Building high speed rail in America is no simple endeavor. Really it's quite complicated anywhere, but in America, where it doesn't yet really exist (no Acela is not HSR in our book), the resistance to it is tremendous for many American reasons. Accordingly, the first HSR service may end up being located not in the most logical location (SF-LA, or Northeast Corridor), but instead where a combination of boosterism, lack of political backlash, and open land is more readily available. That project may well be the DesertXpress, now named the XpressWest.
Image: Xpress West
Planned as a link between Las Vegas and Southern California, the original plan has been to run the high speed tracks from Las Vegas to Victorville, a Mojave Desert city north of San Bernardino along I-15. The hope was Angelinos would drive to Victorville, hop on a train and get to Las Vegas much more quickly than driving, but leave their car in a large desert parking lot during the Vegas excursion. Understandably, many doubted this project due to the parking requirement. Effectively, there was a gap between Victorville and the LA Basin that would dissuade most from using the train.
Luckily, the project looks to have found a solution to the gap problem.Per the Victoriville Daily Press, the "$6.9 billion DesertXpress train from Las Vegas to Victorville have entered into talks with the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority to explore a Victorville-to-Palmdale extension." In other words, high speed tracks would not end in Victorville, but in Palmdale, which happens to be one of the stops in the California High Speed Rail System." Suddenly project could have a one seat ride from LA to Vegas, or at least a ride from LA to Vegas with a transfer in Palmdale.
Xpress West with Palmdale "Extension"
Regardless of whether the Xpress West or the first stretch of California High Speed Rail is built, the connection of the two systems is critical to developing a true high speed rail system and network, not just within California, but throughout different states. It also shows that a public-private partnership on such an expensive capital system can be developed and executed.
Will the project, which is partially funded privately, get the sufficient federal funds to move forward?
Will the alignment down the middle of I-15 (and the E-220 proposed freeway corridor between Palmdale and Victorville) sufficiently reduce costs, but also provide a practical right of way that incorporates the gentle curves that HSR requires to maintain high speed?
How will the LAMTA and XpressWest find the funding to upgrade tracks between Palmdale between Burbank or Los Angeles?
Finally, will boosterism, a public-private partnership, and the promotion of an "experience" with party cars and the like be enough to shake America's strange aversion to developing great infrastructure projects in the 21st century?
Last week the California High Speed Rail Authority Board approved the Revised Business Plan. Even with a 33% cost reduction it still provides high speed service service to most of California, while also making significant improvements to commuter rail infrastructure and service in the Bay Area and the LA Metro region. The project will essentially be built in stages rather than one fell swoop. We, here at Urban Life Signs, never imagined the system would be built all at once, even the San Francisco-Los Angeles segment. The interstate highway was built in stages, and is a great piece of infrastructure that we all use and can hardly imagine surviving without it. Likewise, the high speed rail system will be built in stages, and become so normal and unsexy, yet relied upon, that we won't be able to imagine surviving without it.
Example if "Blended" rail with both High Speed Rail and commuter rail sharing the same tracks. Under the blended plan, High Speed trains would not go the full 200 mph speed, but rather an "enhanced" speed of 90 mph, which is much faster than current top speeds around 50-65 mph. Courtesy CAHSR Authority
In fact, the revised plan points out how the interstate highway system was built out over time, in numerous stages. The California State Water project and other High Speed Rail (HSR) systems are also noted for their construction in stages. Building in stages allows financing of the project to be spread out over time, along with starting service much sooner than if built all at once or in two big stages. Less noticed, building in stages allows for adaptation as the state's economy, population, culture and environment inevitably change over the next 50 years.
The decision to move ahead with the initial step does not commit the state to proceeding with the full program as outlined in this Revised Plan. By providing decision-makers with the flexibility to change course or timing, the plan preserves flexibility and can adapt to changing economic and budgetary realities or new opportunities. This approach is consistent with how other major infrastructure programs are implemented. The Interstate Highway System was designated in whole at the outset but constructed in phases over more than 50 years based on availability of funds, economic conditions, and other factors. The same has been true with the California freeway system and the state water project. HSR systems in other countries have been delivered this way as well. In Japan, for instance, initial plans provided an outline for full development, but implementation took place in segments, sometimes with years between the completion of one segment and the initiation of the next.
The new approach calls for a "Blended Approach", which means "integration of high-speed trains with existing intercity and commuter/regional rail systems via coordinating" infrastructure and operations. Both the rail tracks and the operations are blended to create an efficient and higher speed system that is much faster than current "slow" rail, but not as expensive as a "stand-alone" full high-speed system.
What this means in real English:
Physically: HSR tracks will be built from Merced to Bakerfield and on to Palmdale over Tehachapi Pass. Existing rail like Stockton to Bay Area and LA to Anaheim will get improvements like electrification and grade separations (bridges separating tracks and streets) but tracks will not be converted to full high speed. Instead they will likely support enhanced speeds between 75 and 90 miles per hour.
Operationally: Slow and High Speed trains will share regular tracks, while High Speed trains will only use the high speed tracks. Passengers will get a one seat ride from LA and Anaheim to San Jose and Sacramento. Regular "slow" trains and high speed trains may share regular tracks like today's Caltrain alignment or the San Joaquin's rail from Merced to Oakland. The process of "blending" will be phased over time, with service depending on what physical infrastructure is completed and ready for operations. To summarize:
Operating existing "slow" services over new high-speed rail infrastructure before high-speed service begins
Coordinating conventional rail services and connecting high-speed rail after high-speed rail service begins
Emphasizing interoperability of high-speed and conventional rail on shared infrastructure(emphasis added)
The critical part is the third bullet point. Does this mean that high speed trains will only run on high speed tracks, or will high speed trains also run on standard tracks at normal speeds (e.g. 80-90 mph)? Urban Life Signs supports the second model. In this case, if high speed tracks are laid from Bakersfield to Merced, while standard tracks with improvements, like electrification and grade separations, are used from Merced to Oakland, via Stockton, you could take a sleek high speed train from Bakersfield to Oakland. The High Speed Train vehicle would run on BOTH the high and low speed tracks and accordingly slow down on the standard tracks from its 200 mph speed down to 90 mph. This has been done for decades in France and in other parts of the world, and provides great travel time reductions, even if the journey only uses high speed tracks 1/2 the distance.
Blended High Speed Rail and Commuter Rail (Caltrain) in Downtown San Jose. Note HP Pavilion arena to the left. Downtown San Jose is in the background and Diridon Station is off the image to the right. Courtesy CAHSR Authority
The new operating plan will use $950 million of Prop 1A toward improved service at the "bookends" i.e. Los Angeles and the Bay Area. These improvements will tie to the eventual HSR service. Effectively this means benefits to Caltrain and Metrolink that will provide benefits to commuters in the near-term and "pave the way for the future HSR system."
But, let's step back for a moment. Did the California High Speed Rail select the right first stage to add onto the Merced-Bakersfield "spine"? Could there be a route that would serve more people, cost less to build, and offer better travel times, but may have been less politically palatable. The CAHSR says that they chose the Merced - Palmdale segment because it links California's largest population region with its fastest growing region. Although those two facts may be true, and it has a nice ring to it, the route may not be the best.
In this post we'll study three options and the infrastructure required. Cost and politics will be considered, but seeing as we are not economists, engineers, or politicians, we'll stick to what's easily available, and what we're good at: transportation planning. In Part 2, we'll compare travel times for the three options, and existing travel by plane, car, and bus.
Below is a map showing the revised business plan, which we'll call the Tehachapi Palmdale route. The other two routes we'll study are the San Joaquin Stockton route, and the Pacheco Gilroy route.
In the Tehachapi Palmdale route, the HSR tracks will first be built from Merced to Bakersfield, but soon after, extended to Palmdale in Antelope Valley. Current Metrolink rail service runs from LA's Union Station up to Palmdale so passengers could either transfer, or if improvements are made, the high speed train vehicles could continue from Palmdale to Los Angeles and Anaheim, at slower speeds. Combined with the improvements from the Northern California Unified Service (NCUS), a passenger could have a one-seat ride from San Francisco to LA, or from Sacramento to Anaheim.
Tehachapi Palmdale Route
The physical advantages to this route, which the CAHSR revised Business Plan highlight, is that the "rail gap" between Bakersfield and the LA Basin is bridged. Currently Amtrak passengers passing from Bakersfield to Los Angeles must take an Amtrak bus; i.e. today, a train ride from Fresno to LA is not a one seat ride. It's a two seat ride: one on a train and then on a bus seat. The downside to this is that building the tracks through the Tehachapi Mountains will prove difficult and expensive, with many tunnels, and bridges.
Revised Route Plan 2012 - Tehachapi/Palmdale Route
Pacheco Gilroy Route
Under this option (not recommended by the CAHSR), HSR tracks would extend from the spine from Merced to Gilroy. Under these conditions, the advantages would benefit Northern California more than Southern California. Like the Tehachapi Palmdale option, building HSR tracks through the Coast Range at Pacheco Pass would be expensive and challenging with many tunnels and bridges. In addition, and more importantly, the bus link between Bakersfield and Los Angeles would not be "bridged". Passengers traveling from San Jose to Los Angeles would have a 2 seat ride rather than a 1 seat ride, and require transferring from the train to a bus in Bakersfield.
Pacheco Pass Alternate Route
San Joaquin Stockton Route
Here, HSR tracks would extend north of the spine from Merced to Stockton. The cost of building this segment would be dramatically cheaper than the Tehachapi and Pacheco options due to the flat route that mostly passes through farmland. Similar to the Pacheco option, the advantages would benefit Northern California more than Southern California. Likewise, the bus link between Bakersfield and Los Angeles would still not be "bridged". Passengers traveling from Sacramento to Los Angeles would have a 2 seat ride rather than a 1 seat ride, and require transferring from the train to a bus in Bakersfield.
Stockton/San Joaquin Valley Alternate Route
In Part 2, we'll study these three options, and their travel times in more detail.
The California High Speed Rail Plan is moving along slowly, bit by bit, with some obstacles and pauses, but still making progress. Last week we looked at the new Business Plan and potential alternatives to the current phase one construction over Tehachapi Pass on to Palmdale. Let's step back a moment, and look at one aspect of High Speed Rail - the travel time. First we'll look at travel time compared to flying, driving, taking high speed rail the entire distance between San Francisco, and finally the travel time after phase one is completed. In the chart below, you can see a direct comparison of the three major modes. Many Californians have taken the drive or the flight between the Los Angeles Basin to the San Francisco Bay Area. When driving you can take the quicker I-5, the more scenic US-101, or if you want to make a lot of pit stops, Highway 99. The major airports in each region are Los Angeles Int'l Aiport (LAX), and San Francisco Int'l Airport. However each has many other airports with direct flights between each region. They including Bob Hope Burbank, Ontario, Long Beach and John Wayne Orange County in the LA region, and San Jose Mineta and Oakland Int'l in the Bay Area.
What most people have not done, is take a high speed train. That's not the fault of anyone. Most folks cannot afford a flight to Europe or Asia, and there's no real high speed in America. (Editor's opinion: Acela in the Northeast does not really count as high speed since it only achieves its high speeds for a small fraction of its journey.) Without a track in place, the only alternative is to take high speed rail in places like Japan, France, Turkey, Taiwan, or Spain. With most Californians lacking an HSR experience for comparison, the whole notion of high speed rail as truly possible future reality is very hard to grasp. It seems "far off", something from "science fiction" like the monorail. Just imagine, before you every flew in a plane, you would likely not fully grasp the amazing time savings, and even the dramatic feeling of flying so high, as well as the feeling of vulnerability having nowhere to go in the very rare instance of an accident. The best we can do is create a comparative time chart. So we have set up a hypothetical journey from Downtown San Francisco to Downtown Los Angeles, from two food meccas: the Ferry Building and the Grand Central Market. Although the Grand Central Market has been open since 1917, it very likely has been eclipsed my the rebirth of the Ferry Building in 2003. Nevertheless, both markets are truly amazing from their cornucopia of food, and bustling energy. With both markets located in each downtown, and a moderate walk or short transit ride to their respective train stations, they present reasonable origins and destinations for this comparison of modes. I.e. a typical business trip would be made from these two downtowns, while the two markets allows you to easily locate yourself in each downtown. When we look at the comparison, the total time of travel is included. We look not only the scheduled flight or train journey, or the door to door driving time, but also the journey to the airport or train station, the security check-in, lounge wait, and luggage pickup at airports. Likewise, when driving the long journey, most people would take a meal break, and possibly a second pit stop to fill the tank or go to the restroom. Plus you need to find a place to park your car, whether you drove the whole way or got a rental at the airport (or train station). Below we look at all four scenarios in detail.
Although the flight from SFO to LAX only takes 1 1/2 hours, the trips to and from the airport and passing through security make the true travel time well over three times as long: 5 hours and 20 minutes by our calculation. We assumed that our traveler would take a taxi from the Ferry Building to SFO; check in luggage, go through security, and wait an hour in the lounge. Some may only wait 45 minutes, but when potential SF fog delays, late flights or mechanical delays are considered, adding an extra 15 minutes is not unreasonable for a typical journey. When arriving in Los Angeles, we assumed that our traveler would pick up a rental car and drive to Downtown LA. Although LA has made great strides to improve its transit system with the Metro and the new Expo Line, it's not quite there regarding a comfortable and quick transit right directly to Union Station or Downtown. Upon arriving in downtown, our traveler must find parking. Being unfamiliar with downtown, they may look for parking for 10 minutes, or need to park in a nearby garage. Finally, after 5 hours and 20 minutes, they make it to the Grand Central Market.
Courtesy: Jimmy Marguiles via MSNBC.com
For driving, we factored in the previously mentioned pit stops; a 30 minute meal in Santa Nella (spit pea soup anyone), and a quick break at Grapevine, that cluster of restaurants and gas stations at the foot of the Tehachapi Mountains south of Bakersfield. Before actually getting started, our eager traveler had to walk from the Ferry Building to a nearby garage to get their car. The Ferry Building has no parking on site. We assumed the journey would take a bit longer due to traffic; 40 minutes extra to be exact. Google Maps indicates the journey along I-5 would normally take 6 hours and 25 minutes, but traffic on either end can easily add 12 1/2 minutes on each end. At the end, we assume a quick 5 minute parking time and 5 minute walk to the market.
When (and if) high speed rail is fully built as planned, between San Francisco and Los Angeles, the travel time is expected to be 2 hours and 40 minutes. The great advantage of high speed rail is obviously their speed, but also their convenient locations near center cities where a person can easily walk or take transit to the station. In our scenario, we have our traveler taking the 10 minute walk from the Ferry Building to the rebuilt Transbay Terminal. At the train station, our traveler arrives about 15 minutes before the departure time to make sure they are not late. Passing through the labyrinth of downtown crowds and escalators and finding your train car can take at least 10 minutes from the entrance of the station. Upon arrival, our traveler has a comfortable 5 minutes before the train leaves. If, as has been considered, a security check, a la airport security, is required, an additional 20 minutes are added on to go through security and 10-40 more minutes waiting in the lounge considering you never know how long security may take. The question of having a security checkpoint for high speed rail is an important one for maintaining safety and a convenient service. This issue will be discussed in a later post. The direct high speed journey, although not part of the current business plan, would take the previously mentioned 2 hours and 40 minutes, and leave passengers at Los Angeles' art deco Union Station. There, our passenger takes a direct bus to Broadway and arriives at the market in a quick 5 minutes.
High Speed Rail - The Blended Plan
Although this scenario is the quickest, it is the lesser likely to happen in the near term or the next 25 years. So we have included a time scenario using the "blended" approach that would have the high speed train vehicle start in Oakland. Being in Oakland, our San Francisco traveler must take a shuttle bus to the Emeryville Station, just like today's Amtrak passengers. In Emeryville, they would board a sleek, modern and very comfortable high speed train. Although the tracks from Oakland to Merced would not be true high speed, planned upgrades would shorten the time compared to today's travel time. We have conservatively estimated a 10% time savings over current Amtrak San Joaquin times between stations. After Merced, the train would enter the high speed tracks where the train could go its full 200-220 mph speed along the flat San Joaquin Valley. After Bakersfield, the high speed tracks would continue over Tehachapi Pass through tunnels and over bridges. Finally, in Palmdale, the train would switch back to "normal" slow tracks, continuing its tango down to Los Angeles on upgraded slow tracks that we have estimated at a 10% time improvement. Finally, as in the "Fully Built HSR" scenario, our traveler would take a bus to the Grand Central Market from Union Station. In all the journey would take 5 hours and 55 minutes. That's only 35 minutes longer than flying. You may be wondering now, then what's all the fuss over high speed rail. It's no better than flying under the early stage "blended" plan. But even under this plan it is much better than flying for several reasons:
Traveling by high speed train allows for a single journey that is not broken up by long and stressful breaks in the journey to check in luggage, go through security, and pick up luggage. Nor is it far from city centers requiring a long taxi, shuttle or subway ride to the airport. Instead, being so close to where the most people live and work, the journey is very comfortable, and more productive, whether a person works on the train, takes a long nap, or has a great conversation with a friend.
Train journeys are more comfortable for the experience on the train. On a train you can get up, and walk around any time! You can go to the lounge car to pick up a snack when you're hungry, or go to the bathroom when you need to go, and not be blocked by a drink cart. Less dicussed, but almost more important, plane cabins have a low humidity and are less comfortable. The pressurized cabin also has a approximate air pressure similar to 7,000 feet elevation. At this pressure, the quality of food is lower since our taste buds cannot work as well, and we are often more fatigued due to the pressure, low humidity, (and cramped seating). With trains, you are at the same humidity and air pressure as the ground conditions. Much more comfortable.
A less tangible element is the anxiety of flying. Although most people are not afraid of flying to a phobic level, it can still be a stressful experience, especially during take off and landing. High speed trains speed up and slow down more smoothly than planes and are on the ground. Our primate mind feels more comfortable when we look out the window and see the ground we can easily walk to. Although a high speed train accident would be quite deadly, not as severe as a plane, it is more the fact that we can see the ground that puts us more at ease. Finally, high speed trains are ultra safe. Although flying is very safe, high speed trains are even safer.
Lastly, as promoted by high speed rail advocates, California is a growing state. We don't have ability to keep widening freeways, or adding runways. Most of our cities are built up around them. Adding a runway at LAX or SFO would be incredibly costly, and go through a long and drawn out environmental review in which many local and regional residents would fight the building of a runway or widening of a freeway. Regardless of the regional and state needs for transport, this process would be much more expensive than building HSR.
That's it for part 2. There will be a part 3 where we examine the alternative to building phase 1 over the Tehachapis instead of Pacheco Pass or through the San Joaquin Valley. We will also look into the implications of the new plan and how it will affect trains coming into the Bay Area and their routing now that the Pacheco Pass route will not open for some time. SPUR has put together a summary of the new plan and its implications, including critical questions about how trains will get from the Central Valley to the Bay Area and its three major centers.
Now that the first planned California High Speed Rail (HSR) segment will go from Merced to Palmdale, we analyze the implications of having "enhanced" speed tracks rather than high speed tracks in Northern California. Enhanced speed tracks will allow trains to travel from 75 to 90 miles per hour (mph) as opposed to high speed tracks for speeds of 150-200 mph. In Part 1 of the High Low Speed Rail Tango (HLSRT) we looked at the Blended Plan overall, while Part 2 examined HSR travel times compared to driving and flying. In Part 3 we will have a final look at alternatives to the blended plan, examining the alternative travel times.
Firstly, and more importantly, we look at how trains will reach the Bay Area now that the Bay Area will not see HSR tracks for decades due to the selection of the Tehachapi segment (Merced to Palmdale) to be first constructed. What the Bay Area will see is HSR trains; actual sleek fast modern looking high speed trains with electric caternary systems to connect to electric wires. The questions is how trains will enter the Bay Area without using the Pacheco Pass route. Secondarily, what service routes will be selected and which are optimal to the overall Bay Area needs, but also work with scheduling and political pressures.
HSR train passing through Altamont Pass. Courtesy California High Speed Rail Authority
High Speed Rail Terms
HSR High Speed Rail. HSR describes the overal service and infrastructure. Both the special tracks and overhead wires that support high speed tracks, the HSR train vehicles, and stations that service HSR trains.
HSR Tracks The actual HSR tracks that are on the ground, i.e. HSR rail infrastructure
HSR Trains HSR trains are the actual train sets or train vehicles that go at high and low speeds. Vehicles include locomotives, passenger cars and specialty cars such as cafe cars or other services such as mail cars.
HSR Service Includes scheduled routes and associated stops. E.g. The current San Joaquin train runs from Oakland to Bakersfield with coach bus service on to Los Angeles. The train route and the coach bus route are the overall service for the San Joaquin train. If a train is express it will not make all the stops along a route, but a local train makes all station stops.
Bay Area Rail Routes for Enhanced Speed Trains
Under all of the the options described below, it is assumed that high speed train sets would travel the entire distance from the Bay Area to Los Angeles. Although only traveling at high speed from Merced to Palmdale, the trains would travel at "enhanced" speeds of between 75 and 100 mph between the Bay Area to Merced, and from Palmdale to Los Angeles. To achieve this upgrade to tracks between Merced and the Bay Area are required as the plan describes. The major question is where to make those improvements, especially for achieving a one seat ride between California's two larges metropolises.
"Do You Know the Way to San Jose?"
Service to San Jose with Caltrain connection to San Francisco
If the train route were selected today, and only moderate upgrades were made to existing rail corridors as proposed in the Revised 2012 Business Plan, Altamont Pass would likely be the choice for entering the Bay Area. If upgrading rail on the the San Francisco Peninsula to 90 mph speeds were deemed too high and/or opposition to such upgrades were strongly fought by locals, HSR train service might terminate in San Jose. Such a scenario would require passengers originating in San Francisco to take the Caltrain commuter train down to San Jose Diridon Station. There they would disembark and board an HSR train vehicle which would travel all the way to Los Angeles.
San Jose with Caltrain to San Francisco Option - trains enter the Bay Area via Altamont Pass
Some may say this scenario is unlikely or even illegal becauseProposition 1A required the initial HSR service to be between San Francisco and Los Angeles. However, when considering political opposition to HSR trains on the Peninsula, and likely fiscal restrictions on construction, this option could end up happening. Some HSR trains could start in San Francisco and pass through San Jose. However this would require the train to backtrack in "Y" turnaround in San Jose (not shown in map) requiring a longer stopover in San Jose, further lengthening the journey time. (A "Y" turnaround here would be similar to the same maneuver performed at trains passing from through San Francisco Int'l Airport instead of terminating there.) Even if some trains did travel from San Francisco to San Jose, under this scenario, there would be very few, while most HSR trains would start in San Jose.
The San Francisco via Caltrain option would only become viable if Caltrain offered "connecting" service to HSR scheduled routes. Such service should include luggage services, a short layover in San Jose (~10-15 minutes depending on the distance between trains), and special train cars dedicated to HSR passengers. Cars might be specially appointed with higher quality seating, and more services, while a simpler version would simply have a dedicated car or two for HSR passengers that would not be accessible to regular commuter rail passengers.
Even if "connected" comfortable service were offered on Caltrain, the need to change trains would likely discourage many potential passengers. Instead, this scenario might have headlines reading, "Silicon Valley steals 49ers, now they steal HSR". Joking aside, without HSR directly accessing the largest office district in the Bay Area would be a major misstep, and would not bring many of the touted benefits, both economical or environmental to the overall Bay Area.
Highway 4 Delta Blues
Service to Oakland and San Jose via the Delta (SF via bus)
The Delta Option would possibly be even cheaper than the San Jose Caltrain option. Upgrades from Stockton to Martinez could be make over this largely flat land. The route from Martinez to Richmond is more circuitous. Although it could be upgraded, it would only achieve higher speeds if trains could tilt like the Acela. An alternative would have new tracks, including bridges and tunnels, built along Franklin Canyon from Martinez to Hercules following the BNSF alignment. Closer to San Jose, an alternative route starting in Fremont could follow existing freight alignments just east of I-880 and into Diridon Station. Such a routes could be straighter and save some time, but would be more costly, and may have environmental challenges.
The bigger challenge comes from a required bus connection to San Francisco, similar to current Amtrak services, and the need for more trains along this corridor which is already congested and has limited capacity from Oakland to San Jose. In addition, travel time to San Jose would be slightly longer due to passing to north via the Delta and looping south to San Jose.
East Bay Branching
Service to Oakland and San Jose via Altamont (SF via bus)
Similar to the "Way to San Jose" option, trains would enter the Bay Area via Altamont Pass but service would branch between San Jose and Oakland or Emeryville. Passengers destined for San Francisco would take a bus across the Bay Bridge from Oakland to the Transbay Terminal.
By providing near direct service to San Francisco, via a short 15 minute bus link from Oakland, this option is more attractive than the San Francisco via San Jose and Caltrain option. Although they both require a transfer (HSR train-to-Caltrain from San Jose vs. HSR train-to-coach bus from Oakland), the Oakland option allows for a direct service to San Francisco with several advantages. Coach buses would offer luggage services and comfortable coach seating, along with the short 15 minute ride time . In contrast, transfers in San Jose to Caltrain would require an additional 40-50 minute journey to San Francisco. Traveling on a commuter train, although more comfortable than a subway, would less likely have luggage services, less comfortable seating and higher chance of crowding than dedicated buses from Oakland to San Francisco.
Branching service has its advantages and disadvantages. As described by Human Transit, branching divides frequency of scheduled train service. Although more critical in urban transit, the same challenges can plague a long distance rail system like California HSR if it reaches capacity. In action the map below would mean half the trains from Los Angeles would terminate in San Jose and the other half in Oakland. If the we presume 6 trains per hour, 3 would go to San Jose with possible stops in Livermore and Fremont, while 3 trains bound for Oakland might make stops in Livermore, Union City, and Emeryville. If demand increases, and the tracks can support 10 trains per hour, then 4 more trains could be added. However if only 6 trains per hour are feasible service cannot be increased.
Oakland to San Francisco coach bus service, although comfortable and relatively short would be vulnerable to Bay Bridge traffic. Access from Oakland to San Francisco is relatively reliable and quick due to buses jumping the queue at the Toll Plaza, and reaching the Transbay Terminal via direct aerial ramps that avoid mixing with San Francisco street traffic and stop lights. Access from San Francisco to Oakland is more problematic if traffic is slow on the Bay Bridge due to not have metering lights or a toll plaza that controls flow onto the bridge. The new Transbay Terminal ramps will allow easy access to and from the terminal avoiding street traffic. In addition, most of the traffic approaching the bridge in San Francisco is either on the streets of SOMA or on the I-80 eastbound approach. Because the bus ramps enter the bridge on an exclusive lane, delays for buses will be less frequent.
Dumbarton Rail to San Francisco and to San Jose via Altamont Pass
The Dumbarton Option would allow trains to directly reach San Francisco and San Jose. However, much like the East Bay Branching Option, service would branch between the two cities.
Bringing trains over the bay on a new Dumbarton Rail Bridge provides a one seat ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles as well as San Jose to Los Angeles. (Unfortunately for Oakland and most other East Bay residents, a drive to a regional station (e.g. Fremont or Livermore) or BART to San Francisco would be required.) The right of way for the Dumbarton Bridge already exists, plus such an alignment would avoid the communities most against HSR down the Peninsula. These communities also happen to be the richest and the most rich in job centers of the Peninsula. Job centers include Stanford University in Palo Alto, Google in Mountain View and many other job centers in northwest Santa Clara County. The route would go near major job centers such as Oyster Point's biotech zone, SFO, and about 2000m from Facebook's headquarters.
Similar to the East Bay Branching option, service would branch here but to San Francisco instead of Oakland. The same issues of capacity and service would potentially affect this option. If enough capacity is built into the Altamont corridor (Stockton to Fremont), the branching does not pose a problem. However, in any of the branching cases, the system is inherently less efficient. If all trains could pass through both San Francisco and San Jose trains service would not necessarily be split. All trains will pass through the two cities once the Pacheco Pass route is built.
Other advantages to Dumbarton Branching are stops at San Francisco Int'l Airport (via Millbrae Station), the opportunity to offer regional commuter rail service via Dumbarton Bridge, and a stop in Redwood City. The secondary benefits of added commuter train service, and connections to the airport could justify the cost of a new bridge over the bay.
The drawbacks of this option include the cost of the Dumbarton Bridge, continued opposition from effected communities on the Peninsula (e.g. Burlingame, San Carlos, etc.), and the previously mentioned branching challenges.
San Francisco via new Transbay Tube and to San Jose.
The Transbay Trifecta Option would offer the same service to San Francisco and San Jose as the Dumbarton Branching option. What's more, it would also directly serve Oakland, and avoid the Peninsula altogether. The Tri-City Branching option allows for all three major cities to have their cake and eat it. The Peninsula would "lose" its chance for service, instead relying on connecting Caltrain service to San Jose and San Francisco to reach HSR trains.
The option is clearly a cake, mostly due to the necessity of building a 2nd Transbay Tube for High Speed Trains. Although building such a tube would possibly run north of $10 billion, it would also create a plenitude of secondary benefits for regional transit. The tube could either be two bores for regular electric rail, or it could be four bores with the two added bores serving BART. Secondary benefits would include providing commuter rail service between Richmond, Berkeley and Emeryville to the many Peninsula destinations. Whether a 2 bores or 4 bores, it could open the door to subway service to San Francisco's western Sunset and Richmond districts.
Other benefits include direct access to Oakland Int'l Aiport (OAK), closer access to the vast East Bay communities, who make up nearly half the region's population, and direct BART transfer stations at Union City and Coliseum.
The down side to the Transbay Trifecta is the need for branching service. However, if enough capacity is available on the main line from Fremont to Stockton, branching would not be a real negative. Other disadvantages include a lack of access to SFO and Peninsula job centers.
The great challenge in creating large infrastructure projects is their cost, complexity, and political challenges. Sometimes the cheapest option may be the weakest option, and waste more money than a more expensive option, in the long run. Several varying issues also make selecting a preferred alignment difficult, including problems associated with branching, the number of upgrades required in each option, and the political and community opposition or support to particular options.
If the HSR tracks open in the Central Valley, and very little funding is available for local improvements, then the Delta Option is the only option due to having two to three tracks as opposed to the single track on Altamont Pass. However, if Altamont Pass is upgraded to two (or three) tracks, and tunnels are built through the pass and along Niles Canyon, then the Dumbarton Option is the best option. While more expensive than the East Bay Branch option, it would provide many more opportunities for other services to thrive due to the new Dumbarton Bridge. Although the Transbay option provides virtually the same solutions, a new tube under the bay would be more costly than a new bridge.
Either way, whatever option is selected, a comprehensive analysis is required. Factoring in passenger demand, weighing cost, environmental impacts, secondary benefits, and funding sources need to be conducted outside of political demands. Community imput should be solicited in this period, but not be the sole decider of whether or not an alignment can or cannot pass through a community. The new HSR system will benefit ALL of California, and the impacts upon communities must be considered. However local communities cannot have absolute veto power over deciding where such an important state project should go. Once an analysis is conducted, one or two preferred alternative should be selected and then debated in the political and community arena.
After community and political analysis, it may be worth the extra money to build a second Transbay Tube due to new tunneling techniques, political disapproval of passing through Peninsula communities, and benefits to an East Bay alignment that had not been previously accounted for. Or, the Dumbarton alignment could be selected due to lower costs and a better outreach to local residents that includes them in the planning process and demonstrates that Peninsula rail improvements would benefit residents more than hurt them.
Courtesy California High Speed Rail Authority
Alternative Blended Plans and their Travel Times
Although the CA HSR Authority has chosen the Merced to Palmdale route as its first segment, let's take a look at this choice along with the other options of building over Pacheco Pass or north to Stockton instead. Could the other options be more feasible? faster? or cheaper to build than the Tehachapi option?
CLICK TO ENLARGE
Bakersfield Option (Merced to Bakersfield)
Although this option is no longer an "official" option, it is could end up being the first segment of high speed track that opens. While the Tehachapi segment between Bakersfield and Palmdale is completed, we should consider what kind of service could be provided in the interim.akes the longest travel time when compared to the Pacheco and Delta (Stockton) Options.
As shown in the time comparison above, a one seat ride from San Francisco would take approximately 6 1/2 hours; about 1 hour longer than flying, but still 1 1/2 hours shorter than driving.
Two negatives plague this option, which was originally criticized as being a train from nowhere. Whether you think a high speed train from Bakersfield to Merced is a train to nowhere is up to your point of view. The negatives in fact are that this route would only allow one seat rides from San Francisco to Bakersfield via the Delta (not shown) without upgrades of tracks in Altamont Pass. More importantly, a ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles would require a transfer from train to coach bus in Bakersfield, much like the current San Joaquin route operates. Although Amtrak coaches are generally very comfortable and efficient, the switch to a bus would require added time to change modes, and would be admittedly a letdown emotionally after traveling at 200 mph from Merced to Bakersfield.
With a travel time longer than flying, and a required transfer from train to coach bus that would be politically difficult to justify, the option would likely not attract enough passengers to justify its construction, nor would it likely even pass political muster to even get built as shown.
Tehachapi Option (Merced to Palmdale)
This option, although faster than the Bakersfield Option, the would have passengers taking approximately 6 hours from San Francisco to Los Angeles, which is longer compared to the Delta(Stockton) and Pacheco routes.
Although the Delta (Stockton) route is 40 minutes shorter, and the Pacheco route is 60 minutes shorter, the Tehachapi route is the sole route that offers a one-seat ride from the Bay Area to Los Angeles. Trains can depart from San Francisco and San Jose, traveling at speeds close to 100 miles per hour. After Merced they would travel at the full high speed of 200 mph, and then slow to 100 mph from Palmdale into Los Angeles.
What this means to the customer is that she can spend time on the train relaxing, working, or socializing with friends the majority of the journey.
Delta (Stockton) Option (Stockton to Bakersfield)
The Delta option would likely be the cheapest option to build, apart from the Bakersfield option. With only the flat San Joaquin Valley to pass through, no tunnels and few large bridges would be needed. In addition the route would be faster than the Tehachapi route by 40 minutes.
Unfortunately, without building new tracks over Tehachapi Pass, a bus transfer would be required like the Bakersfield option. You may ask, "aren't there tracks going over Tehachapi Pass already". The answer would be yes, however the Union Pacific tracks are already at full capacity and designated exclusively for freight traffic. In addition, several segments of the pass have single track sections, and requires slow train movement due to steeper grades.
Pacheco Option (Gilroy to Bakersfield)
Instead of building a leg between the Central Valley to Los Angeles, what would an option linking the valley to the Bay Area look like? The Pacheco option would be the fastest of the blended options, with a travel time of 5 hours. Instead of favoring travel from LA to Bakersfield and Fresno, it would favor travel from San Jose and Gilroy to Fresno and Merced.
Although more expensive than the Delta Option, but likely similar in cost to the Tehachapi option due to crossing a mountain pass, a bus transfer would still be required at Bakersfield. Buses would then travel over the Grapevine and into the Los Angeles Basin.
Finally, all of the options requiring a bus transfer would call for buses to travel in mixed traffic on Interstate 5, both over the pass and into greater Los Angeles. Driving in mixed traffic can slow down buses significantly considering LA's infamous traffic. Although the Grapevine is less congested, it is sometimes closed during the winter due to snowfall. The negatives of switching modes, a two seat ride instead of a one seat ride, traffic and weather all conspire to make the Pacheco, Delta and Bakersfield options inadvisable.
The California High Speed Rail Authority got it right. The Tehachapi alignment is the best alignment because it is theonly option that gives passengers a one seat ride. Although the Pacheco and Delta options would have a shorter travel time, they would be vulnerable to highway traffic conditions in Los Angeles. More importantly, they would require a two-seat ride. A one-seat ride's benefits are difficult to underestimate. Most people are more anxious or annoyed with transfers and waiting than they are with total travel time. To make the point with an exaggerated example, most people would take a 6 hour journey with no transfers. In contrast very few would choose a 5 hour journey that required two transfers. This happens all the time with flying. Although some trips with 2 transfers may be cheaper and take about the same time as a 1 transfer flight, most people will choose the 1 transfer flight.
Urban Life Signs commends the CAHSR Authority for selecting the most realistic route from an operations route, while also keeping costs in check. Although a Delta Option would have been cheaper it would have attracted fewer passengers. With such a new form of transportation that costs so much, we cannot afford to have the first service of CA HSR fail.
12 April 2012
TurboTrain - Canada's bold 1960's High Speed Rail Attempt
Canada is now the only G8 country without high speed rail.... if you consider those dozen or so miles Acela reaches 120+ mph in Rhode Island as high speed.
Actually the best thing in this article, after the great cover graphic, is the graph showing the difference in real travel time between two cities. The two cities in the diagram (see below) are Calgary and Edmonton. At 300km distance, its about half the distance of LA to San Francisco, or the same as SF to Fresno, or New York to Baltimore.
Note that although flying is faster than driving both driving and flying are much more time consuming than taking high speed rail, even if you add a bus ride and a walk to HSR. More to the point, if you can hold off on the bathroom break while driving, it will take the same time as flying. Also, it appears that folks in Canada may be allowed to carry firearms on flights by the looks of what's in the suitcase.
For California High Speed Rail, when fully built out, just multiply the times shown by 1 1/2 for the equivalent for San Francisco to Los Angeles. And yes, that means bathroom pit stops take up one hour on a 7 hour car trek.
Let the comments flow. What makes this graphic great both from a basic message to its style. What could be made bettter or funnier? Let's hear from you in the comments.
April 14: to see images of the Turbo Train and other strange looking mid-century modern trains, check out the recent post "Get your locomotive on..."
The Van Alen Institute in New York is conducting a competition asking the question, "How will high-speed rail change American life in the coming decades?" They go on to ask, "At this critical moment for American infrastructure, Van Alen Institute calls on the international design community to envision the cultural, environmental and economic impact of a new rail network."
BEFORE - I-980 with underutilized 5-lanes (and option for at least 8 lanes)
AFTER - WITH rail and possible station - I-980 reduced to 4 lanes. Other half used for rail.
So my good friend Daniel Dunigan and I answered the call and submitted an entry. They asked for either a short video or a poster size image. We opted for the poster. We concentrated on two or three ideas:
1. We must decide now whether or not to build a high speed rail (HSR) network. Deciding not to build it could have more significant negative outcomes than building it. 2. When the system is being built, it will likely built incrementally, not as a complete system as often touted. Building incrementally allows for the cost to be spread out over time. However, for HSR to work well, at least 1/3 or 1/2 of the central segment of the line needs to be built. Building it now while gas prices are not too high (they will get higher) is CRITICAL to MAINTAINING a flexible and healthy ECONOMY for the country and regions with HSR.
Just remember, the highway system and the patchwork of airports was built over decades. HSR can be done the same way as long as critical spine segments are built to ensure feasible routes.
3. Incremental construction will help reduce or spread out costs, but also, we need to think creatively on how to select right-of-ways, build the system, and select station locations. HSR stations are major economic hubs, so the location of them is critical, but also reducing construction costs are critical. To keep costs down, we have shown how an underutilized freeway can be converted to become both a freeway and a rail right of way as shown in the image. above.