Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Tuesday Open Thread

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

It´s mid-afternoon here on the Algarve in Portugal. Beautiful weather, cool clear water, and a nice breeze making the last week of my visit here quite enjoyable. So what am I doing online? Other than being a total nerd, and taking a kind of siesta, I´m catching up on HSR stuff. Thanks so much to Rafael for his ongoing work in keeping the blog updated.

Some quick HSR related items:

  • AB 153 by Fiona Ma will be heard in the Assembly Transportation and Housing Committee today - the bill would clarify the eminent domain power of the CHSRA, to emphasize the agency does indeed have such power.

  • Apologies if this has been discussed before - it is a few days old - but the Mercury News has an article on two Menlo Park/Atherton moms who have organized to fundraise for the anti-HSR lawsuit, having collected over $30,000 (note: the original version of this post misstated the sum as $300,000) toward the legal bills. I´m really pleased to see that in this economic crisis there are people with that much money to waste, especially mothers who apparently don´t have to worry about the severe attacks on public education taking place in this state. Wouldn´t $30,000 be rather useful to local schools or to help feed the hungry?!


Anon said...

Certainly the more interesting and newsworthy current event is the train wreck overnight, of two commuter trains in Washington DC. (traveling same direction, on same track.) Will we see a cry from Washington politicians for an investigation into the NTSB policies, processes? safety measures? a crackdown? a scandal? congressional hearing? (afterall, this did happen on washington's doorstep). Will we see tons of new regulations heaped on US commuter railways as a result? Will we see the Obama adminstration continuing to fall all over itself to throw untold billions on flaky half baked commuter rail plans, like CHSRA without a bunch more detail and safety considerations?

But as for the soccer moms raising tons of money (door to door) for the lawsuit. Interesting how involved the 'nimby's' get down there, isn't it? Maybe the Palo Alto process is about a little more than whining. More than a few folks who know how to get things done, and aren't afraid to roll up their sleeves. Kudos. (Oh by the way, Palo Alto is funding their schools with their own property tax bills which are sky high, their PTA volunteerism efforts, and their school foundation, so thanks for your concern about the schools, but the same folks are taking care of their schools too.)

Anonymous said...

Relocate the HSR to the 101 corridor whereupon Bechtel et al. can erect all the elevateds they want.

Besides having Caltrain and the HSR together will ensure that a disruption to one will result in a disruption to the other. Why ask for trouble?

crzwdjk said...

Those were Washington Metro trains, not commuter trains. The equivalent of BART, not Caltrain, and having nothing to with the FRA or HSR. And aside from the fatalities, it's not too different from another accident on the Metro a few years ago. I think if anything we might see a bit more scrutiny of urban rail systems and operating practices, because it's clear that whatever systems WMATA had were not up to the task, and their rolling stock has the structural integrity of a soda can.

Alon Levy said...

Robert, you're getting it wrong. In Palo Alto, school quality stems from excluding everyone who's not rich from attending. This means making sure property values are artificially high, so that housing is unaffordable to everyone from the middle class down.

Devil's Advocate said...

Anonymous: Actually the most direct way from San Jose to SFO area would be not through the 101 corridor, but through the bay, along the marshes. Try and enter Diridon Station, San Jose, CA in the 'from' box, and South San Francisco in the "to" box.


Anon said...

Which of course would explain why PAUSD continues to voluntarily honor a system of giving hundreds of spots to children from EPA (not even in the same county). In the 70s it was a court order - the court order is long gone, but they are still honoring that program.

And by the way, Are the schools good because the property values are high? or are the property values high because the schools are good?

How much below market rate housing has city of Palo Alto built in the last 5 years, or have under construction currently? How many spots are taken by children of district employees (no matter where they live)? How many free or reduced lunch stundents are there? How many non-white ethnic minorities are there (you'll be surprised). How many distric funded special ed kids are there?

Alon, your ignorance is showing.

Again, the more interesting and newsworthy current event is the trainwreck - and what implications that will have on Obama administration's blind support for throwing billions at train infrastructure. (And how much publicity this will bring for issues like, train safety and lax oversight, poor NTSB oversight, etc)

Arcady - do you really think the general public makes a distinction between 'washington metro' verus 'commuter train', versus Bart versus Caltrain versus HSR? The equation for the general public is: Train = train = train, and Hundreds injured or dead in train wreck = not good.

General public says; At least when there's a car accident, the damage and death rarely extends beyond 1-2cars, damage generally contained to those cars involved, and the accident slows the system for a couple hours (with lots of alternative routes available). Train wreck - hundreds involved, peripheral (community and system-wide) damage great, and system stands still for days (at least).

mike said...

What Anonymous at 10:07 am said. Though admittedly it's understandable how one might mistakenly juxtapose the $300k number for the $30k number. I mean, $30k, come on, that's just silly. What is that going to get you? A single day's worth of service from an elite law firm? With that kind of budget they're going to be hiring the ambulance-chasing lawyers that you see ads for on late night TV. Can't afford anything more.

Matt said...

I don't understand their reasoning. They want HSR. But through Atlamont and across Dumbarton. This puts the train through plenty neighborhoods in the east bay, and still through much of the peninsula, while excluding San Jose. It just saves them. Shortsighted, selfish, NIMBY.

mike said...

The Metro crash in DC looks to be the culmination of a history of lousy operational competence on the part of WMATA. Hopefully this will force them to finally clean up their act. I would bet good money that the Metro train that crashed was being operated manually rather than by the automatic train control system.

But anyone who thinks that this will have an impact on HSR has no idea what they're talking about. The FRA doesn't even regulate systems like BART or Metro. The Chatsworth Metrolink crash last year will have far more relevance to HSR...and so far it seems to be helping the case of HSR by providing the momentum to finally install the positive train control (PTC) signaling systems that are necessary for the safe operation of high speed passenger trains.

Anonymous said...

Anon 1028,
Cars=cars=cars, planes=planes=planes, etc. In other words, shit happens! Terrible shit at that! Planes falling out of the sky in the Atlantic, cars crashing everyday! Aren't you just appalled! Perhaps none of should leave the house, and shit will never happen...good grief!

Anonymous said...

I meant anon 1048.

Morris Brown said...


Boy you had better get back here and quickly, because apparently your decimal points are being shifted to the right while traveling across the pond.

Robert, the amount of money raised is not $300,000 but $30,000.

Why don't you get all excited about California spending this year $130 million or so on the HSR, when the State is virtually bankrupt, and any self respecting liberal democrat, as you note, should not want to deprive the needy, educational institutions etc. of adequate funding.

Spokker said...

"Again, the more interesting and newsworthy current event is the trainwreck - and what implications that will have on Obama administration's blind support for throwing billions at train infrastructure."

Auto accidents sure did nothing to stop blind support for throwing billions at car infrastructure.

Freeways are incredibly unsafe places to be and its users cause untold amounts of destruction and death per year by driving unsafe. People, probably including you, continue to drive.

If we are okay with 40,000 people per year dying on freeways, then I'm okay with a major transit agency having a train wreck per couple decades.

Spokker said...

"At least when there's a car accident, the damage and death rarely extends beyond 1-2cars"

Yeah man, keep the untold thousands of auto accidents each year in the back of the papers because individually they were "small."

"damage generally contained to those cars involved"

The people on that Metro train were not in control, just as many people who are killed in auto accidents were not in control. If a drunk driver hits you or another driver runs a red light, you may be toast and you could do nothing about it.

Unknown said...

Ahh yes, using a train accident to attack trains. Nice, I guess freeway accidents should go against freeways too.

I understand you are trying to kill this project, but using a unrelated accident, when such accidents are extremely rare compared to how many people they move, is wrong and just plain dumb.

Spokker said...

I posted this on DCist.

"This story has had no less than seven blog posts about it. We will hammer away at this transit agency pointing fingers while 40,000 per year die on freeways, and we're okay with that.

Speed limits are being raised in communities. People run red lights and drink and drive every single day. People complain that a law to protect children getting off of school buses is being enforced in Pasadena, CA for Christ's sake.

The coverage of this accident is not proportional to how dangerous mass transit really is and I see people on other sites I frequent already using this crash to attack much-needed investment in commuter rail, light rail and high speed rail.

If we are going to cover this accident to the nth degree, then by all means, let's put fatal auto accidents on the front page every single day. There are plenty to choose from and you wouldn't be able to get to them all."

Devil's Advocate said...

Based on the logic displayed by Anon, after the Air France accident we should stop building planes and build a freeway across the Atlantic instead.
If one wants to attack the HSR project ok! I've criticized certain choices myself sometimes, but based on cost/benefits analysis, not on safety grounds for God's sake! The experience in countries where HSR already exists shows that is probably the safest mode of transportation.

Morris Brown said...

AB-153 was pulled from the Senate T&H agenda, by the author, today.

It will be heard at a later, unannounced time.

This bill does more than what Robert indicated, allowing for the Authority to employee outside attorneys as an example. It has passed the Assembly already.

Daniel Jacobson said...

Martin Engel has yet another rant about how HSR will starve small children. It's sad that people actually believe this b.s.

NONIMBYS said...

He has been ranting and making up BS since last November..anywhere he can..WAAA HSR is the end of the world!
Right Martin!!

Anonymous said...

Bad publicity is bad publicity. And its worse than bad publicity - its the worst train accident in 30 years in Washington DC, at the worst possible timing. Federal level politicians and administrations are going to be called to task just as they're handing out billions in tax payer dollars for rail buildup. Explanations, regulatory tightening (are we going to see alot of "waivers" now???), hearings, the whole nine yards.

Cry and whine about cars all you want - the bad news sweeping the nation is about trains. Car accidents will never capture the national news market like a train accident. They just aren't as dramatic, powerful or large scale. Not only that they make the news precisely because they are rare - and big.

By the way, they say now, it WAS on automatic, not on manual. It was probably COMPUTER failure (safety system failure!? Wow imagine that), and the news bites on the east coast must be pretty gruesome.

Hey it is what it is. And I doubt they're going to allow these train safety regulators to enter the congressional hearings about train safety and say 'but look at all the car accidents - the news isn't fair'. Like children's 'but he started it'. Nice try.

Tony D. said...

Anon 1051,

I hate to be blunt, but you're a complete idiot! There's no other way to put it. Air France falling out of the sky over the Atlantic? Planes crashing in the Hudson River? Bridges collapsing in Minnesota? The thousands of unfortunate auto accidents that occur every minute across our great country? How about those huge pile ups on I-5 due to Tule Fog?

Based on your stupid logic, we should cease spending money on anything because something terrible might happen.

Actually, you're using (or abusing) the DC Metro incident to try and advance your anti-HSR view. You should be utterly ashamed of yourself!

I know we've had anti-HSR posters on this blog whose opinion we don't always see eye to eye...but you take the cake by a mile! idiocy at its finest! Enough said on that!

political_incorrectness said...

@ Matt

Altamont I would not shove into the garbage heap just yet, I would save it for when the Sacramento extension comes into play as it will take less time to do an HSR trip via Altamont versus going through Gillroy and Pacheco.

These NIMBYs are throwing away there money toward such a silly cause which might affect them more and without really discussing about design options that have yet to be placed on the table. They should just with hold the suit until a further date until the design for grade separation is confirmed rather than press the freak out button.

Anonymous said...

news from today -Senate Debates Need for High-Speed Trains

Anonymous said...

anon - leaving your house can be unsafe. I suggest you stay inside and whatever you do don't touch the stove.

Jake said...

@political_incorrectness The upgraded ACE trains could always interline with the main line once they get around to it. It's not like the high speed trains would be going much faster than 125 once they cleared the Altamont Pass anyhow.

無名 - wu ming said...

took the shanghai maglev last week. say what you will about gadgetbahn, that sucker was insanely fast.

(and no, i'm still in favor of steel wheels for CAHSR. i just had to post it)

Rafael said...

With respect to the tragic accident on the Washington, DC metro system, the MSM are focusing on reports that the train that tail-ended the stationary one was old, lacked a black box, was overdue for a brake inspection and lacked structural integrity.

While there is no argument that major transit systems nationwide have been underfunded for decades and, it is premature to jump to conclusions about the cause of this deadly accident.

In particular, the investigation needs to focus on the signaling system, which failed to bring the second train, which was traveling in automatic mode at the time, to a full stop at a safe distance from the first. Passive safety measures are largely ineffective in passenger train crashes at elevated relative velocities.

The only proven strategy is active safety, i.e. properly designed and maintained automatic train control systems. Is it too much to ask that mass transit networks install modern signaling and failsafe mechanisms?

Anonymous said...

@rafeal - obviously it IS too much to ask. Those things cost money and americans are only woried about safety after something happnens, and then, only unitl the headlines die down. then its back to "don't raise are taxes" and "we can't afford it." In America, money trumps morality.

Anonymous said...

"In America, money trumps morality."
There's a lot of truth packed into that sentence. It explains how we ended up with Diridon's vision of HSR rather than a system which makes sense.

Anonymous said...

anon- actually the current design makes the most sense. When I saw the map, the first thing I though from a passenger railroad employee point of view was "this makes sense." There's no morality involved with that. The story is about safety, training and technology.

Anonymous said...

I don't care about kopp and drridon one way or the other, I only care about how to get people around the state from the perspective of a rail travel professional who's job it is everyday, to get people around the state. I know where the demand is, what the markets are, where people are going and or want to go and how they want to do it. I know it first hand. The design is the correct design. What do you know?

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:11,
Can you explain to all of us how HSR serving directly the largest city in Northern California and the economic powerhouse of the state is immoral?
Jim is right! The current design/routing is correct and makes perfect sense.

Anonymous said...

Sorry this is slightly off-topic, but I'm still kind of unclear on why San Jose International is not being integrated into the HSR plan. Are people expected to arrive at Diridon, switch to Caltrain (or BART someday), go to Santa Clara, and then switch to a People Mover (if it's ever built?)to finally arrive at SJC? Vice versa, how many people are going to want to go through the hassle of taking the reverse to take a train from Diridon? How difficult would it be to implement a people-mover from Diridon to SJC?

I'm certain this has already been hashed out elsewhere, if so, can someone give me the link to that discussion?

Alon Levy said...

PAUSD continues to voluntarily honor a system of giving hundreds of spots to children from EPA (not even in the same county).

In pre-WW2 Britain, private schools would give scholarships to a select number of students who passed a difficult exam. They said that those students deserved it, but that other students, who did not pass, should pay for private school or just not go to school beyond age 11. The postwar Labour government's introduction of universal secondary education, even for working class people who didn't pass that exam, was controversial and still gets grumbles from the aristocracy.

Similarly, in the 1920s and 30s, Ivy League universities admitted some Jews and Catholics, below a certain quota. For Jews, it was about 15% of the student population - anything above that the people who ran the universities considered detrimental to the community. Minorities were never banned, just excluded using such quotas and some creative admission methods (like athletic scholarships). Like all racists, the people who ran Harvard and Columbia had the time had no problem with controlled numbers of minorities.

Palo Alto's situation is the same. If it wanted equality of education, it'd push for creating a South Bay Unified school district, with equal per student spending, consisting of at a minimum all of Santa Clara County, and preferably also the rest of the rest of the region. It wouldn't just let in a few hundred, above the minimum number that would placate civil rights activists but below the maximum number the school can take without upsetting the white status quo. They would fight to repeal Prop 13 and encourage good teachers to take rotations in difficult districts like EPA and Stockton, rather than just bus a handful of lucky students away from their community.

The short-term economic interest of PA is in having a local uneducated underclass to clean its houses cheaply, and in keeping it away in order to protect property values. The long-term economic interest is in educating as many people as possible so that they could create the next Google and Yahoo.

Anonymous said...

Its 3 miles- 8 minutes - per google - from the train to the plane in san jose. How ill they do it? A shuttle maybe? A people mover like the one being planned for oakland? iwth bart amtrak hsr etc all in one place at diridon, it would make sense to invest in a people mover.

Alon Levy said...

Jim, given SJC's prime location and its lack of long-range service, it'd make even more sense to just decommission it and replace it with office buildings.

Peter said...

That's what I thought too. I've just heard talk of a people-mover from Santa Clara tunneling under the airport to the terminals on the east side of the field. This was planned before Prop 1A passed. I'm assuming the connection to SJC was one of the main reasons for BART extending to Santa Clara. Not saying the Santa Clara BART extension is a bad idea, if only for all the people who travel to Santa Clara University from the East Bay.

I'm just wondering if the people-mover from Santa Clara makes any sense if it doesn't link to HSR without having to go through Diridon.

I know many people don't like the Caltrain East idea, but it seems to make more sense in at least this respect than the alternative awkward SJC link.

Peter said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter said...

San Jose has 1024 weekly direct flights departing the airport as of March. Of these, about 50% go to destinations outside the state.

Hardly a "lack of long-range service"

Closing SJC would mean even worse congestion at SFO (which has massive delays whenever the fog rolls in, and the same at OAK.

Also, in a city with already I believe more than 10% empty office space, what would be the point?

Unknown said...

Also, in a city with already I believe more than 10% empty office space, what would be the point?

Temporary problem in the first place. But the second point, i give it a 1 in a million chance that that airport will be closed. What is more likely is another airport will be constructed as our suburban sprawl continues.

Fred Martin said...

One positive outcome I hope to see from the DC Metro crash is increased attention to the importance of modern signaling and train control. DC Metro and BART are "sister" systems, and they are both getting quite old now. Both are using equipment that is mostly over 35 years old. DC Metro and BART aren't so "modern" anymore, and they need significant refurbishment of their existing systems.

Unfortunately, operations and maintenance never get the kind of public funds that new construction gets. Rather than BART and the Bay Area digging itself into further operational and maintenance debt with the foolish Oakland Air Connector and the BART-to-San Jose extension projects, BART's allocation of funds should be dedicated to upgrading its existing system to modern standards. BART has had problems with its signal relays as well, and yes, BART could very easily experience the same sort of crash as DC Metro without new signaling equipment. BART needs to maintain and upgrade the system it has -- which will be very expensive as it is -- instead of being distracted by wild, misguided system expansions.

Caltrain East, involving upgraded ACE and upgraded Capitol Corridor services (integrated with Altamont HSR as well!) is a vastly superior option to the BART-to-San Jose boondoggle, which is all about satisfying bloated single-source construction interests.

Peter said...

Well, the amount of empty office space has been a problem since the dot-com bubble burst. Hardly temporary. San Jose developers WAY overdeveloped the area in terms of office space.

Also, where else are you going to put an airport to replace it, especially after all the sprawl development that has taken place?

Anon said...

Alon, you apparently have not a clue about the ethnic diversity of palo alto schools - but go ahead and keep making stuff up about racism. The facts speak for themselves.

In the meantime, interesting headlines today on the REAL news which is the train crash:

Investigators are looking at "Anomolies" in the track circuit 5 of six circuits recognized a device that signals train speed, there were 'anomolies' with the 6th circuit. Intriguing terminology. Has a lot of implications for safety and perhaps security of trains, and what kind of safety/security measures will be required going forward. Cost implications for CHSR? If its a ~security~ issue - implications for placing new tracks in high risk locations - like up against schools???

Anonymous said...

Alon Levy 141,
I like your thinking! My idea is to relocate SJC operations in 10-20 years, and transform the current Mineta site into a world-class urban development.
You can relocate SJC to either 1) Moffett Field, constructing a new east-west approach runway in the northern section of the airfield, transforming blimp hangars into airline terminals, and either extending BART from SC to Moffett/Sunnyvale or build people mover from future Sunnyvale Caltrain/HSR station to Moffett terminals. Or 2) build new SJC out between Gilroy and Hollister (lots of open space out there), to be served by an HSR spur off the main Gilroy-Fresno segment.
The possibilities are endless and exciting for a new SJC!

Anonymous said...

My new east-west approach runway in northern portion of Moffett Field idea is to accommodate NOMBYS (not over my backyard) in Sunnyvale: two current runways for departures over the bay.

Anonymous said...

Peter - there was significant office construction in Silicon Valley over the 2006-2008 period, long after the dot com bust, so your theory is shot there.

A place for a new airport? Um, hello? Moffett Field? A ginormous plot of land away from tall buildings that has already served as an airport for nearly a century?

Alon Levy said...

Alon, you apparently have not a clue about the ethnic diversity of palo alto schools - but go ahead and keep making stuff up about racism. The facts speak for themselves.

According to School Matters, PA High School is 4% black, 6% Hispanic, and 4% low income. If that's what you consider diverse, you need to get out more.

Palo Altan said...

Alon, you have a narrow view of diversity. If 58% are white, that leaves 42% who are.....diverse. As part of that 42%, I take offense whenever you guys carry on with your stereotypes of Palo Alto. It reflects strongly on your background. Since you're clueless I'll give you a hint: diversity is broader than black, white and an Hispanic shade of brown.

Spokker said...

I'm a mutt who is half-white, half-Hispanic, whatever that means. I always put decline to state on all forms unless it will result in more financial aid, then I'm Hispanic.

Hooray for diversity.

Spokker said...

And that fear is not based in any reality. It has been demonstrated that Hispanic students are just as smart as white students when Jaime Escalante achieved AP calculus test scores at Garfield High School that were higher than mostly-white high income schools. It's not just some sappy movie. It's something that actually happened over a prolonged period of time. And all he did was not coddle these goddamn kids and taught them high-level stuff.

Of course, Jaime Escalante was forced out and now he lives in South America. Great job, school administrators.

Peter said...

Given how much money was just recently dropped into SJC (new terminals, new parking garages, extended runways, hardened taxiways, new fixed base operators), I don't see any reason to close it.

I don't think an east-west runway at Moffett would work, as it would basically be built across wetlands. We're trying to restore wetlands, not overbuild them again. Plus, the traffic flows at SJC, OAK, and SFO are highly coordinated. I'm not sure that changing that flow with an east-west runway at Moffett would improve things at all. Especially on poor-weather days.

You want to use Moffett Field's hangars as terminals? And to think people were saying San Jose's terminals were ghetto...

Yeah, the recently built office buildings are now all empty. As are all the new condos. ("Sexy views for the low 400s", which are now "Priced to Sell" or for lease). Fat lot of good that did us.

Anonymous said...

1) current improvements to Mineta SJC could be adaptively reused: shopping, residential, cultural/educational institution. The rest of the acreage could be sold to a developer for a very pretty penny (recession won't last forever).
2) "wetlands" north of Moffett Field are actually man-made salt pans. Besides, east/west hypothetical runway doesn't have to come near the salt pans (just check out a satellite view or Google Earth).
3) Air traffic out of Moffett (when it was commissioned and now with NASA) are already accounted for by Bay Area MTC. SFO, OAK, and Moffett SJC can coexist.
4) Condos not selling in this economy? You don't say! Again, recession won't last forever.

Alon Levy said...

And that fear is not based in any reality. It has been demonstrated that Hispanic students are just as smart as white students when Jaime Escalante achieved AP calculus test scores at Garfield High School that were higher than mostly-white high income schools.

Exactly... and then the ETS required the students to retake the test (though unlike in the movie, in reality not all passed again - only 12 out of 14 did, meaning the other 2 were screwed out of an AP pass). And on the other fear, crime, Hispanics are no worse than whites. Even really poor Hispanic cities, like Santa Ana, usually have low to moderate crime rates. EPA is an exception - having way less money to pay for good cops than all surrounding cities counts for something - but white-and-Asian areas still try to avoid having too many Hispanics nationwide.