Washington, California, and the Curious Case of the Railway to Somewhere

» California’s fast train network should be built, but can its backers maneuver around the difficult federal grant system that is supposed to fund it?

Here’s a little-known fact about California’s geography: The Central Valley, believe it or not, is situated between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

All kidding aside, the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s choice of the Fresno-Bakersfield route for the system’s first construction phase has produced a flurry of criticism, most recently from the California Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO, a sort of CBO for California). The LAO released a report this week that suggests that the project be reevaluated, perhaps by being absorbed into Caltrans (the state department of transportation) or possibly by being refocused on other initial corridors, such as Los Angeles to Anaheim or San Francisco to San Jose, which could act as improved commuter rail corridors if the whole system were never completed.

The report has its inaccuracies and parts of it deserve the skewering Robert Cruickshank provided it. Most significantly, the notion repeated by the report that faced with limited funds it is “more realistic” to focus on shorter corridors within metropolitan areas rather than between them completely misunderstands the value of high-speed rail.

The stretch through the Central Valley — along which trains will travel at 220 mph — is the crucial investment for a fast train system in the state. By allowing trains to accelerate to extremely fast speeds not possible within metropolitan areas, the system can produce true time savings over automobile and air alternatives.* Without the Central Valley link, the network would simply be a series of improved commuter lines.

Unfortunately, incremental improvements, rather than major new investments, are what the financing system that has been developed so far by the U.S. Congress and Department of Transportation is better at producing.

The problem California is now encountering has been a difficulty with the federal intercity rail process since its formulation with the 2009 Stimulus. Ironically the grant-making process — supposedly designed with high-speed rail in mind — has been more effective in funding smaller upgrades to existing Amtrak corridors than it has in financing large construction programs like California High-Speed Rail. This was a foreseeable dilemma.

In August 2009, before states had even submitted their grant requests, I wrote that the allocation system as initially designed would do few favors for the advancement of major projects:

“The problem is that the FRA [Federal Railroad Administration] has no standardized system by which to hand out those funds; as of now, it looks like the Department of Transportation will simply distribute money every few months to the projects it deems most valuable. As a result, California could get a billion here for the Transbay Terminal or a billion there for a line between Bakersfield and Merced, but never receive a guarantee that the feds will fully fund their prescribed share of the entire corridor’s construction costs. This is a huge problem, because a public agency shouldn’t be expending massive amounts of money on sections of a train system it doesn’t know it can finish completely. The private partners California hopes to interest in its program will not be excited about helping out on a train line they aren’t sure will ever open.”

And indeed, my predictions were right on point: The DOT has distributed relatively small grants every few months to its preferred projects (the two I anticipated were in fact funded) but it has never said it would fully commit to the completion of the entire California line. This has produced the second thoughts and hesitation on the project we are now seeing on the part of California politicians afraid that they will never get the federal dollars for which they have been hoping.

What is needed — and what has been needed for more than two years — is a Full-Funding Grant Agreement for intercity rail projects. Like the system used by the Federal Transit Administration for New Starts major capital projects, this agreement would commit all relevant entities to the financing and construction of a specified “Minimum Operating Segment” (MOS) designed specifically to offer mobility improvements without necessitating other segments to be completed to be viable. For public transportation projects, this contract ensures that Washington, the local transit agency, and other funding entities will keep to their word and finish the project by contributing a pre-determined share of total costs. This has been an efficient and effective system,** so bringing it into the intercity rail arena is a no-brainer.

What is currently funded in California — the Central Valley section — would likely not qualify as an MOS because it has not been designed and studied as an independent project; alone, it would probably not attract enough riders to justify its cost. A high-speed project like California’s, which requires entirely new tracks, would preferably be analyzed as a whole (as it has been) and funded as such. The same is true for other proposed true high-speed rail routes, like Amtrak’s $117 billion Northeast Corridor plan or a new route between Dallas and Houston, which this week received a $15 million planning grant from the DOT. In order to be built effectively and efficiently, each would need a signature from the federal government that ensures that a certain percentage of costs would be covered.

Lacking the significant budgetary authority to commit to such a process in any place proposing a high-speed rail line costing more than $5 billion, however, the DOT has had to hand out grants to smaller aspects of the $43 billion California project with the hope that one day the funding will come through for the entire system. This puts California officials in a bind: Are they supposed to be able to to attract private investment with such few assurances from Washington? Are they supposed to proceed with construction, even if they cannot be sure that the whole project will be completed? The federal government’s grants imply that Washington will put up its share of the project’s cost, but they certainly do not guarantee it.

The LAO report effectively suggests that the project be put on hold pending the answers to these questions. If California cannot be sure that it can fund the entire system, the logic goes, perhaps it should not be building the central stretch. But abandoning the work the state has done so far, or just delaying the program in hope of more definite policies in the years ahead, is a recipe for giving up on the project altogether. Today, California has momentum on its project — a supportive governor and billions of dollars in the bank amassed just over the past two years — so in the face of confusion in Washington, it at least has a chance to move forward. If the state relaxed its grip now, would it be able to keep going?

* Frequently overlooked is the fact that some of the world’s most successful high-speed routes, whether between Paris and Lyon or between Barcelona and Madrid, are more accurately high-speed lines in the countryside between the cities. At the ends of the routes, within the metropolitan areas themselves, trains generally run on slower-speed older lines.

** With the exception of a certain project in New Jersey.

Image above: High-Speed Rail in California’s Central Valley, from California High-Speed Rail Authority

163 Comments | Leave a Reply »
  • Robert Cruickshank roasted the California LAO good enough for us all.

    Since the California governor, two U.S. Senators, LA, SF, Sacramento, Bakersfield, Fresno, Anaheim and San Jose mayors and most of the state legislature are in lockstep support of the California HSR bond measure, I wouldn’t overreact to LAO pencil-pushers (with no political power) who don’t know HSR from last week’s tuna.

  • Winston

    Another key factor that makes incremental funding difficult for the California project is that the mountain passes between the central valley and both Los Angeles and San Francisco are difficult engineering projects that only make sense IF you already have the CV segment. In some ways, the HSR system in California is like building a bridge, you don’t get nearly as much benefit from half a bridge as you get from a whole one.

    • Tim E

      The ends do make it difficult. But the beauty and logic of starting in CV for which a lot people understand is that it clearly gives time as well as incentive for LA, San Jose and Sacramento time to finalize routes and start on prelim engineering, EIS statements and the likes.

      The only part that seems unrealistic at this moment is a connection into San Fran’s soon to be built Transbay Transit center in which some people state and I agree with will be become a glorified overpriced bus terminal without HSR nor will it be ever be comparable to Penn Station or Chicago’s Union Station, a shame. However, it is not needed for a viable system and not sure if people on the peninsula grasp that or not.

      In other words, put down the road first and need to build the bridges where people want to go will happen – LA and San Jose (Expensive terrain to bridge but connects the road with a large metro area supporting a solid transit build out in the south with the financial and political strength of Silicon Valley in the north), Sacramento will fall into place (State capital support and cheapest end by far) and then will find out who desires it more, San Fan peninsula or San Diego (expensive build outs in the thick of dense urban nimbism at its ugliest)

      • Tim,

        After current Republicans in the U.S. House of Reps, the only significant political delay factor for California HSRA is Palo Alto-Menlo Park supporters who want to gold plate their segment of tracks and station. The LAO garbage can and will be overcome.

        A tactical approach for California HSRA and SF Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission to overcome Palo Alto-Menlo Park recalcitrance is simple. Complete the SF-Redwood City segment (Transbay Transit Center, all grade separations in San Mateo & Santa Clara Counties excluding Palo Alto-Menlo Park, Caltrain electrification). While Palo Alto-Menlo Park contemplates its navel, California HSRA and the USDOT can focus on San Jose-Fresno-Bakersfield-Palmdale-LA-Anaheim segment and maybe a LA-Palmdale-La Vegas too!

        By then, SF Bay Area businesses and media will shame Palo Alto-Menlo Park to either put up more local money to gold-plate their 4 miles of HSR OR have a Coke and go along with the program.

  • jon

    given 3 other major rail projects have been knocked off overnight due to pure politics, CA must get the shovels in the ground ASAP

  • Ocean Railroader

    This whole going to go belly up it is sitting in the train station sitting there with a hit me sign from the Tea Party clowns with their paint ball guns. This new page on the system only steps it up even more that it’s dead meat.

    • What difference does it make in California what the Tea Party clowns do? Didn’t California change its primary system to make the Tea Party clowns even more toothless than they already were in that state?

      It is deceptive to describe California as getting underfunded on the basis of getting more funding than any other single project, by putting every single other project that got funded into a single rhetorical category to obscure that fact. And the fact that California can not seek private participation at this point is neither here nor there, since the time to seek private participation is closer to project completion ~ private discount rates make it silly to seek the private share of funding this far out from project completion date.

      But it would indeed be quite a substantial benefit to the CA system if there was an infrastructure bank in place that fund a MOS from the CV to either LA or SF.

  • Andrew in Ezo

    The problem with this country is that politicians (and a large part of the public) can’t think in the long term. HSR is a commitment that requires decades to complete. Politicians only think in terms of what gets them elected to another term- thus even rail-friendly pols clamour to shift HSR funds to legacy rail, which the public already knows. To most Americans, HSR is just some foreign concept that’s really expensive.

  • Miyazawa

    At the ends of the routes, within the metropolitan areas themselves, trains generally run on slower-speed older lines.
    Metropolitan areas are the place where crucial [expensive] minutes can be lost if the infrastructure is not built up to par. Whether CaHSR is going to be truly high-speed will be decided there. It’s also the place where infrastructure cost are the highest.

    The LAO has a $67 billion estimate for the whole line, extrapolating from the stretch to be built in the valley. I think this is somewhat plausible. Why should the other stretches be cheaper than the valley portion?

    With that cost estimate, I think it’s a risky speculative game to keep building without a dedicated funding stream. When the costs escalate and the timeline keeps stretching, CaHSR will overstay its political welcome. They should get reliable funding ASAP to ensure the long-term viability of this project.

    • Tom West

      “Metropolitan areas are the place where crucial [expensive] minutes can be lost if the infrastructure is not built up to par”
      I agree, but it’s a lot easier (=cheaper) to build new track to save a minute of time in the middle of nowhere, then upgrade existing (and active) track in a metropolitan area to save a minute of time.

      The CHSRA has carefully alloctaed money to ensure the brand new track can be linked to existing track, thus allowing existing inter-city services to use it (and save time) until the full high-speed service is in operation.

    • The LAO is using the CARRD estimate.

      Why should the other stretches be cheaper than the valley portion?

      First, because only the valley portion has to build to support 33ton axle load Amtrak locomotives to meet independent utility requirements: once the CV is in place, the next extension in either direction can meet independent utility requirements with lighter weight dedicated rolling stock, and,

      Second, because the valley portion will no longer cost what the valley portion was going to cost before Van Ark started pushing for the project planners to stop solving design problems by throwing more concrete at the problem.

      The LAO is projecting that the proportional increase between original project cost and current estimates can be applied ~ that is the basis of the CARRD estimate that they are using, a simple proportional multiple of the original estimate. That cannot be justified by even a cursory examination of the project, so the most plausible justification is the reason that CARRD adopted it, because of an anti-project bias which therefore likes any estimate that throws up a roadblock to completion.

      • Andrew

        First, because only the valley portion has to build to support 33ton axle load Amtrak locomotives to meet independent utility requirements: once the CV is in place, the next extension in either direction can meet independent utility requirements with lighter weight dedicated rolling stock

        The light weight rolling stock is a fantasy. The trains will be operating on the peninsula and around LA in mixed service and will need to meet American buff strength requirements. We’ve seen the results of using European standards at Eschede.

        Amtrak’s Acela, which everyone accuses of being overweight is just 200,000 lbs in the power car and 130,000 pounds in the coaches. That’s quite comparable to overseas equipment when you keep in mind that Acela cars are both wider and longer than European equipment.

        A six car Acela train with power cars is 664 ft. long. Compare to an eight car TGV at 657 ft. long. TGV coaches are only 61′-4″ long (71′-8″ for the power trailer), while Acela coaches are 87′-5″. TGV’s are only 9′-6″ wide, Acela is 10′-5″. A TGV weighs 424 tons, compared to 590 tons for Acela. Since Acela is 1% longer and 10% wider, we should add 47 tons to the TGV weight to make it equivalent sized – 590 tons vs. 471 tons. Keep in mind also that TGV’s are articulated on common trucks instead of having independent trucks like on Acela. This is some of the rest of the difference in weight. Acela has 16 trucks, a TGV has 13. High speed trucks are up around 5 tons in weight. Once you increase the size of the TGV cars to Acela sized cars and add an extra truck, you find the actual weight difference of around 20%, which is what is required for American buff strength.

        Second, the track structure and subgrade won’t get cheaper in other segments (and its unreal to think this is where the costs are). Maintenance vehicles (standard diesel engines and 100+ ton ballast cars) will impose the standard North American 263K loadings. Also, even if somewhat lighter weight TGV like equipment was approved, at the much higher speeds it operates at versus 110 mph standard Amtrak equipment, the dynamic loading factors would make the weight close to equivalent.

        • Peter

          The FRA has already made the first move away from its ridiculous buff standards by granting Caltrain a waiver to operate what are essentially UIC standard trains.

          We’ve seen the results of using FRA standards at Chatsworth.

          • Andrew

            Peter:

            Only 25 people died at Chatsworth (closing speed of 80-85 mph). I’d love to know how you think UIC buff strengths would have caused fewer deaths, or why UIC standards should be adopted when the US has freight trains mixed with passenger trains that are twice the weight of European trains.

            • Adirondacker12800

              Chatsworth wouldn’t have happened if the train had automatic train stop. Modern signal system could be designed to stop the other train too since the system would have detected that the red signal had been run and train stop applied.

              • Alan Kandel

                I’m still not thoroughly convinced that the control point signal in question was red at the time it was allegedly breached by the Metrolink train #111 engineer of that fateful Sept. 12, 2008 afternoon. Three eyewitnesses standing on the Chatsworth Station platform gave testimony to the investigating interest that that control point signal was green. This testimony was apparently disregarded.

                Since this territory is dispatcher controlled, there should be evidence at the dispatching site to determine what the color of the signal aspect was when this signal was allegedly breached, or one would think there would be. The eyewitnesses’ testimony plus the actions of the engineer in question that day suggest the possibility that there was a signal anomaly – in this case a false clear or green signal – which one would think should raise some doubt that a red signal was displayed and disregarded.

                I remember standing on the platform of the station in Truckee, California once and on a signal bridge off to the east of the station on a clear morning, a signal (albeit an intermediate signal and not an absolute signal for those who know the difference) displayed for an approaching eastbound freight train went from red to green to red to finally green before the train had arrived. I had not seen that kind of pattern before and have not seen that pattern since. There may be a logical explanation, but that’s what I observed.

                I can’t vouch for Automatic Train Stop (ATS), but the Shinkansen bullet train in Japan has not experienced a single collision in its 47-year history. That speaks volumes!

            • Peter

              A modern idea such as crash-energy-management (that’s been around since the 1930s, I believe) would have helped a lot to reduce the fatalities at Chatsworth. A train built to UIC crash standards would have had CEM.

              • Adirondacker12800

                and with modern signals there wouldn’t have been any crash to manage.

            • Tom West

              “25 people died at Chatsworth (closing speed of 80-85 mph). I’d love to know how you think UIC buff strengths would have caused fewer deaths, or why UIC standards should be adopted when the US has freight trains mixed with passenger trains that are twice the weight of European trains”
              Look up the Grayrigg derilament. Train derailed at 96mph, smashes through several caternary masts, and ends up with four coaches strewen down the side of an embankment. Only 1 person died, thanks to the European-style rolling stock.

              Secondly, in freight-on-passenger train collisions, only the first 10-20 or so freight cars really matter. Anythign beyond that is moot. A collision with a freight train with 20 or 120 cars is the same.

        • Adirondacker12800

          We’ve seen the results of using European standards at Eschede.

          No amount of buff strength is going to make a bridge falling on the train survivable. And no amount of buff strength is going to help when the carriage you are in stops instantaneously from 125 because there’s suddenly a bridge blocking the tracks.
          Terminal velocity of a human in free fall is around 125. It’s not pretty when you do that horizontally instead of vertically. It’s even less pretty if it happens at 186.

          Maintenance vehicles (standard diesel engines and 100+ ton ballast cars) will impose the standard North American 263K loadings.

          I ask about MOW equipment and no one ever answers. Rail grinders, ballast cleaner/tampers don’t look particularly light. Ballast cars don’t have to weigh 200 tons. They can fill them halfway.

          • Nathanael

            Ballast cleaner/tampers are heavy, but they have extra axles. So their axle loadings don’t need to be that high. Rail grinders are not that heavy.

            These are solved problems; after all, France, Germany and Japan successfully maintain their high speed tracks while fitting into the axle loading limits. *eyeroll*.

          • Andrew

            Adirondacker:

            No amount of buff strength is going to make a bridge falling on the train survivable. And no amount of buff strength is going to help when the carriage you are in stops instantaneously from 125 because there’s suddenly a bridge blocking the tracks.

            16 people died at Chase MD when the Colonial came to a sudden stop from 128 mph by hitting several hundred tons of steel.

            Ballast cars don’t have to weigh 200 tons. They can fill them halfway.

            Sure they can. If they want to use twice as many and double their maintenance costs.

            And don’t forget that the cost of ballast is mostly in the transportation, not the rock. So you want twice the cars operating from wherever the nearest railroad quarry is at the same transportation cost? You do want this line to make money, right?

            But again, the 18 ton European axle loads at 180 mph are higher than 33 ton American freight loads at 40 mph. Acela axle loads are only 25 tons.

            • Adirondacker12800

              Buff strength doesn’t help when the bridge you are crossing is three feet out of alignment either.

              http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Bayou_Canot_train_disaster

              Both would have been avoided with modern signals.

              Ballast cars come through very very infrequently. It’s cheaper to run them lighter than to overbuild the road to carry them infrequently.

            • Phil

              “16 people died at Chase MD when the Colonial came to a sudden stop from 128 mph by hitting several hundred tons of steel.”

              In that crash, the AEM7 took the majority of the energy.

              In the Eschede disaster, the engine car and two passenger coaches cleared the bridge before jackknifed passenger coaches behind went into the bridge, which promptly fell. The reminder of the cars slammed into the pile.

              No amount of engineering would have saved them.

              • Adirondacker12800

                well… engineering applied to the bridge might have helped. If the bridge hadn’t collapsed there would have a been a brief flurry of new reports about the derailment, DB would have put it tail between it’s legs and changed the wheels. Or if DB had engineered and tested the wheels then found that they were inappropriate, the wheel wouldn’t have been in service, the train wouldn’t have derailed and no one would have heard anything….

                …you can’t engineer around sudden deceleration, not in a way that’s acceptable to passengers.

              • Max Wyss

                The bridge had a pillar between the main tracks, and that one got smashed away by the derailed car. And then, the bridge just collapsed; not in one moment, but fast enough.

                The consequence is that after that, the free span of bridges over lines with fast trains goes over the mainline tracks. Where that is not possible, there are concrete elements protecting the pillars. In the Eschede case, the derailed car would have been pushed back to the track line with such protector elements.

                And yes, if it were just that deralilment, there would have been messages in the media for a few days, and maybe a few months later when the results of the tests with the wheelsets became published…

        • Nathanael

          “you find the actual weight difference of around 20%, which is what is required for American buff strength.”

          Which is the bullshit part. American “buff strength” is a useless waste of metal and energy. As has been pointed out many times before, in civilized countries they upgrade the signal system so that trains can’t crash into each other (which is already very rare), and eliminate grade crossings so that trains don’t crash into cars.

          “Buff strength” becomes an irrelevance. Even with the current Amtrak signalling on the Northeast Corridor — ACSES — it’s practically an irrelevance, because train-on-train crashes are only possible at very low speed, which doesn’t require even European levels of buff strength for safety.

          • Max Wyss

            Actually, the European style energy absorber elements would reduce the time the vehicle spends in the workshop for repair…

        • The Acela that you are referring to is a red herring: the San Jaoquin that they appeal to for independent utility are 33ton axle load locomotives.

          Indeed, that’s one reason the value engineering has been looking for opportunities to go down toward grade, rather than the long viaduct through Fresno that was called for in the prior design ~ the design weight for the viaduct is substantially greater.

          As far as “the FRA will never allow anything that they have not allowed before” ~ first, the rule on superelevation is proceeding, presently slated to go live on 12 September this year, and second, as Peter noted, the Caltrain corridor has got its waiver to UIC standard.

        • The light weight rolling stock is a fantasy. The trains will be operating on the peninsula and around LA in mixed service and will need to meet American buff strength requirements. We’ve seen the results of using European standards at Eschede.

          Your knowledge of trains is about on a par with George W. Bush’s knowledge of European art history.

          So, first, American mainline trains have had more deaths per passenger-km than Japanese and European trains in the last 12 years. Buff strength sounds nice, but when it causes the locomotive to be so heavy the car behind it telescopes into it, people die. Second, when a bridge falls on a train, it doesn’t matter what the buff strength is. Might as well blame 9/11 on insufficient airliner buff strength.

          Even your weight calculations are stupid. The Acela power cars weigh 88 metric tons, the TGV power cars 68. At equal speed, it corresponds to a factor of 2.8 difference in track wear. Compare the Acela to the Shinkansen, and it’s a factor of 2 difference in maximum axle load and a factor of 16 difference in track wear. This actually matters: cut axle load enough and the train can maintain higher speed on worse-maintained track. JR Hokkaido’s tilting Super Hokuto train averages the same speed from Sapporo to Hakodate as the Acela from New York to Boston; the train is a 130 km/h DMU running on single track in mountainous terrain without much money for intensive maintenance.

          • Tom West

            The way to prevent deaths in rail collisions or derailments is simple:
            1) Make sure the rail vehicles remain upright and coupled together
            2) Make sure the bodyshell doesn’t deform (particularly no telescoping)
            3) Make sure the windows don’t break.
            4) Make sure nothing can catch fire.
            Passengers deaths following derailments where at least one of these did not occur account for a tiny percentage of rail deaths.

              • Adirondacker12800

                and no one would have tested the trains if the dispatcher hadn’t overriden the signals……

              • Nathanael

                Bleh. Waving trains past red signals is seriously problematic, isn’t it? The dispatcher tried to correct his error, but that’s one of those things where error should not be tolerated in the first place. Before you override the signal system, double-check that the line is clear, seriously….

      • Nathanael

        The LAO is using the previously discredited hack-job “estimate” from CAARD? The LAO just discredited itself completely.

        • Well, they are using the CAARD number. They had to do their own back and fill to arrive at it, because the CAARD original estimation was not something that would give the surface impression of being a serious analysis.

          But scratch the surface, and they are doing an even worse hack job to get at the CAARRD number than CAAARRD did.

  • Glen

    The Obama administration realizes this and has proposed a 56 billion funding source for high-speed rail Now the Democrat members of Congress and the California Senators need to play hardball get this through or there won’t be any such high-speed program anywhere in America.

  • TomA

    Of course it makes sense to built the cheap segment first.

    For one – its cheap. Even if nothing further gets built it still provides places where trains (Amtrak) can attain maximum speed. And its the part where the decisions on where to build are least important as far as expense and time savings. In other words – its not only cheaper, but its much closer to being ready to build.

    Of course if nothing else ever get built you wasted alot of money on upgrading part of the San Joaquin route.

    But what are the chances that at least one of LA, San Fran, Oakland, San Diego, Sacramento, San Jose or Las Vegas doesn’t step up the political pressure and get an extension to at least one major end point built.

    If nothing else I could see it getting built to Palmdale, thus providing a link to LA Metrolink (and potentially Desert XPress to Vegas). If that happens you could then have a two train ride from LA to Oakland or Sacramento (assuming that the trains are compatible with and connected to Amtrak’s existing San Joaquin line.)

    • Buy locomotives that can haul the HSR trainset, couple them on for the diesel segment ~ the northern end at least, and it can be a single seat ride.

      There are three reasons to transfer at the north end onto a truncated Amtrak San Joaquin.

      First, to meet the requirements built into the Prop1a(2008) bond approval: HSR Merced to Palmdale and Express on an upgraded Metrolink to LA-US would be an operating surplus service at some frequency, and so could be franchised out to a private operator, ensuring a no-subsidy service.

      Second, to get more effective use of the HSR rolling stock, since the run to SF and Sacramento from Merced is so long. May as well use Amtrak-California cars for that, and do a cross platform transfer rather than uncouple-couple the trains.

      Third, it best keeps the political pressure on to finish the connecting to the Bay if there is a cross platform transfer from the “slow” train to the “fast” train.

    • Nathanael

      “But what are the chances that at least one of LA, San Fran, Oakland, San Diego, Sacramento, San Jose or Las Vegas doesn’t step up the political pressure and get an extension to at least one major end point built.”

      LA seems to have the political will. I think it’s almost certain that they’ll make it to LA.

      • That is exactly where I’d recommend the CHSRA to go if they need to go to a one sided corridor first to get a MOS ~ Valley / LA, then SJ / Valley / LA, running through to SF on Caltrain, then TBT / Valley / LA.

        • Nikko P

          Don’t you think it would be wiser to head to SJ first before LA since there’s no rail line to speak of over Pacheco Pass? At the very least, if the project falls through, you’ll still have a rail line across Tehachapi Pass you can at least double track and you’ll have a complete Bay-LA route even if it’s not all HSR. If you tackled LA first, and the project fell through, you would be stuck with that god-awful route on the north end through Martinez which would only get you to Oakland.

          • Adirondacker12800

            That’s the beauty of Altamont. The people in Marinez are forever banished to the service they have now.

          • Wad

            Or you could catch the Thruway bus. Stockton’s the place where the buses take the other branch when the train is going in the other direction (Sacramento for Oakland-bound trains and the Bay Area for Sacto-bound trains).

          • You said go to SJ “first” on the basis of before that already having a line giving a through connection to LA. That’s getting a through service to LA first, and a through service to SJ after.

          • Nathanael

            Nikko, the freight railroads REALLY don’t want regular passenger service on the existing Tehachapi Loop line, and it’s a pain in the neck to double-track it because, well, loop!

            Altamont has passenger rail service as does the Capitol Corridor, so Pacheco is “less of a gap” than LA-Bakersfield in terms of a connected network.

            • If the HSR corridor is put through to Palmdale as Nikko suggests, then why would there be passenger trains on the Tehachapi loop? The loop is between Bakersfield and Palmdale.

              • Nathanael

                Oh — Niko was imagining the line to Palmdale being built without the line from Palmdale to Sylmar?

                Very unlikely to happen. I think it’s clear to the planners that Palmdale is not a good interim terminus. Like “Borden to Corcoran”, it would only happen if there was a strong expectation that more money would come through for the next section of track soon afterwards. (Also, they’re now reconsidering the Grapevine due to the number of problems found with Sylmar-Palmdale, and until they determine which is easier, they’re not going to build past the east edge of Bakersfield. LA-Sylmar may get built first, actually, as it has the potential to grade-separate a long section of Metrolink, and so might get funded partly out of commuter rail money.)

        • Wad

          As an L.A. resident, I’d prefer L.A. get its extension first. Though if Pacheco Pass was built first, I wouldn’t be too upset.

          We’d still keep the L.A.-to-Bakersfield Thruway bus that will be faster than conventional rail anyway. It’s 2 hours and 15 minutes, versus 2 hours from L.A. to Palmdale on Metrolink. The coaches are nice, too.

          • LA / Palmdale on Metrolink Express is 1:30 ~ obviously if the HSR was using some part of that corridor in a preliminary service, a passing track section or two should be installed to reduce the conflict fight between the local service and the express service on a single track corridor.

            • Adirondacker12800

              For the three years it takes them to complete the HSR route use a bus or live with the conflicts.

              • The upgrades that would support an HSR preliminary service on the Antelope Valley line would have independent utility after the Baksersfield/LA-US has been completed ~ and lots of leeway in putting it/them wherever is most cost efficient.

                Indeed, once the HSR is through to LA from Bakersfield on its own corridor, the Express passing infrastructure on the Antelope Valley would improve its ability to serve as a recruiter for the HSR corridor, so it would seem to qualify for Metro’s formula share of complementary rail funding.

  • Ted King

    Re : Block quote of self -
    s/their proscribed share/their prescribed share/
    – - – -
    Re : Central Valley – LA rail service -
    How long has the bus bridge been in place for Amtrak passengers traveling through that area ? What plans were made prior to HSR to close that gap ?
    – - – -
    The critics of HSR need to be careful that they don’t turn fiscal responsibility into virtual sabotage. Yes, the plans must be well crafted and not gold-plated. But do we want a polluted future like the one in a TV series where the star wakes up in an LA arcology that is surrounded by smog ?*

    I, for one, do NOT want a concrete and asphalt desert from sea to shining sea. I prefer steel laces linking our coasts to the heartland (just like the rest of the world). I prefer a civilized ride at / near ground level to being treated like de-pressurized sausage stuffing in an aluminum canister. I love aircraft – many are gorgeous. But the view out the window is too distant – too disconnected.

    *At the end the star wakes up in his car, a highway patrolman nearby, recovering from carbon monoxide poisoning.

    P.S. History note : Railroads were double engines of development – transportation and communications. The rail lines made it easier to build telegraph lines and the telegraph lines made it easier to operate the trains. Here’s hoping that the HSR designers remember this and include fiber optic trunks in their ROW layouts.

  • Loren Petrich

    I think that the CHSRA ought to consider what might be a minimum useful route segment. The Central Valley isn’t enough — its ends would be too far from Los Angeles and the SF Bay Area to be useful.

    I propose Los Angeles to San Jose. Not quite San Francisco, but still a big city. Travel time: 2h 9m.

    However, “Baby Bullet” express Caltrain takes 58m, and local-service Caltrain 1h 31m, compared to the expected HSR time of 30m.

    If one wants to pinch pennies even further, one can try Sylmar – Gilroy. That will take 1h 49m, but LA – Sylmar is 26 mi and SJ – Gilroy is 32 mi. Bus or rail shuttles will take at least a half hour each, yielding 3h total for LA – SJ.

    • Nathanael

      LA to Fresno would already be a useful segment, and arguably the “minimum high speed route”. CV travel to LA and “points south” is a humungous market. Long bus shuttles destroy ridership.

      There’s a reason everyone keeps pointing to the Bakersfield-LA gap; it is, however, one of the most complicated parts in engineering terms, so it’s no surprise it’s taking a while to get the environmental analyses done.

  • Woody

    I’m still O.K. with the worst-case scenario: an up-and-operable segment of HSR, from Bakersfield to Merced.

    There has to be a long stretch for testing equipment, and this segment allows a public and political demonstration of the capabilities of HSR as well. (The other day I read a big shot Repub politico remarking that it was his “first time ever to ride Amtrak.” Oh, brother.) That’s even if there’s a pause for a few years with only a glorified, HALF-HSR San Juaquin route.

    See a shiny new station at Merced, where a gleaming, light-weight HSR pulls in. All passengers get out, cross the platform, and board a conventional train. They’d continue their ride on an FRA-approved, heavy-weight train (too heavy for HSR rails and tracks) to reach San Jose, San Francisco, Oakland, and Sacramento.

    Such a service shouldn’t lose huge sums for CAHSR and/or Amtrak. And not for long. The situation would be so obviously absurd the public would clamor to get things moving.

    As Tim E says above, any uninvited pause would “clearly give time as well as incentive for LA, San Jose and Sacramento to finalize routes and start on prelim engineering, EIS statements and the likes.” Yeah, likes to deal with the NIMBYs on the Peninsula and elsewhere.

    So perhaps a delay? Who will be surprised? But this part of it, the stem, will get built, soon, and that’s worth doing. Then when the Crazies are beaten back, full-speed ahead.

    —–
    By the way, if this LAO study costs out at $67 Billion, again, who will be surprised? Amtrak’s suggestion to build a new line in the NEC for $115 Billion makes CAHSR look like the bargain it is.

    • And even if the $67b is plucked out of the air by an anti-CHSRA group posing as “concerned supporters” of HSR …

      … its still cheaper than the equivalent transport capacity in road construction and airport infrastructure.

    • BBnet3000

      $67 billion in California is NOT a bargain compared to $115 billion in the NEC.

      • What is $67b compared to $80b to $120b to get the same transport capacity by status quo means, both of them vulnerable to oil price shocks and oil supply disruptions?

      • BBnet3000,

        California has spent over $100 billion (inflation adjusted) building the world’s premier freeway system and two of its premier airports. But those achievements have the unintended side-effect of 17 of top 25 smoggiest, CO2 emitting and oil-consuming cities in America — without solving traffic congestion.

        Given California is forecast to add 15 million people just after 2030, a lot of smart people have looked at this situation from many angles and concluded its better to invest $43 billion on HSR and many $ billion more on Rapid Transit for LA, SF Bay Area, San Diego & Sacramento. In their analysis, they learned that building such a system with hundreds of thousands of California jobs boosts the economy and when operational, the California HSR system will cut foreign oil consumption by 12.7 million barrels/yr and cut greenhouse gas emissions by 12 billion pounds less per year. That’s a lot more money circulating in California’s economy (and Las Vegas) than the Middle East.

        The misinformed LAO pencil-pusher either ignores or doesn’t understand that California would otherwise have to spend well over $60B for more freeways and airports thru more expensive ROW, and there would be no guarantee that airlines would give regular service to the Central Valley.

        Furthermore, California has turned a corner of freeway construction. More people are figuring out that growing to 10-12-14-16 lanes does not solve traffic congestion. Instead it increases accident/mile frequency and more air pollution. Citizens don’t want more airport expansion either – just ask the LAX and SFO administrators who had their expansion plans dashed. if anything, residents near the big airports want quieter, less polluting jets that only use existing runways.

        California represents the end game of freeway and airport expansion. Now it becomes America’s 2nd beginning for HSR.

    • Peter

      No one is going to buy HSR trainsets if only Merced-Bakersfield is built. They’ll simply run Amtrak San Joaquins on them at a higher speed.

      • Ocean Railroader

        That would be a good idea in odd sort of way in that it avoids opening up a can of worms on a unfinished system in that the existing train set and locomtives could run on the existing tracks none stop and then jump on to the high speed passanger rail tracks only and go full speed a head down it and change back to regular passanger train mode. If you had one of the bullet trains what would end up happening is you get on the existing Amtrak and have to wait 40 minutes to change over to the new eletric bullet trains and then go down the 100 mile line and change back over to regular Amtrak.

        It might make more sense to start adding eletric catenary to the Cal Train section up around SF and start working their way south from that catenary head waters so the system can get the bugs worked out on that small section first.

      • Woody

        HSR requires that tracks are built and maintained to very exacting specifications. But heavier trains distort and damage the HSR tracks, pushing the rails out of alignment by a few millimeters, or causing almost imperceptible dips, and so forth.

        That’s the whole point of the discussion above about American buff strength.

        The FRA requirements add too much weight to the conventional trains that share any tracks with heavier freights. As a result, unless the buff strength requirements are changed, even Next Gen Amtrak equipment will destroy the sensitive HSR tracks. But without a many-miles stretch of the high-specification HSR tracks, CAHSR can’t test run its HSR equipment.

        The best solution that I see to the incompatible sensitive tracks/heavy equipment is cross-platform transfers, first at Merced, perhaps later at Palmdale, or at other stations until the full system is completed.

        I guess it might be possible, maybe, to add axles to some Amtrak coaches so their distributed weight would not crush the HSR rails; then you could switch from heavy locomotives to lightweight HSR engines to haul them over the sensitive HSR segment. Maybe not.

        But if you think we can just run regular heavy trains on the Central Valley San Juaquin HSR segment, you can’t. If you do that until most of the HSR line is completed, you’ll have to turn around and completely rebuild the HSR tracks. That would not be a cheap solution at all, and it would preclude using the Central Valley segment as the test track.

        The incompatibility of HSR tracks and conventional trains, and the rules against using HSR trains in mixed traffic, is a HUGE problem.

        The rules mean that US HSR will be unlike the TGV service that began Paris-Lyon at high speed, with trains extending beyond to Geneva, Marseilles, etc continuing on the conventional system. In the US, true HSR trains will NOT have similar extensions or feeder routes because of the heavy train, American buff strength regs. We will only have cross-platform (or worse) connections between the 220-mph trains and the 110-mph and regular speed Amtrak trains.

        I almost wonder if Obama, Biden, and LaHood get it. Maybe they do, because one big advantage of the 110-mph H(er)SR trains in the Midwest system is that they will be compatible with all the heavy Amtrak equipment. So trains reaching 110-mph Chicago-St Louis will be able to continue to Kansas City or Little Rock and beyond.

        But CAHSR equipment will NOT head beyond Sacramento to Reno or Portland at slower speeds, like the conventional Amtrak trains operating on freight lines. Son-of-Acela next-generation trains on the NEC will NOT head on down to Richmond or Charlotte or beyond Harrisburg to Pittsburgh, or up the Hudson to Albany. Passengers will have to change trains. Of course, all the true HSR lines will be electric powered in any case, and in most cases, the feeder routes will not be electrified until many years gone by.

        • The rules mean that US HSR will be unlike the TGV service that began Paris-Lyon at high speed, with trains extending beyond to Geneva, Marseilles, etc continuing on the conventional system. In the US, true HSR trains will NOT have similar extensions or feeder routes because of the heavy train, American buff strength regs. We will only have cross-platform (or worse) connections between the 220-mph trains and the 110-mph and regular speed Amtrak trains.

          Note that the French do not run at Express HSR speeds when they run onto the French Express Intercity network. We certainly don’t have the equivalent of their Express Intercity rail network, but anywhere we happen to have a line that is the equivalent, or can build the equivalent, we could have HST’s running between the Express HSR corridors and the Regional HSR corridors

        • jim

          The rules can be waived.

          A dozen Talgo 7 coaches placed between two Talgo traction units become a Talgo 350 HST. A dozen Talgo 7 coaches placed between a P-42 and an NPCU become an Amtrak Cascades trainset (actually, I think they use 6s not 7s, but there’s not much difference between them). FRA granted a waiver to run that configuration on the Cascades.

          I do not know whether it’s even technically possible, or if it is technically possible whether it could be done in a reasonable time, but one might envisage a Talgo 350 running into Merced, the power cars being disconnected and replaced by an Amtrak diesel and an NPCU and the result running through to Oakland or Sacramento. Or if not Talgos, some other non-EMU HST.

          One seat ride, if not quite instant.

          • Adirondacker12800

            Why do you need to change engines?

            • Max Wyss

              You don’t need to change the engines, if you have enough, and are willing to haul them all along. But keep in mind that any additional train weight will make a diesel-hauled train even slower (unless you have an excess of diesel units around); with 3500 kW traction power (that’s about the best you currently get with a single unit diesel), you won’t get that far and fast.

              • Yes, if its double headed power, just couple the diesels head and tail and go, and putting a diesel power car on the tail as opposed to a trailer means it has its own power for the coupling and uncoupling move. The HST’s will be designed with automatic couplers, and the diesel power will be dedicated units so they’ll be given the same coupler.

                The coupling move can be done on track in the footprint of what will be the express bypass track passing around the central local island platform or, for those who insist that train layout has to follow interstate road SFFS layout, the central express bypass track passing between the local side platforms.

                Though the tilt trains only buy extra speed on the conventional rail right of way, and at the top end, where the diesel run would be longer and the tilt train would have a noticeable benefit, that would be a point arguing for dedicating them to the conventional rail right of way and doing a platform transfer.

                At the southern end, if the PTC and reasonable time separation between HST and freight is not enough to count as time slice use of the track, its more plausible ~ avoiding the fight over electrification of the corridor for temporary use by HST and simplifying the waiver to run to a scenario that already has precedent for being waived elsewhere.

              • aw

                Why do you need to add two units? Add a diessel to the front, and use the rear electric traction unit as a cab car. It also seems like you would need to use more or less standard couplers or an adapter in case your diesel conks out and you need to get towed by freight power.

              • In the scenario of relying on the precedent of the Cascades waiver, you need the higher buff strength units both front and back.

                You may need an adapter for emergency back-up situations, but wouldn’t you’d want to be using the automatic coupler for the regular scheduled coupling and uncoupling at the power changover platform.

        • Max Wyss

          Actually, the coaches are not much of a big issue. Taking the Amfleet as a reference, it would have to be stacked up pretty badly with seriously obese passengers until it reaches the 17 metric tons axle load, being industry standard on European high speed lines.

          That means that the real track-killers are the locomotives.

          So, it would be possible to use single-level FRA-compliant cars on the high speed line (assuming that appropriate trucks are in use (such as the air-suspension type under the German ICE-2 cars — trust me, there is a considerable difference in comfort between air suspension and helicoidal spring suspension; when I used to travel around Germany regularly, I actually looked out for ICE-2 cars). So, the stability and rolling behavior would be guaranteed).

          That means that through-running would be possible with an engine change. Actually, the engine change might not even be necessary, if there are enough units around. In that case, the (electrically powered) high speed engine would remain on the trainset, and hauled by the “standard” overweight FRA-compliant unit. Now, if the FRA-compliant sectors were electrified as well, the high speed unit could even provide additional traction energy, or at least provide the hotel power for the train. So, no unsurmountable problems here…

          The other approach, in order to provide through-running, but using high-speed trainsets, is also possible; the high-speed trainset would have to be hauled by the FRA-compliant engine on the conventional tracks. This is actually a very real scenario, because in order to reasonably reach speeds in the 300 km/h range, distributed drives become a necessity.

          Such a concept (diesel-hauling a high speed train) was (or may even still be) in operation in France, where TGVs are diesel hauled to reach places in the Normandie (such as Caen). In another message, Talgos are mentioned; which means that special permissions are achievable.

          • As above, there’s question of the length of time running on the diesel and how many additional useful turns from the high speed train with the platform transfer versus adding FRA-compliant diesel power on both ends.

            Its quite possible to get different answers on different ends of the HSR segment, if the southern end is a substantially shorter conventional rail run to LA Union Station than the northern end is to somewhere in the Bay Area.

            • Max Wyss

              It is also a bit the message you convey: Is it “you, passenger, have a high-speed train all the way”, or “you, passenger take a shuttle to the train”.

              The question is what makes the train more attractive, and to which extent can the “temporary” be made acceptable.

              To begin with, changing trains may work; I remember the German high speed line between Frankfurt Airport and Köln, where they had a “sample the new line” service in the few months before formal operation started; you needed a valid ticket (from Köln (or beyond) to Frankfurt Airport (or beyond), plus you had to pay a pretty high surcharge. The surcharge got considerably lower when regular operation began. But those sampler trains were full, and sold out days ahead (which is unusal in Germany).

              But, we will see…

              • Also, transfers are not additive ~ the difference in appeal between a single seat ride and a “a single transfer to a single seat ride” is one thing, the difference in appeal between the one transfer ride and the two transfer ride is bigger.

                If its “not quite making either end” and one side ends up having to be a transfer, its probably worth spending some sweat on making the other side a one-seat ride.

          • Don

            Through running may be possible, but is it in the plans anywhere? I can’t find it. Looks to me that the Central Valley start is meant to be a stand alone.

            I can’t even find anything about across the platform integration with the San Joaquins.

            This is a bad thing. Lag between investment and when the cash starts flowing in just kills ROI. You want to leverage your investment as hard as you can and get the most service up and running as quickly as possible.

            • First there has to be a service that generates a positive return. First start building this segment, then start working on the next, which in either direction would allow establishing a Minimum Operable Segment.

              As far as what kind of running is in the plans ~ they don’t even have the business model they will be using. Without a business model, “planning” about operations is purely pro forma.

              • Don

                …no business model, yet all kinds of money is about to flow. Complete lunacy.

  • Alan Kandel

    I still don’t understand the logic behind wanting to sidetrack the California fast train system. People need to remember the interstate highway system wasn’t built all at once. It too had to start somewhere.

    Perhaps Fresno Mayor Ashley Swearengin in today’s editorial in The Fresno Bee (http://www.fresnobee.com/2011/05/11/2384863/editorial-rail-project-shouldnt.html) summed up the situation best.

    “‘Can you imagine our state Legislature being responsible for that kind of decision when they can’t even make run-of-the-mill decisions like balancing the budget?’ Swearengin told The Bee. ‘It would entirely be political, and would not be based on the effectiveness of the trains or the overall project.’

    “She added that it would end up being a parochial project limited to the Los Angeles region and the Bay Area. The Valley would be cut out of the funding, just as it is for so many other programs that emanate from the Legislature.”

    California cannot afford to not build this high-speed rail system. Maintaining the status quo is unsustainable and there is evidence of this already. It’s in the air and on the ground. It’s in the form of “pollution” and “congestion/gridlock.”

    • Nathanael

      Logic? It’s hatred of trains. There’s a group of Americans who are irrationally hostile to passenger trains, which they see as a threat to the dominance of cars.

      Worse, it’s deliberate attempts to keep America hooked on oil. There’s a concerted push by the big oil companies to kill anything which would reduce gasoline demand. Unfortunately these people have influence in the state legislature and the Congress.

      (Robert Cruickshank has documented their influence, with Republican state legislators who previously supported the train changing their tune once they got into office and presumably got the visits from the oil lobbyists.)

    • Don

      To me, I would just like to see a plan that shows me how it helps me get from LA to SF as each stage is rolled out. I don’t think that’s asking too much!

      The transcontinental RR started shortening the transcon trip as soon as construction started. It didn’t take 4 years to start reaping the benefits. People used the trains to the railhead locations and bridged the gap by wagon. The trips got shorter as construction progressed.

      How does California HSR do this? I can’t find the info anywhere…

  • Screw it, let’s just widen I-5 to four lanes in each direction and watch in abject horror as the entire Central Valley turns into one giant strip mall.

    • Wad

      And those would be the lucky ones.

      Some cities in the Central Valley tie their economic fortunes to prisons.

    • That would be great if you ask me… if Oil was the most abundant thing in the planet, but nowdays encouraging automobile use by building more roads would cause a really bad impression. Its all about green power now.

  • Winston

    The Merced-Bakersfield track that is being built will have a significant benefit. Moving the San Joaquins from their current track to the new track and equipping them with the new 125 MPH cars and diesel locomotives that California is getting for its non HSR corridor services should allow the San Joaquins to save 50 mins or between Sacramento and the Bay Area and Bakersfield. This interim improvement will bring the average speed up from 52 MPH to 62 MPH, which is close to the Acela’s 66MPH Boston-Washington average speed. The ridership on this route is about 1/3 of that on the Acela (and much, less than on the NEC) and should increase significantly. It should also reduce costs on the San Joaquins because faster trains require less labor per trip. This will be a nice improvement in that corridor, but of course it is nothing compared to the benefits that will come from running true high speed trains between LA and the Central Valley (which would be the next obvious step).

    • Nathanael

      Saving 50 minutes on the San Joaquins ! That’s actually a pretty big deal and would increase ridership quite a lot.

      It would probably actually save more time because it’s going to have fewer stations (one between Fresno and Bakersfield, instead of three, and none in Madera, so three fewer stops). Which unfortunately could reduce ridership some. But having an hour shorter trip from Bakersfield to Sacramento is meaningful.

      Closing the Bakersfield-LA gap will be the point at which the really huge benefits start to show up, though, agreed.

      • aw

        They could run locals via the old route, and express via the new route…

        • Winston

          Or simply add a couple of local stops on the new route. It’s not like building a small temporary parking lot and platform is that hard of a thing to do. You would just need to fund it out of Amtrak California’s budget, not the HSR money.

          • Running the Amtrak service on the line is the back-up plan in case the HSR project collapses, not a preliminary service for a live HSR project.

            If the HSR project collapse, Amtrak-California would be free to put a platform anywhere they want along the corridor.

            If the HSR project is ongoing, a preliminary service to LA would likely use the platforms intended for the full HSR system, the San Joaquin would be truncated at the top of the preliminary route, and a connecting bus would be the most practical way to continue providing service to those small patronage stations, especially something as close as Corcoran to Hanford. Indeed, the distance is right for a balanced route Corcoran / Hanford Stn / Visalia return, which would not just maintain the connection Corcoran to Hanford, but also connect Visalia to Hanford Stn and Corcoran and Hanford to Visalia.

            • Winston

              Actually even with the HSR project, there is no restriction on another agency building additional stations on the line and serving them. However my main point is that in the interim period adding a couple of Amtrak stations to the line is easy and legal as long as HSRA doesn’t pay for them. As it stands, HSRA is planning for Amtrak service along this line and is planning to build the necessary trackwork to allow it.

              • My point is that, no, HSR is not planning Amtrak service as an interim service, they are planning to be able support Amtrak service on the corridor as the Federally required “independent utility”, which is in case there are no additional HSR segments funded and built.

                In scenario where no additional HSR segments are funded or built, the Amtrak is the alternative use of the corridor.

              • Adirondacker12800

                HSR stations are not a patch of asphalt and a bus shelter by the side of the track. You need miles of station siding and ADA compliant platforms. When Wasco comes up the the 50 million of so to build a station they can go at it.

              • One mile. And level boarding platforms are cheap.

              • Adirondacker12800

                check the ridership numbers for the stations that won’t have HSR. some of them average a dozen passengers a day. Platforms of any sort aren’t cheap for a few dozen passengers a day. Well maybe a patch of asphalt by the side of the tracks but the bus shelter would be iffy.

              • On a simple average, Corcoran 71 boarding and alighting, both Madera and Wasco under 50.

              • And to put Alon’s link into context, an average 10yr life on that ~$200,000 platform at a 5% discount would capitalize to $1 per board/alight at Corcoran’s patronage, $1.50 per board/alight at Madera/Wasco’s.

                And you don’t need station siding at all stations ~ in that scenario, HSR on indefinite deferral so that the corridor is being used by the San Joaquin, whether you stop every service at each platform or run some expresses, you still don’t need any express bypasses.

              • Adirondacker12800

                If you want to throw a patch of asphalt down and a one door mini-high at the end of it you might get by with 200,000. A one door mini-high won’t be adequate for HSR service.

              • Yes, but since I’m pointing out that the independent utility is not a preliminary use of the corridor, but a fallback alternative use if the intended use comes a cropper, there wouldn’t be actual HSR stations on the line if the fallback use of the corridor comes into play. Stations built that were intended to be HSR stations, sure, but in the Amtrak-California use of the corridor, they would not actually be HSR stations.

                And then if the HSR project got unstalled, best to have inexpensive platforms for the independent utility use of the corridor, so fewer resources are wasted when they are ripped out again.

              • I know that it’s not going to be $200,000 per HSR platform – the platforms are longer, and there will be two of them. But it means the order of magnitude of the cost should be in the single-digit millions, or at worst teen millions.

                I don’t know if there’s a point of adding a platform at Wasco and Corcoran, but given better service, Hanford and maybe Madera could have enough ridership to support a local station.

              • Adirondacker12800

                Rebuilding Metropark cost 47 million. Rebuilding Metropark was probably a bit tricker than building a station someplace that sees 6 trains day. I’m still rummaging around to see what the new station in Somerville cost. Someplace somewhere should be figures for the infill stations on the New Haven line.

              • jim

                Don’t forget the added cost for ADA compliance. These days you can’t just put down a strip of asphalt. Existing stations are grandfathered (but are supposed to be eventually retrofitted to become compliant). New stations have to be constructed in compliance.

              • The German stations in question have level boarding and see a train every hour or half hour, which is about the same level of traffic Hanford can expect to support even after the Automobile Ban Act goes into effect.

        • Wad

          Probably not. I’ve seen the NARP reports for the San Joaquins that show the largest station pairs for ridership and revenue. I think all of the top 10 pairs in each are for the major stations on the line, the ones that will get HSR stations in the future.

          You won’t have enough train demand to serve the Wascos, Maderas and Turlocks on the line.

      • Ocean Railroader

        If they also offered a train on the hour every hour to every two hours from 5.00AM to 8.00PM that would get rid of the getting trapped at the train station fear that many none Amtrak riders have.

      • Wad

        It probably wouldn’t lower ridership materially. According to NARP, the top 10 ridership pairs are: Fresno-Bakersfield, Hanford-Fresno (30 miles, a commuter trip), Stockton-Bakersfield, Hanford-Bakersfield, Stockton-Fresno, Sacramento-Fresno, Modesto-Bakersfield and Sacramento-Bakersfield.

        Seeing that Fresno and points south are part of all 10 ridership pairs, the improvements should tilt to saved time in the southern section.

        • Nathanael

          Awesome. :-) So let’s assume that cutting four stations out would cut out an additional ten minutes runtime (a fair assumption), and call it an hour faster if the San Joaquins run on the line in the interim until HSR is built. An hour is substantial.

          • Three: Madero, Corcoran, and Wasco.

            • Wad

              You can probably knock out Turlock (the D is silent), but it does have a university.

              • But if the Amtrak is using the corridor, that means that the project to build the HSR has collapsed, which means no stage two.

                Bear in mind that running the San Joaquin is an independent utility, not a preliminary service ~ its to guarantee that some use can be made of the corridor even if the intended use falls apart.

              • Adirondacker12800

                If Amtrak is using the corridor it means the project to connect to Palmdale is six month behind schedule and they are running Amtrak trains because there’s demand for moderate speed service.

              • That assumes that the connector between the two corridors is free, as CHSRA is not going to pay to implement the independent utility as long as they are meeting their requirements with their primary utility, and Amtrak is not going to have funds to plop down on infrastructure with a six month life.

              • Nathanael

                Depends how long the connector is. A connection to the legacy railway system would have utility for moving maintenance vehicles, delivery of trains, all kinds of obscure things. If the connection is a matter of a pair of turnouts and a few feet of track, someone might pony up the funds. If it’s miles, it won’t happen unless there are huge delays (say, Palmdale connection is 4 years behind, someone might do it anyway).

              • The connector for the independent utility in the CHSRA application budget is placed to connect to the end, not placed for the most convenient connection. If they continue to build, a main rail network connection to the heavy maintenance facility would seem to be a higher priority.

  • Don

    So, how EXACTLY, will the partial system work? Can you transfer directly to and from existing service? The details I saw showed the existing Amtrak stop across town from the HSR nothern line end.

    How do you get from LA to the southern Central Valley end? Drive? That’s the worst part of the trip!

    Any thought to doing this like the French and letting the HSR trainset operate over conventional trackage in the interim? (Yeah, yeah, FRA and all that – anybody stirring the pot with them?)

    It would be better to build the track in the Central Valley and connect it to existing service on the end(s) and run 110 mph Amtrak trains until these “details” are sorted out.

    • Which “partial system”?

      The “independent utility” for the Valley segment ~ the Federal requirement to fund a partial build ~ is to run the San Joaquin on the new track. The train would junction over from its existing alignment, so there would be no station transfer.

      A partial system implies going further so that its possible somehow to run through to LA Union Station. That would entail some form of transfer at the north end, if its not complete all the way to San Jose, onto a truncated version of the existing San Joaquin. That is entirely hypothetical, and in any event only a temporary solution until the corridor is completed through to San Jose, so don’t expect to see any official CHSRA design drawings of how that transfer station works, but the most sensible temporary solution is a form of island platform with ramps along the long axis to bridge the height difference.

      • Adirondacker12800

        At the frequency the trains run, even if you double it, one high platform that goes unused and one low platform that gets converted pnce high speed trains start running. The initial frequency on HSR should be able to get by with one platform for the few months it takes them to convert the low platform.

        • Lessee, if one platform on the island is HSR height and one platform is Amtrak height, with a series of ramps between the two along the axis of the island, that would add up to (wait a minute, finger counting time) uh, one HSR platform in that temporary design.

        • After all, the HSR/Amtrak transfer platform would in Merced, off the main line once the Wye to San Jose is finished, until sometime in Stage 2, so the Amtrak/HSR transfer to the Sacremento service is something that will persist substantially longer than the temporary initial service.

        • Adirondacker12800

          why do you need ramps? if you are going to insist on building platforms for a train that comes through once an hour build both of them to HSR specs and raise the tracks on one or both until HSR starts to run. removing track and ballast is lot cheaper than baroque ramps or burying platforms.

          • That’ll work, too. I’m not sure that the concreting to level up the platform is slower than changing the height of the Amtrak terminal track, especially with a steel frame mold, and am confident its not cheaper, but wev’s. As long as its a cross platform transfer from the HSR to the Amtrak at that terminus ~ which could well be a transfer platform in used for a decade.

            • Adirondacker12800

              Thats’ what I’m suggesting. Build the HSR station and until HSR trains start to run fill the space between the two platforms with extra gravel. I’m assuming that HSR platforms will be a bit higher than the 8 inch platforms California uses.

              • Before the HSR service starts, there’s an even simpler solution temporarily raising the height of one of the tracks ~ build the HSR terminal platform and wave at it while rolling past.

                There is a need for the San Joaquin to stop at a platform directly connected to the HSR platform once the HSR service starts, not before it starts. If the HSR track continues north, I would have thought that having the two tracks side by side with one track sitting on ballast a bit over two feet higher than the ballast the track next to it is sitting on could be problematic.

              • Adirondacker12800

                At the frequencies they will have the HSR train can pull into one platform and the conventional train can pull into the other platform. During the conversion to all HSR service they can still get by with one HSR platform.
                The commuter agencies on the East Coast do this all the time, it’s not rocket science.

              • That’s what I said, isn’t it? Until the corridor is built through to Sacramento, one HSR platform and one Amtrak platform, on opposite sides of an island.

                Whether its a bi-level platform or bi-level track is just an implementation detail. I’m assuming that if its bi-level track, and the track is then running side by side, there is some form of retaining wall for the taller pile of ballast.

              • Adirondacker12800

                Two side platforms in the station that is four tracks wide so the express can express through while the local stops. You need that unless all service is all local all the time because the train behind the stopped local is bearing down on it at 220. If it’s an island platform the island is the barrier between the differing rail levels.

              • The Express bypass is not needed until there is a high enough frequency to require it, and the express bypass can just as well go around the outside as through the middle.

                Indeed, if the station that links to the truncated San Joaquin is off the main SF/LA Ltd Express route, there’s no particular reason why it can’t be an all-services station.

              • Adirondacker12800

                You don’t design 100 million dollar train stations with the expectation that they will be torn down in a few years.

              • You don’t design 100 million dollar train stations with the expectation that they will be torn down in a few years.

                I quite agree. A bit of a non sequitur, but a true non sequitur.

              • You don’t design 100 million dollar train stations

                True, period, unless it’s a dense urban area or requires complex aerials and tunnels.

              • Adirondacker12800

                Then what happens when you need four tracks through the two track station you built 5 years ago? It’s custom built, it’s not something you can take back to Lowe’s for a full refund.
                Rummaging around, the rebuild of Metropark cost 47 million in 2009. Throw in a signature headhouse and signature train shed and 100 million should be easy to hit.

              • If you design it for the express tracks from the start, nothing along the lines of tearing it down. If you’ve placed the island correctly, there’s no need to touch it to put express bypass tracks through.

              • Adirondacker12800

                So what you are proposing is to build the station for today’s trains with the trains of 2040 in mind and what I’m saying is build the station you need in 2040 with the trains of today in mind. No ramps. No tearing or burying platforms. Spread some gravel under the antiques until you have to come back and take it all out in a few days with a backhoe. . . .

              • No, I am looking at the station in terms of how the passengers use it in 2020 and in 2050, which is why I said I don’t especially care whether the conversion involves changing the platform height or changing the track height. Provided there is a means of making the conversion in the same platform footprint, having multiple means of making the conversion just reduces the threat that the system will be lumbered with siding platforms long term as a historical legacy of the original staging.

                In terms of planning ahead to be more useful in both 2020 and 2050, FSSF express bypass is more flexible, and island stations are better than side platforms where practicable in both 2020 and 2050. OTOH if the changover station has to be put at a place that is not actually going to have an HSR station, I could see how siding platforms might be necessary.

          • Adirondacker12800

            It’s a pile of gravel. Gravel is cheap, easy to move.

            • A pile of gravel with steel rail and ties on top, I’d been led to believe. Its really no dramas to have the taller pile of gravel and lower pile of gravel side by side like that?

              • aw

                Build the two sets of track with wide track-to-track spacing. You need that for the island platform anyway. The low platform track can transition to the same grade outside the station area.

              • A 2′ 8″ differential at a 2% grade is a bit over a quarter of a mile, so yeah, you wouldn’t want to extend the station footprint until they are back together again.

                Of course, it can be a split differential, which at 2% on both sides would be only 700 feet before they are back at the same grade. That does assume an at grade station, but then I think that is a restrictive assumption of the ballast approach in any event ~ if its an overhead structure, the ballast approach is more problematic. I don’t know whether the Merced station would be at grade or not.

              • Don

                No reason to limit grade in this circumstance to 2%. Could be >4% no sweat.

              • OK, if its 3.5% split grade, that’s 7% combined, that’s 458ft. Given the length of HSR platforms versus the temporary Amtrak platform, a lot of that would indeed be inside the design envelope of the station.

              • aw

                Bruce, have you misplaced a decimal? At a 2% grade, to rise 2.67 ft, should only take 133 ft. The vertical transition spirals will lengthen that somewhat, but I’d argue you should reduce the grade to make the transitions easier.

              • Bloody traditional units, I’ve misplaced a divide by 12.

                God I wish this country would change to sensible units.

              • Don

                These ARE the sensible units….

              • I can see you have never had to teach students who struggle with arithmetic how to convert from one traditional unit to another.

                Anyway, as long as the island platform in question is at grade, then the shorter length required for the Amtrak platform means that it can always climb at a very mild grade to use the same platform that will become a HSR platform when the HSR is running through on north to Sacremento. Dividing by 12in/ft again, a 1% grade would only be 267 feet, and there’ll be ample room for that in the difference in length between an HSR platform and an Amtrak-California platform.

                If its an overhead station, then a modern modular steel frame and fibercrete shell platform can be converted from a dual height island platform to a conventional island platform in a day or two, so a weekend possession of the low platform side would do it.

    • Don

      …so, there is a plan, well, actually more of an idea.

      It has not been thoroughly thought through, apparently.

      One more question.

      It is easy to understand that a 110 mph P42 & California car train can operate on a 220 mph alignment, but what about the track structure? Those nose-suspended traction motors on the P42 really pound away at 110 mph. Is track structure needed for a lightweight 220 mph train (in terms of rail weight, tie spacing, elastomeric pads, etc.) up to handling 110 mph conventional trains?

      • If it can’t, there’s lighter diesel traction that’s been produced, which would still be lighter even with buff strength to FRA heavy rail standards.

        • Don

          There is, but Amtrak is not interested, apparently. Their “next gen” diesel electric calls for nose suspended traction motors. As long as the San Joaquins fall under Amtrak, that is what you’ll get.

          • As long as the San Jaoquins fall under Amtrak, then its California paying for the rolling stock. California can get what California is willing to pay for.

            • aw

              Caltrans was involved in the specification of the NextGen diesel. I expect that’s what they have in mind for their locomotive orders.

              • To clarify: you assume that in the event that the HSR project stalls and the corridor is used by the San Joaquin service, then Caltrans would buy the same locomotives to run on the corridor entirely independent of whether or not the locomotives are suitable for running on a corridor which would deliver such a substantial service improvement …

                … ?

                There is no reason to think that the requirements of running on the HSR corridor had the slightest impact on the NextGen design, given that the policy is to use the HSR corridor for actual HSR services, and the independent utility is just a fallback in case the policy fails or is indefinitely stalled. And its not as if there will be any difficulty finding uses for existing FRA heavy rail compatible intercity passenger trains in the coming decade.

                I think the plausible scenario is they will cross the bridge if they come to it. I was just pointing out that, independent of the fact that we have no idea whether there would be a problem using the NextGen equipment, if it turned out that there was, its not an insurmountable hurdle.

  • I’d be interested to know how the HSR plan compares with the build out of the U.S. Interstate system. There seemed to be way more national consensus and political will for the Interstate system, and a top-down approach by the feds. With HSR, I think USDOT is leaving too much up to the states, creating a piece meal project out of something which should be a coordinated, national priority.

    • The first obvious difference is that there’s no consensus in favor of rail today. There may well be if the Micas and Romneys win the intra-party power struggle over the Palins and Bachmanns, but so far just one party officially favors rail development.

      Another, less obvious difference is that the overrepresented areas were the best-served by roads and are now the worst-served by rail. Urban neighborhoods were much more powerless to stop roads in the 1920s-50s than rural areas are to stop rail today.

    • The USDOT, OBama and the Senate wishes it had the power to move forward with HSR, but new a national funding bill has to start with the House of Representatives. Given there’s little negotiation going on right now over transportation, we’ll likely have to wait until 2012.

      • And given that 2012 is an election year, the odds are reasonably short that there’ll be extensions in 2012 and we’re looking at 2013.

        So a lot depends on whether the economy has a double dip recession in the next year and a half.

  • Woody

    Wad, Naughty of me, but I enjoyed your guide to the (im)proper pronunciation of Turlock. I’m sure the hometown folks there don’t think it’s so funny, but maybe the students do.

  • Woody

    How de hell did this Reply to Wad get way down here? Sorry about the technical difficulties.

  • Michael Schaeffer

    Perhaps they should change the routing in the Central Valley onto a new, dedicated alignment, like the TGV’s. It might not be too late to change it. It would probably be cheaper, since it will not involve the construction of viaducts through cities. Trains stopping in Fresno can access the station via upgraded and electrified BNSF Lines. This is common in France. Why can’t we do it here? Why is everything in this country so fucked up?

    • Michael,
      I roundly disagree. To build a world-class HSR system like the one planned and california voters approved requires sticking to our guns on the fundamental design and proetecting on-time performance and sub-3 hour trips times.

      In some cases it may mean building viaducts, which are not cheap, but protect against Central Valley floods the occasionally happen.

    • Now you are building not one corridor but two ~ since the kinds of Express Intercity lines that the French TGV connected into do not exist for most of the US.

      The odds that an Express HSR corridor in another location and a Regional HSR corridor through Fresno will be cheaper and generate ridership per train seen awfully long ~ and remember, the impetus for “lets adopt a different plan” here is an effort to raid the Federal funds allocated to an Express HSR corridor to build commuter rail corridors under an HSR brand name. Abandoning Fresno for a Regional HSR connector to be built later does not offer any great promise of getting Federal funding in the first place, after tossing the first $3b offered back in the face of the administration, and would be susceptible to the exact same effort to raid the funds for other purposes.

  • Jeffrey Bridgman

    Fly California? (see the picture)
    … because we have to associate trains with planes for them to actually seem viable?

  • aw

    He’s referring to the photo at the top of this page, which is from visulaizations done by the CA HSR authority.

  • Drewski

    I know how absurd and naive this sounds, but I expect to see this project functional–SF to LA–by 2020. Why? A few reasons.

    Maybe the first reason is that California is the hands-down champ on pulling out a win under adverse circumstances. Six months ago, it looked like Caltrain service might be cut so much that there’d be no weekend service. By April, somebody scraped up enough cash to avoid any service cuts.

    The second reason I’m optimistic is the cost of the status quo. There is no realistic way to expand the 101 in San Mateo County. There’s no more room to expand SFO, or LAX. San Diego? Tijuana has a safer runway configuration. There’s no room to add enough lanes to maintain design speed from Santa Clarita all the way to downtown LA. There’s no room, period.

    The third reason is that CAHSR has spurred interest in other rail corridors. CAHSR assumes continued improvements in the SLO – Santa Barbara – LOSSAN corridor, and all involved parties’ actions support that. The Hanford station is there partly to make connection with a future cross-valley line. The Altamont Corridor is in planning in tandem with CAHSR. Ultimately, and it’s been discussed here, a new Bay crossing is needed, and direct SF – Oakland – Sacramento service has strong intercity and regional demand. CAHSR opens up potential for service to Palm Springs, Reno, and Chico; without CAHSR, there would be no spine from which to extend these services.

    The final reason I’m optimistic is that this is a matter of pride. This is about California defining itself, and it’s specifically about California defining itself as being a national leader and trendsetter. California has made a lot of money off of that role. Consider CAHSR as compared to another state’s proposal for a major rail project. Tennessee had a proposal, TennRail, a little over ten years ago. The idea was to reintroduce rail service across the Cumberland Plateau, from Nashville to Knoxville, and develop a rail alternative to the truck-saturated I-40. The biggest capital cost would have been the 700-foot drop at the eastern edge of the Plateau, at Harriman. But it didn’t happen, not least because Tennessee has long been averse to taxing itself. Tennessee’s “brand” relies on low taxes and economic transplants; California’s brand is about innovation and creation, not about hunting for the best hand-me-downs.

    So yes, I know I might sound naive, but I expect to see CAHSR operational on the projected timeline.

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