December 10, 2010
California To Eat Wisconsin's (High Speed Rail) Cheese
"Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced Thursday that $1.2 billion in federal high-speed rail funds allocated to Wisconsin and Ohio would be rerouted to other states [including $624 million for California]. Wisconsin and Ohio elected Republican governors who oppose high-speed rail and have asked to spend the funds instead on highway projects."
First Published: December 10, 2010 7:15 AM
Comments from "Plugged In" Readers
*points at WI and says* HA ha!
Posted by: badlydrawnbear at December 10, 2010 8:41 AM
Yeah! More money towards HSR!
I can picture Wallace doing his trademark "Cheeeese".
Posted by: lol at December 10, 2010 9:03 AM
Sweet. We will be able to get from gilroy to Bakersfield in 90 minutes! Are they really going to get HSR up the peninsula in less than 30 years?
Posted by: Jj at December 10, 2010 9:59 AM
This should be more money to finish the initial Fresno to Bakersfield segment, which would be great. Now if only we could get our house in order for Fresno/The Wye to SJ, SJ to SF, and Bakersfield to Los Angeles Union Station.
Posted by: sfrenegade at December 10, 2010 10:14 AM
Why don't they do the San Francisco - San Jose leg first? That might actually be useful to some people. And put in a terminal at SFO like they have at CDG, ZRH and a dozen other airports in Europe.
Posted by: Jimmy (No Longer Bitter) at December 10, 2010 10:52 AM
^There has always and continues to be a plan to include a station at SFO.
Posted by: anon at December 10, 2010 11:02 AM
"Why don't they do the San Francisco - San Jose leg first?"
Ask the extremely loud, but not numerous, NIMBYs in Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Atherton why. They've kept this in the courts for a while, and so the project is not "shovel-ready." You are correct that upgrading the Caltrain corridor makes the most sense, but some people have to whine about the fact that they paid less money to live on a 100+ year old rail right of way and will benefit from a windfall when the tracks are made quieter (no horns and no diesel) and safer (fencing and grade separation, killing the need for horns).
Posted by: sfrenegade at December 10, 2010 11:23 AM
"There has always and continues to be a plan to include a station at SFO."
Correct. There are also plans for another mid-Peninsula station. Hopefully it will be in Redwood City or Mountain View, and not Palo Alto so those NIMBYs get punished for their obstruction.
Posted by: sfrenegade at December 10, 2010 11:28 AM
"There has always and continues to be a plan to include a station at SFO."
Well not quite correct. The "SFO" station will actually be at the Millbrae BART/Caltrain station and fliers will need to transfer to the SFO terminals via BART. Hopefully by the time that HSR is up and running the transfer from Millbrae to SFO will be more convenient. Currently the transfer is awkward, especially during the periods that require taking two different BART trains (add in the inevitable latency times) to travel that last mile. Also Caltrain riders must buy a separate $4 BART ticket for that pleasure.
This should be changed so HSR (and Caltrain) riders need to transfer only once on BART and don't need to queue at a ticket vending machine in between. Most of the infrastructure to support that easier quicker transfer is already in place.
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at December 10, 2010 12:07 PM
"Well not quite correct. The "SFO" station will actually be at the Millbrae BART/Caltrain station and fliers will need to transfer to the SFO terminals via BART."
That seems to be the current wisdom, although I've also seen potential alignments with SFO itself having a HSR station. What they should really do is extend AirTrain to Millbrae Intergalactic Station if HSR will stop there for SFO so that there's only one transfer to the airport.
The original plan to have BART and AirTrain meet instead at San Bruno now makes more sense if HSR doesn't go directly into SFO (and you can see the aerial AirTrain tracks that were intended for this purpose). The problem with using BART as the airport connector is that you potentially have 2 transfers to get to some locations at SFO, which is a pain. Another potential solution could have been to have two BART stops at SFO, one at the International Terminal where it stops now and one at Terminal 2, but I assume that would have been even more expensive than what we currently have and would not substitute for AirTrain.
Posted by: sfrenegade at December 10, 2010 12:34 PM
sfrenegade - please post any pointers that you have to plans of a HSR station right at SFO. That would be awesome. The USA seems to be singularly incapable amongst developed nations when it comes to connecting long distance rail to airports. Look at London : 4 out of 4 airports have direct connections to the city. NYC which most will agree qualifies as a large city : 0 out of 3. I'm no conspiracy theorist though it seems really odd that we cannot get our act together here. Of all destinations airports are great candidates to be served well by transit due to the expense and hassle of parking a car for long periods.
As for using San Bruno as a transfer point : currently it is faster to take Caltrain to San Bruno and then walk (yes walk) across 101 to the AirTrain stop by United's mechanical hanger than it is to take the two train BART connection out of Millbrae.
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at December 10, 2010 12:49 PM
There won't ever be a stop directly in SFO...that would mean tunnelling under the whole thing somehow, and going off alignment.
For a little history lesson...yes, the initial idea for SFO was to have a joint Caltrain/ BART station directly opposite (above the wetlands where the precious SF Gartner snake lives). It was to be connected to the gates via what became the AirTrain. But Frank Jordan and Quentin Kopp insisted that BART go directly into the airport, with the consequent ridiculous design now...with a terrible Caltrain transfer from Milbrae...particularly during peak periods when the Milbrae/SFO direct link is not used.
I agree that with the HSR station at Milbrae (which would finally get that oversize parking garage some use!) the transfer to SFO should be seamless. Despite the existing BART connection, it would be most seamless to extend AirTrain so that there would only be one transfer. But, to be honest, I don't find any reason to use Airtrain when I arrive at SFO...I will only use it when they open Terminal 2.
BTW, I just used Schipol (Amsterdam) for the first time. Talk about convenient......
Posted by: curmudgeon at December 10, 2010 1:02 PM
"sfrenegade - please post any pointers that you have to plans of a HSR station right at SFO"
I believe it was in the original alternatives analysis, which should be on the official CAHSR site. The path would have had the train going closer to 101 in that area.
SJC is a lost cause, and so is OAK. The best we might get for a fully connected airport would probably be either ONT, PMD, or BUR, although I think BUR might be off the table. Of course, if you read some of the train-geek blogs, there's that one guy who keeps pushing Castle AFB as new Castle Airport in particular to replace SJC, since HSR would make it only 45 minutes away, and you wouldn't have to worry about fog at SFO.
Posted by: sfrenegade at December 10, 2010 1:05 PM
OK, yeah now I recall some sketch-line diagrams of a route for HSR to SFO though I don't remember them ever being seriously considered as part of the plan.
As for Castle AFB as a new SF bay area airport, this sort of has an additional advantage because unlike the other four big airstrips in the immediate bay area which will be destroyed, Castle AFB as well as Travis will survive the Big One. But expect HSR to be out of commission for many weeks after a big quake anyways so maybe that is not a real advantage.
And yeah Schipol's rail connection is awesome. As is Heathrow, Brussels, Gatwick, Stansted, Glasgow-Prestwick, Berlin-Schoenfeld, Paris-CDG, Munich, Frankfurt, Tokyo Narita, Tokyo Haneda, Shanghai, Manchester, Belfast City, ...
Frankfurt stands out in that it usually takes more time to get from your seat on the plane to the the airport train station than it takes to ride the train from the airport into town.
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at December 10, 2010 2:17 PM
Gilroy to Fresno in 90 min... LOL. At 43B, it will require hundreds of thousands passengers per day to break even. That would be the whole population of Gilroy and Fresno combined, many times over.
Posted by: Fish at December 10, 2010 5:13 PM
Well let's see... $43B. Interest rate of, say, 4.5% (government gets a better rate). That's $1.935B per year, or $161M/month, interest-only.
Suppose you want to compete with Southwest, so the round-trip fare is $190. So ... calculator ... let's see, 161,000,000 / 190 = 847,368 roundtrips per month. 30 days in a month gives us 28,245 roundtrips per day, every day.
Now, suppose you have one train per hour during the day and one every three hours at night, that's 18 trains + 2 = 20 trains per day. Each train would have to have 1400 paying customers ... or the equivalent of 10 Boeing 737's. Packed full. Every hour, of every day, forever.
Well ... its theoretically possible, I guess.
Posted by: Jimmy (No Longer Bitter) at December 10, 2010 5:35 PM
Theoretically possible if you ignore operating expenses, that is.
Nevermind. Its a boondoggle, but its cool as hell and California should rightly lead the nation in following the French, Japanese, Germans, Chinese and just about every other developed nation 30 years after they all built their first high-speed rail line.
Posted by: Jimmy (No Longer Bitter) at December 10, 2010 5:54 PM
And, while we're at it, the Chinese built a 600-mile long high speed rail, with a speed of 217 mph (faster than ours), for only $17.4B, or a mere $29M per mile. In contrast, our 350-mile track is projected to cost $43B, or $123M/mile, or 4X as much.
So, you know, just thinking outside the box here, but maybe we should import a ton of Chinese people to build the railway and save money that way.
Oh, wait ... nevermind.
Posted by: Jimmy (No Longer Bitter) at December 10, 2010 5:59 PM
Jimmy, don't you have to cut your number in half, since it could be $22B matched with $22B of federal money? Also, it would already be generating revenue under phase 1 before phase 2 is built. Right now only $10B in bonds have been authorized, seeking $10B in matching funds.
Of course, you can't look at government infrastructure expenditures this way, since you have to consider total value added per dollar spent, not just farebox revenue. Otherwise, we wouldn't even build freeways unless they were tollways.
Posted by: sfrenegade at December 10, 2010 6:05 PM
I think there are 300 flights between NorCal and SoCal every day, for comparison, so 200 would be undershooting.
217 mph is not faster than CA. CA is shooting for roughly the same -- 220 mph, with a certification speed of 242 mph (10%+). On the Peninsula, the train would be limited to 125 mph.
You are correct that we tend to have astronomical infrastructure costs in the U.S. I don't quite understand why. Maybe we don't have as many competent government engineers as in other countries, so we hire "consultants" who create infrastructure plans that gouge us.
Posted by: sfrenegade at December 10, 2010 6:09 PM
I don't quite understand why.
It's privatization and the free market saving us money hand over fist...
Posted by: BobN at December 10, 2010 6:55 PM
"It's privatization and the free market saving us money hand over fist..."
Perhaps. It seems like we could pay 10 awesome engineers found in a world-wide search $5M per annum each solely to design transportation infrastructure in the state of California, contract those Terrific Ten out to every transit agency in the state seeking state funds for free, and still save everyone a mint by making a good and cost-effective design for each project in the first place. After all, that's merely 1/10 of the overall budget of the Oakland Airport Connector, and 1-2 orders of magnitude smaller relative to projects such as BART-to-San Jose, tBART, the Bay Bridge east span, and HSR. Of course, maybe the idiot politicians would pork barrel the good design to death anyway, but it would probably be cheaper than having PBQD design projects, and then having idiot politicians pork barrel PBQD's design to death. The unions would probably complain too.
Posted by: sfrenegade at December 10, 2010 7:11 PM
Don't worry, China is not free from corruption by any means. We are just better at it.
Posted by: Jimmy (No Longer Bitter) at December 10, 2010 7:54 PM
Why don't they do the San Francisco - San Jose leg first?
In addition to what others have said, another reason HSR tracks are being laid in the middle of nowhere is because it will allow them to showcase true high-speed rail as soon as they lay enough track. If they started laying the peninsula leg first, they couldn't showcase true high speed rail until much later.
Suppose you want to compete with Southwest, so the round-trip fare is $190.
Airfares will almost certainly rise at a much faster rate than train fares due to rising oil prices. Regardless, I think there will be many people willing to pay a premium to ride HSR.
Don't forget that HSR will serve other communities besides SF and LA. Communities budget airlines don't fly into.
And, while we're at it, the Chinese built a 600-mile long high speed rail, with a speed of 217 mph (faster than ours), for only $17.4B, or a mere $29M per mile.
Sure. But the Chinese don't do environmental assessments, the workers aren't unionized, and they're not going to let a bunch of NIMBYs stop them from doing anything. And I'd assume that there's no governmental agency overseeing occupational health and safety.
Posted by: joh at December 11, 2010 12:07 AM
I find that comparing everything I do, plan to do, and already have done, to the equivalent in China always helps me make the best decisions.
I usually then decide that I shouldn't do anything cause the Chinese can do it cheaper.
So I just watch television all the time now.
Posted by: Kurt Brown at December 11, 2010 12:19 AM
Democracy is always more expensive. Imagine how much it would cost us to banish a Nobel prize winner. Chinese can do it simply with a edict and a few thugs to house arrest all related parties.
Posted by: Fish at December 11, 2010 1:37 AM
Is anyone not appalled at the wasteful spending associated with a project like this? CA has a major spending problem. Why go ahead with this crap? Spend money on our schools! Keep our streets safe!
I'm sorry but Californians get what they deserve when they vote for unnecessary projects like this.
Posted by: yunion at December 11, 2010 8:44 AM
"Why don't they do the San Francisco - San Jose leg first?"
That's the last leg needed, Caltrain already provides adequate though not "high speed" service between those cities. Deferring the SJ-SF segment also has the advantage of decoupling the peninsula fracas from the development of the rest of the system. I don't expect that many people will use HSR for that short and relatively slow speed segment anyways.
A HSR ticket from SJ-SF is going to cost at least double the normal Caltrain fare and you don't save that much time because normal Caltrain bullets will be electrified by then and faster than now.
As for building the first HSR segment "in the middle of nowhere" : this is been great fodder for the HSR detractors but pretty normal for other HSR build-outs. The first section of French TGV was built "in the middle of nowhere" between Paris and Lyon.
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at December 11, 2010 8:45 AM
We should thank them.
Go Wisconsin Badgers and Ohio State Buckeyes!
And the Packers...with our hometown kid Aaron Rodgers!
Posted by: Rincon Hill Billy at December 12, 2010 8:46 AM
In the past I alluded that one way around the "peninsula obstacle" is to terminate HSR in San Jose and use timed transfers to Caltrain expresses to reach SF. Now it seems as if local lawmakers are latching onto this idea.
It is just political positioning though because the impact of the service expansions required to support Caltrain tot HSR transfers is about the same as fully implementing HSR to SF. Plus these reps are ignoring the fact that Caltrain and HSR can easily be designed to be compatible. Scare tactics in line with their nimby constituents.
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at April 19, 2011 1:24 PM
I agree with Milkshake. This is a BAD idea. Also, it would require a ballot proposition because legislation states that HSR must go to Transbay Terminal.
The "Why duplicate?" question is silly -- one is long-distance rail, one is commuter rail. In order to have adequate Caltrain service to complement HSR, you'd need to greatly increase Caltrain service (and greatly increase Caltrain's budget) and likely have 4 tracks anyway. What a red herring for NIMBYs...
Posted by: sfrenegade at April 19, 2011 1:49 PM
Graduate level, you say. Then why the need to stick to the script? Well you know what they say about those who can't.
Posted by: anon.ed at April 19, 2011 2:08 PM
"...and likely have 4 tracks anyway."
Even if the actual volumes are half of what is projected we will definitely need four tracks from SJ to SF. And the timed transfers to caltrain express will need to extend past commute times to accommodate evening HSR arrivals and departures. If all of this happens without eliminating the remaining at-grade crossings on the peninsula where the train needs to toot its horn then the noise issues will be worse than if HSR makes it all the way to SF.
So expect that if the peninsula nimbys defeat HSR to SF they'll go after the whole project next.
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at April 20, 2011 7:33 AM
Caltrain is broke. They just announced they are going to suspend much of the ongoing maintenance to keep the trains running, but obviouly that can't last and next year, their finances will be in much worse shape. If you stop maintenance, it's much more costly in the end.
So the announcement is really just an admission that caltrain is basically dead, and the only plan is to glom onto the HSR funds.
Posted by: tipster at April 20, 2011 8:33 AM
I live in San Mateo and totally support HSR and Caltrain electrification. A lot of my neighbors have these stupid signs on their lawns that read "Here comes high speed rail ... there goes the neighborhood." Which is nuts since we are over a mile from the tracks (West) already. I can still hear the occasional train which has to sound its horn at each grade-level crossing, but that constant blaring of horns has got to be infuriating for those living closer.
I would be ecstatic if all the grade-level crossings and associated racket were to disappear tomorrow, to be replaced by silent, high-speed (and frequent) electric trains to downtown SF, San Jose and points south. Its long past time we upgraded our train service to at least what France had in the 1970s. We can work on the 21st century later ...
Posted by: Jimmy (No Longer Bitter) at April 20, 2011 9:22 AM
"I can still hear the occasional train which has to sound its horn at each grade-level crossing, but that constant blaring of horns has got to be infuriating for those living closer."
It will be much quieter. Diesels are loud, and electrics are much quieter, and as Jimmy mentioned, the horns will end because of grade separation. These NIMBYs knew they bought houses near a historic (actually historic, unlike North Beach bookshelves) rail right of way, and that rail right of way has increased their home values and will continue to do so when the trains become electric.
Posted by: sfrenegade at April 20, 2011 10:13 AM
"It will be much quieter. Diesels are loud, and electrics are much quieter" Just like the Bart tains I presume. The toot of a horn versus the screeching of Bart trains. No contest.
HSR will be a boondogggle on the scale of or even bigger than the big dig
Posted by: guest at April 20, 2011 11:13 AM
How would HSR be a failure in CA when it is a smashing success just about everywhere else it has been deployed. Is there something about CA that prevents HSR from becoming a success?
I don't doubt that there will be cost overruns and mistakes though. That's an unfortunate consequence of almost any large and complex project. Even my little deck project had mistakes and cost overruns.
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at April 20, 2011 11:20 AM
"HSR will be a boondogggle on the scale of or even bigger than the big dig"
Do you even know anything about the Big Dig? Or even about HSR?
HSR has the ability to make a profit as it does in every other country. In addition, HSR can attract private companies interested in investing in it. Let's also not forget that building HSR is more cost effective and much cheaper than subsidizing more road building and airport expansion.
Posted by: sfrenegade at April 20, 2011 11:21 AM
"I don't doubt that there will be cost overruns and mistakes though."
It depends. The Fort McHenry Tunnel in the Baltimore Harbor came in under budget. Of course, they weren't building in a seismic zone and had significantly less insane NIMBYs.
Nonetheless, BART to Warm Springs is on-time and under budget, even though BART projects are infamous for being neither. Stage 1 was anticipated at $250M, but the bid came in at $137M, likely because of the economy:
Posted by: sfrenegade at April 20, 2011 11:31 AM
"HSR has the ability to make a profit as it does in every other country". Maybe but how about here--like Bart, Cal Train, Muni, SP, all of the other RRs in this country. Yes HSR is great in China, and France(?)
Bogus argument about road building. I agree if we can change the last 100 years of progress here.
Posted by: guest at April 20, 2011 1:21 PM
German, France, Spain, Japan, and England too... Spain is a particularly good example because LA to SF could be very similar to AVE's success in taking the majority share of travel between Barcelona and Madrid. Spain's population density is similar to California's.
You haven't really refuted the argument against road building through any evidence or data, but you did give a bogus argument comparing HSR to commuter rail. HSR is a replacement for medium distance travel that would ordinarily be a short plane ride or a longish car trip. Other railroads don't serve this distance particularly well or particularly efficiently to be competitive with either car travel or airplane travel, largely because railroads give priority to freight here, but HSR can easily be competitive to both on the LA to SF distance.
Posted by: sfrenegade at April 20, 2011 1:38 PM
guest - do you have any info or examples to back up your claims of "bogus" and "boondoggle"? Or is this just an emotional response?
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at April 20, 2011 1:56 PM
yes, an emotional response to HSRers who think their vision of the future is the only correct one. The vision of the future like "German, France, Spain, Japan, and England too". Germany is the only one that holds any future promise. Coninue to disregard the history of the rise and FALL of rail service in this country. (I know--the car manufactureres did it)
Build the damn thing without bankrupting the society and they will come. Even me if convenient.
Posted by: guest at April 20, 2011 2:11 PM
In other words, nothing substantive to say, other than to crap on HSR, and no real knowledge of the project (or of the Big Dig!). That's always good!
If you're worried about the California budget, it's not a direct grant from the budget, and it depends on matching funds from the feds. The unintelligent commenters on SFGate make this mistake all the time.
Posted by: sfrenegade at April 20, 2011 2:41 PM
Another way to bankrupt society is to build a massive multi-billion dollar transportation infrastructure, require anyone who uses it to invest thousands of their own money into equipment and real estate for storage, and become beholden to a single limited energy source that is running out, causing prices to rise.
Oh wait. We already did that.
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at April 20, 2011 2:41 PM
Anyone noticed this?
Basically the HSR would move on the existing tracks through the peninsula, for the sake of saving money and getting the project moving. Of course it would be slower than a proper HSR...
Something similar was done when the Channel tunnel was built between Brussels, Paris and London. The Brits were lacking the $$$ to build HSR on their side, the trains were doing 190mph on the continent, 120 or so in the tunnel, then would slow down to 100 once on UK soil. The Brits finally found the means and will to do the job right.
Posted by: lol at May 5, 2011 2:28 PM
"Basically the HSR would move on the existing tracks through the peninsula, for the sake of saving money and getting the project moving. Of course it would be slower than a proper HSR..."
It's a terrible idea to appease the NIMBYs who knowingly live on a 100+ year old right of way. First of all, the proposal is against the law because the project must provide a ride from SF to LA in a prescribed amount of time.
Second, it provides a number of technical hurdles, such as dealing with passing track and grade separation (which will be required with the increased volume of trains), even though it makes sense to have some degree of compatibility between Caltrain and HSR.
Third, the proposal is internally consistent. They supposedly want to reduce the cost but want do things that are more expensive like trenching.
This is just a way for these politicians to try to placate both sides -- to acknowledge the loud but small in number NIMBYs, while trying to come out in favor of the project overall.
CAHSRBlog has written some editorials on this:
"The Brits finally found the means and will to do the job right."
This is generally a lot easier to do in Europe, by the way, because Europe doesn't have FRA. FRA requirements generally require passenger trains to meet onerous requirements because they share rail with freight trains. As such, a non-exempt train would never be able to go 220 mph because it would be too heavy. Caltrain, luckily, was able to get an exemption from certain FRA requirements, and I assume HSR will too.
Also, Europe isn't outright hostile to trains as the loud NIMBYs seem to be and understand the concept of a right of way. If anything, property values would probably go up because electric trains are quiet relative to diesel, there will be no whistles because grade crossings will be eliminated, the diesel stink will be gone, fewer cars will idle in traffic, and there will be a convenient transport system benefiting the Peninsula. Logic is beyond these people -- they just want any delay possible to kill the project.
Posted by: sfrenegade at May 5, 2011 4:14 PM
I remember back when the Eurostar network was high speed except for the English part. The sleek train would pull out of London Waterloo station and through the normal slow maneuvers that you'd expect at any large terminus, speeding up to about 50MPH. But then it would trundle along beneath century old brick bridges. Sometimes it would even wait for the track to clear ahead. The Continentals snickered at the Brits.
Yeah, we could do that for a while while the peninsula mess got sorted out, but for what? There really aren't any other viable route options between SJ and SF.
Posted by: The Milkshake of Despair at May 5, 2011 8:54 PM
Yeah, I took the Eurostart 3 or 4 times when it was still in slo-mo on the British side. When you went from France into the Chunnel, you'd slow down. When you went from GB to the chunnel, it's ACCELERATE.
I blame Thatcher. She was just like today's republicans: gut the core assets of a country, see the infrastructure fail, then blame government inefficiencies for the problems and push for more gov reduction.
Same thing in the US now: deregulation of banking has put us in a mess + irresponsible tax cuts, and Republicans are blaming Big Govt for the resulting problems.
Posted by: lol at May 5, 2011 10:37 PM