CHSRA’s Backup Funding Plans Show Need To Win Federal Funding

May 31st, 2010 | Posted by

The California High Speed Rail Authority will discuss a draft response to the flawed State Auditor’s report at their board meeting this Thursday. One element of their response deals with the Auditor’s nonsense claim that the CHSRA’s funding plan is too risky. Mike Rosenberg wrote a very good article on that aspect late on Friday evening:

In its response, the agency said it has asked its financial consultants to find additional ways to bankroll the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles rail line. The auditor and project critics fear the agency’s current funding plan is too optimistic, which could result in delays or a partial railroad that cannot be completed.

First, let us be very clear here: the Auditor is completely mistaken to fear that a “partial railroad that cannot be completed” could be a result of the HSR project. The Auditor apparently did not understand the concept of “independent utility” – meaning any spending of currently secured money can only go to HSR projects that can be usable even if that’s all that is ever built. Whether that failure to understand was an oversight (calling into question the Auditor’s competence) or a deliberate slight (calling into question the Auditor’s objectivity) is still unknown.

But as a result of the Auditor’s criticism, the CHSRA is examining alternative funding strategies:

But the alternative funding options will outline how the agency could finance construction under the best- and worst-case scenarios, in case the agency cannot get the federal grants it expects or has difficulty attracting investors, for instance.

Rail authority officials have said the backup funding plans could simply show that the state will get its money over a longer period of time, which would drive up project costs because of inflation.

Let’s hope the Authority is familiar with the fate of the Seattle Monorail, which found itself short in its motor vehicle excise tax revenues and proposed to get its money over a longer period of time. The media ran with the proposed estimate, blowing it all out of proportion, and when the possible $11 billion figure (for a monorail that was to cost between $1-$2 billion) was publicized, it was enough to convince voters to kill the project at the November 2005 election.

The CHSRA ought to take care how it reports on such a worst-case scenario. They also should point out that such a long-term construction plan would only come about because the Auditor misunderstood some basic things about how infrastructure projects get funded by the feds (you have to have all your environmental work done AND local/state funds; until then federal funding is merely a wish and a hope no matter what it is you’re trying to build).

It does appear that the CHSRA board also understands another extremely important point – that there is such a thing as too much federal funding:

But Diridon said the newest plans could also show more reliance on private financing. While it would decrease the agency’s dependence on government grants, he cautioned about giving the project’s reins over to investors.

“We have to be careful that we don’t give up so much control over the project that ultimately fares are too high or the quality of service would be eroded without the control of the state,” Diridon said.

Diridon is putting it mildly. We have a significant amount of evidence that too much private investment will cause the financial and operational problems that HSR critics wrongly claim will result from public funding. Taiwan is the classic cautionary tale, with about 80% of its construction costs coming from the private sector. The debt service was unrealistic, and Taiwan’s HSR system was forced to open with a truncated line. Although Taiwan saw high HSR ridership levels and significant modal shift away from planes and cars to the trains, the debt service levels were so high that default was inevitable, and a state bailout ultimately necessary. A similar fate befell the Channel Tunnel, built primarily with private funds at the ideological insistence of Margaret Thatcher.

Overreliance on private funding would be a disaster for California high speed rail. The way we avoid that is to secure the federal funding we need to complete the project and ensure that private funding comes at small, acceptable levels (with minimal levels of risk). The State Auditor did not appear to understand this, nor do those in the Legislature who ostensibly support HSR but are touting the Auditor’s report seem to understand how that flawed report could undermine the effort to win federal funding.

Finally, nobody seems to be discussing the risks and costs that come with doing nothing. Sadly, that’s an ongoing problem here in California, where people assume that if we don’t build HSR, we face no risks and no costs.

The risks and costs that come with not building HSR are considerable. If California remains dependent on oil, we might see increased pressure to open the coast to more offshore drilling, which will eventually cause a repeat of the 1969 Santa Barbara oil spill or the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill and cause major damage to the state’s environment and economy. We will definitely face the economic impact of rising gas prices, which will cripple any economic recovery we might experience in the near future.

After having sat in traffic on Interstate 5 in the middle of the Central Valley today (thank god I was able to turn off at Highway 46, having only to suffer about 15 minutes of slow-going), and watched the massive backup from Santa Barbara to the edges of the San Fernando Valley on Highway 101 on Saturday, I can also attest to the costs of the existing traffic congestion. If somehow there is a miraculous innovation that enables electric cars to be built and charged at or below the present cost of gas-powered cars – and that enables the resulting massive electricity demand to be met cheaply – then California will still be faced with a huge bill to widen the freeways, a bill that has been estimated to run between $80 and $160 billion. (Highway 99 widening alone will cost at least $25 billion).

Of course, there are the environmental costs of all that driving, and the huge risk to the state’s economy of the changes to our climate that our dependence on oil has produced and will continue to exacerbate if not reduced.

None of those risks or costs was included in the State Auditor’s report. They should have been, and the Authority would be wise to mention those risks and costs in their own reply. It’s about time that someone took a look at the true risks and costs faced by California regarding HSR, instead of making an artificially limited study as the State Auditor did.

  1. rafael
    Jun 1st, 2010 at 07:44

    Using an all-electric car to drive long distances isn’t ever going to feasible, never mind cost- or time-effective. The very limited operating radius supported by and relatively long recharge cycles of batteries were what prompted F.A. Porsche to add an emergency generator featuring an internal combustion engine. In 1901.

    Now, General Motors is effectively betting its future on the success of Electric Range Extended Vehicles (E-REVs), which are – drum roll please – electric cars with emergency generators. The emergency being that the batteries are empty after 40 miles, IFF you drive like a grandmother, don’t switch on the A/C and there’s no headwind.

    Meanwhile, Shai Agassi (ex-SAP bigwig) is touting the idea of swapping out the entire battery pack at a network of recharge stations. It weighs several hundred pounds and constitutes a huge chuck of the cost of manufacturing the car. Jetsons future, meet pony express past.

    All this is not to say that the gradual electrification of the passenger car fleet is a bad idea. A lot of miles are in fact driven locally, the average daily distance is below 30 miles – which is possible on a single charge of a fairly large pack of modern Li-ion batteries. There’s also reason to believe that all the money being invested in battery R&D will gradually reduce the purchase price and/or extend the feasible range (don’t expect miracles on the latter score, though).

    For a less sexy but decidedly more affordable option, look into riding a bicycle for trips of under 5 miles. If you tend to travel in level terrain, add a 250W electric motor and battery and you can easily stretch that to 10 before you run out of time (the battery range is more like 50). If you live in hill country, a 600W motor will get you up a 10% incline without breaking a sweat. A battery pack required for that power rating will have enough capacity for 1500-2000 feet of elevation gain and, a fraction of the charge can be recovered on descent. It’s mountain biking, Jim, but not as you know it.

    The larger point here is that electrifying our transportation systems involves not just technological innovation but also a willingness to think differently about personal mobility. We’re so habituated to the concept of making do with the downsides – and there are many – of a jack-of-all-trades conventional car that our first instinct is to look for a drop-in-replacement. Note the marked contrast to our attitudes on communications and entertainment technology, where novelty and featuritis reign supreme.

    You’ll get more quality of life for your shift from gasoline to electrons if you embrace cycling for very short to short distances, an electric car for short to medium distances incl. the daily grind of hauling kids/stuff and electric trains for rush hour (subways, commuter rail) and long-haul travel (HSR). This isn’t about gee whiz bang. It’s about staying mobile in the 21st century without having to invade distant countries or laying waste to the seafood industry. Will you have to rethink how you live, work and play in order to move on juice? Yes. Will your quality of life improve as a result after a transition period? Yes!

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    Individual consumers however, don’t control the urban planning decisions which are necessary to make the “transition” of which you speak.

    The electric car is a good option in that it will cause the consumer to think about range in a positive way…as a reason to embrace density and less long-range driving. After all, if your car gets 250 miles to the charge, and you live less than 25 miles from where you work…you’d only need to charge it on the weekend. Americans have already adapted in some way, look at behavior about cell phones. People are cognizant to charge them as needed, and the time between charges can be less than routine.

    Inevitably you are going to see more inner density in places like Los Angeles, San Diego, and the like. You are going to still see people of means want to have a single family dwelling, and the electric car can help encourage those people to live reasonably close to where they work. HSR meanwhile, will help to rationalize urban planning decisions about density statewide.

    Besides, freight is still going to be shipped by a vehicle (train or truck) that uses diesel. That’s a whole ‘nother problem, given that consumers can’t exactly compete with WalMart on prices.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Rail freight can move using electricity. There used to be an extensive network under the Pennsylvania Railroad that Conrail abandoned. The Milwaukee Road had one that stretched for hundreds of miles. There’s still one that hauls coal to a power plant in Arizona. Outside of the US it’s used for freight also. Diesel engines can burn many things effectively. It doesn’t even have to be a petroleum distillate.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    At NEC electrification costs, the cost of electrifying the entire US freight rail network would be about $350 billion.

    Samsonian Reply:

    I know I shouldn’t be, but I’m a bit surprised at the high cost of electrifying existing rail lines in the US.

    After all, we have one of the most extensive electric grids anywhere, and a huge industry that builds and maintains it reasonably well. Why doesn’t that carryover to electrifying rail lines?

    D. P. Lubic Reply:


  2. Missiondweller
    Jun 1st, 2010 at 08:44

    “….the concept of “independent utility” – meaning any spending of currently secured money can only go to HSR projects that can be usable even if that’s all that is ever built.”

    In practical terms, what does this mean? Will HSR start at one end and gradually be expanded until finished or can the Metro areas of SF and LA begin building to make use of the local commuter market until the project is finished?

    In other words, if the entire project cannot be built at once until 100% funding is identified, what will get built first? Do we know?

    rafael Reply:

    Yes, we do. LA-Anaheim and SF-SJ have been prioritized, along with the high speed section between Fresno and Bakersfield. Even if funds for the full starter line were to dry up, those sections could be put to good use for strictly regional passenger service based on appropriate rolling stock.

    Missiondweller Reply:

    Thanks rafael

    Eric L Reply:

    Really? I’d have expected those (other than Fresno-Bakersfield) to be last. Not because a Fresno-Bakersfield route would justify the ridership, but it gets you well on your way to connecting the LA area to the Bay area, and if you don’t connect those it’s hardly worth investing in HSR.

    Peter Reply:

    But prioritizing LA-Anaheim and SJ-SF would guarantee that Caltrain and Metrolink services along those corridors was improved dramatically.

    Joey Reply:

    The urban and central valley sections are going to be first (in no definite order), with the mountain crossings being last, according to what the CHSRA is working on currently.

    HSRforCali Reply:

    As it should be. The CV will serve as a test track where trains will reach their maximum speed while urban sections will permit the upgrading of existing commuter and inter-city rail lines. The faster speeds and shorter travel times should help build further support for high-speed rail. Also, the test track should generate a great amount of excitment both in Sacramento and Washington. Imagine watching a US Bullet Train whipping across the CV at 220 mph, even if it’s only a test track. Naturally, people will want more of this service after witnessing it for themselves which will generate further support.

    rafael Reply:

    Actually, legacy FRA-compliant rolling stock will not be permitted onto the new HSR tracks because its axle loads are too high. Neither Metrolink nor Amtrak currently have any plans to purchase lightweight non-compliant equipment that could be, since that equipment would not be permitted to operate on the portions of their respective routes that are shared with other railways, notably UPRR and BNSF, tht operate FRA-compliant trains.

    IFF the HSR starter line were never completed due to lack of funds, AB3034(2008) would permit the repurposing of the track portions that are for improved regional passenger rail service. However, the axle load limit would still apply, so Metrolink would have to redefine its routes and purchase special rolling stock to leverage the investment. Amtrak probably wouldn’t be able to as long as it is constrained by FRA’s prohibition on mixed traffic in the Burbank-Santa Barbara-SLO and Anaheim-San Diego section of the Pacific Surfliner route.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    If I did my arithmetic right they are light enough. An Amfleet car is 53 tonnes.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The Amfleet load may not be evenly distributed. By way of example, the Velaro weighs 56 tons per car, but has an axle load of 17 tons. And the Amfleet car still needs a locomotive to drive it. By trailer standards, it’s insanely heavy; German and Swiss equivalents weigh 40 tons, and Japanese equivalents barely 30.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    53 divided by 4 is 14.5. He’s blowing smoke about cars, not locomotives. Max speed on the Peninsula is going to 125MPH, class 6 track. Freight rarely moves on anything better than calss 4 track but some does move on the Northeast Corridor. “Too heavy” is blowing smoke.

    rafael Reply:

    When I said “rolling stock”, I meant the whole passenger train, not just the unpowered cars. That was a little inaccurate for legacy equipment, but in the HSR world the term refers to entire self-propelled trainsets.

    Besides, other than HSR tractor cars, which standard gauge locomotives even come in at static axle loads of less than 17 metric tons? The Japanese may have something off-the-shelf, but much of their legacy network is still on narrow gauge.

    I suppose CHSRA could spend a little bit extra so the SF-SJ and LA-Anaheim sections can be rated at 22.5t – just to make sure those segments will indeed be useful for regional rail services if the funds needed to complete the entire starter line never materialize. That way, all Metrolink would need to to is buy some (second hand?) non-compliant electric locomotives, not entire non-HSR trainsets (cp. Caltrain EMUs).

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Adirondacker: first, 53/4 = 13.25. And second, my point is that load isn’t always distributed evenly within the car. It isn’t on the Velaro, for one.

    Rafael: Japan has a zillion low-speed standard gauge trains. Some of the busiest private railroads are standard-gauge, for example Kintetsu. Those railroads run commuter trains with axle loads that rarely go above 8-9 tons/axle, and limited express trains that rarely go above 11-12. And DB runs an EMU at 10 tons/axle on one of the S-Bahn lines, but I forget which.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    And his argument is that Oh Noes!!! mean old evil Amtrak is going to try to run dirty old smelly trains that will give cooties to the shiny new electric trains. Mean old evil Amtrak runs trains today, everyday, at speeds higher than will be used around San Francisco or Los Angeles now. Nearly antique HH8s and AEM7s drag creaky old Amfleets over Class 6 and Class 7 track everyday, more or less once an hour. It shouldn’t be a problem if Amtrak hauls a few trains a day for a few miles over the shiny new track that has those scary electric wires over it.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Amfleets may not have the desired reliability. The MDBF needs to be at the very least in the high six digits. Seven digits would be preferable. The M7s cut it. I don’t think the Amfleets do.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Amfleets will be retired soon, 35 year old design. His argument wasn’t that they are old. Or that they are outdated. His argument was that Amtrak doesn’t have any scary electric trains that could run on track designed for 125 MPH. They do. You may not want to run it for lots of reasons but they have it. And the scary electric trains not only use electricity and run at 125 MPH they also have as signal system that is functionally similar to ERTMS. . . and they run on the same tracks and to the same platforms as the diesel trains without the sky failling, the cows going dry or any other perturbations of the universe’s calm.

    dejv Reply:

    Rafael, this wouldn’t be a big problem in European context.

    First, the track loading class decreases with speed. The HS lines have a 17 t/axle limit for high speed train, but at speeds up to 120-160 km/h, they can support heaviest widespread loading class in Europe – D4 (22.5 t/axle, 8 t/m). Bridges are usually designed with some reserve, like to the UIC-71 loading train that has four 250 kN point forces with 1.6 m spacing (the rest is covered by 80 kN/m distributed load) – making future accomodation of trains with 25 t/axle possible.

    Second, locomotive loading class is usually lower than it’s weight would suggest – that way, most of European electrics that weigh 89.something t are classified as “C” load, permitting them to go in 20 t/axle territory.

    Even if you discard second point, the first is still valid and that makes possible running of some NEC-Regional consists on CAHSR all stop services.

    Peter Reply:

    Not to mention that the mountain crossings will likely be most difficult and time-consuming.

    rafael Reply:

    In a sane world, there would be a political commitment to fund the entire starter line before any dirt is turned. That would permit planners to prioritize the mountain sections because take the longest to complete.

    In the real world of California politics, the portions of the line that run through the most densely populated areas have been prioritized. That’s a close second best because local opposition and legal challenges mean work in those sections is more susceptible to delays. There are also numerous other infrastructure projects at the city and county levels that are proceeding in parallel and HSR planning needs to take into account.

    Finally, postponing the mountain sections increases the chances that the HSR industry can come up with technology that will allow further reductions in the length of individual tunnels and the total number of miles tunneled. Besides, it’s not as if the right of way issues on the approaches to those tunneled systems have already been resolved. If CHSRA cannot fight its way through south San Jose, then the Pacheco Pass section is not viable. Likewise, if it cannot fight its way out of the San Fernando Valley and through the Antelope Valley, the sections through Soledad Canyon and the Tehachapis are not viable.

  3. rafael
    Jun 1st, 2010 at 09:23

    Back to Robert’s post on funding: I invite readers of this blog to think of ways to reduce the cost of the project while maintaining or improving on its utility. In particular, think out of the box in terms of reducing total tunnel miles, in built-up areas as well as through the mountains.

    For example, is “Thou shalt not construct gradients steeper than 3.5%” the 11th commandment, immutable for all enternity? Hint: some of Deutsche Bahn’s ICE routes already feature sections with a 4% gradient. It’s one thing to expand an existing network that has to work for both legacy and new HSR rolling stock during a long transition period. It’s another to start from scratch.

    How much cost could be taken out of the starter line infrastructure if the gradient limit were raised to 4 or even 4.5% by pushing the technology envelope on traction force, at the expense of cruise speeds through short mountain sections? The industry is mostly moving in that direction anyway, i.e. away from locomotives/tractor cars and toward distributed traction. The Alstom AGV, Siemens Velaro and Bombardier Zefiro designs each feature motors on 50% of the axles. The Talgo AVRIL gets to 42% in a conventional tractor layout by reducing the number of unpowered axles (and hence, total trainset mass). By contrast, 100% of axles on the Japanese N700 are powered, but each individual motor is quite small.

    The downsides of distributed traction include the need for medium voltage equipment along throughout the train (electric fire risk), higher noise levels in the passenger compartments and additional complexity: the more axles are powered, the greater the risk that tiny mismatches in wheel slip ratios will lead to rapid redistributions of total traction load. Note that in this context, slip does not refer to a wheel slipping through entirely but the microscopic elastic deformations in the contact zone that are essential for transmitting any traction force at all. Btw, rubber tires also “slip” on asphalt in this sense. It’s a technical term that is subtly different from its meaning in colloquial language.

    Of course, instead of or in addition to distributing traction, you can also simply change the gear ratio in the transmissions. However, the price of higher acceleration at low vehicle speeds / improved hill climbing is usually reduced top speed. That’s because rotor dynamics (i.e. bearing loads) limit an electric motor’s RPM. In addition, sudden jolts in the load (e.g. due to gusts of wind) generate high dynamic loads on the transmission gears and rotor shafts. Distributed traction HSR concepts don’t feature mechanical transmissions with multiple gears because they’re heavier and not nearly as reliable.

    Finally, note that routes involving steeper gradients also mean higher electricity consumption. In the special case of California, there are, however, two saving graces. First, the state has large reserves of untapped renewable power and has committed to running the HSR network off those. Second, the mountain sections are fairly close to the existing state and federal aqueducts, which together consume approx. 2% of all power generated in the state. If the electrical power generated by a train during a hill descent cannot instantly be used by another train climbing a hill in the same electrical segment, it may be possible to use the recuperated juice to instead briefly lessen the load those water pumps place on the state’s electrical grid. Integrating the two types of infrastructure like this would require some fancy load balancing by the grid operator, e.g. banks of stationary supercapacitors or flywheels near the pumping stations to buffer the resulting fluctuations in supply and demand.

    rafael Reply:

    Speaking of steep gradients: involuntary tunneling, Guatematalan style

    ¡Ay, Caramba!

    Joey Reply:

    BOTTOMLESS PIT!!! It must be a sign of the impending apocalypse…

    Peter Reply:

    What would be the speed limit on an extended 4% gradient stretch? Would that maybe enable cutting tunnel costs by going around parts of some mountains?

    rafael Reply:

    Speed limits are artificially imposed for environmental or passenger comfort reasons. This is separate from the concept of limit speed, i.e. how fast a vehicle can cruise for an extended period of time, given rolling, gradient and drag resistance constraints. At the risk of losing at least half my readership, here’s the force equilibrium equation I’m referring to:

    m * (1 + c_rot) * a = P/v – { m * g * [c_r * cos(alpha) + sin(alpha)] + ro/2 * c_d * A * v_air^2 }


    m = vehicle mass
    c_rot = correction factor for rotating machinery
    a = acceleration
    P = tractive power (assuming sufficient adhesion at rail/wheel interface)
    g = gravitational acceleration (9.81 m/s^2)
    c_r = coefficient of rolling resistance (2e-4 to 1e-3 for steel wheels on steel rails)
    alpha = uphill slope (gradient = tan(alpha), must be corrected upward in curves)
    ro = density of ambient air at the present elevation
    c_d = shape coefficient of drag (sum total for bow + lateral + wake)
    A = area of vehicle cross-section
    v = ground speed
    v = v_head (component of ambient wind speed opposing the direction of travel)
    v_air = v + v_head

    Note that lateral drag is significant for high speed trains as they are very long vehicles.

    By definition, a becomes zero at v = v_limit. The term top speed usually denotes v_limit for the special case of level terrain at mean sea level and v_head = 0.

    Marketing folks looooove big numbers. For line haul times, limit speed is really only relevant if a remains high enough until the vehicle gets really close to it and the situation then permits the vehicle to keep cruising at that speed for an extended period of time.

    With that out of the way, what I was talking about earlier is extended cruising up steep inclines at speeds that are useful in the context of an HSR service. For reference, please consult the traction force diagrams for the Siemens Velaro E (RENFE model) and the Alstom AGV-11 (11 car version) provided in the following documents:

    For example, the limit speed for an empty single Velaro E trainset at full power facing a 3% apparent gradient and no head wind is 190km/h (120mph). The reduced power curves reflect residual climbing ability in the event of a partial systems failure or constraints due to overhead voltages lower than 25kV. Note also the negative slope of the traction curves at low vehicle speeds. The Velaro uses asynchronous induction motors, which can be overloaded for brief periods before they overheat – handy dandy for pulling away from stations. The dashed lines reflect performance for different ambient air temperatures. The sustainable maximum traction force is that at the intersection with the constant power curve, i.e. 250kN – not the 300 briefly available at rest.

    The diagram for the AGV shows a curious kink in the curve for 25kV alimentation. This reflects an unspecified design constraint in either the electrical path or the coolant subsystems. Note that the left half of the traction curve is flat here. The AGV uses permanent magnet synchronous motors, which are more efficient but cannot be overloaded as the magnets quickly lose remanence if the get too hot. Therefore, 275kN reflects sustainable traction force in this case. At high speeds, the traction force curves reflect the rated power of the electrical components and cooling subsystems.

    dejv Reply:

    Note also the negative slope of the traction curves at low vehicle speeds.

    The negative slope is caused by decreasing of adhesion with speed. Basic equation was set by Curtius and Kniffler in 1930’s as:

    μ = 0.161 + 7.5/(V + 144)

    (Some locomotives reach higher μ, but overall shape of it’s curve doesn’t change.)

    The Velaro uses asynchronous induction motors, which can be overloaded for brief periods before they overheat – handy dandy for pulling away from stations.

    The motors actually can’t be overloaded in 0-140 km/h range, because μ*Q is lesser than P/v.

    rafael Reply:

    Uhm, mu does decrease with speeds, but we’re not talking about a locomotive-drawn consist here. Fully 50% of the axles on a Velaro are powered. That means total traction can be sustained even in low mu situations because the traction contribution required of each powered each axle (max 17t axle load) is much smaller. The hard part is that low mu conditions tend not to be uniform throughout the length of the train, which makes controlling all of the motors in concert much harder and can result in rough running.

    However, it’s worth looking into whether the scenarios that lead to lo mu situations even apply in California. Wet leaves on the tracks is one that arguably doesn’t. Just how conservative do the planners really need to be?

    dejv Reply:

    The hard part is that low mu conditions tend not to be uniform throughout the length of the train, which makes controlling all of the motors in concert much harder and can result in rough running.

    This issue was solved long ago by adding springs and dampers to couplings. Pre-stressing used with buffer-and-chain also helps (that may be one of reasons why it is used on TGVs to connect powerhead with trailers).

    Uhm, mu does decrease with speeds, but we’re not talking about a locomotive-drawn consist here. Fully 50% of the axles on a Velaro are powered.

    Yeah. That means, that you can safely forget about that low-speed issues, where the train is limited by μ and concentrate on the main issue – braking at speeds, where it is limited by available braking power, not the adhesion, to make at-grade Tehachapi Pass crossing possible.

    One of other possibilities, in addition to eddy current brake I mentioned below, is Taurus-like separate high-rpm brake shaft (see bogie) with additional brakes, preferably circular eddy-current ones like those on 100-700 series Shinkansens. This approach has also it’s downsides though, like increasing amount of rotating masses and increasing guiding forces.

    rafael Reply:

    IIRC, the ICE3 features auxiliary brakes that can be lowered to just above the rail and induce eddy currents there. There are restrictions on how they can be used, though, as excessive heating would mess with the mechanical properties of the rails.

    However, it would be possible to install an additional copper or aluminum “rail” in-between the others on a steep descent section. That could then be used for this type of eddy current brake as a retarder in case the OCS becomes unavailable for feeding current back into the grid.

    dejv Reply:

    The trouble with eddy current brakes in rail is that it is too narrow to allow exciting of large currents. In addition, it further stresses railhead and total braking power is limited by safe temperatures of rail – separate braking rails would take care of both these issues.

    I don’t think it is good idea to rely on EDB for eddy current magnets feeding – the brake would be used mainly in cases of emergency, when it’s hard to guarantee operation of any electrical subsystem. Using permanent magnets lowered to working position by lowering brake pipe pressure below emergency threshold. If the “brake rail” is wide enough, the magnets wouldn’t have to be particularly strong. The nice thing about eddy currents is that it decreases with speed, so the braking force can be adjusted to fade when disc and magnetic friction brake are themselves powerful enough to stop the train.

    thatbruce Reply:

    I thought that the current restrictions on the DB ICEs using their rail eddy brakes outside defined sections was the disruption to the ballast structure, not heating of the rail.

    Rafael Reply:

    That might well be a separate spatial constraint. The one I mentioned is related to train speed, i.e. the amount of time the eddy currents flow through a given point in the rail. Steel isn’t all that great a conductor of heat, compared to aluminum and copper, so any heat introduced is going to cause a larger temperature spike.

    Peter Reply:

    I’m sorry, I meant “limit speed” when I said “speed limit”.

    Peter Reply:

    As in, if you’re slowing for the grade anyway, why not throw in some curves while you’re at it.

    thatbruce Reply:

    Curves involve dealing with passenger comfort and a likely lower speed limit. If they can be avoided by way of a short straight steep section to get past a local and otherwise expensive terrain oddity, so much the better.

    rafael Reply:

    These are not the curves you’re looking for.

    Just look at the state of that turnout ;-)

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Just a reminder (and the techinically minded people here are very likely already aware of this) that not all speed-restricting curves are horizontal; vertical curves (sags and humps) also need consideration at the speeds you’re looking at. It’s my understanding that a vertical curve (hump) is the one speed restriction on the original dedicated line on the Paris-Lyons TGV route (it’s supposed to have a limit of about 125 mph).

    Joey Reply:

    Yes, but they are generally less restrictive than horizontal curves and usually easier to widen.

    rafael Reply:

    Widen? We’re talking about vertical curvature here. D.P. Lubic’s point is correct in principle but not particularly salient as even an HSR train could ever storm up a really steep gradient (4.5% or more) at 125mph.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Just a reminder, the length of the grade is an important factor in how fast you go up it. Many railroad grades are short enough and rail equipment rolls freely enough that you often have some very interesting momentum effects.

    I should have also added that the 125 mph speed restriction on the TGV line is in the middle of 186 mph territory; it’s the only speed restriction on the new line, and interesting for being due to a vertical curve.

    The high level of even this restricted speed is reminiscent of the restrictions on the Milwaukee Road’s Hiawatha trains in the 1930s. This was the first regular 100 mph running on a daily basis anywhere, and was done with steam power. The route was famous for several large signs warning engineers on these steam streamliners to “Reduce Speed to 90,” and a level crossing with another railroad had a speed restriction of 100 mph. This was in 1935.

    Oh, I got around to looking at the curves and turnout. Where was this photographed?

    That huffing and puffing you just heard wasn’t one of my steam engines–it was me!

    rafael Reply:

    On a more serious note, trains can’t climb up or descend down steep gradients at very high speeds anyhow. That eases the curvature constraints imposed by passenger comfort considerations. That said, the point of raising the gradient limit would be to reduce total miles tunneled and permit all major faults to be crossed at grade to facilitate evacuation efforts and subsequent rehabilitation of the line.

    Private freight railroads have to prioritize gentle gradients, compatibility with diesel locomotives and low construction cost over fast line haul times, so they end up with long wiggly alignments. For electric passenger rail, the business model is entirely different and extended tunnel sections are possible. It’s just that higher gradient limits would permit a wider range of routing options and/or lower up-front costs. Given the piecemeal fashion in which this project has to be funded, exploring that trade-off is reasonable IMHO.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    It may be of interest to note that the Denver & Rio Grande Western actually looked at 4% grades as a way to reduce overall operating costs with diesel freights in the late 1960s or 1970s.

    The background for this is that the D&RGW was always handicapped with severe grades and curves, partially as the result of once having been a narrow-gauge road. These handicaps continued despite considerable rebuilding and changes that eventually brought ruling grades down to a more normal 2% or so range, but there was still a lot of that and plenty of curves, too.

    What the D&RGW discovered was that with relatively muscular diesels that overall costs could be reduced with the reduction in line length, giving less track to maintain (this is normally a railroad’s largest expense item, dwarfing almost everything else). A lot of power would be required to keep speeds up and have adequate braking in such an environment, but that diesel fuel was less than 20 cents per gallon at the time. The road didn’t do much in the way of alignment changes following this, but did take advantage of the study to optimize its operations, using a lot of power to move trains fast over its rugged line to gain a competitive edge. It may be important to remember that in this time period, the railroads were heavily rate-regulated by the Interstate Commerce Commission, and basically that meant there was no price competition between roads, but the benefits of lower operation still accrued to a line with a better location.

    A potential problem with 4% grades in an HSR context is the possiblity that they could go on for miles and miles. An extreme example of the difficulties this can entail in the steam age was the original line of the Denver & Salt Lake (merged into the D&RGW in 1947). This road was the vision of a tycoon named David Moffat (the 6-mile Moffat Tunnel on what is now Union Pacific is named for him), and was intended to connect Denver with a direct line to Salt Lake City (D&RGW went the long way around, via the Royal Gorge, to avoid heavy grades). The problem faced by Moffat was that his railroad essentially had to climb a wall of mountains west of Denver. That wall could be pierced by a tunnel about 6 miles long (and it would be named for Moffat), but capital wasn’t available for it, and the D&SL instead went over the top via Rollins Pass. This road normally had an excellent profile given the terrain in ran through (Amtrak’s California Zephyr uses this route), but to get over where the 6-mile tunnel would eventually go required 30 miles of up and down 4% to an elevation well over 11,000 feet above sea level at Corona. This operation was complicated by 30-foot snowdrifts and 100 mph winds at the summit. The net result was the D&SL spent a good deal of its life in receivership (bankruptcy) and never did reach Salt Lake City on its own. Some of the largest steam locomotives in the world at the time of their construction in the early 1900s struggled to get 10 freight cars overy this hump; normal operation consisted of up to 100 cars with 10 locomotives in lead, mid-train, and pusher positions, their engineers coordinating their actions with whistle signals and careful eyes kept on air brake gauges. The road rostered something like 60 locomotives and three rotary snowplows, an enormous amount of equipment for a railroad that was essentially a coal-mine road less than 200 miles long that terminated in the little town of Craig, Co. It eventually required a public subsidy to build the Moffat Tunnel, partially for an additional water supply for Denver and also to preserve railroad competition to the west of the city.

    Item of interest: supposedly the Moffat Tunnel crosses an earthquake fault near its center. There is supposedly a huge reinforcing ring at that location, although I wonder how much good it could actually do!,+Northwestern+and+Pacific+Railway+))

    These images are based on photos of the original Rollins Pass line. Must have been a spectacular train ride–but I wouldn’t envy the crews who operated and maintained the line.

    And we think we have things hard today. . .

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Rafael, there’s not going to be any chance of tractor-trailer HSR appearing in California. The existing export models – Zefiro, AGV, Velaro, efset, Fastech – all use distributed traction.

    As for the ruling grade, there’s a reason why it’s 3.5% and not 4%. Yes, there’s one example in the world where it’s 4%, but the train performance there isn’t that good. It’s worth the gamble in California iff it opens up the Grapevine, and even then the cost may be prohibitive.

    rafael Reply:

    @ Alon Levy –

    the Talgo AVRIL currently in development is a tractor-trailer design with a target top speed of 380 km/h, thanks to 8800kW rated power at just 287 metric tonnes for a 200m trainset. The Velaro E has the same rated power but weighs in at 439 tonnes. Details here, albeit in Spanish:

    Unfortunately, I couldn’t find sustained traction force data on either the AVRIL or the current 350 (RENFE 102) model. My best guess is that it’s only be about half of the Velaro’s since HSR infrastructure imposes axle load limits of 17 metric tonnes and the AVRIL only has half as many powered axles. The low mass means low-speed acceleration and hill climbing performance should be decent, though probably not best-in-class. However, a lot depends on the chosen gear ratio and the rated speed of the motors in the AVRIL.

    One advantage of tractor-trailer designs is that most passengers are not subjected to motor and inverter noise. On the AVRIL, there are seats in the power cars because advances in transformer and power electronics technology mean those packages can now be slung under the high floor. Note that the tractor cars will not feature level boarding. Also note that the unpowered intermediate cars are unusually short but wide enough to accommodate 3+2 seating. This is a direct consequence of Talgo’s wheelset technology and the available loading gauge. The diagram shows the maximum 735 seat configuration, another slide gives a figure of 587 for a more typical layout featuring 25% first class seats.

    dejv Reply:

    In addition to Talgo, Hyundai Rotem builds their KTX tractor-trailer trainsets, initially derived from TGV Réseau.

    Samsonian Reply:

    I think that’s mainly because of Talgo’s unique wheelset design, which provides certain advantages that they want to retain, but prevents adding motors to them.

    All the other major vendors seem to be moving to EMU designs, if they haven’t already.

    rafael Reply:

    The Talgo AVRIL actually features a pair of Jacobs bogies as well. In principle, they could swap out two of the unpowered cars in the middle of the train for two two additional but Extremo cars linked by an additional motor bogie. Instead of four extra lavatories, space above floor level would be used for cabinets containing additional inverter and train control equipment.

    Passengers would have to climb stairs to get across that bogie and, the modification would add some weight to the train. However, the number of powered axles would go from 8 to 10 while keeping train length unchanged and reducing unpowered axle count from 11 to 10. Rated power would be unchanged at 8800kW since there would be no room for additional transformers, but the point of the exercise would anyhow be to increase the maximum traction force at moderate speeds, i.e. acceleration away from stations and hill climbing ability.

    rafael Reply:

    Regarding your point on the Grapevine, crossing the faults there at grade would be a precondition for reconsidering that route but 6% is extremely ambitious for vehicles that are also supposed to run at 220mph in the CV. Switchable mechanical transmissions with two gears would do the trick, but they increase weight and reduce reliability. Note that the presence of multiple – in some designs, many – individual motors means power could be cut to each one in turn during the gear change process.

    Another option would be to attach special trainsets consisting of two power cars but no passenger seats in the Bakersfield-LA section to boost the traction force. Coupling and uncoupling of HSR trainsets are quick operations, but every single train would have to stop in the metropolis of Bakersfield, sharply reducing any gain in SF-LA line haul time. The cost of owning and operating all those additional trainsets plus the loss of ridership from the Palmdale area have to be weighed against the benefit of avoiding a lot of tunnel construction. That said, building above-ground tracks next to I-5 between Grapevine and the I-5/CA-14 interchange in Santa Clarita would be anything but a picnic.

    rafael Reply:

    “would do the trick” -> “would do the trick provided there’s enough adhesion against the rails“. I don’t think that applies for tractor-trailer designs, but it might for distributed traction (esp. the N700 concept).

    Another concern is feasible speed through such a steep section. We’d be talking 50 mph rather than 100, with obvious impacts on line haul time. Emergency braking distance on a descent section and the ability to accelerate away after an unplanned stop on an uphill section would also present major engineering challenges. Again, the trade-off would be lower up-front costs for the fixed infrastructure vs. a pricier fleet and higher operating overheads per passenger.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I wasn’t even talking about 6%, which would be globally unique. My main question is whether 4% opens more possible alignments through the Grapevine that it no longer poses such a high geological risk.

    rafael Reply:

    Crossing Tejon pass at grade implies climbing all the way to the top. The least steep terrain is the I-5 route, which features two sections with 6% gradients north of the pass. In other words, 4% wouldn’t buy you anything on that route option.

    It would, however, reduce cost on the Tehachapis route – though I cannot say by how much.

    dejv Reply:

    I invite readers of this blog to think of ways to reduce the cost of the project while maintaining or improving on its utility.

    Regarding rolling stock –

    Of course, instead of or in addition to distributing traction, you can also simply change the gear ratio in the transmissions.

    Please, forget this approach for VVVF drives of recent traction equipments. I’ve specifically asked actual train designers a question, how high would have to be μ to make cooling or mechanical strength a limit that would force changing gear ratio – the reply was that every bogie designer would love to work on such problem, the μ would be literally “supernatural”, given the properties of wheel/rail interface and it’s no trouble to squeeze any power to bogie, the trouble is to transform the torque to tractive effort at wheel/rail interface. Is it enough for you to drop this point next time?

    How much cost could be taken out of the starter line infrastructure if the gradient limit were raised to 4 or even 4.5% by pushing the technology envelope on traction force, at the expense of cruise speeds through short mountain sections?

    The 1 km elevation drop from Tehachapi Pass to Bakersfield is anything but short in terms of grades and the main problem is both braking and driving power. For example, just to sustain 200 km/h and 3.5 % grade and omitting resistances, 19.44 kW/t is needed – driving power uphill, braking power downhill. The maximum practical specific power of EMUs (of all speed ranges) is 25 kW/t – and this gives you only 0.35 m/s^2 of equivalent acceleration, for emergency braking, you’ve got to add another 1-1.5 m/s^2.

    Conventional eddy current brake is too weak for the job, it adds some 15 kN per bogie at 200 km/h (roughly interpolating from 22 kN per bogie at 100 km/h to 10 kN per bogie at 350 km/h). The obvious solution is to use dedicated unwound rotor for the brake instead of rail – some iron belt or ladder. The magnets should be permanent and engaged by lowering train pipe pressure below emergency threshold, to keep this crucial brake fail-safe.

    Note that european TSI limits (3.5% grade must be shorter than 6 km; maximum sliding average of grade of 10 km stretch is 2.5 %) weren’t pulled out of thin air, they were tailored to possibilities of current HST designs and risks and costs of pushing the limits weren’t worth the benefits – there is nothing even vaguely similar to topography of Tehachapis (or Tejon).

    In terms of driving power, it can’t be pushed much further. You could increase it, but if you want to comply with UIC regulations, you’d cross the 17 t/axle limit soon, or you risk future compatibility with legacy network by too light carbodies.

    and additional complexity: the more axles are powered, the greater the risk that tiny mismatches in wheel slip ratios will lead to rapid redistributions of total traction load.

    This is issue with tractor-trailer designs, where any rapid change creates compression/extension waves through the train length. EMUs are designed to the same buffering standards as tractor-trailer sets, but the forces involved are much lower. A distant example – there are documented cases of pairs T3 (controlled by 1930’s PCC accelerator technology) travelling with broken coupler for extended distances without touching of cars or braking the MU cable.

    HSRforCali Reply:

    As for reducing costs:

    1) Reduce the number of tracks in the DTX tunnel from 3 to 2 to permit the use of a conventional tunnel-boring machine

    2) Use the existing Caltrain tunnels between Mission Bay and Bayshore upgraded with electrification

    3) Consider the possibility of placing Caltrain/HSR underground within certain parts of the Peninsula. Although this may not sound like a cost reduction, selling the present Caltrain ROW to developers as well as charging air rights to those who want to build taller structures where permitted could raise enough funds to pay for two deep-bores with two tracks per tunnel. In addition, this would address the concerns of residents who fear the project would resemble that of the Berlin Wall

    4) Avoid the use of aerial structures, such as in Fresno

    5) Avoid the use of aerial stations and use existing at-grade platforms such as in Los Angeles Union Station and San Jose Diridon

    6) Use a shared-track alignment between Los Angeles and Anaheim. This will permit Amtrak and Metrolink trains to run as fast as 110 mph in addition to saving a whopping $2 billion

    7) AVOID OVER-BUILDING! Additional capacity can be built when demand justifies it and when the CAHSR Authority will be able to pay for it. Personally, I’d rather see an HSR system with a lack of capacity and people seeing how successful and great of an idea it was rather than having an HSR system with too much capacity and people criticizing it as being a boondoggle that no one riders. Seriously, wouldn’t you rather see an HSR system in need of additional capacity rather than one that’s over-built and gives illusion that no one rides it?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    If I remember correctly the whole ROW between San Jose and San Francisco is 700 acres. Sell off the whole ROW at really good prices and you can build a few miles of tunnel with the proceeds.

    HSRforCali Reply:

    That’s a great idea! When you become imaginative, you realize how many different ways there are for funding a tunnel. Obviously, the CAHSR Authority could use a little imagination in their planning process.

    Joey Reply:

    Uhh I think you missed adirondacker’s point entirely. The point was that even if you sold the air rights to the entire right of way from SF to SJ, it would only give you enough money for a few miles of tunnel.

    HSRforCali Reply:

    What about selling the ROW itself where tunneling would be used?

    Matthew Reply:

    Then you would obviously have a small fraction of the 700 acres, which would likely not produce enough funds to pay for the tunnel.

    rafael Reply:

    That idea was actually being kicked about by an independent group for Palo Alto. Unfortunately, the $700 million that might possibly be raised from selling air rights to real estate developers would be dwarfed by the cost of putting not two but four tracks underground – including UPRR which relies on diesel locomotives and insists on 1% gradients. The concept is beguiling, but the funding simply doesn’t pencil out.

    Besides, constructing a row of multi-story buildings on the back of those air rights could also result in something of a wall effect.

    HSRforCali Reply:

    Ok, but what if only two tunnels were built with two tracks per bore? I see no reason why UPRR can’t do 3% grades, they do it all the time in the Tehachapi Pass. Also, they should be required to use electric locomotives between SJ and SF for the purpose of “reducing local pollution.”

    rafael Reply:

    I was talking about putting four tracks underground. How you do that is then mostly an economic optimization problem. Either way, there’s not nearly enough in the kitty to construct tunnels through the mid-peninsula.

  4. Al-Fakh Yugoudh
    Jun 1st, 2010 at 10:59

    Since you guys seem to know quite a bit about HSR around the world, where could I find information regarding the following:

    – Average approximate purchasing cost of a high speed train (rolling stock only, basically an engine and let’s say 10 or 12 cars).

    – Average construction cost of a high speed rail line (maybe the cost of the latest built lines in Europe or Japan) per mile.

    – Average construction cost of a 6 lane freeway per mile


    Alon Levy Reply:

    The first one is fairly easy – look at how much China is paying for European and Japanese export models. I believe that a 16-car train costs about $40 million; that was the cost of the 700 Series, back in the late 1990s, but Japan has had net deflation since then.

    The second one has a lot of answers. It depends on what the topography is, how much development there is near the ROW, and how competent the planners are. The LGV Est cost about 10 million Euros per km, not including rolling stock. I’ll have to look, but if I’m not mistaken the standard Continental EU estimate for at-grade HSR is barely higher. Figure it’s about $20 million per km. For what it’s worth, SNCF’s estimates for HSR construction costs in Texas and the Midwest are about $25 million per km.

    Once you need tunnels, costs go up sharply. Italy’s current HSR construction project, which is more than 90% in base tunnel, comes out to about $130 million per km. Japanese HSR construction costs are quite high because of the need to tunnel in earthquake territory.

    The third question has even more answers. The actual cost of converting a graded, empty strip of land to either a freeway or an HSR line is really small. The cost of grading and clearing the land can be very high, especially near urban areas. In large urban areas, adding a freeway lane in each direction costs $30 million per mile. In small ones, it can be done for $10 million.

    rafael Reply:

    Note that Italy is also earthquake country, though it is struck less frequently than Japan.

    Your last point about per-mile construction costs in built-up areas is very salient, especially wrt tunneling under city streets and housing stock in earthquake areas. IIRC, the project to extend BART to Santa Clara includes a five-mile bored tunnel estimated at something like $600 million/mile (both tracks combined and, the section from Fremont to east San Jose will be much cheaper). The short three-track DTX tunnel into the Transbay Terminal in SF will likely be even more expensive on a per-mile basis because its curves are too tight for affordable tunnel boring machine technology.

    That said, I’m sure the long-delayed 2nd Ave subway now under construction in NYC will also cost a pretty penny, as did tunneling the AVE line into the underground Barcelona Sants Station and the Lainzer tunnel in Vienna (Austria). Traditional cut-and-cover construction was used to construct BART/SF Muni tunnel under Market St in SF and more recently, for part of the Millenium subway line in Vancouver BC. However, residents in many other cities are no longer prepared to put up with the massive disruption, especially since TBMs have sharply reduced the cost of underground excavation.

    Joey Reply:

    No, I believe that the Market Street Subway was bored east of Van Ness, with the exception of the stations which of course were excavated from above. See this

    Alon Levy Reply:

    You really shouldn’t mention Sants in the same sentence as SAS. The current pricetag of SAS is $1.7 billion per km. The only project outside New York City that’s even come close to that is Crossrail, at about $1 billion per underground km.

    AndyDuncan Reply:

    ” In large urban areas, adding a freeway lane in each direction costs $30 million per mile. In small ones, it can be done for $10 million.”

    And if you’re in LA, one unidirectional lane is $100m/mile due to the need to rip out and replace numerous grade separations, and widen a freeway in a canyon.

    If you decide to put that underground through suburbia, your 8-lane highway is now more like $1b/mile.

    Freeways are expensive.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Bear in mind that in the US, everything costs more. The A86 was built for less than $1 billion per mile. Urban Transport Technology gives the initial cost estimates, as of 1999, at €2.23 billion for 10 km of tunnel; in today’s money, it’s $3.6 billion, or $360 million per km for four lanes.

    For comparison, the most difficult subway project in Paris in recent years, Line 14 of the Metro, cost $250 million per km in 2009 dollars; the easier subway projects, the outbound extensions, range from $50 to $250 million/km.

  5. Andre Peretti
    Jun 1st, 2010 at 16:31

    In France, the average cost of an autoroute (highway) through unbuilt countryside is €6 million/km. It can be higher near cities. The A86, near Paris, cost €180 million/km.

    TGV-Nord cost €7 million/km, TGV-Est: €10 million. The cost of future lines is expected to be around €17 million/km, with the exception of Marseille-Nice with €64 million/km, due to the number of bridges and tunnels, and also the cost of land on the Riviera.
    LGV ROW is 40m wide (131’3”), with 14m for track platform.

    A 500-seat TGV duplex costs €25 million, its lifespan is 40 years.
    The SNCF claims that a two-track line with TGV duplexes is equivalent to a 2×5-lane highway.

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    I’m sorry, this was meant to be a reply to Al-Fakh Yugoudh, not a new post.

  6. Eric L
    Jun 1st, 2010 at 18:46

    I’ve often worried that CAHSR would turn into a bigger version of the Seattle Monorail Project. It came about by voter initiative, and was disliked by many politicians (having had no part in creating it and little to no authority over it). The initiative creating it put many straightjackets on the project, largely as a reaction to public dissatisfaction with the light rail project, which had been scaled back due to cost overruns. So they couldn’t shorten the project without another vote, couldn’t get more money, couldn’t pick a different technology that would allow for surface construction, though there was no restriction on how long the debt would take to repay. The actual construction costs of the project were reasonable for a 14 mile transit line, but the financing was not — $11 billion to finance a $1.3 billion project? And it might have been far more — basically they were taking out 40 year bonds (30 is more typical), but they did not have enough revenue to cover even the interest, so they would take out junk bonds to cover the difference, then more the next year, and so on, and they projected in the long run revenue would grow at a faster rate than the debt and eventually the debt would start getting smaller, but they wouldn’t need to be off by much to have to file for bankruptcy. The sad thing is they had already done all the property acquisition and had contracts lined up to build it, and if they could have raised taxes a little the monorail would be built today. Instead our new mayor has said he’d try to get some light rail project serving the same corridor on the 2011 ballot. So maybe something will be done this time, perhaps by 2020?

    But back to your order-of-magnitude-more-expensive and even-further-from-funded voter-approved politician-disapproved very worthwhile project. How serious are the requirements on what CHSRA must build? Is it okay if they build something that takes a little over 3 hours to run from SF to LA, requires a transfer to get to Anaheim, and only stops in SJ, SF, and LA, but is designed to be incrementally updated to be what was promised when all the money necessary to build the full system is secured? So if you deferred LA-Anaheim, deferred SJ-SF and ran more slowly on electrified Caltrain tracks, deferred most stations and the tracks to Merced (but built the switches), built no more than 2 tracks anywhere and maybe some of the tunnels were only single track initially, could you get the minimum SF-LA cost down to $20 billion? I’d think more private investors would want in if you could say “We intend to build a really awesome $40 billion system, but with just what we have and $9 billion of private investment, we can still build something pretty good.”

    Caelestor Reply:

    If you do that, the detractors will never cease to refer back to the project as a failure, and you’ll also severely damage the enthusiasm of HSR supporters.

    rafael Reply:

    Yeah, I was looking for suggestions to achieve some reduction in cost without reducing core functionality.

    Eric L Reply:

    Would an overpriced (but faster than usual) commuter rail system with few stations be judged a success? I’d expect a train system that goes from SF to LA and saves hours over driving would attract a significant number of riders. If you’re in Fresno and passenger trains are whizzing by your town at 220 mph every hour or half-hour, you’re going to want someone to put down the money to add your station.

    I just don’t see much more federal money coming any time soon, the state budget’s a mess, and I can’t imagine private investors would be all that interested unless they were pretty sure SF and LA would be connected. The backup plan isn’t going to be profitable.

    Caelestor Reply:

    To be specific, one track tunnels are VERY dangerous. Do you realize how fast these trains are going? A head-on collission would not be pretty…

  7. YesonHSR
    Jun 1st, 2010 at 21:19

    speaking of Federal funding in the online SF Cron Anna Eshoo the congress person from the 13 th PA/menlo has a harsh oped about HSR and it has alot of the same misstaed info about HSR that many espout..also a semi-threat about IF they let HSR use this line…Wait till we in SF have a little talk with her

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Just posted about this. If you’re in SF, don’t bother with Eshoo. Pelosi herself needs to hear from you.

  8. YesonHSR
    Jun 2nd, 2010 at 09:42

    Yes ..true she could care if I called or wrote..Pelosi and Boxer maby more so ..

  9. dejv
    Jun 2nd, 2010 at 15:04

    Yeah, I was looking for suggestions to achieve some reduction in cost without reducing core functionality.

    There is one way – IFF CHSRA persuades FRA to make legacy network accept HS trains AND if they can build Palmdale to Bakersfield section in addition to the stimulus-funded ones. It’s then possible to start LA to Bay Area and LA to Sacramento trains right after tracks are constructed, even though the resulting service is a mere preview of HSR possibilities. The Bay Area can be reached through Altamont route, the only trackage rights needed from UPRR.

    IFF such service starts running as soon as possible, it has potential to create genuine statewide demand for more, exactly as the first stretch of LGV Sud-Est did in France – the high speeed line covered only a half of distance and it was great success, turning public opinion in favor of more HSR. If California repeats it, politians will be boasting about who’ll spend more on HSR construction in 2020. :)

    Now to some details:

    – The terminus in Bay Area must connect with as many regional services, as possible (Bart, CC, buses, …)

    – There should be three kinds of service:
    * LA to Scto, all local from Palmdale on, preferably replacing San Joaquins while keeping fares at the same level
    * limited LA to Scto and to Bay Area with interlaced schedules (doubling effective train frequency between big CV cities), the stops en-route could be in Palmdale, Bakersfield, Fresno, Merced and Stockton
    All-local to Scto should have timed transfer with limited to BA in Stockton and all trains should run in peak hourly takt initially

    – the couplers should be of some fully automatic kind, preferably also compatible with regular AAR coupler and the locos should be able to be driven from EMU. That way, it’s possible to couple train to loco at the end of electrification within one minute station dwell, including train driver going from EMU cab to diesel loco cab. Push-pull operation also avoids need for shunting in termini

    – the cars must be able to provide level boarding at new stations and integrated steps for compatibility with legacy 200mm platforms, to let Californians feel the difference between level boarding and Grand Staircase.

    – the Tehachapis grade isn’t as bad as I thought – according to Google Terrain, it drops 3000 ft on 23 miles, yielding 2.47 % average grade – just below TSI limit of 2.5 % for any 10km stretch. After some route shortening, it’d get slightly higher. IFF 90-100 mph is fast enough forever on this stretch, the braking power of off-the-shelf designs should be sufficient. 100 mph with maximum 300 mm of cant + cant deficiency also means minimum radii of 3304 ft, effectively allowing to route the rail next to CA-58 through most of the climb. This would leave only few short tunnels plus one moderately long under the ridge next to actual Tehachapi Pass. Of course, if 100 mph isn’t fast enough, need to develop more powerful braking persists.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Non-level boarding on new infrastructure is illegal, because of ADA compliance issues. It’s also not recommended from the point of view of keeping dwells to a minimum.

    Your service patterns are a bit weird, especially for LA-SF. For LA-SF trains, the bulk of demand will be from the LA Basin to the Bay Area. Palmdale, Bakersfield, Fresno, and Gilroy are too small to be more than local or intermediate-express stops; they’re also in high-speed territory, so skipping them saves a lot of time. I still think that the optimal express pattern is to just skip those four stops, but it’s more likely that the express runs will also skip Burbank, Sylmar, RWC, and maybe also Millbrae, on account of the poor connecting transit.

    dejv Reply:

    My point was that to shift public opinion, a usable service shoul run as soon as possible, just months after initial segments of trunk route are completed. The trouble is that Bakersfield to Merced section doesn’t offer service to enough population to create such shift, so speeding service opening requires that trains can operate on legacy network, as TGVs did (and AVE’s Talgos do now FWIW) to make service to Bay Area and LA possible right from the beginning.

    Non-level boarding would be a must on legacy infrastructure, new HS stations should have level boarding right from the beginning of course. The wheelchair lifts are proven technology, so even legacy stations may be ADA-compatible.

    The initial service, that would run on HS tracks from Palmdale to Merced would have too long haul time to be really time-competitive for end-to-end journeys anyway*, so filling the trains with intermediate frequency is natural thing to do. I agree that Merced and Palmdale with 80k and 150k populations are questionable, but they’re on the edge of HS tracks, so time penalty isn’t that bad. Fresno and Bakersfield are a different league with 1M and 800k populations in theire respective metro areas. IMO, Fresno’s position in the middle of the line begs for stopping of all trains even after whole Phase I gets built, because it allows it to work as takt node, providing timed transfer from fast to slow service and vice versa in both directions, thus greatly increasing mobility of entire San Joaquin Valley population, not just that of big cities.

    *) 2 h Oakland-Merced (from San Joaquins schedule) + 1:15 Merced-Palmdale + 1:45 Palmdale-LA ( (from Metrolink’s AV line) yield 5 hours travel time of initial service. The limited stopping pattern can of course save some 3-5 minutes per station skipped on legacy network, but the question is if line capacity will permit it, so I used overconservative values. But even then, when two thirds of journey take only a quarter of total travel time, it’s enough to show people that more construction is needed.

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