is changing Spain, this blog ...

Source of Demand for Madrid-Seville (First Year Results):

Induced Demand: 34%
Plane: 26%
Car: 24%
Train: 13%
Bus: 3%

So Madrid-Seville took almost as much demand from cars as from planes, and substantially more from cars than from common carriers other than planes.

Of course, its inter-regional travel, and therefore it, of course, primarily attracts business and leisure travelers. They are, after all, the two biggest reasons for engaging in inter-regional travel.

Spokker said...

It's very insulting to suggest that anything that works in another country might work for the United States as well. This is America. Are you a terrorist, perhaps?

BruceMcF said...

Perspective? said ... very nearly off topic, except the generic argument also applies to a Regional HSR line from LA through Salinas, San Jose, Oakland, Sacremento and up to Redding, so here goes ...

"In other words, the state's revenues are not enough to fund public transit, and everything else they should be providing as a public good. Agreed. Brilliant deduction."

The states revenues are not enough to fund the operating subsidies they ought to be providing to local public transport.

Therefore, funding the construction of something that will not require an operating subsidy make much more sense than funding the construction of a highway, which will be an ongoing drain on the government budget.

""The Federal Government's bias toward funding new capital works, and strong bias against funding transit operating budgets, increases the appeal of a system such as the California HSR"

Wow, in other words; Build It (because we can, and someone else will pay for it) then let the State of California run it in to the ground, because we can't afford to operate our current transit systems, let alone a brand new one - and let the taxpayers and citizens of California suffer - sometime later - but lets just jump on the bandwagon now because they're showering cash out of airplanes. For now.

See, the phrase, "in other words", does not mean, "I will repeat part of what you said, then start just making stuff up based on my own uninformed gut feelings about how things probably are, despite the fact that you argued the opposite". Contradicting what someone has written is not where you write "in other words". "I disagree" would be more honest.

The place where your gut feeling loses touch with reality is the "run it into the ground because we cannot afford to operate ...", since the HSR will not require an operating subsidy. Rather, it will use its operating surplus to fund the balance of the state contribution to its capital construction expenses.

As opposed to the alternative you support of using Federal matching funds to build freeways, which do work the way you think HSR does, because freeways do not provide funds to cover their ongoing costs. (That is the alternative you support, because if the transport capacity is not provided by other means, the default in the state is roadworks.)

"And how do you figure HSR is the cheapest way to provide transportation capacity - in what world are you living."

In the world where $40b-$50b is less than $80b, which is what it would cost to provide the same inter-regional transport capacity with freeway construction and airport expansion.

"Especially since HSR will not serve even a single local commuter need, will not take ANY cars off the roads"

This is an obviously foolish claim. It is saying that nobody ever does any inter-regional travel by car. All those freeways are use ENTIRELY and EXCLUSIVELY for local commuting. All those cars are used ENTIRELY AND EXCLUSIVELY for local commuting.

I will assume you were trying to pull a fast one ... you knew perfectly well that if anyone thinks it through, it is obviously a ridiculous claim, but were hoping to slip it through without anyone calling you on it.

Of course, when the Madrid-Seville line opened, 24% of its patronage in the first year came from travel previously provided by cars.

"(isn't even claiming it try to do so - its a long distance transporation, not a commute solution; every person that owns a car today will still need to own a car tomorrow.)"

The only way that total vehicle miles traveled stays the same when people replace inter-regional car trips with HSR is if they increase their local driving by an equal amount to maintain the total vehicle miles traveled constant.

That's silly. If an attractive inter-regional transport option is added to the choices available to Californians, one of the places it will draw its demand from people who would otherwise drive.

"AND even after HSR is built we STILL have to maintain every other bit of transportation infrastructure that the state already maintains?"

Less air travel means fewer gates and runways required means less maintenance of airport infrastructure. Do without the construction of new freeway lanes, and you do without the maintenance of those freeway lanes, because they were not built.

Again, I can only imagine you knew that this claim would not hold up to scrutiny, and were trying to slip it through.

"Plus some because HSR will require all this build up of LOCAL public transit that doesn't exist today!"

And go back to the beginning, where you argued that the problem was that there is not enough ridership to provide the farebox revenue to maintain local transport.

Now, certainly California requires more local public transport, in particular local electric public transport, because when the price of gas hits $5/gallon and $8/gallon, its going to hit the wallets of motorists very hard and they will turn to public transport in large numbers whenever it is available. They acted that way when the price of gas hit a mere $4/gallon, so when it hits $8/gallon, the demand will be intense.

Local public transport is heavily focused on the morning and evening commute periods. And that will be even more the case when the next oil price shocks hit, since people can economize on lots of local trips, but they have to get to work.

Now, the existence of patronage on public transport services during the middle of the day to begin or complete HSR trips means more farebox revenue during times of day when the marginal cost of additional ridership is very low.

So, especially in outlying areas that struggle to maintain public transport services, the existence of a HSR station as an anchor for the regional public transport corridors will improve the revenue versus operating cost for local public transport providers.

Devil's Advocate said...

@ BruceMcF: You can't compare Spain to California or the terrorists will win (Spokker may be right). Since I just returned visiting relatives in Barcelona the day before yesterday let me tell you some facts. Gasoline there costs approximately 1.20 euros per liter ($9.40/gal. at current exchange rates, or even more if you compare it to the average Spanish household income, which is lower than here), renting a car cost me 177 Euros a day (all inclusive) for a compact. Driving on a freeway will cost you over 10 euros in tolls for a 200 mile trip. With those kind of costs and considering the time savings it's obvious that people in Spain are willing to pay over 100 Euros for an AVE to Madrid. In addition Spanish cities are very compact and the railway station is in the middle of everything. From Barcelona Sants you can take the MTB metro trains or buses to any place in the city. It's not the same in California. Gas is cheap, car rental (if you need one) is cheap, freeways are free. In addition if you take a train from the CV to LA, once you get there you still need to rent a car from the Union Station because transit is lousy in LA. So what does a Fresnan save by taking HST to LA instead of driving a car? Very little in time, and nothing in $$ savings (actually it's going to be much more expensive). That's why the users in California will be primarily business travelers that today travel by plane and are willing to put a premium on speed. Can't compete with the car at $1.40/gallon.

Spokker said...

Funding for mass transit is very erratic. In good times it goes up and in bad times it goes down. When tax revenues are down, funding for mass transit goes down.

When the economy picks up again, transit agencies will, hopefully, reinstate service once adequate funding kicks in again.

Until some kind of adjusted, stable funding mechanism for mass transit can be found, this is the way it will be, always and forever.

mike said...

There have also been these rumors of grade seps being exempt from CEQA?I think it's an established fact rather than a rumor. There appears to be no dispute that a project that builds a grade separation to eliminate an existing grade crossing is exempt from CEQA.. AB 289 clarifies that this exemption applies to CHSRA as well, in cases where it is eliminating existing grade crossings. I have no idea how one could ever argue that it wouldn't apply to CHSRA, but it appears that the Transportation Committee wants there to be no doubt about this fact.

Spokker said...

"Gasoline there costs approximately 1.20 euros per liter ($9.40/gal. at current exchange rates"

Very true, and everything else you said was true. But that's because public policy in the United States favors the automobile. It's amazing how much the personal automobile is subsidized once you get down to the nitty gritty. Free parking, low price of gas, free to use freeway. Use fees hardly make up for these costs and other externalities such as congestion, pollution, destruction, and death.

The argument is that such a low price of gas in the United States is unsustainable, and something has to give.

Spokker said...

Even when the automobile has such an advantage, it's amazing to see how well the Pacific Surfliner is doing in Southern California. Many people will pay a premium just to avoid driving. The LOSSAN corridor is a monster of a rail line what with all the Surfliner, Metrolink, and Coaster trains that use it, and I couldn't imagine Southern California without it.

If this shitty line (by most standards) can perform this way, imagine what a good rail line could do!

Angry Southerner said...

Hey Mr. Perspective, have you perhaps maybe considered that there's more to Souther California than Disneyland? That it's a megapolis of 15 million (almost half the state's population)? That really it's for your benefit that the HSR is being built, to give you access to California's most important city? Too bad the high speed rail people are mostly from the Bay Area themselves, and don't seem to care what's good for the people of the state, half of whom live south of Bakersfield.

BruceMcF said...

Devil's Advocate said...
"@ BruceMcF: You can't compare Spain to California"

Yes, because of the subsidies to driving in the US, there are fewer alternatives to driving for a large number of places that will be connected by HSR, and so HSR in California is likely to draw more cars off the road than in Spain ... some of those passengers drawn from rail and bus travel in Spain will be passengers drawn from cars in the US.

Indeed, it would not be surprising if cars are neck and neck with induced demand as the source of passengers for the California HSR system.

Spokker said...

I don't agree with their position on high speed rail, but the California Rail Foundation says this about the Pacific Surfliner.

"The six Santa Barbara–San Diego Surfliner trips average 400 riders per run. On these trains, fares cover 70% of costs, highest of any publicly-operated California transportation service."

This is on a route that includes many stretches of single track and slow winding stretches through mountainous areas. I've often been on trains that had to wait on a siding for 15 minutes for another train to pass.

Improve average speeds. Double track the route. Run more convenient trains, and the Surfliner, Metrolink, and Coaster would all benefit. Hell, I'd support this over HSR in a heartbeat. After all the rabble rousing in the Bay Area, I've become very selfish all of a sudden.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Clem, as I understand it, grade separations of existing railways are indeed exempt from CEQA under current law.

Clem said...

There appears to be no dispute that a project that builds a grade separation to eliminate an existing grade crossing is exempt from CEQAIs that true of NEPA as well?

It's easy to connect the dots: a big chunk of the investment on the SF - SJ corridor will be grade seps. If grade seps can be built or rebuilt (a) within the existing right of way, (b) without Prop 1A funds, and (c) without environmental review, it's quite feasible to turn dirt before ARRA funds expire and before the HSR EIR is complete (and even if the lawsuit stalls the project... think of all the grade seps north of Redwood Junction)

Maybe pushing back on the EIR will be totally ineffective in slowing the CHSRA's momentum on the peninsula?

無名 - wu ming said...

improving every link in a system benefits every link in that system. no need to be selfish about it, spokker. improving the capitol corridor and san joaquins will make a huge difference in the ridership of HSR as well.

Bay Area Resident said...

LOL Angry Southernor, too funny. There is almost no benefit to Silicon Valley to be directly connected to SoCal by train. The only even slightly related industry to high tech is Hollywood, but the center of Hollywood tech is .... HERE! Well in Marin county actually. If the govt is going to build a train to benefit US, up HERE, we would want something from WA to SF perhaps, going through Portland, iow a connection of the tech centers not Los Angeles, the subprime loan industry capitol.

Anonymous said...

@mike and others:

AB-289 still must pass the Assembly and more importantly the senate. It is a crude attempt to weaken CEQA compliance on the project and already much opposition has arisen.

The Authority seems to think they own the legislature --- well we shall see, but this kind of legislation won't cut the mustard.

Anonymous said...

For the naysayers and budget worriers - we are in a down turn now, but it would be foolish and shortsighted to put projects on hold until things turn around because when things turn around we are going to need the capacity and won't have it. If we didn't hand over a full half of the worlds 8th largest economy to fund a bunch of sloppy foul mouthed ungrateful youth and their schools, maybe there would be some money to spend on quality of life issues for the rest of the residents.

John said...

Airplanes are actually the most efficient and fastest way to get from the PacNW to SF, LA, and San Diego.

Sorry, it's just the case. Even after the insane government expenditure to build the tracks, planes would still be the more efficient mode of transport between these city pairs.

Why would anybody even want this?

Anonymous said...

The reason why airplanes are more efficient is that they can provide direct point to point service. The HSR won't do that because the concept has been compromised by developers demands.

Meandering routes lead to disappointing results. Quentin Kopp's BART SFO extension is a good example, rated on a sliding scale from underperforming to outright failure.

I doubt this project can be saved from mediocrity. Instead of building a shorter, proof of concept system that functions very well and then can be expanded the CHSRA will build a sub-optimal chimera that will have to reconfigured at great expense.

BruceMcF said...

John said...
"Airplanes are actually the most efficient and fastest way to get from the PacNW to SF, LA, and San Diego."

Oddly enough, there is presently a choice between flying and driving, and some people drive ... so the idea that "the most efficient" in some vague, undefined sense of efficiency, and "fastest" will determine 100% of all trips is silly.

In terms of energy efficiency, clearly an electric Regional HSR service would be more energy efficient per passenger-mile.

And for a Regional HSR line, 80% or more of the alignment of a Regional HSR corridor from Seattle to San Diego is justified in terms of providing regional rail transport ... a "West Coast Regional HSR" service would be primarily leveraging infrastructure that ought to be built in any event.

Given that, the share of the regional transport market that is required to justify the expense of adding improvements to the Eugene to Redding corridor in support of a "West Coast Regional HSR" corridor is not very large.

By contrast, as the blog post itself suggested, and as the discussion from several commentators has highlighted, justifying the capital cost of extending the Express HSR corridor from Sacramento on up through to Seattle or Vancouver is a far harder to justify proposition. It would be a massive increase in the incremental price tag, and so would require a big share of the total transport market to justify.

And that share would be unlikely to be forthcoming without massive changes in relative prices between petroleum based transport and electric transport.

"Sorry, it's just the case. Even after the insane government expenditure to build the tracks, planes would still be the more efficient mode of transport between these city pairs."

Efficiency is still undefined. Efficiency is the ratio of an output to an input, so without specifying the quantities for the outputs and the inputs, its an entirely empty term.

"Why would anybody even want this?"

That was also discussed in the commentary ... possibly some are trying to leverage the PR appeal of the Express HSR California system in order to gain some perceived political benefit for accelerating the roll out of Regional HSR in the Pacific Northwest.

It might even be some imagining that connecting to the California system is an effective strategy to get Express HSR into the Pacific Northwest.

But in either event, its a quite dubious proposition, given the expense of putting an Express HSR corridor through the rugged terrain between Redding CA and Eugene OR.

Even for Regional HSR infrastructure, that would be the link in the chain with the lowest Benefit to Cost ratio, and it might require the sharing of the infrastructure with high speed container freight in order to get the ratio above 1.0.

Rob Dawg said...

President Obama and many Congressional Democrats see that bill as the place where the nation's transportation priorities can finally change, away from massive subsidies to roads and starvation diets for rails.Cool. Would you please flesh these points out with some data? I am absolutely on board with the egregious cross subsides we have now. We really really need to stop all the revenue generated by rail from leaking over to roads. It's disgusting and ultimately distorts the true value of passenger rail.

BruceMcF said...

Anony-mouse said...
"The reason why airplanes are more efficient is that they can provide direct point to point service. The HSR won't do that because the concept has been compromised by developers demands."

With an argument like this, its hard to fault someone for not wanting to pick a pseudonym ... its as likely not wanting to be associated with the argument as mere laziness.

Airplanes provide point to point service??? Sure, for people who live at an airport hotel whose travel involves going to business meetings at other airport hotels.

For other people, not so much.

DBX said...

Alon Levy, those numbers are completely wrong. Amtrak didn't do a great job on managing the New Haven-Boston project but still, the original contract with Balfour Beatty/Massachusetts Electric for the catenary and signaling work was for $321 million and the final cost with trackwork, change orders and various other knick-knacks came in at just over $600 million.

Anonymous said...

I live part of the year in LA and part in Vancouver BC. I believe that despite the larger populations of the San Diego-LA- Sacramento-SF corridor the population base of the Portland-Seattle-Vancouver corridor would be much more likely to use a train system with city centre destinations. The NW is much more attuned to public transit than most of California (you arrive in LA at Union Station and do what? Rent a car and drive to Belverly Hills or Anaheim?? People will drive because they need their cars. SF is very transit friendly and San Diego moderately so but LA's population base is the heart of a California system.

In Vancouver you have rapid transit links to a wide swath of the region and the airport. Ditto Portland and, increasingly, Seattle. All three cities have compact downtown areas and are very condusive to visiting/conducting business without a car.

San Diego to San Francisco=500 miles
Vancovuer to Portland = 250 miles

The closer distances make travel more easy - you could do a day trip between Portand-Seattle or Seattle-Vancouver for business, shopping, touring and so would be more attractive. In LA it could take over an hour just to get to Union Station from your home.

While the combined populations of the California line are much greater than the aprox. 8 million people in the three NW cities (metro pops) the car culture in California still rules outside of the inner Bay Area.