A 110 mph Upgrade Example for San Joaquins

See links below to an article and website about proposed upgrades to existing Chicago-Detroit Amtrak corridor service on existing tracks, to 110 mph standards and other improvements, all for less than $3 billion.

As shown by the Chicago-Detroit corridor example, with the addition of a Bakersfield-Los Angeles route via Tejon Pass–34 miles shorter than via Tehachapi–conventional upgraded San Joaquins could travel from Sacramento or the Bay Area to Los Angeles Union Station in ~4 hours, 45 minutes versus ~3 hours for 220 mph non-stop express high speed rail, or 3 hours, 30 minutes+/- for a high speed “all stops local.”

But CAHSRA wants Calfornia taxpayers to spend another $50 to $100 billion on top of the $10-$12 billion+/-  a combined San Joaquin upgrade/Tejon route would cost to save a maximum of 60-90 minutes per trip. While 3.0-3.5 hour travel times are needed to effectively compete with air travel between Sacramento/Bay Area and Southern California, they are not needed to compete with most intercity trips, which are made by automobile.



CHSRA Responds Directly to TRAC; Our Response

TRAC’s opinion piece on September 28th (http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed/article2614730.html) in the Sacramento Bee apparently annoyed the denizens of the California High Speed Rail Authority, leading to a response by CEO Jeff Morales (http://www.sacbee.com/opinion/op-ed/article2623053.html), plus a followup, much more detailed letter directly to TRAC on October 22 (http://www.calrailnews.net/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Response-to-TRAC-10.21.14.pdf).

The text of our response to Morales’ Bee op-ed and followup letter is presented below.

Mr. Morales:
You PR people chose to reiterate their talking points rather than respond to our arguments, in composing your October 21 letter responding to our SacBee OpEd. Key examples:
You write “We remain confident that an operating segment can be delivered with existing funds and future Cap and Trade proceeds, at which point a private entity would pay for the rights to operate the system (and receive the revenue it generates), thus allowing for completion of the full statewide system.” Note the lack of an answer for how CHSRA will fill the $26 billion shortfall in the budget for its Initial Operating Segment, which it admits needs to be complete before any private investment is possible. We all know Cap and Trade won’t go that far.
Your people either don’t understand or refuse to accept the judicial rulings. As we wrote, both the trial court and the Court of Appeal found deficiencies in CHSRA’s compliance with Proposition 1A. The Court of Appeal, however, ruled there was no remedy for the failure to comply, at this time. The Supreme Court chose to not review that decision. In no way did it “reaffirm compliance.”
Your comments about “what the Congress and President appropriated under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act” betray either an intentional misstatement of the terms of the legislation, or ignorance of them. Several Midwestern states are upgrading Amtrak service to 110 mph under that program, on “tracks owned by private freight operators.”
You write “Currently, there is no passenger rail link between Bakersfield and the Los Angeles Basin…” If CHSRA makes good on its intention to proceed with Palmdale-Burbank, there won’t be one for a very long time. While it wasn’t mentioned in the OpEd due to space considerations, TRAC has long considered the missing rail link as its top state priority.
You write “We have consulted extensively with experienced foreign governments and high-speed rail operators to improve and refine our plans.” This is a far cry from the open bidding process we recommend, where the successful bidder puts capital at risk, rather than mere advice.
Finally, you offer a very skewed reading of Proposition 1A. CHSRA is reverent about complying with legislative intent (except that of having an operating system by 2020), even though these are not mandatory provisions. Yet it brazenly flouts the mandatory requirements–the part of the bill it didn’t write–and then begs the Supreme Court for a Get out of Jail Free card when caught.
If you wonder how CHSRA managed to alienate rail advocates that would otherwise be its natural supporters, look no further than these points.

Spanish HSR Station & Tunnel Flood In Girona, Spain

Photo – Flooded High Speed Rail Station in Girona, Spain

By Richard F. Tolmach

Barcelona-Figueres AVE high-speed trains as well as all Spanish international TGV service was stopped for over a week, following heavy rain September 29 that flooded the Girona AVE station and blocked the six kilometer tunnel north of the station. About 15,000 riders were negatively affect- ed, and several hundred trains cancelled.

Renfe was initially forced to cancel all AVE (high speed) and AVANT (regional expresses) north of Barcelona, partly because the line was cut, partly because the entire local fleet was stranded in Figueres. By three days after the incident, water was drained from Girona AVE sta- tion and service was re-established to that point, using sets borrowed from Madrid. The fleet shortage and delays turning trains also somewhat disrupted and delayed Barcelona-Madrid AVE service.

The line north of Girona was more chal- lenging, because infrastructure operator ADIF had to clear 15 million gallons of water from the last mile of the tunnel, a process that lasted several more days. ADIF requested help from the army’s Emergency Military Unit (UME) which brought 84 sol- diers, 30 vehicles, a boat and an aircraft

to Girona. Its pumps were theoretically capable of moving 300,000 gallons an hour, but the distance between the closest access point and the water meant slower progress.

Conditions for travelers to Figueres and France were chaotic. Passengers were gen- erally redirected to conventional regional trains or bus shuttles, but without much warning. International passengers clogged both Girona and Perpignan stations, waiting for delayed buses to show up.

Between 2 and 4 inches of rain fell in the 24 hours preceding the tunnel problem. This certainly was not a 100-year storm, but set a record for more than decade, because the region has had low rainfall for years. Various streets and highways around Girona also flooded at the same time.

The Girona AVE station was particu- larly vulnerable to flooding because it was placed underground next to a watercourse. The conventional Renfe station above it, perched 20 feet above water level and with a modern viaduct connecting northward, was relatively unaffected.

The AVE station filled to platform level, approximating the appearance of a Venetian canal. The tunnel filled to 7 meters height, enough to submerge the catenary. Luckily, no trains were on the line at the time.

For three days, ADIF was silent on the cause of the flood, but then blamed the problem on city infrastructure. ADIF went so far as to claim that flooding of AVE through Girona acted to divert water from flooding city streets, which prevented “greater harm” to the city itself.

Girona Mayor Carles Puigdemont retort- ed, calling the ADIF statement “a shameful text that is an insult to public intelligence.”

Opening the line required overcoming many problems. The tunnels were filled with mud, which had to be cleaned with more water. Until the tunnels were dry, ADIF technicians couldn’t check damage caused to catenary or AVE’s electrical and signalling equipment.

Ironically, less than a week after the disaster, Girona hosted a summit of cit-
ies on high speed for which French par- ticipants had to arrive by bus. Girona Parliamentary representative Santi Vila believes that the AVE flood made the Rajoy administration “ridiculous in the eyes of the world.” In a speech before Parliament, he noted that Rajoy has made high speed rail its flagship project, and characterized the tunnel flood as a “collapse of a project of which [Rajoy] boasted until recently.”

Mayor Puigdemont not only criticized the AVE project for negligence, but for intrin- sic safety flaws in its design. He made
the point that many lives would had been in danger if the tunnel had flooded when trains were operating instead of overnight. The tunnel section below the river was one of the most expensive features of the line through Girona, but now seems to have become the Achilles heel of the project.

On October 10, the Girona City Council overwhelmingly passed a resolution stating that the event showed that the AVE line, although operating for 21 months through Girona, is clearly not completed and lacks essential safety provisions.

Officials characterized ADIF as having produced “totally unnecessary and unac- ceptable risk.” The text concludes by ask- ing ADIF to complete “immediately and urgently without further delay” remaining work especially in Central Park and in the neighborhood of Sant Narcís. It has been forwarded to the Minister for Public Works, Ana Pastor, the Ministry of Development and President of ADIF.

The resolution criticizes ADIF for resum- ing service without adequate security. Mayor Puigdemont was sent to Madrid to put ADIF on notice of the City’s concerns..

16th Century Dutch Invented Timed Transfers, Clock Headways

Photo – English Canal Boats (By Graham Horn)

NOT the Swiss.

From the September-November issue of TRAC’s California Rail News (http://www.calrailnews.net/cal-rail-news-archive/):

The Pursuit of Glory, Cambridge professor Tim Blanning’s 2007 study of baroque to modern Europe (Viking Press 2007, $39.95) provides revealing insight on timetable innovations and passenger amenities which predate railroads by over two centuries. Here are some choice excerpts:

“The Dutch economic historian Jan de Vries has reconstructed a journey under- taken in the mid-seventeenth century from Dunkirk, in … the Spanish Netherlands, to Amsterdam in the Dutch Republic.”

De Vries describes regular scheduled departures for most of the way. The barge pulled by four horses on the Bruges-Ghent canal, according to the contemporaneous British tourist Thomas Nugent was “the most remarkable boat of the kind in all of Europe; for it is a perfect tavern divided into several apartments, with a very good … [meal] at dinner of six or seven dishes, and all sorts of wine at moderate prices.”

Following a coach segment to Antwerp and two sailing segments onward toward Rotterdam, “on the following day he could once again benefit from fixed timetables. He took the 5 a.m. barge, the first departure of a scheduled service which left every hour on the hour for Delft, changed there for Leiden … finally reaching Amsterdam at 6:15 in the evening.” …

Blanning opines, “Once established, the idea that ‘time is money’ meant that coach or barge companies with an atti- tude of ‘we’ll start when I feel like it’ were doomed. Travelling by passenger-barge in the Dutch Republic in 1670, Sir William Temple wrote: ‘by this easie way of travelling, an industrious man loses no time from his business, for he writes and eats, or sleeps while he goes; whereas the time of laboring or industrious men is the greatest native commodity of any country.’”

Makes one wonder if there were any similar services in the Roman Empire, of which there is no record…

CHSRA CEO Morales Misses Point of TRAC Op-Ed

Instead of responding substantively to my piece in the Sacramento Bee on Monday, September 29th, California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) CEO Jeff Morales merely repeated his agency’s PR schtick. His article read like something written by CHSRA’s “Office of Communications” e.g., their PR flacks.

Reading between the lines, however, Mr. Morales’ article spoke volumes: by claiming “interest” in the HSR project by private companies and investors, he tacitly admitted that CHSRA actually has no commitments for private capital.

After some more verbal gesticulating including a specious claim that American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds can’t be moved to upgrading existing lines (a political choice by the Obama Administation, not a legal one), Morales failed to explain where CHSRA will get the $26 billion of public funds his plan calls for. This means that private investment is an utter pipe dream.

In short, if the courts are kind to CHSRA, they may manage to blow through $6 billion improving railroad service through downtown Fresno. After that, though, the current manifestation of HSR in California is dead in the water. CHSRA simply doesn’t have the money to build much more of its insanely expensive infrastructure, and has no idea where they will get any more money, public or private.

Another Claim: Private Sector Can’t Build High Speed Rail

In his recent response ( to TRAC’s opinion piece in the Sacramento Bee (see http://www.sacbee.com/2014/09/29/6743679/viewpoints-heres-a-better-high.html), blogger Robert Cruickshank claimed:

The idea that the private sector would pay for HSR tunnels from Bakersfield to LA is absurd. They are not going to pay billions to do so. It’s too big a lift, too much risk, for the private sector to pull off. I am skeptical of the claims made in Texas that HSR can be built without any public funds, but it’s more plausible there given that Texas has much less challenging geography than California – especially between Bakersfield and LA.

First of all, the private sector would NOT build long tunnels between Bakersfield and Los Angeles. Only a HSR plan apparently unconstrained by cost, and built by people with no experience in actual HSR construction and operations, would propose such a thing. Think of CHSRA…

Second, five years ago in 2009, SNCF America proposed a HSR system in California that could be constructed with a large percentage of private dollars. They also proposed similar, HSR networks in Texas, the Midwest and Florida. See http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2009/09/19/breaking-sncf-proposes-development-of-high-speed-rail-in-midwest-texas-florida-and-california-corridors/

More details on SNCF’s California proposals and how they were covered up:



Bringing More Train Travel To California