Monday, October 19, 2009

HSR on the Radio in SF Tonight

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

Tonight at 7PM on KALW 91.7 in San Francisco, City Visions will cover the high speed rail debate. As described in the announcement:

The vision of a high-speed rail link between Northern and Southern California is exciting, with fast, modern trains zipping people between San Francisco and Los Angeles in just over two hours. But controversy over route, ridership and cash is following the project. The state, with little money to spend on infrastructure, has just applied for massive federal funding. But some still call the project a fantasy for the well-off that shouldn’t take priority over more basic rail solutions.

Join host Lauren Melzter as she talks with:
-Samer Madanat, Director, Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Berkeley
-Brian Stanke, Director of Californians for High-Speed Rail
-Richard Tolmach, President of the California Rail Foundation

Brian Stanke will be carrying the HSR torch for us tonight. As you all probably know, Richard Tolmach is a leading HSR denier and will be using the show to disseminate his misleading statements about the project.

You can see some of his claims in the most recent issue of Cal Rail News, which he edits. Pages 5 and 6 are full of FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) about HSR "invading neighborhoods" and claiming, against the evidence, that the trains will run at 200mph through "cities."

Perhaps it might be useful in advance of the show to help debunk Tolmach's claims in the comments?

If you want to participate in the show, the call-in number is (415) 841-4134, or you can email the show:


Tony D. said...

Let's not worry to much on what Tolmach has to say. HSR is coming no matter what comes out of his mouth.

It's not a question of IF HSR will be built; it's now a question of HOW HSR will be built.

Peter said...

Heh. Cute. The fact (I'm not sure if it's true or not) that no European city has built a high speed elevated through a city recently is kind of irrelevant. They didn't have to, because the lines were already there...

Anonymous said...

As typical, this blog resorts to name-calling and juvenile us-vs-them rhetoric. How about using your foamer brain to figure out what rail investments actually make sense?

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 4:28pm -

as usual, you refer to anyone who has concluded that HSR is a rail investment that makes a lot of sense a "foamer". Pot, meet kettle.

Fact is, Obama and the Dem Congress are prepared to fund high speed rail right now. That doesn't mean capital investments in local/regional transit upgrades aren't needed, just that the political climate in Washington doesn't favor them at the moment.

He who pays the piper calls the tune.

Devil's Advocate said...

Thank you for the links to that Tolmach articlo. Although I don't agree that elevated lines are not being built in Europe. The Bologna-Milan HSR just opened last year is almost entirely elevated. I don't think CHSRA has a choice in the peninsula. It's either elevated or open trench.

Anonymous said...

NOT investments in 1950s type trains!!! ypu know the ones RichardT likes!! right RAILPAC!! talk about foamers..

Anonymous said...

Would it be appropriate to ask these questions about the 85/87 Alternative Alignment through South San Jose.
-Is this the only proposed urban alignment that's not along an existing heavy rail line?
-Is it the only alignment planned to go up a residential street?
-Is this the only proposed alignment to cut across an existing High School?

Or is this show only going to cover Palo Alto and Atherton alignments?

Anonymous said...

Rafael, the amount of federal HSR funding available at the moment is nothing close to the amounts CHSRA will require. That should be obvious to even the most feeble financial analyst. If CHSRA can't do something useful with what funding it does have, it's not going to receive much more. HSR has some political momentum at the moment, but that will evaporate quickly without some results.

He who pays the piper calls the tune.

And it doesn't take much digging to figure out who is paying the piper to profit handsomely from public HSR funds.

Rafael said...

@ Peter -

the reasons elevated structures other than bridges across water are rare in Europe are fairly straightforward:

(a) almost all European railway networks have been publicly owned and operated for decades. Development wasn't permitted to encroach on legacy rights of way.

(b) passenger service has been given scheduling priority over freight.

(c) most freight trains have been limited to moderate axle loads (typically, 22.5 metric tonnes) and forced to run on timetables.

(d) lightweight passenger trains are allowed to run on the same tracks as medium freight trains.

(e) most lines are at least double tracked and equipped with modern signaling. Many are electrified.

(f) high speed trains can often leverage the legacy networks to reach city centers, albeit at reduced speed.

(g) in the larger cities in Western Europe, the railroad tracks were fully grade separated decades ago or even in the 19th century.

(h) where high speed lines require dedicated tracks into city centers for capacity reasons, voters are much more willing to pay for tunnels out of the much larger general fund. Investment in transportation infrastructure (including rail) is considered a core responsibility of the government.

(j) Europe has little oil of its own left, so it has a much weaker oil industry lobby and a much greater incentive to curb (the growth of) oil consumption by the transportation sector.

(k) European countries have political systems that usually deliver governments with stable majorities that last for at least four years. Political parties are expected to formulate coherent, comprehensive policy positions prior to elections and if needed, negotiate formal coalition agreements after them. This includes long-term plans for infrastructure development, which are sometimes modified but rarely canceled altogether after a change of government.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 5:07pm -

the 87/85 "thread the needle" option through south San Jose wasn't CHSRA's idea, it was submitted as a public comment. Under CEQA, they are required to consider it. They can't reject it until they've come up with a better alternative but rest assured, nuking VTA light rail service isn't something they're really interested in doing.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 5:22pm -

I'm confident the federal funding for California HSR will be there provided CHSRA cracks down on cost escalations during this critical project-level EIS/EIR phase. Left to their own devices, consultants from private for-profit companies will always maximize their own revenue at the expense of the taxpayer.

Skimping on CHSRA supervision staff whose loyalties are to the state only is a very bad idea. Just set up a corporation wholly owned by the state of California that can hire technical experts without the normal bureaucratic constraints on pay and lifetime job security. Once the project is completed, liquidate the company. This isn't rocket science.

The CA-99 mistake said...

So, Robert, is HSR going to be going at 200mph through Central Valley cities or not??? What is misleading about saying trains are expected to maintain at least 200mph along the Central Valley? PB's Tony Daniels clearly thinks so, in order to meet the 2hr, 40min requirement. Are trains going to be stopping at all stations, or will all trains have to slow down through Central Valley urban areas?

It's all just rhetorical bluster to you, isn't it?

Peter said...

@ Rafael

At the Gardner Alternatives Analysis meeting, it appeared as if CHSRA was looking at the "Threading the Needle" alignment to either drop HSR onto the 87 median, OR to use it to set up for an alignment next to the existing Caltrain/UPRR tracks running past Tamien.

Threading the Needle does not necessarily require nuking VTA light rail to work. Just if you run it down the 87/85 median. Not that losing light rail would be the end of the world. I feel that that line sucks ballz when it comes to linking up to anything else, especially Caltrain on weekends. Unless VTA implements its plans for express trains on that route, it will continue to suck. Couldn't VTA set up a timed transfer at Convention Center to either DASH or the Mountain View-Winchester line in order to link up with Caltrain? They already have an island platform, how hard would a cross-platform transfer be?

Anonymous said...

@Rafel @ 5:35

Thanks for the response but the 85/87 AA appears to be a separate issue from the "Thread The Needle" approach to Didiron. Neither requires the other. The 85/87 AA will help solve a different problem - the problems associated with the UPRR ROW .

I'm sure CAHSR prefers the UPRR/Caltrain alignment. I'm sure UP doesn't.

How can you find the genesis of the Alternate Alignments that came out of the Scoping sessions? I found only one relatively weak reference to a 85/87 alignment in the scoping comments. I found several references to 280/101 alignments that didn't generate an official Alternate Alignment like 85/87 did.

Anonymous said...

The 85/87 AA only partially uses the 85/87 Medians. Both freeways aren't straight enough to accommodate reasonable speeds. The Montrey Highway slide that was presented shows the line coming out of the median is multiple spots to straighten curves. The worst occurrence being at the 85/87 interchange where it cuts for approx 1mile over a residential neighbor and Gunderson High School. For comparison the tracks through the Gardner neighbor is about 0.6 miles.

Peter said...

Yes, HSR along 87/85 would have to leave the median occasionally, including the crazy flyover to transition from 87 to 85. I don't think the alignment will actually work (it actually appears to be kind of stupid to me), so the whole discussion is academic.

I DO still think that the 901 light rail line sucks, and that some changes must be made to improve service on it.

Rafael said...

@ the CA-99 mistake -

CHSRA has not yet finalized the ROW through the Central Valley nor has it published a detailed velocity profile for the alternatives under consideration.

However, the 2008 business plan (PDF p7) does indeed indicate that express trains would run at over 200mph between Gilroy/Stockton and Bakersfield.

Just exactly how CHSRA intends to mitigate the related noise and vibration impacts for nearby residents isn't at all clear yet. Central Valley cities are so desperate to get HSR at all that they haven't yet asked any pointed questions on these topics.

However, the power dissipated by trains at high speed is roughly proportional to the cube of velocity. At 220mph, it's ~5.5 times as high as at 125mph. The translates to an additional ~7.5dB, possibly slightly less on the dB(A) scale due to the higher frequencies involved. The psychoacoustic perception of individual noise events is lot harder to predict, though, as are potential long-term health effects. Both vary substantially from person to person.

For some recent theory and measurement data on HSR noise emissions and mitigation strategies, see e.g. Noise and Vibration Mitigation for Rail Transportation Systems: Proceedings of the 9th International Workshop on Railway Noise. Note: not recommended for the layman.

What is clear is that there will be multiple classes of service. Not every train will be stopping at every station.

Rafael said...

@ Peter -

I was under the impression that "threading the needle" referred exclusively to running HSR via 87 + 85, with an "ambitious" flyover right through a High School. My apologies if that wasn't quite correct.

As for VTA light rail, that's a whole other discussion. Basically, it doesn't work because San Jose hasn't changed its land use policies to make it work. Failure to create an intermodal station with ACE/Amtrak CC at Great America and to integrate schedule planning with Caltrain just adds insult to injury.

Peter said...

And even if HSR will be going through cities in the Valley at 220, it doesn't mean that they won't mitigate, with sound walls, trenches, etc. People in those towns will not be exposed to the full volume of a 220 mph train.

Rafael said...

@ Peter -

the question isn't whether CHSRA will deploy mitigation measures but whether it is technically possible to reach levels low enough to satisfy legal noise exposure limits for residential neighborhoods and dwellings - preferably without breaking the bank.

A lot depends on how those levels are defined in California, on the distance between tracks and dwellings, on the vertical elevation and how that is implemented etc. It's not a given that CHSRA won't be successful but suffice it to say their speed objectives are very ambitious.

Keep in mind that JR East's FasTech 360S platforms failed to meet the very ambitious target of keeping noise emissions at the level of the aging E2, which has a top speed of just 275km/h. Partly for this reason, the E5 production model will be limited to 320km/h.

Alon Levy said...

Rafael: Berlin Hbf is on the elevated Stadtbahn, which is definitely not a bridge.

There's nothing wrong with urban els, when they are made to look nice and have the proper noise mitigation measures. Near major station cities, the speeds are low enough that noise mitigation may be unnecessary.

Jay said...

It's not like we are reinventing the wheel when it comes to HSR through urban areas.
Japan/Europe already have the tech needed to do this.
BTW a HSR at 220mph is not as loud as a lot of people think it will be.
Who here, besides me have been on a train platform when a HSR came by at full tilt?

Clem said...

You have to give Tolmach proper credit: he is entirely correct that no other HSR line in the world runs through downtown cores at 200+ mph, as planned here in California.

It's a stupid idea, plain and simple. It's astonishing that the CHSRA (and cities like Madera or Gilroy) are taking so long to realize that.

Don't fall for the hogwash about HSR transit-oriented development within walking distance of the station. That makes about as much sense as TOD at the end of an airport runway.

I can think of no other reason for doing it than building lots of expensive infrastructure (block after block of grade separations!), at a profit to you-know-who.

Even 125 mph through dense neighborhoods is kind of pushing it...

And I'm no HSR denier, ha!

Peter said...

@ Alon Levy

One of the reasons why trains going along the elevated in Berlin through Hauptbahnhof is that the route is relatively curvy. Additionally, there's not much in terms of mitigation measures built along the line. I'm guessing that part of the reason for the lack of mitigation is that the newer S-Bahn and other trains going through are a HELL of a lot quieter than the old S-Bahn trains they used to run. Those suckers were L.O.U.D. Therefore, anything in terms of quieter trains would decrease the need for mitigation.
I kind of miss the old trains though, you could easily open the doors en-route, and they wouldn't close on their own. Oh, and they just looked classic.

Clem said...

Who here, besides me have been on a train platform when a HSR came by at full tilt?

I have, and I disagree with you!

Rafael said...

@ Alon Levy -

I was recently in Berlin and saw the ICE trains running on that east-west elevated structure. It has four tracks, two for the S-Bahn, the other two for the Regio and the ICE trains. The latter are noticeably quieter but then again, they're only trundling along at maybe 40mph in that section.

Most ICEs arrive in Berlin's central station via the new north-south tunnel.

@ Jay -

standing on a platform and sitting in your living room are two very different things when it comes to the sound exposure levels the law says must be tolerated.

Peter said...

I was just reading the text of the Proposition. Why did they cut the time from LAUS to SF by two minutes?

Also, I'm not so certain about the interpretations of the requirements for express times I've read on this blog. It states that the "Maximum express service times for each corridor that shall not exceed the following" and time from LAUS to SF is 2:40.

Contrast this with the requirement that the trains be "capable of sustained maximum revenue operating speeds of no less than 200 miles per hour."

There is a difference between the wording of the two requirements. The first appears to be an absolute mandate of a specific maximum time, versus a relatively loose requirement of minimum maximum [odd word combination] operating speed.

This wording seems to constrain CHSR in its options for speeds through the Valley. I can only see it working with trenches combined with some sort of other mitigation measures to keep the volume low enough.

Is there any wiggle-room to the 2:40 requirement, or the other corridor maximum time requirements?

Rafael said...

@ Peter -

the line haul time are acceptance criteria, AB3034 doesn't force operators to actually offer non-stop service between distant city pairs, e.g. SF and LA.

Lawmakers' primary objective of the wording was to prevent every town and hamlet along the way from insisting on a stop. That ties in with the 24 total stations requirement.

The original draft of AB3034 actually listed SF-LA as 2h42m but some lawmaker evidently decided a round number would look better on paper. Doh!

CHSRA also got lawmakers to include a specific San Jose - LA haul time to ensure the bill de facto mandated the Pacheco route it had already decided on.

The requirement to procure trains capable of at least 200mph is essentially neither here nor there, unless the state legislature informs CHSRA that it won't withhold funding if the line haul times cannot be met because the requisite noise mitigation would be too expensive. We're not at that point yet, though. Not even close.

Peter said...

Yeah, I know we're not there yet. It was just as a matter of preview.

Back to the Tolmania, I was entertained that in his "paper" it was claimed that service would be interrupted on Caltrain for extended periods of time (I forget if it was months or years).

Rafael said...

@ Peter -

Caltrain service will be affected by the construction work, but it won't be interrupted for months on end. That's what all the fuss with the shoofly tracks/split construction is about. Or rather, will be about - John Q. Public may not even know what those terms mean at this point.

Anonymous said...

"A lot depends on how those (noise) levels are defined in California, on the distance between tracks and dwellings..."

Are there no laws in California at this time defining acceptable noise levels and distances between tracks and dwellings? Or Is CHSRA getting those redefined?

Anonymous said...

CAHSRA just laid out 220 mph through Bakersfield as a criteria for alignments.

They are proposing an elevated structure (50 to 60 feet high ) that runs the width of Bakersfield and is 60 to 100 feet wide.

The people doing the most to kill this project are not the NIMBYs but the contractors and HSRA Board who has allowed them to run amuck.

Wide Road said...

And Highway 99 is 120' wide and runs the length of Bakersfield with constant traffic, all spewing pollution, some past acceptable levels and not mitigated. Highway 58 bisects the city with the same effects. Wide city streets run right past people's doors.

What's your point?

Anonymous said...

What is my point????

That building a 10 mile+ 60-100 foot wide structure just so you can go through the "heart of Bakersfield" at 220 mph is unnecessarily complicated, unnecessarily expensive and a bizarre use of extremely limited funds?

That you will never be allowed to run trains at 220 mph through a city and that the 2:40 time is a joke?

That eventually someone will notice ?

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 8:34pm -

I expect there are legal limits on sound exposure levels in a variety of California contexts on the books and/or in the relevant jurisprudence. It's just that I'm not a lawyer so I can't tell you what they are.

@ anon @ 8:36pm -

the pictures show the Kern river bridge and the approach to it. I don't know what governs the height of the bridge deck, perhaps worst-case flood levels.

The height of the support pylons in the approach to the bridge is governed by the height of the bridge deck, the permitted gradient and the clearances of any existing road overpasses that the trains must fly over.

For scale reference, the roof of a first generation single-level TGV is 4050mm (13.3 ft) above the rail.

The slides do note that impacts - including noise and vibration - on residential areas in Rosedale and East Bakersfield need to be minimized. Concrete aerial structures tend to do a poor job of dampening noise because there's usually no ballast. The undersides radiate sound down to grade level. It is possible to isolate the tracks using a damped mass-spring foundation, but those are expensive.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 9:00pm -

once you bite the bullet and accept fully grade separation, speed as such is no longer an environmental issue.

However, the noise and vibration levels associated with that speed are. I'm also skeptical that CHSRA can deliver sufficient mitigation to make 220mph through Bakersfield (or any other town) acceptable, but I'm not jumping to conclusions. Let's see if the engineers can pull a rabbit out of the hat without breaking the bank. In addition to sound emissions directly down to grade level, there are those to the sides to consider. The drawings don't show any sound walls at all.

Note that in Italy, planners have long prefer the direttissma concept of running a backbone high speed line through the countryside plus detour tracks through the downtown areas of Bologna, Florence etc. However, that's also very expensive and probably infeasible in the sprawling generica of California cities. Bakersfield only has 250,000 people but it covers a vast area.

Anonymous said...


Here are the two alignments they are considering for Bakersfield:

The height profiles show that they are planning to use that same type of elevated structure to go across the whole city. There are very slight routing differences between the two alignments. One note: the plans go from east to west.

Anonymous said...

Here is the problem: there is no backbone going through the countryside. There is a route that goes through random Central Valley towns - 7 towns between Gilroy and Bakersfield (9 if you include those two towns) - only one of which is a stop.

Also considering that you have to start slowing down just outside of Bakersfield, why would you bother engineering the through town section to 220?

You will spend all the money on engineering and then when people experience it, they will say no way.

Anonymous said...

Is Tolmach a relative of your's?
You forget that trains will stop at stations in the central valley; hence TOD near the stations.
220 mph through the downtowns will be for the express trains only; SF-LA, SJ-LA.

Devil's Advocate said...

The open trench is probably the best option for the Peninsula. It would be out of sight and out of mind, without the prohibitive costs of deep tunneling.
Regarding the high speed through the other cities along the route (from Gilroy to Palmdale) I frankly don't see why they couldn't go around cities rather than through them. That way express trains would go around the cities in the countryside at full speed, whereas the ones that stop in those towns would get off the main HsR line and merge into a regular line for the stretch necessary to reach the central station. I know it would cost a little extra, but it would save a lot of aggravation and costs with the sound abatement measures.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Devil's Advocate, that would still require significant trackwork to the "regular line", which in the Central Valley is still owned and operated by either UP or BNSF - in either case the passenger trains would then be subject to the usual delays that Amtrak California suffers.

Sending HSR trains smack through city centers makes perfect sense. It is by far the most logical move from the perspective of generating ridership and using HSR to shift California away from unsustainable, reckless, and costly land-use plans.

France sent its trains from city center to city center. So did Japan, so did Spain. That's how you get people to shift to trains. Put it on the edge of town and you'll never produce the shift in transportation habits that you'll need.

These "omg we can't run the trains through city centers!" attitudes are just another example of 20th century thinking being used to hold us back from embracing a sustainable, prosperous 21st century characterized by a much higher quality of life than in the 20th century.

political_incorrectness said...

Robert, I am not sure if you realize or not that trains going through a suburban area at 220 mph will have people by the rails up in arms if proper sound proofing is not provided. Devil's Advocate is trying to point out that express trains should have a different routing into the countryside to mitigate off any noise complaints. Especially the small towns along the BNSF ROW. I think it would be better to discuss obtaining some farmland stating that it would impact more people if it went through these towns at such a high rate of speed it would be like having an airport right next door. (Unless data shows otherwise in terms of decibles a train produces at 220 mph) Do we know the volume of being near or around an LGV line in France? I think noise studies should be conducted to see what would be feasible.

Joey said...

Truthfully it seems likely that a full noise tunnel would be cheaper than a dual alignment where stopping trains go through the city and express trains go around. Might incur tunnel boom though.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 9:24pm -

the route isn't random, it's based on the existing UPRR and BNSF right of ways. Until very recently, the idea of acquiring any farmland at all for the HSR project was very controversial.

Now that there's a drought aggravated by a court order to protect the Delta smelt, lots of farming communities, especially on the westside (between I-5 and the San Joaquin "river") are in dire straits. For example, Mendota, due west of Fresno, has 41% unemployment and is well on the way to becoming a ghost town.

So far, CHSRA hasn't had any money to buy any land from distressed farmers. Doing so would allow it to route trains around smaller communities like Hanford, Corcoran, Wasco and others on account of the noise. However, Fresno and Bakersfield will remain hard nuts to crack as long as there is a 2h40m line haul target for SF-LA.

@ joey -

noise tunnels are expensive, but they do make sense in areas that are especially sensitive, e.g. due to the immediate proximity of residential dwellings.

The implementation you show requires a great deal of extra width, though. Given that California freight railroads and communities have allowed development to encroach on the rights of way, vertical sound walls may be the more practical solution. Concrete walls are visually massive, though. Transparent ones based on double or triple glazing are much more expensive.

Robert Cruickshank said...

political_incorrectness: OK, we provide the sound-proofing. Neither Fresno nor Bakersfield have particularly dense urban landscapes - it's not the Peninsula by any means - and so more is being made of this issue, by someone (Tolmach) who *does not support high speed rail*, than is actually necessitated.

The HSR system functions best when it serves city centers. The fact that so many people are willing to abandon those city centers to please suburbanites suggests that a lot of people still haven't yet grasped the need to shift our thinking away from subsidizing sprawl and toward encouraging urban density based on city centers.

I know there are some people who are, rightly, worried about the politics, and who see suburbanites and NIMBYs as a threat to the project, leading to a desire to just go around them.

But that is ultimately a choice to reinforce their political power and to continue to subsidize their costly land use. I actually believe we can build this as planned, if we are willing to find a way to meet many of the needs of the nearby homeowners without compromising the basic elements of the project.

Again: if you move the tracks outside the city centers, you take the stations with you, and you lose riders. Putting stations in city centers is one of the key elements of this entire project, and it should not be sacrificed.

Clem said...

France sent its trains from city center to city center.

Robert, in the rare instances that they do this, they do so at extremely reduced speeds on legacy tracks, not 200 mph.

For intermediate stations in the middle of a high speed line, all stations are on the edge of town away from dense development... without exception!!!

Macon TGV
Vendome TGV
Haute Picardie TGV
Lyon Satolas TGV
Valence TGV
Aix-en-Provence TGV
Avignon TGV
Champagne-Ardenne TGV
Lorraine TGV

Citing France as an example where high speed lines pass downtown cores at 200 mph is factually incorrect.

It makes no sense to have 200 mph high speed rail through downtowns. Ever. Anywhere. If you build it cheap, the blight is intolerable. If you built it without blight, the cost is intolerable.

If HSR advocates don't begin to realize this, they will unwittingly prod the project into the twin buzz saws of NIMBY opposition and cost overruns, likely resulting in total collapse.

Peter said...

Ok, so what if HSR is thinking that 220 through the towns only has to be POSSIBLE, not feasible. If they aren't PLANNING on running trains through that fast, but are capable of doing so, what type of mitigation would they have to do then?

This is assuming that Prop 1A will be interpreted as meaning 2:40 must be possible, not actually be used.

Peter said...

On the other hand, if you think about it, there are plenty of propositions that were passed that were not implemented the way they were supposed to be, mainly due to financial shortcomings. So, assuming the funds for HSR actually get released, we should get some form of HSR. Perhaps it won't have the overly (?) ambitious express times, but it will be just as effective.

Peter said...

And why the hell are they still insisting on perfectl straight platforms? Is it because they can't meet the ADA requirements otherwise?

Tony D. said...

The current NIMBY oppossition now equates to a "Buzz saw?" 1,000 crybaby's at most are all of a sudden a major force to be reckoned with? Are you kidding me Clem?!

You're one of the technical Caltrain/HSR guru's around here; can you explain how exactly a train travelling 200+ mph through small-town city centers is a bad thing? Is it the noise generated? The chance of derailment at such speeds? What exactly is it Clem?

Perhaps growing up under the flight-path of Mineta SJC, with loud jets flying overhead at more than 200+ mph, (and near UPRR/Monterey HWY to boot) has me scratching my head to all this "you can't have trains speeding through city's" talk.

Build sound-walls for frickin sake! And if need be, have the trains slow down to less than 200 mph in the urban core (125-150?). So the SF to LA run now becomes a cool three-hours instead of 2.40; oh well, you can't have it all.

I would expect solutions to be coming from someone like you Clem. Instead, you're starting to sound a lot like "them." Peace.

Rafael said...

@ Peter -

what you're suggesting is a legal sleight of hand. If residents will not tolerate the noise and vibration consequences of running through town at 220mph, then it isn't possible.

It may well be that an operator may prefer to have trains stop in San Jose rather than running non-stop from SF to LA. However, that's supposed to be a purely commercial decision, not one driven by technical or environmental constraints.

The line haul times spelled out in AB3034 are acceptance criteria, i.e. CHSRA's applications for actual prop 1A(2008) bond appropriations for construction work have to be backed up by certifications that the civil engineering design has passed project-level EIS/EIR muster and will enable the requisite speeds.

If CHSRA officers were to knowingly mislead the state legislature on either count, they would be committing criminal fraud. If they spell out what's achievable in the real world and why, it will be up to legislators to decide if they are prepared to appropriate the bonds regardless. If they do, there will be legal challenges from those who just want to derail the project altogether.

I'll admit, though, that for someone traveling from SF to LA, it doesn't matter why the train takes 2h44m instead of 2h40m. Frankly, I doubt they would care either way, especially if there is reliable broadband internet access on board the trains.

Dave said...

TGV 220mph pass-by

TGV V360 Test

Description says, train is supposed to test run at 360kmh/224mph but might be running at 320kmh/200mph.

The least noise comes from the record holding train (yeah I know it's shorter then normally) TGV record run in 2007.

Record TGV 574.8 km/h

Peter said...

I wasn't recommending misleading the legislature or committing fraud. I was thinking about something more along the lines of "My car is capable of going 150 mph on this road, but I don't, so the designers don't need to build the soundwalls for it." But I guess you're right.

Anonymous said...

There was another caltrain suicide this morning. Another student from the same high school that has had I think three other suicides in the past few months. What's going on? I can see why some adults would have a higher rate due to the economy but why are the kids doing this? Can't they at least put up a fence or something?

Peter said...

@ Jim

I think they're using the grade crossings. A fence wouldn't do anything to help. And I don't think it has anything to do with the economy. They're copy-cat suicides at this point. Teenagers especially are at elevated suicide risk for a number of reasons.

dave said...

Caltrain teen suicide last night in Palo Alto.

Merc. News

Rafael said...

@ Tony D -

"Is it the noise generated?"

Yes, it's about the noise. Vibrations are generally less of an issue with HSR due to light weight of the trains and the very tight geometry tolerances. In addition, the bending load of the rails occurs at higher frequencies, which are easier to damp out with ballast and/or the subsoil in an embankment concept.

"The chance of derailment at such speeds?"

Minimizing that risk is a matter of the design, frequent inspection and maintenance of both tracks and rolling stock. Higher speeds entail higher investments in keeping everything ship-shape, but the requisite expertise is available and the cost has been factored into the business plan.

"So the SF to LA run now becomes a cool three-hours instead of 2.40"

The issue is that AB3034 spells out very specific and aggressive line haul time acceptance criteria that neither CHSRA nor state lawmakers can simply ignore. They're not aspirational but supposedly mandatory.

If and when it becomes a concrete problem, politicians will surely try to apply common sense and seek to relax these criteria, de facto if not de iure. Ridership would be reduced if trains take longer but that has to be balanced against the environmental cost (= political backlash from constituents) as well as the financial cost of mitigation.

Still, the law is the law and this particular one leaves very little wiggle room on system performance. A formal amendment would open up a can of worms. Last not least IDK if a law passed via a ballot initiative can even be amended by the state legislature alone, even if there is a 2/3 majority in both houses. That's just how messed up the political system in California is.

Anonymous said...

well I hope they would put some serious effort into a big time out in that community and find out what's going on with those kids. That's too many in a short time. It's not like they are destitute with no future.

did everyone see this decorative water feature

Anonymous said...

Re dave's HSR videos

I live in the country, way out rural, and we experience a similar, perhaps greater noise level from the two lane road in front of our house. The worst offenders are motorcyclists, but this time of year, we have semis full of grapes that mostly run in the wee hours. They're quite loud as they bang across the uneven road at 45 mph (I'll pretend they stick with the speed limit.)

I don't mind the grapes. I know it means my neighbors are making the money they need to survive another year.

I'll take an HSR from those videos running in front of my house instead, any time, especially if it stops nearby so I can get on. :-)


Board Watcher said...

Neither Fresno nor Bakersfield have particularly dense urban landscapes - it's not the Peninsula by any means - and so more is being made of this issue, by someone (Tolmach) who *does not support high speed rail*, than is actually necessitated.

Sounds like you’re saying that only supporters have a right to find fault -- that anyone who doesn’t support this high speed rail project isn’t credible. With that kind of logic, anything you say in support of HSR isn’t credible! Robert, maybe it’s exactly BECAUSE they’ve found faults with the CHSRA’s project that they don’t support this particular HSR project. Insulting the messenger is usually an indication that you haven’t got a better counter argument.

In your original post you suggest that it’d be helpful “to debunk Tolmach's claims in the comments.” I haven’t seen any debunking of substance. Is there any?

Anonymous said...

@dav that 220pasby video is great.

seems to me that fresno would be trenched anyway - say they wind up susing up row, they already want to consolodate into an alameda corridor type arrangement and plant to get rid of all the grade crossings.
most of the up row approaching dowtown runs though failry wide industrial areas and /or between existing rows with plenty of buffer.

to cut down on noise you could be earthen berms on either side of at grade tracks where feasable.

dave said...


I agree, that video makes me think that 220mph through stations isn't as bad as most of everyone here is screaming about as noisy.

Sounds acceptable to me.

Andre Peretti said...

Train noise:
Many bloggers seem to assume that decibels add up. They don't. Psycho-accoustics show that fainter sounds are drowned by louder ones. Thus, 80DbA+79Dba=80DbA.
MP3 compression relies on that masking effect by recording only the sounds likely to be heard by human ears.
Therefore, measuring a noise in isolation is meaningless. It has to be compared to ambient noises. For instance, a TGV running alongside a highway is totally inaudible. You have the image but not the sound.
That means an electric train on welded rails will probably be inaudible in daytime downtown noise but will be heard when running through quieter outer suburbs.
If night-time trains are planned, they will, of course, necessitate noise protection that would be superfluous in daytime.
Note that measuring today's train noise against today's urban noise might give results not valid 20 years from now. If the electric car catches on, a train that wouldn't be heard today may become audible, unless decisive progress is made by trainmakers.

Rafael said...

@ Dave @ 9:27am -

YouTube videos give you a fair idea of the duration of the noise event of a high speed train passing by and also of its spectral composition.

What you can't get a feel for is the sound pressure level at the distance shown, because it is massively modified by the recording and playback equipment.

Also, these videos are invariably recorded by train enthusiasts standing next to the tracks. To their ears, its music. Someone sitting in their house trying to read, work or have a conversation would perceive the event very differently.

Some individuals get used to these events after a while, their brains just tune them out. Others find that their concentration is broken every time, which isn't just annoying but can lead to behavioral changes and even have medical consequences. Noise at night can be especially problematic.

Note that the noisescape produced by rail traffic is silence punctuated by brief, fairly loud events, whereas busy roads generate more of a continuous din. Environmental noise exposure is a lot more complex than level alone.

One reason for preferring active railroad rights of way for HSR is that a certain amount of pre-selection has usually already occurred. It's often reasonable to assume that those living near the tracks are better able to cope than the general population because anyone who can't is likely to move somewhere else.

However, this assumption doesn't hold for socio-economically depressed neighborhoods. In California, land of prop 13(1978), it's not true for homeowners on fixed incomes, either.

Anonymous said...

in fresno - all the row south of the stadium and out of town should need very little mitigation as its entirely industrial and farmland. To the north there a sshort stretch of residential at n weber and olive with clear sailing north of that.

Its important for them to secure definite row now prior to further development taking place.

also keeep in mind that its likely that all but a small handful of true express trains will be slowing down and stopping in frenso.

I wouldn't expect more than 4 total express thru fresno per day at full speed. ( a morning north and south and an eve. north and southbound)

Anonymous said...

@andre so that's why at night when its quiet I can hear distinct bay bridge traffic noise but during the day all I hear is the general city din. (punctuated by sirens every 20 minutes of course)

Tony D. said...

Board Watcher,
Who cares if Tolmach gets "debunked" or not! Why are we even giving a rats a$$ on what he thinks anyway?! The train is coming pal! The question, again, is HOW it will get built.

Thanks for the re: Rafael. I guess my real problem is that no one is coming out with solutions for trains POSSIBLY traveling through Central Valley cities/towns at 200+ mph. I would think some sort of sound wall/mitigation could do wonders to dampen noise in the city/town centers. I am in complete agreement with Robert in that the stations need to be in the city centers for TOD/ridership purposes.

And IF these trains have to plow through town in the 125-150 mph range, I'm sure AB3034 could be amended at a later date. 3 hr's vs 2.40 shouldn't be a game-breaker.

Clem said...

can you explain how exactly a train travelling 200+ mph through small-town city centers is a bad thing?

(a) it's extremely loud. Very few of the commenters on this blog have ever stood next to a train thundering past at very high speed. If you had, you'd probably understand better. Tinny youtube videos of HSR do no better in reproducing this noise than a tinny youtube video of a space shuttle liftoff. Frequent temperature inversions in the central valley would only exacerbate the noise problem.

(b) it's very expensive. Small towns like Morgan Hill or Madera or Shafter won't have station stops. Even a small town has dozens of streets; what's the point of grade-separating and mitigating a dozen streets at $50 million a pop when the train won't even stop there?

(c) it's a waste of time. Even if high-speed tracks are mistakenly built through downtown cores, the speeds there will be restricted after the fact to 125 - 150 mph max, wasting precious minutes and putting the 2:40 SF-LA run time permanently out of reach.

Don't get me wrong: the whole concept of TOD and urban infill is great. I love it. But HSR is not urban transit (the 'T' in TOD), and people won't use it on a daily basis. Look at it this way: how often do you fly around the state? Would it make your life any easier, more pleasant, or reduce your carbon footprint to live near the airport runway?

Anonymous said...


honestly have we become a state populated by cream puffs? Look, way back in yesterday at one point we lived in a creaky old house in a small town right up against the southern pacific row. Trains running through at least 2 an hour and that was before they had welded rail. horns blowing, signals clanging, mile long freights roaring through at full speed on clickity clack rails. The whole house would shake. We had concrete slab foundation. when we were laying on the living room floor watching lavern and shirly you could feel the vibe from every wheel hitting every gap in the rails.

we turned out ok. I mean the biggest pain was in the hot summer when the windows were open but thats what the volume knob on the tv was for.

At what point did we decide that as a society we all need to cocooned in bubble wrap and chiffon.

maybe they can just stuff cotton balls around the trains wheels.

dave said...

@ Rafael

I know what you mean, I lived by LAX for about a nearly two years a while back, I moved three times all in the same area and I can tell you a HSR train passing for 5 seconds is nothing compared to 747's, and the massive amounts of the short haul Boeing 737's that arrive in LAX nonstop.

The noise of arriving flight's and especially departing flights where awfull. The turbines at full throttle at take-off where really bad not only in noise but in vibration, you can feel it in the ground.

I did get used to it after a while (two, three months).

I would still trade it for High Speed Rail passing by.

Peter said...

Ok, so how much would it cost then to build the trunk line passing by all the towns, and building a lower speed spur through those towns?

You would be able to save on mitigation measures for 220 through those towns. Also, the engineering specs wouldn't have to be quite as crazy. You could have tighter turns, etc.

Anonymous said...

Re-routing the hsr around valley towns would be unacceptable to the development interests who have co-opted the CHSRA. The whole purpose of the Palmdale-Tehachapis detour is to enable another LA in the high desert. And if the hsr is forced to reduce speeds to under 200mph thru the 99 towns the travel time penalty that I estimate at a half hour would be even greater.

The Peninsula will never extract an acceptable scheme out of a CHSRA dominated by Socal interests. Caltrain has now become part of the problem rather than the solution. The Peninsula will have to exercise the nuclear option of BART to get the best deal of rapid transit with minimum blight. The higher frequency of service will make up for the loss of express trains. Once BART recognizes that the Penisula is serious its apparatus can go after Newsom and Diridon. Remember it was Willie Brown and Quentin Kopp who killed the TBT tunnel.

Rafael said...

@ jim -

"decorative water feature"

Hooray for overhead catenaries. If this flooding event had happened at a BART station, that service might well have been suspended altogether.


"Its important for [CSHRA] to secure definite row now prior to further development taking place."

Amen, but it takes cold hard cash to acquire ROW. If the ARRA grant application is approved, part of the money will go toward just that in the LA-Anaheim section.

Elsewhere, e.g. in the Central Valley, UPRR isn't playing ball so CHSRA first has to identify a viable alternative that still meets all the other requirements.

"I wouldn't expect more than 4 total express thru fresno per day at full speed."

Based on what analysis exactly? This isn't Amtrak as you know and love it. This is a train running through Fresno every 5-15 minutes, in each direction, all day long. Maybe not in year 1, but by year 5 the system had better be up in that range or there's no point in building it in the first place. The ridership analysis and experience in other countries suggests that this is an eminently achievable goal.

We're talking about a quantum leap in long-distance rail ridership here, an order of magnitude more than all of Amtrak California's existing services combined. A factor 10 or more. You still seem to have trouble wrapping your head around that.

How many of those trains stop in Fresno depends on many factors, last not least how easy it is to get to the HSR station. The MSA has a million people, but there are zero light rail or BRT services in place at this time. There is a network of bike paths and, electric bicycles may become a popular mode of transport in the summer as its a lot cheaper (and greener) than owning an additional car.

Anonymous said...

@clemDon't get me wrong: the whole concept of TOD and urban infill is great. I love it. But HSR is not urban transit (the 'T' in TOD), and people won't use it on a daily basis. Look at it this way: how often do you fly around the state?

thats where I think you are wrong. this isn't being built as just a subsitute for occasional air travel. many people will use it everyday to commute. There are plenty of people, who would commute from fresno to SF or SJ on a daily basis or 3 x per week basis. they do it already. thats why we sell "10- rides" and "monthly passes" in that market already.

I really think that some people are out of touch with just who makes up the california population and ridership. This isn't just a state full of occasional business travelers and tourists and hip urban professionals ( who tend to forget that the world they live in is not the only one)
the train will get plenty of use from people traveling between stockton and fresno and merced as well. The valley by itself is a feaiable high speed corridor.

I have to break it to you. These trains are not going to be chock full of business casual laptop toting haberdashers. Your'e gonna be on the train with the scrappy rough and tumble jack and coke at 10 am californians too. and thats just the gals in tank tops with the tatoos. I used to work the lounge car.

Anonymous said...


I still think that even at full build out and ridership the majority of trains even if they are express - will stop in frenso.

there will be limiteds


and most of the trains will be local or as shown above.

will only be offered on a very limited basis at peak rush and would likely be all business and first class as acela is and at a very premium price to maximize profit ( note the difference in price between a first class ticket to paris and a coach ticket to paris)

Now if such all high end express trains prove to be popular then they'll add more.

but the majority of travelers will take the discount runs.

Tony D. said...

By the way,
Just watched the TGV 220 YT clip; thanks Dave! Now that's awesome! I realize a YT clip doesn't do justice in terms of getting a true feel of the noise, but then again, I didn't really see any of those standing on the platform covering their ears in pain.

Now imagine a sound wall (or other form of mitigation) between the outer platform and inner tracks. IT'S possible people with SOLUTIONS.

By the way Clem, who are all these folks using, say, the Spanish AVE on a "daily basis." Are they commuters? tourists? Just train enthusiasts?

My point is that, with stations located in city centers, our HSR will get massive usage once it's up and running. Agree with you Jim 100%.

Board Watcher said...

Who cares if Tolmach gets "debunked" or not! Why are we even giving a rats a$$ on what he thinks anyway?!

Because he brings up legitimate issues. Why personalize it? If the issue is valid, it’s valid. Doesn’t matter who says it first. I was looking forward to the response to Robert’s call to debunk. I’d like to know, really, what’s bunk and what’s not. Not one person here, not even the die-hards who are all vitriolic towards Richard, has taken on any of his points in a serious way. Leads me to believe that there must be a fair amount of truth to what he says. Still, I’m open to learning otherwise.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure I'm right about everything in this area. ;-P

and I like to think of hsr as two lines

HS1 and HS2 ( see my state rail map which shows all state service under one unnamed operator )
HS1 is phase one the sfc-ana route and hs2 is the phase 2 line sac-san
id have them operate as two separate complete lines. ( no direct sfc-san trains for instance)

with both hs1 and hs2 having most train stop in fno, fno becomes a major hub. fno is also nearly dead center in california and a person who lives in TOD in downtown fno will have unparalleled access to the bulk of the state. really they'd be in the cat bird seat as far as being able to blink themselves like jeannie to anywhere in the state in about an hour.

Anonymous said...

I strongly support building the ROW through town centers. Even if no stop is planned today, a stop could be there some day, or on some trains. Bypassing towns does not make sense. I would love to have passenger rail into the downtown of our city, at any speed.

People will use them to commute. Even today, if you ride Amtrak California, you will meet people using it to commute from their homes in Fresno to their jobs in San Francisco. I've also met people doing the reverse. Such things happen, especially in two career families with specific skillsets.


Anonymous said...

In the SF to SJ program EIR the CHSRA stated that they can and will mitigate noise to low impact.
(Choices then would be soundwall structures of some sort, undergrounding, or slower speeds)

They also said they can and will mitigate visual blight to low impact - choices here would be more limited, in fact not sure what their choices are - because visual impact is determined in the context of the existing surroundings - so a small town of predominately single story homes, historical buildings, small scale structures, visual perspective to the horizon, tons of trees and foliage - a soundwall in solid wall form, particularly at heights disproportionate to the surroundings, would be negative impacts themselves, so walls would be ruled out, perhaps earthen berms (however, land available aroudn the row would restrict ability to construct berm type structures. This then would seem to leave undergrounding for visual impact mitigtion, and would appear to rule out walls of any kind as viable mitigations for either sound or visual impacts.

You have the reduced speed options (for mitigating sound, and aerodynamic impacts), but then you have time requirements of ab3035, and actually even the viability of the ridership as a constraint on reduction of speed. And that wouldn't address visuals..

All roads seem to point to need to put this underground in many more suburban places than currently planned, if this is to be made to go directly through communities and still meet all mitigation and AB3035 parameters. However, you then get to the argument of cost - and the argument is 'we can't afford to do it that way'.

First - it seems to be a bit of a circular problem. Has anyone else on this blog noticed a decidely circular conversation, looping for months on end around these basic points, and never coming to a resolution? (except for the occassional pronouncement that people telling the emporer he has no clothes on are decided NIMBY's or DENIERS (ie: name calling) OR they make off point pronouncements such as

(Despite the facts presented time and again through the course of this meandering circular conversation)...
"The HSR system functions best when it serves city centers. The fact that so many people are willing to abandon those city centers to please suburbanites suggests that a lot of people still haven't yet grasped the need to shift our thinking away from subsidizing sprawl and toward encouraging urban density based on city centers."

In other word, if everyone will just suspend reality of our communities and our legal and moral responsibilities to the residents of California for about 20 years, we'll get this thing forced through. So please shut up.

But secondly, if the issue of doing it properly (ie: mostly underground) is one that really boils down to cost - if that's true, and we as a state just can't afford to do this with mitigations for our communities, then its seems CHSRA has either

a) proposed an entirely infeasible plan (ie: we can't build what needs to be built for the limited amount of money we have). ie: "You can't get there from here"


b) they have simply micalculated the true cost of what MUST be done, and the true cost of the FEASIBLE (properly mitigated) version of this plan must be now calculated for a correct and proper implemention. ie: "You CAN get there from here, but it will cost more, and we must now start acting and planning rationally around the true details and the true total cost"

Either way, it seems the longer that the pro-train fantasticals continue to DENY these self evident truths, and continue to walk and talk in ever tightening circles, the greater the chance that the ever growing numbers of disgruntled and awakening public have to see it killed out right.

What would this conversation be like if Robert and Rafael started saying, lets figure out how to build hundreds of miles of tunnels and keep it out of neighborhoods. A whole bunch of 'deniers' would turn in to problem solvers for them.

Anonymous said...

( it took me two freakin hours to figure out how to do that map so please look at it. - yes some stops are missing cuz I couldnt figure out how make the draw program give me more space- but you get the idea.)

dave said...

Tolmach does make some valid points and then mixes them with other BS wich destroys his credibility.

You can tell who has concerns about the project and then you can see who has "concerns" (emphasis on the quotes) about the project. It's hard to beleive the guy when you can tell that he has made his mind up on HSR and is tryint to convince the people to scrap it. Then his valid concerns he mentions get thrown away in my mind.

Samer Madanat of UC Berkeley has real concerns for the project and I agree with mostly what he said.

Brian Stanke said...


Thank you for that list of TGV stations. From my Master's paper on HSR in France those are exactly the kind of stations we should NOT build. Look at the poor service frequency and total lack of development around those stations.

Such a system in the Central Valley would not provide any benefit to the residents or economies in the valley. Building downtown stations is the ONLY way to get any TOD and economic development out of HSR for the smaller cities. (Or as in the case in Japan, greenfield stations can work once you extend the local metro subway to them...oops no subways in the CV!)

@Robert and Devil's Advocate
I actually like the idea of express trains going around and the local trains taking just two tracks into the central city for some cities (like Gilroy). As long as the station stays in the city center, where the expresses go doesn't matter. The problems with this design are:
1) Does it end up costing more money?
2) Would the CEQA impacts be greater that running all trains on one alignment through the city?

Italy does this a lot and their lines are VERY expensive because of are the branching, plus all the tunnels with their mountains.

dave said...

Board Watcher

Why are you poking a bull with a stick?

Maybe nobody here want's to be a HSR cheerleader. We've already discussed what's valid, what's bunk, and what's BS. We don't really need to get into it Again.

Anonymous said...

Herein lies the dilemma:

The system has been designed like Italy's but budgeted like the French system.

Something has to give and it needs to give now.

NOold railfans said...

Tolmach is a control freak that did not get his way or has no say in HSR planning..SO he wants to be a bitch even if it ruins this project and we end up with no HSR

Anonymous said...

NOold railfans said...
Tolmach is a control freak that did not get his way or has no say in HSR planning..SO he wants to be a bitch even if it ruins this project and we end up with no HSR

that's what I thought when I read that paper.

Peter said...

Interesting. I was looking at Tolmach's site, and it's interesting to watch his opinion of HSR go from what appears to be a reasonable discussion of the merits to FUD-filled propaganda. Did the more reasonable members of TRAC jump ship?

Peter said...

What are the actual top speeds that they are looking at? According to Tolmach they used 217 mph in their run time simulation. When I was at the alternatives analysis meeting, the one engineer stated they were laying everything out for 225. Would that enable them to run at higher speeds to make up for slower speeds through residential areas in the Valley? Would that make any appreciable difference?

Board Watcher said...

We've already discussed what's valid, what's bunk, and what's BS. We don't really need to get into it Again.

Someone needs to tell Robert then. Check the title and purpose of the thread.

"You can see some of his claims in
the most recent issue of Cal Rail News
, which he edits. Pages 5 and 6 are full of FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) about HSR "invading neighborhoods" and claiming, against the evidence, that the trains will run at 200mph through "cities."

Perhaps it might be useful in advance of the show to help debunk Tolmach's claims in the comments?"

No one’s responding to the topic. With all the mudslinging comments about Richard, it’d be good to be able sort out facts from personal vendetta. You all may know the difference, but there are plenty of readers who don’t. What is it, exactly, that he’s saying that’s bunk? Is that off limits to discuss?

Brian Stanke said...

@Jim and Clem

I agree with Jim over Clem on the TOD part. When you have 200+ trains going up and down the valley how is that not regional transit? Caltrain only runs ~100 trains a day and they used to run as few as 50 back a decade or two ago.

If a station is well placed, planned, and development is build around it it would be worthwhile for lots of trains to stop there. Of course Fresno and Bakersfield will be the big TOD winners but Merced, Gilroy, et al can get some development too.

@NOold Railfans and Peter
I hoped to meet and talk to Richard at the studio, but he phoned in instead. I believe he lives up in Sacramento, not a Peninsula or Bay Area resident.

Prof. Madanat and I had a good conversation re: high speed rail afterwards. He is a supporter who wants to see it done right in CA as this is the US demonstration project that will tell the rest of the country if it can be a success in America or not. Hopefully his Institute can help improve this project. His main concern is local access to the centrally located stations (i.e. Transbay w/ BART connection not Millbrae) i.e. downtowns and lots of good local transit access, plus suburban centers near the big cities (Redwood City/Mountain View/PA, Burbank, etc.). He wants to help HSR to succeed here and around the country.

The engineers always design the tracks for faster then the trains because in 20/30/40 years the trains always get faster, but the alignment can't be straightened later. 240 mph seems like a better design criteria for the truly rural areas. Maybe 220-225 mph is where the trains will top out, but the first "bullet trains" in Japan were in the 125-150 mph range, now 220 is standard for new lines.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 10:46am -

Robert and I have always said that tunneling is primarily an issue of cost. If there's no incremental benefit to the rail operator (e.g. higher ridership in SF), then state and federal taxpayers should seek if not the cheapest solution then at least a reasonable compromise.

If locals want a really expensive solution because it would increase the quality of life and property values in their town, that's fine. It's just that they have to come up with a way to make it possible, especially financially. Palo Alto has a group that is proposing to sell air rights to developers in order to raise $700 million toward a tunnel solution.

That's a good concept, but given the UPRR, Caltrain and HSR service requirements, any tunnel would have to have four tracks. Tunneling in earthquake country is extremely expensive: $700 million will buy you 1-2 miles of four tracks. The CHSRA budget for the entire SF peninsula was estimated at $4.2 billion.

If you can pull a rabbit out of the hat to afford a four-track tunnel from Atherton to Mountain View, hooray. Don't expect CHSRA to do that work for you.

Anonymous said...

@brain heres my yosemite towers TOD for fresno. ( no I don't have good draw program but you get the idea)

Anonymous said...

I meant brian.

Anonymous said...

Peter - its not just slower speeds through the valley. Its slower speeds through multiple sections of SJ, Peninsula, SF, LA, central valley, basically, every place you find a neighborhood or a community built up closely to the tracks, or even senstive wildlife open space, you find too tight curves, protected resources, senstive receptors, and woops, mitigations will include slower speeds. And they you have to ask the question - if its only going to be HIGH SPEED rail through the open spaces, WHY? Why are we going down this expensive low value add path? What are we doing here anyway? In the Caltrain corridor for example - what's the true incremental benefit for the huge cost, (and huge political/nimby fight) - where, at slower speeds, its barely anything other than just a duplication of already existing Caltrain? With all the money we'd save by NOT duplicating Caltrain for 50 miles, maybe we could afford some proper mitigations in the central valley where they would really be useful. Run the thing outside of towns, then bring the station connection to to city center through underground. THAT seems to be doing it right.

Then some day (like 30 years from now), see if the Pensinsula residents won't feel a little more compelled to hook up to the high speed rail. But in the meantime, everyone who needs to get from LA to SF by train, can get there via simple modern caltrain connections. It seems like such a small compromise for such a huge payoff in terms of simplification and in terms of making scarce dollars go so much farther toward true high speed rail.

Brian Stanke said...

@Board Watcher

I addressed a lot of his bunk on the radio program if you were able to catch it.

- Californians voted for the project when there was no Federal funding
- There is $8 billion in Federal grants for HSR available now and up to $54 billion in the pipeline.
- Caltrain will benefit from HSR not be hurt by it. Caltrain wants to grade separate, electrify, and quad track anyway.

Additionally I didn't get to mention:
- Only three locations on the Peninsula need to be above or below ground: downtown San Mateo, downtown Redwood City, and near San Jose Diridon station.
- Everywhere else can be at grade if that what the local want and can afford.

The two downtowns can use aerials with buildings filling in underneath them as successfully done through European cities. Peninsula Problem Solved.

Rafael said...

@ Brian Stanke -

cost is the primary reason why the Italian direttissima concept isn't feasible in California. Others:

- FRA rules against mixed traffic, which precludes sharing detour tracks with regional rail services (Caltrain's ambition to switch to non-compliant rolling stock is very much the exception)

- low-rise sprawl that would add many miles of track

- massive environmental opposition to creating brand-new or reviving abandoned transportation corridors

- strong private property rights for homeowners, farmers etc.

The upshot is that express trains need to run through city centers. The problem is that CHSRA, no doubt at the behest of PB's world-class consultants, insisted on extremely aggressive line haul times. Would voters have rejected prop 1A(2008) if they had committed to SF-LA in "under three hours", with the aspiration of doing it in 2h40m? I doubt it, 3 hours is still a very good time relative to the alternatives.

They needlessly talked lawmakers into writing the aggressive targets into the bill and that has deprived them of much-needed negotiating room on sound walls vs. speed limits etc.

Brian Stanke said...

@ Anonymous 12:12

See above:
- Caltrain wants to grade separate, electrify, and quad track anyway.

That's why they fought so hard for the Pacheco routing. So HSR would fund the upgrades they wanted to do anyway. Stopping HSR would mean ZERO to the peninsula NIMBYs if Caltrain was given the money to do the same upgrades anyway. That is why the Caltrain and HSRA staff are now merged, they have the same goal.

Now if you want to get rid of Caltrain, or return it to the 46-54 trains a day of the old SP days, come out and say that. Don't pretend that the Caltrain 2025 plan doesn't exist though.

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Anonymous said...

kep in mind the direct sf-la market isn't even going to make up the bulk of the market so the travel times for most riders/ciy pairs will be considerably less, and far improved over the car/air travel times they have now, if any.
Personally I'm positive that total intermediate city pairs travel will make up far more ridership than sf-la tickets and in 100 percent of cases will offer better travel times than exist without hsr

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 12:12pm -

Present situation:
SF-SJ via Caltrain BB: 57 minutes
SF-SJ via Caltrain local: 91 minutes

Future situation:
SF-SJ non-stop via HSR: 30 minutes
SF-SJ via Caltrain BB: ?
SF-SJ via Caltrain local: 70 minutes

Santa Clara county will be pouring every last transit penny and then some into its BART extension for the foreseeable future.

The existing Caltrain diesel fleet is nearing the end of its useful life, the railway needs to cut over in the 2015-2018 time frame.

No HSR = no electrification = downtown SF station + no switch to high-acceleration EMUs = limited ridership growth = no reduction in operating subsidies = no Caltrain before long.

Not So Easy said...

@Brian Stanke

If you leave the rail at grade and move only the roads - this becomes a "road project" on the Peninsula. Dominic Spaethling confirmed that that is where you get the most impacts on the homes - since the roads need to be depressed - which means about 300-400 ft back the road approaching an intersection needs to dip (again his numbers). That's a lot of homes.

In addition, on a road like Alma, you would likely have to lower large parts of Alma.

If you look at the Alma/Churchill video on the CAHSR website - you can see the retaining walls needed on the structure at the corner. Notice it doesn't show how to get into any driveways on any of those homes...

Also, when the view of Alma is shown - it doesn't show how the road and property fronts would be affected.

I understand the video is conceptual - so I'm not faulting the video.

Dominic also added that you also have to deal with all the sewers and probably utilities as well...

Let's not forget the land takings for the width - which is not a lot by Clem's calculations - but will still make tempers flare...

I'm just saying - it isn't as easy as you think!

Anonymous said...

FNO BFD 37 min
FNO MCD 21 min
FNO SJC 63 min
FNO SAC 59 min
FNO RIV 1:56 hr
SJC MOD 56 min
SJC LAX 1:51 hr
SAC SKN 20 min
SAC MCD 43 min
PMD LAX 27 min
RIV LAX 33 min
MUR SAN 36 mins

each an everyone of these times is astounding compared to what's currently available.

With these travel times and trains with 15 minute headway around the clock californians will quickly adapt to stepping on and off hsr for their daily life the same way bay area residents use bart

Rafael said...

@ jim -

regarding your map from earlier in the day: what was your objective in drawing it? It's not possible to adequately capture both the network topology and multiple service levels in a single diagram. If people can't read a map, they should move to Alaska. Also.

Besides, no CC to Auburn and no Metrolink at all?

YesonHSR said...

NO ONE is going to change from a modern HSR train to Caltrain unless they are forced to!! Once again this nonsense is always brought up by the nimbys/deniers as an idea to stop HSR. No where in the world do passengers get off HST and connect to a local train to finish the journey to one of the major end point cities..As I have posted before its the same as Acela passenger getting off in Balitimore and taking MARC trains into DC! AND you would have to double the amount of Caltrains to carry all the HSR passengers..So it does not matter if the trains are blue and gold or red and silver
running up the line

Adirondacker12800 said...

AND you would have to double the amount of Caltrains to carry all the HSR passengers

Something that the "let 'em use Caltrain" crowd forgets. Double the amount of trains means doubling the amount of time grade crossings are closed. In a short while there would be demands, loud angry ones, to grade separate Caltrain. A grade separated Caltrain would run much faster attracting more riders. So three times as many trains as there are now... all spewing diesel fumes. Which then gives you loud angry demands to electrify. Once Caltrain is electrified the HSR trains can go all the way to San Francisco without the transfer. So "do nothing, let 'em use caltrain" means a fully grade separated electrified Caltrain that also has HSR trains on it. The difference between that and the HSR plan - fully grade separated electrified Caltrain that also has HSR trains on it - is what?

Anonymous said...

@rafael I just forgot to add ARN and didn't include metrolink as I was basing on division of rail (state sponsered trains - the three we have plus hsr)

i left some stops out due to time constraints and I drew it because i was bored and thinking of way to make it work and it was bugging me. thats all.

it was like a puzzle.

as for people not being able to read maps and schedlues its about 85 percent of riders.

Adirondacker12800 said...

220 through downtown....

Won't happen and shouldn't be in the plans to run between SF and LA in 2:40. Can't do it unless they build some really long tunnels at either end so they can run at 180 right up until the terminals.

With the train traveling at 220 it takes a long time to slow down and stop at a station. Five minute headways means they have to have bypass tracks around the station so the express can get around the train stopped in the station. That means switches on either side of the station. Trains can go over switches at moderately high speeds but I don't think there are switches that can be travelled over at 220. If I remember correctly the highest speed switches are rated for 125MPH if the train is NOT changing tracks. So through express has to slow down to 125 well before the station so it can go over switches. It's not going to accelerate to 220 to go through the station just to slow down again for the switches on the other side of the station. Bypassing downtown altogether on the express runs into the same problem, someplace outside of town there has to be switches....or there has to be four tracks between LA and SF.

Reality Check said...

For those who missed it, here's a link to listen to Monday's HSR program via an MP3 audio stream:

North Meets South: The Plans for High Speed Rail

Peter said...

@ Adirondacker

On wikipedia under "Railroad switch" it states that "[o]n European High Speed Lines it is not uncommon to find switches where 200 km/h (124.3 mph) and more are allowed"

flowmotion said...

@Anonymous 10:46 AM -

You have a good point about the circular nature of the conversation here.

The CAHSRA plan poses the classic dilemma of "Fast, Cheap, Good, pick any two". That is, one can't have a good system that provides downtown service, and is low-impact, and is cheap in terms of both cost and political will.

Obviously, something has to give somewhere - the bloggers are hoping NIMBY forces will 'roll over', while the railfans keep praying for a cheaper 'realistic' alternate route, while consultants and politicians certainly wouldn't mind 'gold-plating' a solution.

One can feel the frustration of the pro-HSRers as they beseech people to look at the "big picture", the broader positive impact of an HSR system on the whole state. However, that doesn't necessarily mean one can sweep the smaller issues under the rug, each of these groups have interests which are valid or legitimate in their own eyes, and eventually some compromise will need to be struck.

The conversation here would be less confrontational if we all just accepted a more politically realistic tone. A proposed system which has maximum benefits in terms of TOD and ridership also has the greatest potential for cost overruns and political opposition, by design.

Joey said...

I seem to remember in the TGV speed record video that the train passed over a few switches on its acceleration run (don't know exactly but I would guess well in excess of 200 mph by that point), and it wasn't even noticeable.

Anonymous said...

If I remember correctly the highest speed switches are rated for 125MPH if the train is NOT changing tracks.

HSR switches are rated to full track speed in the straight-ahead direction. In France, they can be rated up to 230 km/h (140 mph) in the diverging direction. Obviously these are complex and expensive installations.

Adirondacker12800 said...

Peter said... On wikipedia under "Railroad switch" it states that "[o]n European High Speed Lines it is not uncommon to find switches where 200 km/h (124.3 mph) and more are allowed"

Switches are rated at the speed the non diverging train can run through. The speed a diverging train can go through switch is generally but not always three quarters of the speed straight through the switch. And of course the Wikipedia entry is followed by the little notation - [citation needed] Richard M might be able to cite references.

Anon at 2:52 said ... HSR switches are rated to full track speed in the straight-ahead direction. In France, they can be rated up to 230 km/h (140 mph) in the diverging direction. Obviously these are complex and expensive installations.

Foamers love to sit around and chew the fat about switches and interlockings and diamonds etc. I'm sure they would be all over Wikipedia if TGV ran through at 190 MPH. Got a reference for that?

Joey said I seem to remember in the TGV speed record video that the train passed over a few switches on its acceleration run (don't know exactly but I would guess well in excess of 200 mph by that point), and it wasn't even noticeable.

There's a speedometer in the ones I've seen It in kilometers per hour. Last shot of the track that includes switches is before the 50 second mark and before the train is going 120 kilometers per hour/75MPH. Here's one that starts at 0 KPH and goes all the way through to 574.

Anonymous said...

This is a video of the 1990 record (515.3 kph). Just focus your attention around 0:40.

mike said...


Agree with you about the TGV station placement, but how can you ignore the Shinkansen?

Take the Tohoku line as an example. It runs straight through at least a dozen cities and towns between Utsunomiya and Morioka. Right now track speed is "only" 171 mph on that section, but it is being raised to 186 mph in 2011 and then 199 mph in 2013.

Likewise, the Sanyo line goes straight through a number of cities/towns and operates at 186 mph.

I'm not advocating one approach over the other, but it's a fact that both approaches have been done in different countries.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

This is a video of the 1990 record (515.3 kph). Just focus your attention around 0:40.

Hmm my mistake: the frog had been removed.

Anonymous said...

"Now if you want to get rid of Caltrain, or return it to the 46-54 trains a day of the old SP days, come out and say that. Don't pretend that the Caltrain 2025 plan doesn't exist though."

Thanks I thought you'd never ask. Now get out. If Caltrain needs to be upgraded, let the Peninsula owners of Caltrain figure that out. Caltrain can have a 2025 plan until they're blue in the face, the Peninsula residents would never allow them to quad track, never fund it, and it won't be allowed. ever.

The longer you linger on the Peninsula sniffing up Caltrains skirt, the more expensive prolonged and mired in quick sand your project will get. Promise.

Peter said...

Every time I hear Peninsula people claim that HSR is the bogeyman who is planning on ruining their suburban, car-centric cities, I have to laugh.

For example, well prior to the HSR bond was passed, the City of Menlo Park had planned to quad track their station. The plans for it are on their website. Note the date on them.

NONIMBYS said...

The Caltrain ROW is OWNED by 3 counties ..ALL voted yes and SanFrancisco by 78% SO we will decide how our "property" is upgraded and used ..NOT some NIMBYS

Anonymous said...

Thanks I thought you'd never ask. Now get out. If Caltrain needs to be upgraded, let the Peninsula owners of Caltrain figure that out. Caltrain can have a 2025 plan until they're blue in the face, the Peninsula residents would never allow them to quad track, never fund it, and it won't be allowed. ever.

Caltrain is owned by SF, SM, and SC counties, not just "the peninsula" - whatever that means. You want SF and SJ to dictate to the rest what to do with Caltrain? Didn't think so. Work with your bigger, more powerful neighbors (that also are owners of Caltrain) or you'll get hosed.

Anonymous said...

Just listening to the fact that he "worked" our tax dollar for 30 years in Caltrans answers everything about his opinion on HSR..Its not being done HIS WAY..richard the vast amount of people dont want to ride your 1955 type of CHOO for 11 hours to get to LA.. And the guy from Berkley..that schools trasportation program is run by a car ONLY type person..remember his lies for the anti prop1a crowd

Clem said...

I'm sure they would be all over Wikipedia if TGV ran through at 190 MPH. Got a reference for that?

So incredulous and provincial!

Through trains don't slow down for any of the TGV stations I listed earlier. They typically pass through at 300 or 320 km/h (depending on which line). Since there are platform tracks away from the main tracks, there are necessarily switches. As on any other two-track railroad, there are also crossovers provided every 20 km for operational flexibility in case something goes wrong. If they had to slow down for every switch they obviously wouldn't be TGVs.

This is by no means unique to France, although this sort of exotic trackwork (very long, high-speed live frog turnouts) is totally unheard of in the United States... simply because we've never had a need for it.

I was going to say something snarky about the Northeast Corridor and then stopped myself.

Rafael said...

@ adirondacker12800 -

there's a difference in the speed limits permitted for turnouts designed to support FRA-compliant and UIC-compliant rolling stock. The latter is much lighter, so higher speeds are possible.

VoestAlpine does brisk business selling HSR switches that can support 350km/h in the straight ahead and 200km/h in the turnout direction. Such switches are extremely long, about 200m, and require an array of 7 - 10 actuators working in concert.

In 2005, Rhomberg Gleisbau delivered such a turnout for installation on slab track in the Loetschberg tunnel. There's a general speed limit of 250km/h in the tunnel.

Spokker said...

Would you call the debate over whether or not to run trains at 220 MPH through suburban areas a moral dilemma? Surely, nobody wants to inflict emotional distress on people sensitive to noise. I wonder, though, how they cope with the current freight trains.

I guess the problem is that we all have a different definition of what loud is. I would call where I live loud. I live on a busy street in a multi-unit apartment complex with all manner of neighbors stomping, cars alarming and drivers blaring retarded reggaeton music. The train horns I hear as I lay down to sleep at night are the least of my concerns!

I moved here from a relatively quiet street that I was raised on. It was an adjustment, but the point is that I adjusted. Is the Central Valley unable to adapt? Can anyone spring for some damn soundproof windows? Is it really this hard?

Board Watcher said...

Can anyone spring for some damn soundproof windows?

Aw, Spokker, come on! You mean for their bedroom windows at night when the trains aren’t running anyhow, or for their backyards during the day? Or maybe you’re proposing that they close and shutter themselves in during the day and spring for some damn air conditioning, too.

Say, how thick does glass have to be to insulate against 100 dBA?

@Brian, thanks for taking a stab at debunking Richard Tolmach. Although you didn't exactly disprove anything he said, I appreciate you posting at least a difference of opinion.

Spokker said...

"Or maybe you’re proposing that they close and shutter themselves in during the day and spring for some damn air conditioning, too."

Do they shutter themselves in all day when the freight trains roll through?

NONIMBYS said...

And what was it like when SP ran freight trains and lots more than now?? OO you MOVED next to the railroad since then so now its too loud..?? Watcher

Board Watcher said...

Do they shutter themselves in all day when the freight trains roll through?

What's the dBA range of freight trains? Not 100!