California High-Speed Rail High-Speed Rail

A Different Future with California High-Speed Rail

» California’s Senate takes a courageous step in supporting the first construction stage of the state’s high-speed rail project. There is much more work to be done.

Last week, America’s future in high-speed rail took a modest step forward. On Thursday, California’s State Assembly approved by a 51 to 27 margin the release of $2.5 billion in state bonds for the construction of a 130-mile segment of 220-mph tracks through the Central Valley and the implementation of $2 billion in commuter rail improvements in the Bay Area and Los Angeles regions. On Friday, by a vote of 21 to 16, the State Senate expressed its agreement.* If all goes as planned, the project could be under construction by the beginning of next year. Tracks between Madera and Bakersfield could be ready for use by 2017, the first step towards what could be an eventual 2h40 journey time for trains traveling from downtown San Francisco to Los Angeles.

The passage of the bill, which also frees up $3.2 billion in federal funds allocated for the project, is a major success not only for Governor Jerry Brown and California’s Democratic Party (no Republicans in either chamber voted in favor of the program), but also for President Obama and his Department of Transportation, which have championed high-speed rail as an essential element of America’s future transportation system. Moreover, it is a victory for those who argue that, despite the challenges and the compromises, in order to advance societal change on a grand scale, major investments in projects such as this are necessary.

The line section that will be built first has not been without controversy. Choosing to begin construction in the Central Valley, away from the population centers of the Bay Area and L.A. Basin, has induced the expected calls of a “railway to nowhere.” Yet the route selected in fact serves an area with a population of 3 million people and offers the crucial link between the two large metropolitan areas to the north and south. It is the only section of the system where sustained speeds of 220 mph can be offered by trains cruising down the straight-aways through farmlands. And it can be done at the moderate cost of about $44 million per mile, in a similar range as projects such as France’s LGV Sud-Europe Atlantique, now under construction (211 miles at a cost of €6.2 billion, or $7.6 billion, so about $36 million per mile).

If the only goal of the project were to connect L.A. and San Francisco as quickly as possible, the project could have been built to run around I-5, which charts a slightly straighter route through the Central Valley — not doing so, the L.A. Times told us today, could be a major flaw in the project.** But that alignment would skip over the Central Valley’s cities, depriving them of the direct access to California’s biggest regions. Because they currently do not have good airline service, they stand to be some of the places that benefit most from the project.

More importantly, though, California’s rail project is a statewide program about more than people from the coast. Without support from some residents and politicians in the Central Valley, the program could not have been passed either in 2008 or last week. Avoiding Fresno may have made building any high-speed rail impossible.

This raises a larger question. The high-speed rail project is quite expensive and it is not perfect. Its creation and development have been the result of compromise and negotiation between political leaders whose interests do not necessarily coincide with the ideal investment. But we live in a democracy where our elected officials, not engineers, make final decisions about projects such as this. Does an imperfect project deserve to be abandoned? I think not. It should be criticized and improved, but its weak points should not be achilles heels.

Map of the initial plans for service along the California High-Speed Rail route, showing the Madera-Bakersfield segment now approved for construction. Source: California High-Speed Rail Authority

What is so exciting about California’s project is the initiative the state and its municipalities have taken in the advancement of a program that could — if the public so desires — alter permanently the geography of America’s most populous state. By passing the $9.5 billion referendum in 2008, state voters indicated that they were willing to put a very substantial chunk of their own money, not just federal funds, on the line for an investment that will truly offer an alternative to automobile and aviation travel in this state. San Francisco, San Jose, Los Angeles, and San Diego are each in the process of significantly expanding their local rapid transit systems in a manner that will make them compatible with local high-speed rail stations. And the state has made a priority the development of a land use strategy that encourages denser construction around stops.

In other words, despite years of opposition from conservative groups concerned about spending of California’s “readiness” for high-speed rail, the state has advanced with an entrepreneurial spirit the project and accompanying changes. No other state has made nearly as serious an effort to consider its future infrastructure needs and integrate them into a unified planning policy.

Even if the initial construction segment is put under construction as planned — that may be difficult considering the regulatory approvals and barrage of lawsuits standing in its way — there are enormous obstacles to actually implementing the planned connection between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the most significant example of which is the lack of adequate fiscal resources. The California High-Speed Rail Authority’s 2012 business plan expects that it will cost $31 billion to connect Bakersfield to the San Fernando Valley, meaning that about $18 billion in funding is still necessary even for this first step, taking into account the roughly $8 billion released last week and the additional $5 billion for fast trains included in the 2008 referendum. For a one-seat ride between San Francisco and L.A., $51 billion will be necessary; for 2h40 service between the cities, $68 billion is required (this is in year-of-expenditure dollars; this is equivalent to $53 billion in today’s money).

While that figure might be acceptable from the perspective of overall public investment in infrastructure, where will that money be found? The U.S. transportation reauthorization bill passed last week provides no additional funding for high-speed rail. Republicans have demonstrated against intercity rail and rejected several projects despite federal support. In his campaign platform, Mitt Romney cites “privatizing Amtrak” as a top way to save the government money. The outcome of the 2012 elections will determine whether California will be able to move ahead as expected, or whether it will have to put off plans by two years or more.

The reality is that the prospects for the project’s completion in the next decade and a half, as currently planned, are limited. There is simply inadequate determination in the U.S. political sphere to make a project of this magnitude anywhere close to easy to execute. That does not mean that the project will not be built, but that making it happen will require years of negotiations, compromise, and expansion of popular support. We could be at the start of something very exciting, but there is a lot of work still left to be done.

A final note: To those who would suggest that the funds would be better used in the Northeast Corridor (an often-cited example of a “more reasonable” place for high-speed rail), there are two limitations that make such a project less than ideal. For one, the Northeast Corridor runs through eight states and the District of Columbia, leading to conflicting priorities and differences in opinion about the right investments to make. While Connecticut might want to spend its share of funding on improving train travel between New Haven and Hartford, Massachusetts might be interested in improving the main line along Connecticut’s shore to allow fast trains between New York and Boston. How can those problems be resolved with so many conflicting claims to power?

Moreover, whereas California’s citizenry has voted in favor of spending $10 billion of the state’s money on the high-speed rail projects, Northeast Corridor states have proposed nothing of the sort, and their residents have not had the chance to endorse anything similar. It would be unjust for the federal government to orient funding towards a section of the country with so little local commitment to a project, whatever the need.

Two, the high cost of California’s high-speed project has of course caused significant controversy, but the financial requirements of a true high-speed line for the Northeast would be far higher. The Boston-Washington corridor is simply much more developed than California’s Central Valley and thus there is less space to install track capable of 220 mph; the only way to do so is to invest in very expensive tunnels or land takings. Thus it is no surprise that Amtrak’s latest vision for high-speed rail service in the Northeast, released on Monday, would cost $151 billion to construct by 2040. If the West Coast project seems expensive, Amtrak’s seems extravagant.

* By a close, one-vote margin. The measure required a two-thirds majority to be approved.

** The article claims that French rail company SNCF recommended a route along I-5. Yet SNCF’s 2009 proposals for U.S. high-speed rail, which I broke, say “SNCF endorses the alignment proposed by the CHSRA project linking San Francisco Transbay Terminal to downtown Anaheim, passing through Los Angeles Union Station, Palmdale, Bakersfield, Fresno, Gilroy, and San Jose Diridon.” In other words, the company explicitly endorsed the alignment through the Central Valley cities, not along I-5.

145 replies on “A Different Future with California High-Speed Rail”

“Does an imperfect project deserve to be abandoned? I think not. It should be criticized and improved, but its weak points should not be achilles heels.”

Amen to that. And thank you for pointing out that SNCF have not been consistent on the routing issue. Today’s LA Times article is just another attempt by Ralph Vartabedian to weaken support for the project.

They have to start building this thing as soon as possible for people to get suport for this. In that I predicked dead on that the Florida project would be killed by them not getting anything on the ground in terms of them building anything. Instead they kept up with the studies and more studies and asked for more funding for building it and that is what doomed it. It right now is a bull sitting in a shooting range with everyone ready to attack it unless it gets moving. Also they should get public suport for it by letting the existing Amtrak trains cut a few hours off their long trips by running down it’s spine to avoid the big slow freight trains in this area.

I hope they get some Amtrak eletric locomtives on the new four track eletric Caltrain Route in that it would provde a good headwaters for the catenary system to start at. But also if this is going to be a sucess they really should use some of the funds to allow Amtrak to add ten new locomtives and 50 to 100 new passanger cars so that the San Joaquin sevice can run every hour during the day. Maybe they should use some of the surplus that might happen from this new Amtrak route to pay down some of the Cailforinia High Speed Rail bonds.

They are planning on getting Electric Multiple Units, not loco-hauled trains, because of their superior performance.

I doubt that the hour trimmed off of the San Joaquin route will drive ridership that would support hourly trains, but it would imply an option for an additional service with the existing equipment, and with an additional train they could increase to 10 trains per day.

This is confusing to me. They are going to built a chunk of 220 mph alignment and let the San Joaquins use it? 110 or 125 mph max, I suppose. That is a good idea, actually. But, where can I read about the details of this implementation plan?

CHSRA Business Plans section: California HSR Authority Revised 2012 Business Plan (pdf)

The Initial Operating Service is planned when three Construction Segments are done: Madero/Bakersfield, Bakerfield/Palmdale, and Merced/Madera, Palmdale / San Fernando Valley. The First of those is what has been funded. The Feds insisted that it have independent utility, as they always do when funding a portion of a project like that. In the revised 2012 business plan, they promoted that from back-up plan to the first use of the system.

It can be 110mph with existing San Joaquin equipment, and no reason to run slower ~ I don;t know about 125mph with the existing rolling stock, but the double decker NextGen rolling stock is specified to be compatible with 125mph operation, and if the corridor can support the current San Joaquin locomotives, then there are 125mph diesel locomotives that ought to be able to run on the same corridor.

Thanks. It’s pretty short on details. The one that could be a show stopper is:

“Emphasizing interoperability of high-speed and conventional rail on shared infrastructure”

It’s a good goal, but they better get busy lobbying the FRA!

Caltrain already has a waiver. Where there is room to have a pair of passenger-only tracks (the Caltrain accomplishes that by allowing the freight through in a late night period when the waivered equipment is not using the corridor) then the FRA restrictions are not as binding.

A major open question is how much of a time slot is required for “time separation” on PTC track. That is, if you have (LH is heavy locomotive hauled):

… with the EMU slots possibly having an EMU that the High Speed Train is waivered for operating alongside and possibly empty, then is that slot between the HST and the LH sufficient “time separation”.

The point there is that waivers can certainly be granted for an HST to operate without time separation with an EMU, since the crash resistance in the waiver is against the rolling stock specified in the waiver, and simply adding an aerodynamic nose to the HST with appropriate crumple zone behavior would do for an EMU and an HST. Any EMU that Metrolink acquires will be selected on the basis of being allowed to operate with the existing loco-hauled Metrolink rolling stock without time separation, whether by regulation or by waiver. So if double the practical headway is sufficient time separation on a corridor with a PTC system in place, that’s not a major obstacle.

You mean people still read the LA Times???? The only people I know read it are of a “certain age”, may still vote but will not be using the new rail infrastructure nearly as much as I would.

Other outlets did such a better job of covering Occupy LA that I have ignored the Times and if I have to read the paper is the Daily News….

What type of crack are the people smoking at Amtrak on the NEC 151 billion dollars where do they think they are going ot borrow that from Princess Celestia? Pennsyvinia is making great progress raising speeds on their section of former Pennsyvinia Railroad Main line from Philly to Harrisburg and they have been able to raise speeds from 90 to 110 with around 200 million dollars spent so and have greatly improved ridership. They could most likely get trains running at 150 to 170 if they where given around 5 billion dollars with getting the existing Pennsyvinia Catenary and Rail speed a major up date with the return of the main line being widened to four tracks wide. 150 billion is out of the question in terms of trying to ask for funding from congress. If I where Amtrak I would dump that plan and work out somethin new with the idea of raising train speeds from 125 to 160 miles on hour on the existing tracks and update some of the worn out bridges and catenary and replace some of the old tunnels. If they had a plan that could work out to around 20 billion to 30 billion dollars they might be able to get funding. At the least if they got that blasted New York City River tunnel widened they might get somewhere. But a 150 billion I would rate us being invated by alien unicorns more likely than Amtrak or Congress giving them that much money.

Upgrading the NEC is assumed in their plan, as is running up against capacity constraints along the NEC.

As far as where do they think the money is going to come from for all of this, the fact that they are not talking about getting started in this decade suggests that its going to come from the {mumble-mumble-mumble} place.

But suppose that if someone took hold of Northeast Express HSR alignment planning and gave it a good shake, they could bring the cost down to $90b. That still wouldn’t be a starter in this decade either. Pragmatically, the projects that would be coming up for funding would be a matter of pursuing upgrades to the NEC. And given the NEC now qualifying for “Express HSR funding”, that gives political cover and political allies in Congress for the California delegation to pursue two-tier HSR funding for both “Express” and “Regional/Emerging” HSR projects in 2015 or 2017.

There’s a blurb in the reports about how the Northeast is the place where one quarter of the GDP is generated. Or in nice round numbers 4 trillion dollars a year. 100 billion is 2.5 percent of the GDP of the region. or a quarter of one percent if you spread it out over 10 years. Or an eighth of one percent if you spread it out over 20 years. Or one tenth of what we have spent in Southwest Asia over the past decade.

They should drop this idea of spending 151 billion dollars in that everytime that is brought up the sticker shock is going to turn off regular people to this idea. What they should do is drop this idea for now and put all their effort into building a new set of tunnels under the Hudson River for now that way after they get that done they can have something to bring to the table.

What is the pragmatic difference between “dropping” and “not dropping” a blue sky plan with no intention of being funded in the decade ahead? If all ground breaking in a plan is put over ten years in the future, then its just a hypothetical. Sticker shock cannot prevent the funding of a plan if they have no immediate intention of asking for funding.

The difference between dropping a blue sky pie in the sky plan is if they want to be taken serously by Congress and by everyone else they are going to need to come in with realistic plan that could be worked out in five to ten years and be able to get realistic funding from Congress. Such as if they came in with say a 25 billion dollar improvement plan with the 12 billion dollars for the New York River Tunnels they might get taken serously by everyone and by Congress. Any type of over priced 151 billion dollar building plan can’t be taken serously by anyone.

Another thing to compare this thing too is that they are widening 25 miles of the New Jesery Turnpike from six to 12 lanes wide at a total cost of two to three billion dollars mostly paid for by Turnpike Tolls. The highway naturally takes up far more space and more right of way than the railroad than why would widening a highway from six to 12 lanes cost less than building a new four to double track railroad? If widening the New Jesery Turnpike from six to 12 lanes costs two to three billion dollars for every 20 miles than you could widen it from the top of the state to the bottom of the state for ten to 12 billion dollars. Amtrak’s price tag doesn’t make any sense at 151 billion dollars.

It doesn’t seem like Amtrak having a $150b plan to start 20 years from now and finish 40 years from now is going to have any appreciable impact in Congress on whether they vote for or against funding upgrades to the NEC corridor. After all, Amtrak already had a $100b+ plan and got capital funding for NEC work in the most recent transport bill, under the most severely anti-Amtrak House majority it is ever likely to face.

Congresscritters love to fund raise in New York and to a lesser extent Philadelphia. The fastest way to get to either from the places Congresscritters work is on Acela… of course they are going to fund it.

As much of an Amtrak critic as I am, I actually think their latest proposal is rational. The plan has independent stair-steps where each piece of the project can stand on it’s own and supports the next.

The first step it to get the existing NEC in shape. Then fix capacity bottle necks, then speed slow spots, then start with the next-gen stuff. Each project within can stand on it’s own when Amtrak starts the serious hunt for funding.

The how and when of the next-gen, 220 mph NEC is a ways out and can be done in chunks when needed. The start and completion dates for this work are so far out in the future they are almost meaningless, still they provide and end game view of where things are headed. This is needed so that the interim steps don’t paint you in a corner.

I agree, the latest Amtrak Vision for NEC is rational and much improved with independent utility. Phase 1 at $34 Billion is a little fuzzy however, so I raise several questions from p24 and p21 for comment.

1. I assume NYC-New Rochelle segment will only be upgraded to 110 mph top speed. Does the Amtrak Vision for NEC call for upgrading New Rochelle-New Haven to 110 mph or 125 mph?

2. Bundling$2B more for Hartford-Springfield Branch upgrade, p24. From, I gather that it covers 2-tracking 39 miles so the entire route in 2-tracked, more sidings & interlockings, PTC, 38 safer at-grade crossings and new train sets. That should enable 110 mph, more frequent trains and better on-time performance. Connecticut has also approved a $286 state bond for the project. It seems to me that this line should be electrified too for a number of reasons. Will Connecticut and Amtrak funding cover electrification as well, so that electric trains can run at 110 mph on Springfield-Hartford-New Haven route, then 110 mph or 125 mph for NYC-New Haven regional service) and at 125 mph for regional service south of NYC?

3. Bundling $1B more for Harrisburg Branch upgrade, p24. Given “Express” in the Amtrak’s Vision for NEC vernacular implies 150-160 mph, does that mean Keystone Express will achieve 150-160 mph? Track, catenary upgrades and at-grade crossings have completed for 110 mph service, but I doubt that 150-160 mph is possible with only $1B more invested over 195 miles? In 2020, would current generation Acela train sets be moved over to Keystone to enable 125 mph? Aside from 25% state and local contributions, are other funds planned for Keystone in Phase 1?

Assuming FRA and FTA funds cover 75% of costs, Amtrak would be asking Congress to authorize $25B over 13 years to Vision for NEC Phase 1. At $2B/year with incremental benefits obtained each year, this attractive outcome is forecast:

Ridership 11.8 million
Revenue $0.89 billion
NYC-DC trip time 160 minutes, 135 mph
Bos-NYC trip time 214 minutes, mostly 79-90-110 mph + 150 mph for 18 miles
Dwell time at NYC Penn Station 20 minutes

Ridership 20.6 million
Revenue $2.04 billion
NYC-DC trip time 132 minutes, 160 mph, higher OTP, more trains)
Bos-NYC trip time 205 minutes, 125-150 mph, higher OTP, more trains)
Dwell time at NYC Moynihan Station 10 minutes

Those numbers look like a slam dunk. Since Mica and his House Transportation Committee sidekick say focus on NEC upgrades/eliminate “Soviet-style train service” in the NEC, why don’t they influence Republican colleagues to authorize an additional $2B/year targeting NEC Phase 1?

The substantial difference is that the Amtrak plan assumes NEC at capacity, so the savings from using the NEC corridor are not there.

The insanity of Year of Expenditure budget numbers as headline numbers comes into this: applying Alon’s approaches results in more capacity and higher speeds for the NEC. That pushes the need for a separate HSR corridor out further into the future.

Except, while that is a good thing in reality, and the actual present value cost of the separate HSR corridor is lower if it is pushed into the future, the headline cost goes up, since with YOE costing, we assume inflation at some constant rate and then report the costs in the future year with the assumed inflation included.

After reading Eric’s blog, I’m convinced there’s a good case against the $57B cost of Phase 3 NYC-Boston. Amtrak’s 07/12 report did not not convince me that spending $57B from 2030-2040 is worth a 220 mph route and 9M incremental annual passengers. I’d like to see what $24B could produce in that stretch, plus $3B more for Hartford-New Haven to achieve 160 mph and Boston-Springfield-Hartford to achieve electrified 110 mph.

After Phase 1 fixes the biggest NYC-New Rochelle issues, New Rochelle-Route 128 segment becomes the most expensive/passenger upgrade, excluding the 18 miles of 150 mph track in Connecticut.

Assume that $27B, authorized when Phase 1 ends in 2025, attracts waiver help from Congress and the FRA to build/straighten through sensitive preserve areas AND that it buys lots of ROW in the New Rochelle-New Haven-New London segment. Assume that more space is added between High Speed-Only tracks and adjacent slow tracks to address that FRA safety regulation limiting top speed to 150 mph. Then it seems possible to achieve 190 mph with NextGen tilt trains from Route 128 to New Haven and New Rochelle-New Haven achieving 135 mph top speed with a large train/hour capacity increase.

Similar to the $57B for 94 minute NYC-Boston trip time, the $27B approach could produce 110 minute NYC-Boston trip time and 80 minute Hartford-NYC trip time. With every trip time less than 2 hours, business day trips between NYC, Boston, Providence, New Haven and Hartford would spike, subsidizing cheaper coach seats for beaucoup patronage. With that back-of-the-envelope scenario, its easy to estimate 7 million Incremental annual passengers by 2040. A $30B lower price tag and completion by 2035, also reduces sticker shock for Congress and the media.

$57b/9M incremental passengers
$27B/7M incremental passengers

What say you?

What I say is that for, like, $2.5 billion (plus overhead and contingency), you could build 220 mph track from New Haven to Kingston, and with a few nearly-free curve modifications in Rhode Island and Massachusetts do New Haven-Boston in an hour. The only other cost: head-bashing at the MBTA. Probably requires having Amtrak find the money to electrify the entire network, but that’s still a matter of $2 billion, and you’re still several tens of billions below what Amtrak thinks everything will cost.

What happens in Metro-North territory afterward depends on what projects get pursued there; the one I like the most is raising the Cos Cob Bridge, because together with some curve straightening on the approaches it could boost reliability to the point Metro-North starts relenting on its 75 mph speed limit. The New Haven Line is curvy, but not outrageously so; curvier lines, without electrification, achieve much higher average speeds with tilting trains. The bare-bones infrastructure investment should bring New York-New Haven down to about an hour if Metro-North relents on the speed limit (which it will if Amtrak starts raising some of its bridges).

So is it fair to say for only $20 billion, there could be 190-220 mph between New Haven-Boston and 110-125 mph between NYC-New Haven for a 120 minute trip time? That would includes funds for 160 mph Hartford-New Haven and 110 mph upgrade to Boston-Springfield-Hartford, yes?

Alon’s claim is that for under $20b you could also be 120minutes NYC to DC as well as 120minutes NYC to Boston.

Note that this does not assume the current FRA regulatory regime.

Eric and Alon,
After more time reflecting on Eric’s blogpost, I conclude that Amtrak NEC Phase 2&3 are completely out of whack in terms of price-performance. Amtrak seems to only have NEC on the brain, immune to winning broad political support for the larger narratives of:

1. Completing Northeast & MidAtlantic components of the Interstate HSR by 2030
2. Hitting price-performance sweet-spots of 160-200 mph in major corridors

Using cost saving techniques and bulk purchase of NextGen trains mentioned in Eric’s blog, these projects could operate by 2030 for around $100 billion:

• Boston-Providence-Hartford-New Haven-NYC-Newark-Philadelphia-Wilmington-Baltimore-Washington (4 hours)
• Washington-Richmond-Raleigh-Greensboro-Charlotte (3 hours)
• Providence-New Haven (45 minutes)

(NYC-New Haven at 125-135 mph on 2 High-Speed tracks + 2 Regional tracks)

• Philadelphia-Harrisburg-Pittsburgh (2.5 hours)
• NYC-Albany-Rochester-Buffalo (2 hours)
• Richmond-Norfolk (30 minutes)

• Hartford-Springfield-Monpelier
• Boston-Portland ME

That’s a 13-state, $100 billion by 2030 narrative to generate positive national media buzz, instead of an “elitist” $151 billion by 2040 narrative hell bent on 94 minute trip times for Boston-NYC and NYC-DC.

Taking a lesson from Eric’s blog, my larger complaint about CAHSR and FRA is that they have not interwoven California + XpressWest + Pacific Northwest as a single narrative for $125 billion by 2030. That larger narrative connects these routes via NextGen trains that take advantage of open land plus slower trains on the West Coast:

• San Francisco-San Jose-Gilroy-Fresno-Bakersfield-Palmdale-Los Angeles-Anaheim
• Palmdale-Victorville-Las Vegas-Salt Lake City
• Los Angeles-San Bernardino-San Diego
• Las Vegas-Phoenix-Tucson
• San Bernardino-Palm Springs-Phoenix

• Oakland-San Jose-Gilroy-Salinas-San Luis Obispo-Santa Barbara-LA-Anaheim-Oceanside-San Diego
• Vancouver-Seattle-Portland-Eugene-Redding-Sacramento

Amtrak Coast Starlight should be discontinued for running so late and infrequent that it throws off other train schedules.

NYC-Albany-Rochester-Buffalo (2 hours)

In nice round numbers NYC-Albany-Buffalo is 450 miles. In nice round numbers NYC-Phildelphia-Pittsburgh is 450 miles.

Pittsburgh or Buffalo are roughly halfway between NYC and Chicago.

Wait a minute ~ you proposed building the infrastructure to allow the Amtrak Starlate to stop running late, and then to cancel it because it at one time used to run late?


Habitually late Amtrak Coast Starlight throws off one or two 79 mph Metrolink commuter trains in LA, Caltrain in San Jose and Coaster commuter trains in San Diego. It could do wore schedule damage on Blended Track shared with CAHSR and 110 mph commuter trains.

Amtrak Coast Starlight would cost a mountain of funds to improve to 110 mph, 90% on-time performance from Sacramento and Oakland. In Sacramento alone it a new expensive Bridge would be required to replace the current one that sometimes gets stuck in the up position (I know firsthand). Anything costing over $20m per mile should be spent on 160+ mph routes.

It makes sense to improve 110 mph, 10 daily trains 85-90% OTP for Vancouver-Seattle-Portland-Eugene plus 6-8 daily, 110 mph trains that extend keep going to cover Eugene-Redding-Sacramento with 80% OTP. That would connect train riders in daylight hours to the CAHSR system in a cost-effective per passenger/mile basis.

If Coast Starlight is to be saved, it should be improved to 110 mph, 90% OTP and shortened to Oakland-San Jose-Gilroy-Salinas-San Luis Obispo-Santa Barbara-LA-Anaheim-Oceanside-San Diego. Even then, it should run on separate track from electrified CAHASR, Caltrain (San Jose-Gilroy) and Metrolink (Burbank-LA-Anaheim)

Can you be more specific than “mountains of money”? You use a dollar threshold, which for the route miles we are talking about allows a quite hefty pile of money to be piled up without crossing the threshold.

Amtrak Coast Starlight would cost a mountain of funds to improve to 110 mph, 90% on-time performance from Sacramento and Oakland. … Anything costing over $20m per mile should be spent on 160+ mph routes.

Why would 110mph for the entire route be the target? 110mph on time performance between Sacramento and Salinas is for the extended Capitol Corridor, 110mph on time performance between SLO and LAUS is for the Surfliner. And those upgrades would resolve some of the Starlate on-time performance problems..

The upgrades for the Daylight / Starlight between Salinas and SLO would be capacity improvement north of SLO for improved on time performance. If that is $1b, its under $8m/mile, if its $500m its under $4m/mile.

As far as the upgrades for on-time performance for the Starlight alone ~ what is there in addition to the bridge that you mention? Perhaps one passing track section? It seems likely to be substantially less than $10m/mile over the Sacramento to Redding segment. After all, $500m on that segment would also be under $4m/mile.


I’m in agreement with you to cost-effectively improve Oakland-San Jose-Salinas-SLO-Santa Barbara-LA-Anaheim-Irvine to 110 mph, 85-90% OTP 10 trains/day. But the expense to replace/upgrade two bridges between Oakland-Sacramento gives me pause:

• Carquinez Strait Train Bridge
• Kiline Street Bridge over Sacramento River

These bridges will be very expensive (perhaps $50-100 million each), when the priority has to be completing CAHSR Phase 1. By 2026, when SF-Sylmar is running and there’s patronage support for CAHSR, upgrades/replacements to those bridges should be examined as Amtrak upgrades attached to CAHSR Phase 2.

In CAHSR Phase 2, the Governor and State Legislature should also re-examine the cost-benefit of going 180-200 mph from Riverside down I-15 corridor to Mission Valley (San Diego) then to Old Town Transit Center, where it would share Blended Track with Coaster commuter train the last few miles into downtown San Diego (Santa Fe Depot).

Improvements and 2nd track to enable 90-110 mph via diesel trains are already underway. So I think a better Phase 2 cost-benefit is to upgrade Anaheim-Irvine-Oceanside-Old Town-Santa Fe Depot to electrified speeds ranging from 110-125-135 mph. In my suggested “Coastal HSR” approach, the tricky part would be 4-6 feet of land-takings and sound reduction treatments going through southern Orange County and building a tunnel to eliminate that nasty dog-leg curve near UC San Diego, see,-117.172451&spn=0.049527,0.078449&t=m&z=14

If political will is mustered by 2026 for Coastal SoCal HSR, California could save money (amount TBD) not building down I-15 Freeway corridor. Cost savings from the Coastal SoCal HSR alternative could be used on a modified southern leg of CAHSR Phase 2: LA-Ontario-Riverside-Palm Springs. That modification would remove a lot of I-10 Freeway traffic and set the stage for 220 mph HSR from Palm Springs to Phoenix.

Politics and NIMBY-ism being what they are, might make Coastal SoCal HSR a pipe dream — even to consider initial funding by 2026. That’s too bad because California and the nation ultimately deserve (by 2035) an electrified route having significant coastal/bay/delta views from Sacramento-Oakland-San Jose-Salinas-SLO-Santa Barbara-LA-Anaheim-Irvine-Oceanside-San Diego running 110-135 mph, 16 times daily with 85-90% OTP. Even at 6 hours from end-to-end it would be a patronage winner having many useful sub-4 hour segments for leisure travel.

Its not big difference to me if the alignment is flipped from the Rapid Rail along the Coast and the HSR via the Inland Empire to HSR along the coast and the HSR “stub” from LAUS to the Inland Empire instead of from LAUS to Anaheim. Either look viable to me.

There’s Altamont-y goodness hiding in going the Inland route. It makes the trip from San Diego to Palm Springs much shorter. Someday, even farther in the future the trip to Phoenix is halfway done because the HSR trains already go to Indio. Far far far in the future they build a relief line over the Cajon and travel times to Las Vegas, Bakersfield and points north is slashed. Make Phoenix-Bakersfield faster too. Or Riverside/San Bernadino is southern California’s Albany. Build south of Irvine and you get San Diego.

While I like the idea of HSR in California “in theory” in practice we’ll get another mess like the BART extension to SFO. Look at the Pacheco and Palmdale segments if you don’t believe me. The initial operating segment should obviously be Bakersfield to the SFV to close that glaring gap, but they can’t do that because they’re committed to an 80 mile detour through Palmdale. And the corresponding choice of Pacheco leads to foreseable problems on the SF Peninsula and completely leaves everything north of Merced out of the picture for a generation or more.

For 68 billion dollars I’d rather have a network of 110 MPH trains within the state and call it a day. The HSR authority can’t seem to make even the right calls on simple decisions. Wait till people start to read about mile after mile of elevated track through the Central Valley and the lawsuits that are sure to follow.

The selection of Altamont would have led to the forseeable problems that the Altamont commuter overlay is now experiencing, except turbocharged because committed opponents of the HSR project as a whole would have piled in behind the objections in Tracy and Livermore and Pleasanton and Fremont.

You could have had your network of 110mph trains any time in the past 20 years you could have persuaded the voters of the state of California to put a 110mph train initiative on the ballot and then to pass it. As it was, the largest single chunk of capital funding for the Amtrak California routes that California has seen is from the Amtrak California share of the $900m of rail connectivity funds that was attached to the Express HSR initiative.

The mess to SFO was caused by the mayor at that time who in sited that BART go into the airport instead of stopping on the shared track corridor with Caltrain, directly west of the airport. Since the Automated People Mover would circulate each terminal and the car rental central, it was a waste crossing Highway 101.

Given the public feedback in the SF Bay Area and LA without a single dominant personality insisting a my way or the highway approach CAHSR, though imperfect, is very good for a mega-project, perhaps the best any mega-project of this scale can be.

Can you imagine the the Northeast Corridor starting from scratch today and having to navigate the politics of all those states?

The Northeast Corridor wouldn’t be the Northeast Corridor if the railroad hadn’t been there for 180 years.

Nowhere in your response is anything about where people actually live. And what is the Express HSR initiative but (mostly) duplicative service along Altamont? So they’re going to please everyone (and nobody) by building it twice rather than once in the right place.

If I were the HSR authority, I would rather take on Tracy, Livermore and Pleasanton than Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Mountain View, but I guess we shall see.

To say it’s a statewide project is a cop-out – you don’t have to hit every single city for it to be a statewide project, and there are plenty of people way inland in southern and northern California plus Sacramento would would benefit without running it through the eastern Central Valley.

The real reason that it needs to run there is that the project has very little popular public consensus behind it, so it has to appease every possible independent constituency, which means building an incredibly expensive rail line through places with populations in the very low millions at the cost of tens of billions. The subsidy per eastern Central Valley rider will end up being in the thousands per ticket!

Except that the Central Valley segment of the corridor is in fact not incredibly expensive as Express HSR corridors go. So the argument that an incredibly expensive corridor should not be built to serve 3m+ people in the San Joaquin Valley is an argument about some other system than the one they are building.

The idea that anyone can predict population growth that far out – especially in a region that was especially hard-hit by the housing crash, and has an uncertain future as urban areas come back into vogue – is pretty ridiculous.

Furthermore, again, I’d like to remind you that the I-5 alignment would not skip over the eastern Central Valley – it would just put those towns on spurs, meaning they would not be served by every single SF-LA train.

Given the U.S. Census has a good track record forecasting population +/- 5% out 20 years, I believe their forecast more than an off-the-cuff rebuttal. Furthermore, coastal California homes are not getting cheaper and long distance commuters will continue migrating to the Central Valley and Inland Empire after the recession.

I disagree with the notion of putting an inexpensive spur from San Fernando Valley/Sylmar station to Palmdale, while building straight up I-5 Freeway, tunneling under the San Andreas Fault. See my reasons listed in a comment down the page.

I’m worried about what could send the populations crashing down is if this area runs out of water in the next ten to 20 years do to droughts and the rapid sprawl in this area.

Running out of water isn’t a real threat to the valley. If anything, sprawl helps the water situation because houses use less water per acre than many of the crops they replace. The worst that will happen is that some farmers will shift into less profitable crops.

But such spurs should not be shared freight corridors with schedules subject to the vagaries of the freight rail market. And when you consider the cost of making a 110mph all-passenger rail path through the Central Valley between the Wyes, and the actual differential cost of the I-5 Express HSR versus 99 Express HSR, it seems likely that your cost saving has disappeared. Certainly your net benefit has disappeared, since the loss in patronage from slowing the CV services in both direction and reducing their frequency will offset any differential capital cost savings that remain.

Its important not to get to caught up with cost to buy that California ends up “saving” its way into a higher cost to own system.

The only problem is that all those people will be illegal immigrants…pardon me, undocumented aliens, who won’t be able to pony up the princely sum it will cost to ride the HSR…

Considering that San Francisco is a self-declared sanctuary city for illegal immigrants, that Ammiano’s legislation will make it more difficult for law enforcement to question immigrants about their status and that the Obama adminstration is not going to pursue them, it is not a reach to say that a significant portion of the Hispanic population in California will be illegal immigrants. If you make it easier for illegal immigrants to come to the state then you will have more illegal immigrants. How is this racist? Meanwhile as Governor Brown raises our tax burden, wealthy people will leave the state, as they are doing in Maryland, making California a more populous but poorer state. I love how progressives always cry “racist” when the unintended consequences of their generous social welfare policies are ponted out to them.

Considering that San Francisco is a self-declared sanctuary city for illegal immigrants, that Ammiano’s legislation will make it more difficult for law enforcement to question immigrants about their status and that the Obama adminstration is not going to pursue them, it is not a reach to say that a significant portion of the Hispanic population in California will be illegal immigrants.

You get undocumented migrants when there are jobs that can be had without documentation, which rests on how many employers are happy to break the law in order to increase competition in their labor markets. So the three “givens” don’t look like doing anything to substantially change the number of undocumented migrants. Throwing the economy into another recession, on the other hand, that would be extremely effective at reducing undocumented migration into the country, given how effective the 2008/09 recession was in reducing the rate of undocumented immigration.

That’s silly ~ for those who are price-sensitive, there will be revenue management fares, with discounts for those with the flexibility to wait for a good fare to become available. Those who are price sensitive are unlikely to be arriving in SF or LA just before 9am or leaving SF or LAV between 5pm and 7pm, but there will be times in the middle of the day and in the last runs of the day when cheaper fares will be available.

@Stephen Smith:

Do you have any basis at all for claiming these subsidies? What is the per passenger subsidy for Essential Air Service at Visalia?

With high speed rail, residents in Fresno will be able to get to good jobs in San Jose in under an hour. Similarly, Bakersfield residents will be able to get to jobs in Southern California in under an hour. I encourage you to read Shawn Kantor’s 2008 report about the benefits of high speed rail to a region disconnected from the rest of the state that has twenty percent unemployment.

Can this project be improved? Certainly, but there are benefits to improving mobility for the 3M+ residents (excluding the Sacramento region) who live in the Valley.

@Stephen Smith:

I am very tired of these conservative and libertarian groups only pretending that passenger rail (and perhaps bikeshare) are subsidized while highways either pay for themselves or are the result of the free market. In 2005, it was estimated that upgrading Hwy 99 to interstate standards would cost $25B (probably $35B – $40B). Upgrading Hwy 99 would also do very little, if anything to improve the Central Valley’s air quality, some of the dirtiest in the nation (it is estimated that there’are ten thousand premature deaths every year in CA because of air pollution related ailments).

Pretending the alternative to high speed rail doesn’t cost anything is fundamentally negligent at best.

They can upgrade highway 99 but I would not make it a freeway but a heavy toll road. Also it’s about time the car stops taking over everything and time to let trains and even canals and boats have a shot at trying to do something.

I would suport extending Interstate 97 along the east coast and make it a alternet route and bypass of Interstate 95 but I would make a heavy toll Road.

I am very tired of these conservative and libertarian groups only pretending that passenger rail (and perhaps bikeshare) are subsidized while highways either pay for themselves or are the result of the free market.

Perhaps you should bring it up with them. I never claimed any such thing. My sources on this are 100% pro-rail…

A majority of the voting population in California in 2008 voted for a plan in which SF to LA would be pursued first, and San Diego and Sacramento would be pursued after.

The lie would be anyone trying to con people by saying “Sacramento and San Diego were dropped off this debacle months ago.” Sacramento and San Diego have been Phase 2 corridors since the voters of the state authorized the $9.5b in bond funding.

I’d guess you rather the state spend $120-170 billion expanding freeways and trying to shove unwanted airport runway additions down the throats of LA, SF Bay Area and San Diego. Hardly a good solution in the most most traffic congested state in the country.

Privatize California highways and you may solve both California’s budget shortfalls (upfront concessionaire payments) and the lack of private partners for HSR (cut demand on the currently subsized competition).

I’m still not sure why the segment between Bakersfield and Palmdale isn’t the first priority. Without that there are no meaningful linkages between the Central Valley and Los Angeles whatsoever, and that is a huge catchment area.

The segment from Bakersfield to Palmdale will be one of the most difficult segments to build. Depending on the final design, it will require miles of tunnels and elevated tracks and have a steep grade. It may have the ruling grade of the entire LA to SF route when it is complete. There are years of engineering studies, geological field surveys, test borings, and design ahead on selecting the exact route and tunnel locations through the Tehachapi mountains.

There are good reasons to start on the easier segment to build in the Central valley while, if the funding is there, proceeding with the studies and design of the more difficult segments through the mountain ranges.

There are a slew of documents on the Bakersfield to Palmdale segment at this page on the CHSRA website for some light reading:

Scanning the recent documents, the recommended new Alternative T3 for the Tehachapi subsection which was picked to cut costs has interesting numbers. Alignment length of 39.4 miles (a mile shorter than the earlier alternatives), 10.9 miles of tunnels and 3.4 miles of elevated structures. The kicker is an average grade of 2.85% over 20 miles, sustained grade of 3.3% over 8 miles. If a requirement is to be able to use it for the current Amtrak trains, those are grades that might exclude using a P-42 diesel locomotive pulling 6 Surfliner cars. Those are grades for electrified HSR trainsets.

Its only the Initial Construction Segment that has a requirement to be able to use Amtrak trains. There is no requirement to be able to use existing Amtrak trains on the Bakersfield / Lancaster corridor and, indeed, it would be a substantial increase in tunneling cost to design the tunnels for diesel trains.

3.3% is doable with conventional Amtrak equipment. The Southwest Chief crosses the Raton Pass which has a 3.3% grade using 2 p42s to pull 10 cars. In fact, you could run freight service over such a grade as BNSF did until 5 years ago. This grade is also far flatter than used by French and German HSR lines.

If they have hybrid traction, they could electrify the Palmdale / Madera section and so avoid the problem of running diesels through tunnels only designed for electric traction.

They could extend and tie into the catenary system that would come out of the XpressWest Rail line from Las Vegas in that it is going to have catenary on it to power it’s trains.

There is a possibility that the connection to the Desert XPress would justify electrifying the Antelope Valley corridor, which would give a Rapid Rail corridor from the San Fernando Valley and allow an earlier Initial Operating System, after completion of the Bakersfield / Palmdale section.

However, to operate at a surplus as dictated by Prop1a, it would be a relatively low frequency per day service, and so its more a contingency option than a baseline plan.

Out of curiosity, how long is the 3.3% grade segment on the Raton Pass? The proposed route would have sustained 3.3% for 8 miles.

However, as noted the issue is not just the grade, but that the tunnels will be built for electric power, not with the air vents needed for diesel locomotives. If the CV and Bakersfield to Palmdale segments were to be completed with catenary while the rest of the system is still being built, they could switch locomotives to electrics to pull Surfliners between Fresno and Palmdale, but it would be somewhat operationally awkward. Amtrak could lease some HHP-8s to provide power for an interim period if the HHP-8s have not been scrapped by then. (mostly joking)

Or they could just lease some ALP-45s from
NJTransit and avoid the engine change

The Raton pass is 3.3% for 7 miles. There is also a brief 4% grade there. So it’s pretty comparable to what CAHSRA is considering. The Cajon pass also has a significant segment that is that steep. I should also mention that I hope that the powers that be reconsider their approaches to both L.A. and S.F. I really wonder if Altamont and the Grapevine alternatives would be better.

If they go the Altamont route, they need a Rapid Rail corridor down through Gilroy to Salinas on the northern Central Coast, if they got the Pacheco route they need a Rapid Rail corridor across the Altamont pass to get to Sacramento, or else spend even more upgrading the speed of the Capitol Corridor between Oakland and Martinez.

Its really pretty close to a wash between the two, but because the actual NIMBY turbocharged by opponents of HSR across the board is coming from the preferred alignment, its easy to look at the FUD and conclude that the Altamont Pass alignment would avoid that problem. If they’d gone the Altamont Pass alignment, Livermore and Pleasanton and Fremont would be the NIMBY’s turbocharged by opponents of HSR across the board.

One P42 and 6 Surfliners over 3.3% grade is right at the balance point.

37,450# TE at 37.8 mph. Good for about 500 tons. Loco weighs 135 tons, and six coaches at 60 tons each get you to right about 500 tons.

How about buying some 125 mph diesel-electric MUs? There are some really good off-the-shelf designs around.

Somehow, California is going to have to address the FRA crash-worthiness/interoperability problem. Might as well get started sooner rather than later.

They’d rather avoid it ~ that may in part be the normal US reliance on private subcontractor for planning, since a subcontractor is always going to be more willing to throw concrete at problems that could be resolved with operational / regulatory fixes.

J.D. Hammond,
Expensive tunneling doesn’t stop Switzerland from building more miles of deep HSR tunnel than than anyone else. For America its a matter of priority. We’re still building it for HSR.

Why does it take years and years of studies when in the 1880’s and 1910’s they built some of the US greatest main line railroad’s bridges and tunnels most of which are still running today. At those times they only had less than two to five years to build a grand rail line other wise their competers would knock them out of the game.

The more this thing sits in the never ending studies the more this thing’s going to get a gun shot wound to the head and die.

Assuming this is not a rhetorical question, there are some pretty objective reasons:

1) the concept of environmental assessment at the time was nil. Zero

2) land used to build the railway was given or ceded by the government

3) work protections or work health considerations were much, much lower than today. It was considered “part of life” to have men working under extremely dangerous conditions and deaths were seen as just part of the price to pay for nice infra-structure project.

4) there was virtually to none possibilities for affected parties in the way of railroads to oppose them and, moreover, in most cases they were seen as almost universally good things to have in your city.

5) the technical complexities of lengthy building are different than technically complex things like a 10-mile graded tunnel through an active tectonic fault.

I suggest you take another look at those 19th/20th century RR wonders. You’ll find quite a few that chose sub-optimal routing to save construction time and cost. That led to tight curves and longer routes.

HSR has to thread a bunch of needles – environmental, terrain, hostility from the freight RR’s, political gamesmanship (e.g. the underfunding of the CAHSR Auth.), NIMBY’s, etc. It’s going to be like rolling a boulder from San Francisco to Denver. Once you get it past the coastal hills then you’ve got to get it up and over the Sierras, …, and then up and over the Rockies. So prepare yourself for a long slog.

… = a number of small mtn. ranges between the Sierras and the Rockies (e.g. Toyabe [NV] and Wasatch [UT])

A lot of railroads in Vriginia still follow the bulk of their 1900’s route. There is even a 1850’s railroad in Vriginia that follows 95% of it’s rail bed today in the year 2012 with no plans to change anything on it. But during the 1930’s they and the Pennsyvinia Railroad under went some major rebuilding programs that bypassed tunnels with new ones and made smooth grades and new bridges. Oddly the bulk of these railroad works are still around.

As for Califorinia’s high speed rail I personally think it is as good as dead in that they seem to be having a lot of things set up angist it. Not to mention as for rolling a bolder across to Deven Califorinia already spent ten million dollars to set up some 300 ton bolder over a duch at one of the art musems.

Yes, the California HSR system has already been pronounced dead because of the total success of the PR campaign against it in making it totally political toxic.

Multiple times.

Announcements of its pending demise doesn’t seem to have led to any actual demise, at least not to date.

The first subway line in New York took about 40 years from first concept planning to opening. The actual construction was fast (but even then it slipped behind schedule – it was supposed to take 2 years but took 4), but it followed decades of arguing over routes, Tammany Hall involvement, traction, public vs. private ownership, funding, and engineering.

The environmental work takes longer.

As a reminder, by the way, they started planning in the late 90s, and intended to go to ballot in 2004; the delay to 2008 was because Schwarzenegger kept postponing the proposition. I have no idea whether it really takes 15 years to do this or whether they just didn’t care. (At the time the prevailing belief was that there would be money to build Anaheim-SF all at once and that it would open in 2018, so it’s unclear to me why the studies aren’t ready.)

Intended to go on the ballot and deferred. Then the planning was grossly underfunded because it hadn’t gone to the ballot yet. Hard to interest people in doing planning for free.

Interesting that in this seemingly comprehensive article there was no mention that the blended HSR/Caltrain option on the Peninsula will result in SF to LA trips taking longer than the 2 hr, 40 minutes required by statute, as reported in the California Rail News.

Also interesting that there was no mention that the will require the construction of 32 miles of viaducts, when the standard is to construct as few viaducts as possible. Also interesting that there was no mention that the estimated costs have ballooned from $7.0 billion for structures in 2009 and $6.2 billion for excavation in 2009 to $22.5 billion for structures and $22.3 billion for excavation in the 2012 plan.

This article is just more hype for a project that is seriously out of control.

The source of the data was the CHSRA plans. And the balooning costs have been widely reported. Not that facts mean much to HSR fanboys.

Saying “As reported in the California Rail News” does not change the fact that you are complaining that Yonah has not responded to each complaint made by a particular individual opponent of the construction of a California HSR corridor, in all of its particulars.

But he did indeed address the cost of the project. His analysis was to compare the cost of the San Joaquin Valley section to similar corridors overseas. The cost he is using in that comparison is the cost after the increase in scope of the project that you are reporting that Richard Tolmach is complaining about. And his conclusion is that the cost is not wildly out of line with similar corridors overseas.

So, evidently, the result of that inflation of project scope has not been to push the CV section project cost wildly out of line with similar corridors overseas.

So because France and Italy overspend wildly on HSR means we should too? Have you looked at the parlous state of their finances lately? Do you want to end up like them?

What is your evidence that they spend wildly more per kilometer for Express HSR than would be required in other countries?

Don’t confuse arguments over how many Express HSR corridor miles they choose to have, and arguments over how much their Express HSR corridor costs per kilometer. Its the latter that is relevant to Yonah Freemark’s argument, not the former.

Some aspects of such a large infrastructure project will cost more, some less until they get into the digging and building. But If we applied your litmus test for building infrastructure, there would be no “boondoggle” Interstate Highway System, which is so far over original planned cost that no one even thinks of it.

The key is to build a public good that travelers can’t do without by 2030 and to be better than the alternative of building a new north-south freeway and airport runways. This project, as much as we can forecast for any infrastructure project, passes those two tests.

There are at least three good reasons to go to Palmdale rather than straight to Bakersfield.

1. Palmdale and Lancaster are fast growing cities in northern LA County. In fact, there was talk about expanding Palmdale Airport to international status before CAHSR.

2. Going straight up I-5 Freeway means a DEEP LONG tunnel would needed to prevent the train from having to scale more than a 4% incline, the certified limit for electric-powered HSR. In that scenario, fewer patrons, this writer included, want to be in a DEEP LONG tunnel crossing the San Andreas Fault expected to blow over the next 20 years. The Palmdale route is at or very near the surface while crossing the San Andreas Fault.

3. Putting a station at Palmdale enables CAHSR to connect to the planned Las Vegas HSR train, SoCal and NorCal people will desperately want that train connection for 3 hour or less trips to Vegas.

4. From a USDOT perspective, any related Green Transportation projects that cost less & reduce highway and airport maintenance in the Northern California-Southern California-Las Vegas is saving taxpayer money and reducing more smog.

Note also that Palmdale could well be one of the Phase1 stations for car recruited patronage from the Inland Empire, as its about the same distance from San Bernardino as downtown LA is, but its driving away from the city rather than into it.

Actually, the amount of tunneling is a wash, because it turns out that Sylmar-Palmdale passes close to a wildlife refuge and long segments that in the original business plan were done above-ground now have to be tunneled. As a result, using Tejon Pass is actually cheaper, and crosses all known faults at grade whereas the Tehachapi route crosses one underground. The report from the beginning of this year had to use creative techniques to sandbag Tejon – adding an unjustifiably large fudge factor for risk to Tejon, and also assuming Tejon would have to swerve around Tejon Ranch instead of buy it out for much less cost.

i’d have to see an incline elevation map to believe that CAHSR, even at 110 mph, could cross the San Andreas fault at grade. I also am convinced long deep tunneling is required under Tejon Pass/Grapevine,

When driving I-5 Tejon Pass/Grapevine at least 50 times the last 30 years, I notice that drivers are instructed to turn off air conditioning regardless of the temperature and I can visibly see upward curvature of the road shortly before approaching San Andreas Fault. Downhill at each side of the mountain containing the fault, your car must have a sports suspension and sport tires or you’ll have hit the brakes to handle the speed increase. I can’t imagine the incline at or near the fault being less than 4%.

I doesn’t breed confidence noticing wavy asphalt over the fault half the time. I estimate that fault line is resurfaced every 2 years or less – more than anywhere else on I-5 Tejon Pass.

Wavy asphalt is caused because of unbalanced axle loads on a steep grades pavement by heavy trucks.

Imagine it like the effect of you trying to climb, on foot, a sand dune: gravity directs much of your effort in one (the lower) side of friction (feet-sand) point, making sand “slip” away.

A similar effect happens to rail, but steel rail tracks are much less prone to being spread out than porous asphalt or concrete pavement.

Andre thanks for the explanation. Unfortunately, that still doesn’t make me feel comfortable crossing the San Andreas Fault in one long tunnel or up to 3 small ones up the Tejon Pass.

By heading out towards Palmdale, he alignment can cross the fault once and be at or near the surface — a perceptibly safer prospect.

BTW, if the Tejon pass were used, US Taxayers would still eventually have to pay for a route to Palmdale, since the Las Vegas HSR backers have put together a wrong proposal to reach Victorville, then pass the hat for funding to Palmdale (based on CAHSR alignment) or to Plamdale & Sylmar (if the Tejon Pass is used. So I don’t see how money would be saved in the long run by going up Tejon Pass.

CORRECTION: I meant to say …

“BTW, if the Tejon pass were used, US Taxayers would still eventually have to pay for a route to Palmdale, since the Las Vegas HSR backers have put together a strong proposal to reach Victorville, then pass the hat for federal funding to reach Palmdale (based on CAHSR alignment) or to reach Palmdale & Sylmar (if the Tejon Pass is used). So I don’t see how Tejon Pass alignment saves money in the long run.”

That could be provided by a Rapid Rail corridor from Burbank to Palmdale by upgrading the Antelope Valley corridor, and a Rapid Rail corridor from Bakersfield to Palmdale along the existing freight corridor, with an express cut over the Tehachapi Pass at a ruling grade of 1:30, to avoid the Tehachapi Loop.

With a $5b saving from the Tejon Pass alignment, you could add the Rapid Rail and still be ahead.

Or they could go over the Cajon pass between Victorville and San Bernandino and connect to the California system there.

I believe that longer tunneling is required in the Tejon Pass alignment, but that the restrictions on the alignment are in order to allow it to pass the faults at grade. However, a larger number of shorter tunnels on the Tehachapi Pass adds up to about the same amount of tunneling.

Access to the cap and trade funds to upgrade the Antelope Valley corridor now and to extend a Rapid Rail corridor to Bakersfield while the ICS is still under construction is one option to unlock the political logroll in favor of the Tehachapi Pass. Fast service with less construction delay and with certainty on start date might be able to trump faster service after a longer construction delay and with uncertainty on start date.

The costs may be a wash Tejon Pass vs. Palmdale alignment, but the Palmdale alignment has a “perceived” safety advantage that is indisputable. Perception counts.

Except the costs are not a wash ~ Tejon is $5b savings or more for an appreciable time advantage. The perceived lower project risk on the Tehachapi Pass looked too closely at the passes, and did not take the lower half of the Tehachapi descent into Sylmar into account ~ in part because the plan was to use an alignment that on closer inspection turns out to be unavailable.

$2b of the cost advantage could be used to provide a Rapid Rail corridor through Palmdale and Bakersfield and still be $3b or more ahead.

For arguments sake, lets agree CAHSR can save $3B construction cost with the CAHSR Bakerfield-Sylmar and Sylmar-Palmdale Rapid Rail approaches.

Aside from the remaining safety perception issue (crossing San Andreas while approaching or emerging from deep tunnels, the peak of Tejon Pass is 4400 feet), San Francisco and Sacramento travelers would not achieve a 3-hour trip time to Las Vegas. The reason is transferring to XpressWest or a TBD Rapid Rail project at Sylmar, adds 15 minutes for NorCal patrons compared to Bakersfield-Palmdale, which saves that time.

If we think Interstate HSR strategy that also reduces air traffic from NorCal to Las Vegas, then CAHSR Bakersfield-Palmdale is the better way to go, combined with boosting XpressWest to 220 mph thru its desert sections to Las Vegas.

Higher operating revenues from more NorCal-Las Vegas patronage over 10 years outweigh $3B more upfront cost.

I come up with 300 miles of railroad between Santa Clarita and Los Banos via Palmdale, Bakersfield and Fresno. 5 billion dollars divided by 300 is, in nice round numbers 17 million dollars a mile. It’s costing NJTransit, mostly using their own staff, 7 million a track mile and that’s without electrification. And it’s on land that state already owns and that is fully grade separated.

Whether SF/Vegas is 3hrs or 4hrs from San Francisco is not the primary issue that motivates LA County to push for CAHSR Palmdale, so SF/Vegas travel time is a marginal tie-breaker between otherwise closely tied alignments, and not a major driver of alignment choice.

Adirondacker, the $5b savings is Bakersfield to the San Fernando Valley via the Tejon pass rather than via the Tehachapi pass.

I don’t believe that on an apples/apples comparison, there is savings between Baersfield and San Jose or Fremont building a CHSRA system on the I5 and an electrified Rapid Rail system serving Fresno to northwest of Bakersfield versus a CHSRA system serving San Jose to northwest of Bakersfield. We know how much the ICS costs. Only a fraction of that would be saved by running on the I5, since the grade separations are in the ICS. The increment has to pay for all new track on either the UP or BNSF corridor on terms in which it makes sense for either UP or BNSF to allow the Rapid Rail system to be constructed.

By contrast, we know about the estimated $5b saving on the Tejon Pass vs Tehachapi Pass because an alignment option study was commissioned under Van Ark. Half of the hypothetical Rapid Rail corridor is under public ownership. And there would seem to be an actual commercial benefit in having time slice access to an express route across the Tehachapi pass.

If you hew closely to I-5 how do you get from Bakersfield to Fresno? Or Los Angeles to Fresno. Or Frenso to San Francisco? Yes it saves money on a trip from LA to San Jose but that’s not where all the trips are going to be. Nor where the population growth is going to be.

Yes, that’s the point exactly … if you follow I5, you “get to Bakersfield and Fresno” on an alternative alignment. Not a new alignment, because that’s a big chunk of cost of the ICS. So the BNSF or UP alignment. They don’t have to say yes to putting a 110mph electrified track through their corridors. So getting them to say yes is $$$ anyway.

Easy to say “just provide them an alternative alignment”, but the doing is a long way from free.

And the savings between the I5 and the ICS can’t be more than a billion or two, so it looks an awfully lot like “just provide them an alternative alignment” is an alternative approach where the numbers don’t add up.

If someday decades from now the ICS alignment is at capacity, maybe then. Hell, maybe by then we can relegate the motorway to one side and use the other for the HSR.

And its all water under the bridge anyway because the ICS has been funded.

The Tehachapi Pass / Descent to San Fernando Valley hasn’t been funded yet, so the $5b cheaper Tejon Pass is not yet water under the bridge.

Actually, it was a majority vote plan. A two-thirds vote in the California State Senate requires 27 members of the body (out of 40) voting aye. Because it was in a budget trailer bill, the vote was a majority vote (21), with the chair of the Transportation and Housing Committee (Senator DeSaulnier), the former chair of the Trans and Housing Committee (Senator Lowenthal), Senator Simitian, and Senator Pavley joining Republicans in casting no votes.

Is it possible to have a rational discussion about this project and/or to change anyone’s mind? There is so much propaganda on both sides and condescending rhetoric.

So hopefully I will steer clear of that, but probably not. It seems likely that most people in CA would want some form of high speed rail between the major cities. With improvements in local PT, tens of millions would take CAHSR. Density in increasing in inner city areas, and will likely continue to do so. The ridership forecasts to date are nonsense, as the Berkeley ITS study shows, and anyways there is ‘deep uncertainty’ here so please don’t pretend to be able to forecast pop or ridership with any degree of precision. In the case of extreme price jumps in oil, CAHSR would be immensely valuable. But again, please don’t claim that such a situation is certain or ridiculous. There might be modest reductions in certain emissions if CAHSR was built, but this project doesn’t seem like it will be a big winner or loser on environmental terms – see other Berkeley works by Horvath. What else? What are we left with? A project that is neither great nor terrible, so why all the vitriol?

I’m not a fan or a critic. I’m hoping we get more rational discussions. I wish we could vote on alternate designs for CAHSR instead of just approving or killing the whole project. I wish large sections of the population weren’t dead set against any form of high speed rail. I wish proponents didn’t talk and act in such a condescending manner. I am a fan of high speed rail and probably would’ve voted for the original plan, but think the High Speed Rail authority is incompetent and dread the thought of having to pay billions for Madera-Bakersfield.

If the Berkely works by Horvath the ones that cite the grossly mistaken energy consumption value, originating in the EIR work of CHSRA’s contractor, … then why cite them? Its already well known that they are absurdly wrong on their energy consumption figure ~ never mind the fact that they assume without supporting argument that the CHSRA policy to source power from renewable sources will have 0% impact on GHG emissions per KWh, their energy figure could have been crosschecked, and ought to have been crosschecked, and they would then have been aware that they were using computations that were badly botched ~ as will happen when multiplying when you ought to divide by a conversion factor.

I didn’t know that Horvath was ‘absurdly wrong’ but that’s the kind of discussion we should be having. Sorry, I just thought it was one of the few unbiased data points we had.

Is the energy consumption figure you’re talking about for train operations?

Plus, I guess I thought the take-away from that work was that an awful lot of the relevant emissions won’t stem from operating trains but from construction, maintenance, associated / supporting services that wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for CAHSR, etc. Ans then also that study and others seem to ignore induced demand and just calculate emissions per person km, which seems wildly wrong in favor of HSR to me. But I don’t know about the energy consumption figure.

I don’t mean to get into a spam war. I’m just wondering why there isn’t more debate about these things: emissions, final price tag, etc. Why are so many people for or against this proposal regardless of costs and benefits? I can see a bit of this in the original post. “Does an imperfect project deserve to be abandoned?” I think the unbiased answer is pretty clearly “it depends” and sometimes “yes”. Maybe the political compromises necessary to make this project feasible make it so flawed it’s no longer a good idea. Maybe I love rail but there is no way HSR in the Central Valley makes sense without the connections to LA and the Bay. OK I’ll stop because now I’m beginning to sound like a spammer and I’m not.

Yes, its from train operations. Clem Tillier: HSR Emissions Paper was Wrong.

Clem Tillier has been a strident critic of the California HSR Authority original plans for an all-dedicated HSR corridor along the Caltrain Corridor, choice of Pacheco Pass over Altamont Pass alignment, willingness to fund the misguided CBOSS signaling system, and a range of other issues, so cannot be confused for a one-eyed support of the CHSRA, but the numbers were just too glaringly off for someone who has even a passing familiarity with the energy consumption of existing Express HSR trainsets to believe the figures.

The operation energy consumption is critical to the conclusions of Chester and Horvath 2009, since the “payback period” depends on (1) assumed GHG emissions from construction, (2) assumed no change in road or airport infrastructure construction and (3) therefore all GHG emissions must be “paid back” by emissions savings from operations.

If you overestimate operating energy required by between 3x and 4x, and if your emissions per KWh is overestimated by some factor ~ sourcing all renewable energy sources won’t result in 0 impact, but it will clearly results in a lower impact than the existing average for the 2009 California grid ~ you dramatically underestimate the emissions gain.

Further, taking a 10% load factor as a “high” emissions baseline is absurd. These are 8 car consists running in double consists as a 16 car trains. If they are only 10% full on average run a single consist train and you instantly get the assumed load factor to 20%. Real world experience with HSR operations indicate 60% to 80% load factors, so if Chester and Horvath wished to be conservative, they could have taken a 50% load factor as their “high” emissions baseline.

Almost all capital GHG emissions are corridor rather than trainset, so that doesn’t substantially modify the GHG emissions to be “paid back”, but it does substantially modify the payback rate from HSR patronage, since in heavy rail, power consumption is close to identical between an empty train and a 100% occupied train, so tailoring train length and frequency to market demand has a major impact on per-passenger energy consumption.

Cool, thanks for the interesting link and discussion Bruce. I do remember thinking the load factors for trains (and also btw planes – esp given current industry trends) were absurdly low when I came across the Horvath and Chester paper. 10% full trains is a joke. the concept of emissions payback is kind of ludicrous too. i wonder when highways will pay back their emissions :p.

Emissions payback is not a silly concept ~ its quite important. When planning for emissions of something that will stay in the atmosphere for a century, you need to consider steady state impacts, so if an infrastructure investment with an average lifespan of 50 years has a 10 year payback on its capital construction emissions, you would reasonably discount its emissions benefits in operation by 20%, and if it was 40 years, then you would reasonably discount its emissions benefits in operation by 80%.

But you have to get the sums right. It doesn’t say much for the peer review at the journal were they published that the analysis was accepted. They clearly do not have a review board with adequate expertise in modern rail operations to catch unwarranted bad assumptions and claims.

So what you’re describing sounds like calculation and comparison of emissions during construction and operation, which is great and not what I thought emissions payback was referring to.

I’m guessing it would’ve been difficult to find reviewers who knew details about rail, air, and highway construction and operations. Anyways, no point belittling the journal.

We should probably be focusing on the corrected numbers. I saw some anti-rail people claiming that there have been more ‘structures’ added to the CAHSR plan which would drive up emissions figures. Again, not trying to start a flame war and I have no idea how seriously to take these complaints – they just sounded believable.

Payback means you look at the emissions savings as a result of operations and ask how many years of emissions savings does it take to cover the emissions generated by the construction.

Thing is, if the operations result in avoided capital construction emissions, that also ought to be credited to the rate of payback.

LA, San Diego and California Central Valley already have the smoggiest air and are forecast to have to add population about the size of New York state by 2035-ish. More freeway lanes and airport runways will also increase traffic congestion for those modes and burn more imported oil (less money circulating in America). Hence, from a public health, traffic congestion and imported oil perspective, I does not make sense for California to add more freeway lanes and airport runways.

I live in LA so you don’t have to tell me! (Although some numbers being thrown about for Central Valley pop seem a bit crazy.)

I would agree that adding freeway lanes would not be good for public health or traffic congestion. I would argue that building high speed rail, especially without appropriate city and regional planning, would also be bad for public health and traffic congestion. Either this issue is not as simple as you make it sound – or I am not as uninformed as I’ve led you to believe :).

I think a lot of us in LA and maybe other places are daydreaming about things like how much we could do for intracity PT, for reducing freight congestion, for cleaning up power plants, even for education, etc. with $50-100 billion. Also wondering what would happen if we end up with half-built CAHSR. Also what would happen if we neither built CAHSR nor invested dramatically in highways.

Not going to defend the paper, but papers with mistakes get published in the most prestigious journals. Once in a while you hear news of a Science paper retracted. I know of someone who published his thesis in the Annals of Mathematics, possibly the most prestigious math journal, which contained a critical mistake invalidating the entire argument that took years to spot; the author has long left math and entered politics. My mentor here at Brown published a paper in Inventiones, a top-5 journal, in which one part contained a small mistake (not one invalidating the paper) that he noticed only as the paper was going to print, too late to change it. I have a mistake that I’m currently fixing in my first paper, though the journal that published it is far from top-tier.

Well, I would have missed the mistake on the energy consumption if I referred it when I didn’t have time to follow the trail all of the way back to the original German peer review … but several of the other mistakes are just analytical mistakes that a capable analyst as peer reviewer ought to have caught.

“an awful lot of the relevant emissions won’t stem from operating trains but from construction, maintenance, associated / supporting services that wouldn’t be there if it weren’t for CAHSR, etc.”

This argument always struck me as sophistry. The ‘do nothing’ option is not costless (increased congestion will increase emissions). More realistically if you don’t build CAHSR you have to create new capacity somewhere else. Widening I5, expanding airports, etc. all will generate the same construction, maintenance and supporting activity. Why single this out as a cost for rail when it is not part of the discussion for any other mode?

Because in the world Wendell Cox et al. inhabit highways are constructed by elves using pixie dust and organic fair trade asphalt.

so maybe the Horvath paper has a few glaring errors Bruce has pointed to, but it did at least look at construction, maintenance, etc. costs for ALL modes. the point was life cycle assessment of different modes.

if i recall, it wasn’t really the kind of study where you’d compare CAHSR to widening I5 – it was just looking at comparing the efficiency of different modes. there should be studies looking at comparing CAHSR to widening I5 and expand airports. although i’d also be interested in a study looking at what happens when we do neither. we should be honest and admit that is a possibility too.

Of course a life-cycle assessment should compared the life-cycle impact of the trips diverted. And not requiring a range of road / airport expansion projects is one of the impacts of trips diverted.

“the concept of emissions payback is kind of ludicrous too. i wonder when highways will pay back their emissions :p.”

Actually, CO2 reduction resulting from diverting passengers from other modes is accounted for as a benefit of HSR in a proper cost-benefit analysis. Without including it, the case for HSR would be worse, not better.

I think we’re talking past each other. It clearly makes sense to look at CO2 reduction resulting from diverting pax from other modes. I still think the concept of emissions payback sounds odd. I also don’t really care if the case for HSR is worse or better, I’m one of the (rare?) people just trying to understand the costs and benefits.

Going back to a point I touched on earlier, has there been any work to look at induced demand? My guess would be the system would induce a ton of demand – so why focus exclusively on mode shift?

The closest analogue to the California HSR system is probably the Madrid / Barcelona system ~ heavily car/air dependent transport system, recent buildup of local transit in major urban areas, similar population distributions, levels and distances.

The study I have seen of induced demand there is 30%. If the load factor of diverted trips is 40%, that brings total load factor to 52%, for nil or negligible increase in GHG emissions, so on the lower end, its a non-issue. If there is 30% induced, demand, and a practical upper limit to total load factor is 80%, that means a mode-transfer load factor of 56%, but at 56% mode-transfer load, under the actual power demand of 220mph HSR and under a conservative estimate of the GHG reductions due to contracting for carbon-neutral power, it has a very rapid payback.

Who said that the Barcelona-Madrid runs at 217-224mph? The statement was that the Barcelona – Madrid corridor is probably the closest analogue to the CAHSR system. Spain is more car-dependent than France or Germany, the population density of Spain and California is quite similar, the primary/secondary city size for Madrid/Barcelona vs LA Basin / Bay Area.

Yanks are too fat for trains. They’ll probably die from exhaustion from walking to the train station. THat’s wHy they only use cars.

The information is good; the plan bad. MassDOT continues to worsen traffic congestion and green house gas production with downsized transportation. Giving unfair amounts of bridge and road widths to cyclists and pedestrian is the opposite of transportation equity. Worse, it changes the historical layout of the bridge.

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