Palo Alto Shackles Itself to the Automobile

Oct 26th, 2010 | Posted by

Some time in the future – probably sooner than people think, perhaps around 2020 – Palo Alto residents will look back at last night’s city council meeting, where the council voted to oppose an HSR station in Palo Alto, and shake their heads as they curse the short-sightedness of the 2010 council:

Palo Alto doesn’t want a high-speed rail station in its city.

At its Monday night meeting, the council unanimously voted to tell the California High-Speed Rail Authority — as well as other regional, state and federal agencies — it does not want Palo Alto to be considered further for a station along the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles route….

The council fell short Monday night of taking a formal stance against a station anywhere along the mid-Peninsula, saying it doesn’t want to speak for other cities.

“I’m a little uncomfortable with telling Redwood City what to do,” said Council Member Larry Klein, as the council considered a recommendation by Council Member Greg Scharff to expand the letter to express opposition to a station anywhere on the entire mid-Peninsula, rather than just Palo Alto.

Before we get into the specific issues raised by the council, let’s just keep in mind the big picture here. At a time when the price of a gallon of gasoline is higher than it has ever been (except for 2008) and when analysis expect oil to soar to $175/bbl this decade, during the worst recession in 60 years, with serious concerns about climate change and traffic gridlock, the Palo Alto City Council has decided to turn down a golden opportunity that many European cities would kill to have – to get a station on a high speed rail system that is already going through their city, that will connect to the state’s major economic and jobs centers, that can relieve the burden on two-lane city streets like University Avenue and already-jammed arterials like El Camino Real. Instead of using the HSR station to attract new jobs and new businesses, Palo Alto has apparently decided to cede the 21st century to Redwood City. I’m sure they’ll know what to do with this priceless opportunity.

It’s the equivalent of turning down paved roads because you believe that it will hurt the horse and buggy industry, or turning down disposable diapers because it will put the diaper services out of business. I mean, WTF?

What possible justification could Palo Alto’s city council have for such a self-defeating move?

Council members cited a number of reasons in their opposition to the station, including a required parking structure for which the city would have to cough up the costs.

This is a reasonable concern. The parking requirements are absurd. And cities should not be expected to fund a structure. That being said, this shouldn’t be a deal-breaker. San José was able to force some changes to the CHSRA’s plans for the HSR route south of Diridon Station. Surely Palo Alto could have said “well we’d like a station but the parking requirements are a problem.” And while some might argue the CHSRA wasn’t particularly accommodating, it doesn’t seem that Palo Alto – the same city whose council passed an anti-HSR resolution and voted to sue the Authority – tried all that hard to get those requirements changed.

But the council made it clear they had other – and quite silly – concerns:

The council also argued the station would create more traffic, that the rail authority doesn’t have the funds to build a station and that it could adversely impact regional airports such as San Jose International and may also hurt Caltrain.

None of these points are credible. Regarding traffic, an HSR station would be much more likely to reduce it by giving commuters another option to access Stanford University, the shopping center, and downtown Palo Alto. It would also act as a magnet for connecting transit, additionally cutting down on traffic.

The point about not having the funds is a canard; plenty of projects are approved before all the funding is secured and delivered.

As to somehow “hurting” airports, that’s just ridiculous. SFO strongly supports HSR. Burbank, San Diego, Palmdale and Ontario airports are all eagerly awaiting an HSR station that can link directly to their terminals, as they realize it will help travelers access their flights more easily as well as free up precious gate space for medium and long-haul flights that HSR cannot serve. For this same reason, airlines like JetBlue support HSR.

In reality, it seems clear that the Palo Alto city council simply has an ideological opposition to HSR and was fishing for reasons to oppose a station in its city. Granted, there were issues that needed to be addressed to ensure the station would bring the maximum benefit to the city – but the council’s attitude was totally dismissive, as shown by their flirtation with a motion to flatly oppose any station on the Peninsula. In fact, there were supporters of a station who spoke up last night:

Jumana Nabti, however, argued in favor of the station.

“A station in Palo Alto should be seen as a huge opportunity, not a problem,” said Nabti, who told the council she is a Palo Alto native and an urban planner who has worked on a number of transportation projects.

Nabti acknowledged design flaws in the rail project but said all transportation models are based on assumptions. It’s difficult to forecast a final result for larger projects. She argued the project would ultimately be beneficial to Palo Alto, reducing traffic and noise and increasing safety.

Unfortunately for Palo Alto residents, the council’s mind was already made up: they don’t want 21st century prosperity, and prefer to string out the 20th century as long as possible. It’s their loss, really. Redwood City is now poised to get the station, should they want it, and let’s hope they do – Palo Alto may have Stanford and the Sand Hill Road venture capital firms, but Redwood City is about to vault past it as a center of jobs and prosperity on the Peninsula. And when Palo Alto is choked by traffic, future generations will look back on October 25, 2010, and see it as the day Palo Alto’s city council gave up on the future.

  1. Joseph E
    Oct 26th, 2010 at 17:19

    re: “Regarding traffic, an HSR station would be much more likely to reduce it by giving commuters another option to access Stanford University, the shopping center, and downtown Palo Alto. It would also act as a magnet for connecting transit, additionally cutting down on traffic.”

    I agree that HSR and especially improved Caltrain service will bring more visitors, shoppers and business to central Palo Alto, and improve connecting transit. This will provide non-driving alternatives to many people, increase sales tax and property tax revenue, bring new residents and improve business in Palo Alto. However, it probably won’t reduce car traffic. The increased development brought by improved transit and HSR will lead to many more people trying to get to Palo Alto. That’s a good thing, but it means any traffic improvements will be eaten up by increased economic growth.

    But you are right that the alternative is to be “choked by traffic.” By improving alternatives to sitting in traffic in a car, HSR and Caltrain improvements will allow Palo Alto and other peninsula cities to thrive despite some traffic. And with good traffic, Palo Alto could consider implementing market-based parking policies (done very well in Redwood City, thanks to Donald Shoup), eliminate parking minimum in new developments, and take street space from cars and give it to transit, bikes and pedestrians. This realy would reduce traffic, while helping Palo Alto to benefit economically even more.

  2. Michael Mahoney
    Oct 26th, 2010 at 17:30

    (1) Help me out here. The HSRA wants a 3000-car parking garage. Those cars in the garage don’t arrive by helicopter. They drive on the streets of Palo Alto. Why is it wrong for the city fathers to turn away a flood of cars?

    There already is a 3000-car parking garage in Palo Alto, or perhaps it’s East Palo Alto. It’s painted blue and yellow and you go there when you want to buy cheap Scandinavian furniture. Have you ever tried to get into that garage, or out after you have loaded the flat-pack dining table in your trunk? It’s chaos. But at least there is a freeway nearby; once you find your way onto the freeway, assuming traffic is moving smoothly, you can escape. The Palo Alto train station is blocks away from the nearest freeway.

    (2) Will someone, sometime, start looking closely at the idea that this is a new Peninsula commuter train? Everyone is charmed by the idea of a 30-minute ride between San Francisco and San Jose. HSRA posted a fare for SF-LA of $55.00, and for SF-SJ of $10.00 (I notice that they seem to have removed those posted fares). Then, after the election was safely over, they said, Oops, mistake, we meant $105.00 for SF to LA. In which case, I assume that SF-SJ also doubles, to $20.00. That’s $40.00 round trip. Five days a week that’s $200.00 per week, simply to halve your travel time to San Jose. Who’s going to pay this, other than Sergey Brin, who in any case can ride the Google bus to SF?

    YesonHSR Reply:

    Oh yes at 3000 car parking garage for some chainstore is welcome in Palo Alto… PA is nothing more than an American consumption slur with ridiculously high-end home prices.

    Reality Check Reply:

    That Ikea with the huge parking garage is actually just across Hwy 101 from Palo Alto, in desperate-for-a-sales-tax “base” cash-strapped East Palo Alto (which is neither east of Palo Alto, nor part of Palo Alto in any way — in fact, while it’s adjacent to Palo Alto, it’s mostly north of Palo Alto, and across the county line in San Mateo County).

    John Burrows Reply:

    If you make five round trips a day, you will probably get a commuter discount, but for now we are just guessing.

    $200.00 per week is a lot of money, but you will save one hour a day for the round trip — 5 hours a week. Is it worth it to pay $200.00 to save 5 hours of your time —that depends—how much is your time worth?

    What if you paid $133.00 per week (based on the Caltrain monthly pass)? Then would it be worth it?

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    You will note I did not defend the parking requirements. However, Palo Alto appears to have made no serious effort to fight them.

    You also assume that the “Google bus” will be there forever. Surely Google has better uses for its money than to inefficiently and wastefully run its own personal transportation system – a bus that will get screwed over by the same traffic problems that ensnare everyone else.

    EJ Reply:

    The parking requirements are baked into the ridership projections in the business plan. They’re not optional. They’re also not out of line with parking provisions at suburban stations on European HSR networks, one of the reasons such stations are rarely in city centers.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The $105 figure in 2018 dollars, not 2006 dollars as the original $55 figure. This constitutes part, but not all, of the increase. By 2018, you can bet that both Caltrain and the buses will have raised fares multiple times. It’s not a big deal.

    jimsf Reply:

    uh, did I miss something? if the ticket price is to high and no one will pay it to save time on their commute, then why is PA worrying about the extra traffic, if according to you, there won’t be any customers.

    reminds me of recent interviews with angry americans who don’t know specifically why they are angry, but they sure are! ( or mad at a candidate for something he did, even though they don’t know what it was if you ask them) I swear this is even stranger than the reagan-bush era and that was the freakin twilight zone.

    dave Reply:

    Like Robert said you can say something like “yeah we want the station but we need to do something about the parking requirments. We will accept a station if it’s developed to support walkable communities surrounding the station. So we would like little or NO parking, but instead we would like extra space for buses, shuttles, pedestrian and bike paths and maybe future service of any other sort other than car.” Then if the CHSRA accepts then the city can pay for a plan to implement this surrounding the station area.

    The other issues of how it will run through can go something like this, “we need to know wich option you are leaning towards to come through Palo Alto. If it’s at grade what you can do to maybe cover the rail line by lining it with trees, maybe show us what designs can be used on an aerial or sound wall to cover noise and to cover the ugly freeway-style bridge.” Something like that, I don’t know. But What I’m saying is their are many way’s to aproach this. Palo Alto seems to whine alot about not getting answers, but how are answers going to be given if the planning is just getting to the details. It’s not a matter of “show us now Exactly how it will look and operate or we dont want it”, it’s a “yes we do want a station, now what can we do to lessen the negative impacts and make it FIT into our community”. Sounds like a more reasonable aproach and it seems that Redwood City is in this position and hopefully will land the station.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    If you want access to the HSR station to support walkable development … that is called Caltrain. Take advantage of the opportunities of viaduct stations to increase park and ride parking for those within the footprint of the corridor, to allow even more walkable development on either side … all along the way … and ensure smooth and easy transfer from Caltrain to the HSR, and let some other city be the place where the cars interface with the HSR.

    There will be spillover benefits to being the city with the Mid-Peninsula station … but if Caltrain is electrified in time for the next big oil price shock, its having the Caltrain stations that will be the big deal.

    And of course, its an awfully short-sighted mentality to assume that there will never be a rail bridge anywhere at Dumbarton … in which case, the natural alignment is to Redwood City and north to SF, and people would be cursing the idiots who put the HSR station south of the junction.

    HSR is normally a one-trip connection at the origin station ~ if the local rail system is already there, that’s the trip for people close enough to a Caltrain station to walk.

    Ideally, you’d have a commercial block between the HSR station and the longer term parking garage, since part of the spillover is catering to the needs of people bound to and from the HSR station who drove in.

    Also at Redwood, they wouldn’t need to have a single 3,000 car structure to get 3,000 parking spaces, they could spread them around … it looks like half the land in the vicinity of the present station is parking lot. Double or triple deck some of that, with park / rec areas on top. However, any municipality asked to provide parking should also demand a parking demand model showing that the parking users will be coming from their own municipality ~ why should Redwood City pay for parking for Palo Alto residents, after all?

    EJ Reply:

    The HSR station isn’t going to be developed to “support walkable communities” surrounding it. To make it economically viable, it needs to draw customers from a large cachement area, a large number of whom will want to drive to the station and park there.

  3. synonymouse
    Oct 26th, 2010 at 17:56

    Many residents of PAMPA clearly don’t like or want the hsr scheme that is being shoved down thru their throats by Bechtel. Get used to it – not everybody is a PB foamer. PA is not Palmdale.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Why this fascination with forced fellatio?

    jimsf Reply:


    YesonHSR Reply:

    Of course the one by the tracks don’t.. yet 60% vote yes? Everyone is not a NIMBY foamer

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    My point is those people haven’t tried to push back. They just use things like the parking requirements to justify their existing opposition to HSR.

    jimsf Reply:

    get over it syn.

    Victor Reply:

    If so many there are against HSR in PA, How about putting up an plebiscite ballot about It?

    Do people in PA want HSR?

    Yes or No.

    So how about It?

    Time to Put up or Shut up…

  4. Mario
    Oct 26th, 2010 at 18:00

    While I agree that Palo Alto is missing out an opportunity for improved sustainable growth and wealth, “choked by traffic” is an exaggeration. By your definition then any city that doesn’t have an HSR station would be “choked by traffic”. That ignores the added benefits of HSR – an improved Caltrain. A Palo Alto resident/visitor can simply transfer at SJ to a Caltrain and get to Palo Alto. Yes, it would have been better to have an HSR station in Palo Alto, but the outcome of this is not as bleak for Palo Alto as you claim. It is however still a negative for Palo Alto – it will cede status, jobs, wealth, property values and livability to Redwood City (assuming the parking requirements are lessened), but frankly I think some of its residents (the vocal ones) want exactly that. Similar to how Marin residents were against BART.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Caltrain will help, but Palo Alto is a regionally significant destination, with its downtown, the university, shopping, hospitals, etc. HSR would help manage that traffic much more than Caltrain alone can do.

    Palo Alto’s work against the HSR project makes it much less likely that Caltrain will be meaningfully improved.

    jimsf Reply:

    Robert you are giving PA waaaaay to much credit. The bay area as a whole doesn’t care about, and will never miss, PAlo Alto. Ive spend most of my life here, and the rest of the bay doesn’t care about PA. We just don’t. Its seems important cuz of stanford blah blah blah google whatever. yawn…. but the 7 million ordinary regular people of the bay area don’t give a rats ass about, and arent sitting around with baited breath on the edge of their seats over, what goes on in palo alto. The rest of know what pa really is, just another boring suburban wanna be 90210 but aint’ and never will be, 2 bit run of the mill, town.

    When we think Palo Alto, we think “mill valley, without the rock stars” or we think “laguna hills” or most of all we think, “walnut creek” please everyone, stop acting is if pa is important. it isnt. if they dont want a station then don’t waste your time.

    Dan S. Reply:

    Hah, you can say that, Jim, cause you’re living in SF, the only place on the Peninsula with a better downtown than Palo Alto! ;-) But PA really is a thriving wonderful European-style downtown, IMHO, and the weather is only about 1000 times better than our foggy city. PA and SF are by far my top 2 choices for bay-area livin. It’s okay, you can be wrong this time. ;-)

    jimsf Reply:

    well I did go their once and yes it was nice, but It was really just a cleaner version of shattuck in berkeley. I guess if you live in the towns just north and south, or youre a student there, you count on it. but, I promise you no one inEl Cerrito, Castro Valley, Daly City, Los Gatos, Newark or Danville, is rushing over to PA for their fix.

    jimsf Reply:

    Dan look, soon you will have another option, a fresher newer one! For this I’d leave the city for an afternoon.

    jimsf Reply:

    Ah here is where I like their attitude in RWC in this doc. of the precise plan. They are aware that hsr will come through, and they may or may not get a stop. But their stance is, lets get some more info, and see if we can make it work.

    People deboarding trains will experience downtown RWC and may patronize its businesses at that time or in the future. Aslo, being on the line will make DT RWC easily accessible to most residents of california possible making it a destination for small conventions and tourism

    That is the right attitude. They aren’t in a panic over the coming doom, they are saying, hey, how can we make this work for us.

    I may have to go to rwc this wekeend and buy a latte just to show support.

    jimsf Reply:

    and reading forhter through the doc. I find that rwc also has plans for a streetcar system and plans to connect their downtown to their “inner harbor” (Baltimore in RWC?) together, and of course add water transit as well. And we thought all the smart people were over at stanford….

    YesonHSR Reply:

    Millbrae/Burlingame/SanMateo are real small towns..PA is snooty

    jimsf Reply:

    it is. and thats the thing, it has no reason to be. Beverly Hills has a reason to be snooty. Pa does not. PA, in bay area terms, is equal to Walnut Creek. Its place where some white people with more than average amounts of money try to pretend that they are in a class which they aren’t really in. They try really hard and thats why it comes across as snooty. “I’m going to park double park my audi right here to make sure everyone sees me get out of the car, and Im going to run in for my extra complicated coffee beverage, and when I come out I am going to toss my hair and look briefly aloof”

    BruceMcF Reply:

    But as long as there is a mid-Peninsula station, then no Express station will ever be a Caltrain station “alone”, it will be a station that connects to every train out of the HSR station.

  5. morris brown
    Oct 26th, 2010 at 18:26

    Truly amazing that a 31 year old blogger, knows more about the consequences to Palo Alto than the staff and council of that City.

    Unless I have missed it, days after this new announcement of new funds for the HSR project, the Authority’s website makes no mention. Are they un-happy with where the money is to be spent?

    They have a big PR firm and you would think they would jump all over this news.

    It will show eventually, I’m sure.

    StevieB Reply:

    Thursday. Mark my word.

    yoyo Reply:

    “Truly amazing that a 31 year old blogger, knows more about the consequences to Palo Alto than the staff and council of that City. ”

    what I don’t understand is why a 60+ year old retiree insist on prevent us from building a future we deserve. The boomers generation won’t even be around much longer when the HSR is all built and finished. I understand you don’t have to live with the consequence of peak oil, climate change, and mountains of debt. We do. We’ll have to undo all the mess you guys made. We aren’t asking much from you, just asking your generation to get out of the way!

    RubberToe Reply:

    This pretty much hits the nail on the head. Unfortunately, the boomers (of which I am one) have th enumbers and the voting power. That will wane over time of course, but you would hope that enough of them right now care enough about the future to counteract the NIMBY’s.

    YesonHSR Reply:

    An equally amazing an octogenarian should decide for the rest of us how we will live and enjoy lives 20 and 30 years from now

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    I think I know whom you’re speaking of, but can you say who it is for confirmation?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Truly amazing that you think being 31 disqualifies one from making informed decisions about the long term.

    dave Reply:

    Didn’t you read, the announcement isn’t Official. How can they comment, because it was in the papers? Either Thursday or Friday it will be official.

    What do you think that just because your old and possibly retired, that you know best? It’s old folks who like to live in the past and don’t want change. The only way humanity moves ahead is when you people expire and new minds take hold and to the next level. Actually it’s the younger minds that know more today than every before, more than older people. Why you ask, because of technology and how it’s surpassing us.

    political_incorrectness Reply:

    They do say that people know more about the history of place if they are not from there than if they are from there.

  6. Michael
    Oct 26th, 2010 at 18:32

    Palo Alto has it exactly right from the viewpoint of maintaining, and not ceding, status and desirability.

    As the former resident of a relatively small city down south that decided to allow riverboat casinos I can tell you that you don’t want people who aren’t from your community–in your community.

    Otherwise you end up at three a.m. being surprised by the grifter-drifter at the back door of your fine remodeled Victorian who’d like for you to “spare” them five dollars.

    Once it’s there, it never goes away. Never.

    So, hurrah for Palo Alto.

  7. Nadia
    Oct 26th, 2010 at 19:46

    OT: Costa concedes rail project might not start in valley

    Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, on Tuesday backed off an assertion he made the day before that California’s proposed high-speed rail system will begin construction in the Central Valley as a result of a new, $715 million federal funding commitment.

    Speaking at a press conference at the downtown Bakersfield Amtrak station, the congressman noted that the group guiding the project — the California High-Speed Rail Authority — has not yet decided where to start building. A decision is expected as soon as next month.

    YesonHSR Reply:

    Well.. if it does not start in the Central Valley will see how they are going to explain using $700 million that is designed just for that… No it will start there .. Costa just jumped the gun and protocol and probably got a call from the rail authority that they will announce the decision

    jimsf Reply:

    yep sounds about right.

  8. Missiondweller
    Oct 26th, 2010 at 19:50

    “Palo Alto may have Stanford and the Sand Hill Road venture capital firms…”

    I suspect VC’s will shift closer to a new Redwood City HSR station. The advantages of HSR will likely cause a shift in the “economic center” the same way it has in European cities where HSR has not only breathed new life into cities but shifted economic activity.

    Quite frankly, RC has more room to grow around a new station than PA. This may be a good thing.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Yes, heaven forfend that any of the parking spaces in the seas of parking lot in PAMPA be desecrated….

    YesonHSR Reply:

    really it is all parking lots ….

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Agreed. They’re not going to stay marooned out on Sand Hill Road forever.

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    Marooned? My goodness, you have no frickin idea what you’re talking about.

    When business is to be conducted, then it is the other persons who travel to the VC’s, not the other way around. And I have yet to hear anyone refusing VC money because his office wasn’t near a train station.

    jimsf Reply:

    again, regular people all around the bay don’t care about palo alto and go years, even lifetimes, never having a reason to use the term “venture capital” let alone worrying about where this venture capital is or where it is suppose to park.

  9. Pete Zaitcev
    Oct 26th, 2010 at 20:15

    The idea that a high-speed rail will bring visitors and shoppers to Palo Alto is ridiculous in N-th degree. Only a crazy liberal could think that. While in Tokyo, I don’t think I ever went shopping by Shinkansen! If SF Central is their terminus and Tokyo Station, the satellite station in Palo Alto is going to be Ueno (although it is a bit further away from the city center than Ueno is from Tokyo). Seriously guys, do you even use your brains, ever? What it’s going to turn into is a transportation hub at best. Sure, some travellers may buy a bite in a cafe nearby… on their way elsewhere.

    jimsf Reply:

    I can’t see it brining visitors and shoppers. The use for a pa station would be to give that population direct access to the system, and to give the surrounding communities an option the would be closer and more convenient than driving to SFO or SJO ( or whatever their airport code is) Its basically for station spacing strategy. Thats how it always looked to me anyway. Thats why PA and RWC are interchangeable.

    Its about 30 miles between the two airports, Menlo/atherton are the half way point at 15miles, pa is two miles to the south of the center, rwc is two miles to the north of the center. The edge goes to pa for being larger and having stanford, but , the edge goes to rwc for being friendlier to the project. At this point, there is no point in shoving the station down PAs throat when they are getting it for their own benefit to begin with, it makes no difference I can see to the system overall. If they want to look a gift horse in the mouth, let em.

    GoGregorio Reply:

    I can see it attracting some shoppers, though. If people from the East Bay decide to drive in to the Mid-Peninsula Station to take the train to LA, and they park their cars and find they’ve arrived very early, they might take that time to do some shopping at retail near the station.

    Not a major draw, though. I agree with you, that it’s more about convenience.

    jimsf Reply:

    yes, just like what rwc is saying in their approach.

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    People in the East Bay are much more likely to do their “shopping” at the Oakland airport.

    jimsf Reply:

    only they are going to LA. But not if they are going to any of at least 20 or more other locations. Lets face it, very few people who are leaving the bay area, to go to southern california, actually want to go El Segundo. Its is far more likely that at their destinations in socal, are much closer to the hsr stations down there.

    Emma Reply:

    When I lived in Europe, many HSR stations where shopping malls and the main transportation hub of the city. Sometimes, you would find stores there that you wouldn’t find in the rest of the city. It’s not that peopel will use HSR to go shopping. The fact that many people will enter and exit the station will automatically attract stores. Example:

    And there is no question that hundreds of thousands of families will use HSR for vacation.

  10. Emma
    Oct 26th, 2010 at 20:19

    In other news:

    China’s Shanghai-Hangzhou rail line opens, hits record breaking speed of 262mph.

    “The newfangled Shanghai-Hangzhou connection (which connects Hongqiao and Hangzhou) has gone into service today, with most riders treated to a top speed of “only” 220 miles per hour. Officials have already stated that they’re hoping to improve speeds to over 312 miles per hour, with other nations reportedly anxious to get ahold of their technology.”

    This is why I’m saying that the line must be as straight as possible. We will be building a decade on the line. By the time it opens, traveling speed of up to 250 mph might be the standard in high speed rail. We must not get fooled by our low American standards and be happy with what we have. Otherwise we will end up like Acela with virtually no possibility to use the same rails for higher speeds. Even Europe designs its new HS rails for much higher speeds. In fact, during the TGV train record, the rails were the main concern, not the more popular train record.

    Sorry, I just didn’t know where to put this.

    jimsf Reply:

    I don’t want to go faster than 220. That is pushing the limit for me. Beyond that its not safe and its just unnecessary.

    Joey Reply:

    Unsafe? Given modern technology, probably not.

    Unnecessary? Likely. We seem to be reaching the point where spending more energy and maintenance on going faster is making less sense. There are even those, like Richard, who say that we have already reached and surpassed that limit.

    StevieB Reply:

    I want to go 500mph so I get where I am going long before those traveling by airplane.

    thatbruce Reply:

    TSA will ensure that you can do that, even at a ‘mere’ 220mph ;)

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Actually, for longer trips I’d like to go at whatever speed necessary to leave around 8pm or 9pm and get there by 8am, and sleep. Even on South American three-across 60 degree recline first class bus seats I can sleep … but sleeping in a plane sometimes means spending half a day recovering, between the sardine seats and the dry air,

    Emma Reply:

    Hypocrisy to the power of 10!! If a train crashes at 220 mph or 360 mph won’t make a difference for you anyway. And why don’t you complain about that when you board a plane?

    And no, it’s not unnecessary. It was unnecessary in the past. Now, it’s feasible. In fact the only reason why European HS trains are not traveling and such speeds is because of the reduced comfort. But they found ways to solve this problem and will implement the new ideas within the next 5-10 years. That leaves the US with the slowest HSR. Deja vu?

    jimsf Reply:

    There’s no hypocrisy there. I didn’t say I was comfortable with the speed of planes but not trains. I happen to dislike flying very much.
    What I want is an extremely comfortable travel experience in a reasonable amount of time.
    When it comes to norcal-socal flying gives you a short flight time in extreme discomfort which requires far too much complicated hoop jumping at before and after at each end. The safety issue there has to do less with speed and more with what happens when you fall out of the sky from 28,000 feet. Falling from 28,000 feet with a forward speed of 500 gives you the same result as falling from 28,000 feet at a froward speed of 100. Both equal fiery death. i spend the entire flight fully aware that one mechanical issue will end my life in a matter of minutes. So that is a very long, one hour flight.

    With the train, there is no pre and post trip hassle. There is no boarding / herding hassle. There are no cramped cattle car seats. There is a full portfolio of amenities available to all passenger classes, and the trip time at 2.5 hours, is just right for getting comfy, reading a book, having a nice meal or cocktail, taking a walk, play some cards, use the restroom, stretch, freshen up and off board. in other words its freakin CIVILIZED.
    A word most people nowadays would have to look up in a dictionary. I don’t want 99 cent cheap walmart travel. I want convenient hassle free, civilized travel.
    And on the ground, unlike in the air, what happens when you crash at various forward speeds directly affects the amount of damage. Goin on the rocks at 79, 110, 125,220 and 500 would clearly result in different amounts of survivability all other things being equal.

    that was my point.

    Emma Reply:

    So in other words, you want to travel like in 19th century? Well, fine. Then wait for Amtrak to catch up. The rest wants to travel from A to B fast. Meals, TV and all that stuff were invented to distract from the ridiculously long travel time. On top of that, they increase ticket prices and the weight of the train or use up space where potential riders could sit.

    If you would offer a train that travels from SF to San Diego in 2 hrs and a train that needs 4 hours for the same price, it would be obvious which train would survive.
    “Civilized” is to spend more time on the things you really want to do (at your travel destination) and less time on traveling.

    jimsf Reply:

    “Civilized” is to spend more time on the things you really want to do (at your travel destination) and less time on traveling.”

    Excuse me but that’s a matter of opinion. I want it all to be civilized and quite frankly I don’t appreciate people like you making that impossible.

    Do you know why its impossible to get a live person to give customer service. Because people like you have accepted the lack of service as normal.

    And if the four hour train was comfortable and pleasant and the 2 hour train was like 2 hours on a southwest 737. You better believe Id take the four hour train. and so would a lot of people.

    The number one thing I hear day in and day out from people who are traveling by train is that they prefer it because it comfortable, pleasant, and fun. Not because its fast. We have a huge new customer base as a direct result of the treatment of passenger by airlines on every level.

    Eric M Reply:


    Have you ever been on high speed rail in Europe or Asia? It is both comfortable and fast! IF you want slow and leasurely from SF to LA, take the slow Amtrack, not true “high speed” rail.

    jimsf Reply:

    I never said it wasn’t I’m all for the ca hsr. Its just that I think that 2-3 hours is a perfectly reasonable travel time. Emma is insisting that somehow it isn’t. Then I get accused being 19th century because I expect service and civility? Please. I wonder what would happen if I said I think people should cover their mouth when they cough, not spit on the sidewalk, god forbid wait for passengers exit the subway car before trying to shove their way in! I never thought Id see the day where people would be outraged by the suggestion that there is something to be said for civility. Of course, ironically as I write this I am watching the campaign coverage so I see this is really what america has become. Its not acceptable.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Good lord, what’s wrong with a four hour ride watching some DVD’s on a portable DVD player … or more likely, watching one DVD on a portable DVD players and the other other two hours wasting time in some forum on the web.

    The basic need is a comfortable seat, reasonable legroom, a USB power point, and a restroom, but a snack car is nice.

    jimsf Reply:

    Who told you that television was invented to distract us from long travel times?

    Emma Reply:

    No, this is not what I said.

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    If you would offer a train that travels from SF to San Diego in 2 hrs and a train that needs 4 hours for the same price, it would be obvious which train would survive.

    The 4 hour one, of course. Just ask the Concorde folks.

    Emma Reply:

    Oh please, Concorde tickets were twice the price of conventional tickets. On top of that, Concorde failed because of inefficiency caused by design (ridiculous fuel consumption). There are new, efficient supersonic planes under construction. Again. I’m pretty convinced, if the price of a Concorde boarding ticket was the same or even slightly above that of a conventional boarding ticket, Concorde would be the accepted standard today.

    Peter Reply:

    They were a lot more than the price of a conventional FIRST CLASS ticket on a regular plane.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Wrong. The Concorde fares were actually the same as the fares on subsonic planes until the 1980s; people merely perceived them as more expensive. The higher fares came about as a response to the perception – BA wasn’t about to lose customers, so it might as well raise the price.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    I want to travel like its the 21st Century ~ like in Europe and Japan ~ with an ability to sit at my seat and plug in my electronic devices and stand up and buy a snack if I want.

    That’s the difference between 20th century travel modes like the airplane and automobile and 21st century travel modes like HSR … in 21st century modes, you can either get work done or engage in leisure while traveling, unlike spending your time negotiating an obstacle course from parking lot to air terminal to check in, to security check in, to the gate, to your minuscule seat … or wasting your whole trip chauffeuring yourself.

    Eric Fredericks Reply:

    Emma, first I want to say that I used to work for the High-Speed Rail Authority, but I left for another job opportunity I couldn’t pass up. Not because I don’t believe in the project (just don’t want to raise speculation)

    Last I knew, CHSRA was planning for a design speed of 250mph in the highest speed locations. However, that’s not to say that it will travel that fast. 250mph requires huge curves in some locations, and that would generally require more right-of-way and travel farther away from existing transportation corridors. I should note that I obviously haven’t been involved since I left, so I can’t say that this is still the case, but I imagine it is.

    Emma Reply:

    Very true. And this is a huge state. But it should be possible to run trains above 250mph in some sections between Palmdale-San Jose/Merced.

    jimsf Reply:

    its just not necessary. Anyone who is that pressed for time in their daily life needs to reexamine their priorities. There’s really no excuse for any of us being in as much a hurry as we already are. Smart people relax. or “relax is the new smart” should be a tagline.

    Emma Reply:

    I don’t know about you, but I’m thinking about the future when I think about HSR in California. By the time the system is done, we will have more than 50 million people in California and there are no trends that indicate a slow-down in growth. You need to realize that business people will be the most important riders outside the vacation seasons. At such speeds, we would not only rival commercial airlines, we would also beat private jets and increase frequency.

    jimsf Reply:

    They are already going to rival the airlines. And “business people” whoever they are, are no more important than anyone else who needs to get from a to b.

    There is no reason to beat private jets. Who cares. If someone has access to a private jet, good for them.
    For people traveling the 2:40 sf-la trip, the door to door beats the airlines already, plus adds, CIVILITY to boot.
    For the rest of the system, which, will be the majority of the riders, the hsr at 220 beats all modes for all intermediate city pairs. period. Most of them don’t have an airline to beat in the first place.

    Of all the things to worry about, the difference between 220 and 250 is low on the list. Comfort and an amenities more than make up for the 10 minutes. Way more.

    Emma Reply:

    “Of all the things to worry about, the difference between 220 and 250 is low on the list. Comfort and an amenities more than make up for the 10 minutes.”
    And that’s exactly what Amtrak said regarding Acela Express. Now the NEC has no way out out of their sysem since property prices and population density rose.

    jimsf Reply:

    AT the time acela went in, the nec was just as dense as it is now. so thats not the reason.

    jimsf Reply:

    and we arent building acela for cali. we are building 220. Even france with its 357 speed record still only bothers with running at 186 even though they could easily do 220.

    Clem Reply:

    The French now run at 200 mph (320 km/h) in a lot of sections.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    This is why it is a great thing never to have people who can’t perform the most elementary (addition, subtraction, multiplication, division) arithmetic deciding on engineering system parameters.

    (Your homework task: compare the time savings from increasing the speed limit of 50 km of track from 350kmh(!!!??!) to 400kmh(?????!WTF??!?!!) — remembering to account for acceleration and deceleration times — with the savings from increasing the limit on just 1 km of speed restriction in the middle of a bording old 160kmh stretch from 80kmh to 120kmh.)

    One would expect and hope that this sort of utterly elementary calculation could be taken for granted, even among blog commenters. Except, whoops, look over there, it’s PBQD, HNTB, PTG, CHSRA and the PCJPB … comprised of “people” who apparently can’t muster a single rational neuron between them.

    jimsf Reply:

    id like to try that if you’ll use american measurements. We dont use km in the us. We are still in the us aren’t we?

    Roughly though id guess that, increasing speed by 30 miles per hour in a 2.5 hour time means what, about 75 miles more in the same time. So, 75 miles at uh, 250mph is… there is division involved here right…. its the algebra thing were one number is over the other number and you solve for x. god I hated that then and I hate it now. I think though that you save about …
    wait if you go 250miles in one hour, then you go 125 miles in 30 minutes, so you go 62 miles in 15 minutes.. I think youd save around 15 minutes. but dont ask me about acceleration. Im a clerk not an engineer.

    15 minutes for 200 Alex. final answer.

    Emma Reply:

    You, obviously, ignore or deny (you choose) the possibility that some trains might serve only major HSR stations. Those should and must have the option to travel at higher speeds. I was NOT thinking about stopping at every station just to accelearate to 250+ mph.

    Everyone knows that you would never reach that speed in 50 km of track with the current trains!!. However, although completely different technology, the Shanghai Maglev manages to reach 268mph and maintain that speed for a minute on just 11 miles. Do you sacrifice comfort? No. But hey, just wait until Europe shows you that it is possible. And then we follow 30 years later…

    Joey Reply:

    jim – one mile is about 1.6 kilometers. That’s all you need to know in terms of conversions, though accounting for acceleration is a bit more complicated.

    Richard – assuming that acceleration (and deceleration) is 0.5 m/s^2 and you start out at 350, over 50km there isn’t even enough room to accelerate to full speed. If I’m not mistaken, you save less than a second. Even if you increased the average speed on that particular segment by 50 km/h, you’d still only save about 5 seconds.

    Increasing the speed of the other scenario, same assumptions saves you more than a minute, if my calculations are correct.

    This actually brings up an interesting point, and one that I hadn’t thought of before. If you increase the speed of a given segment of track by 10 km/h, the benefit will be less than the penalty for slowing down by 10 km/h as you can only start to speed up when you are on the fast section, whereas you must speed down before you get to the slow section (same goes for the other side).

    Joey Reply:

    Emma – you’re missing Richard’s point. Increasing your top speed will save you a little time. But the money spend increasing that top speed would be better spend speeding up slow sections, for which the travel time benefit will be much greater.

    Spokker Reply:

    Luckily this project is not being designed by transportation professionals but politicians, so that we can expect really fast trains for no good reason.

    Joey Reply:

    Actually … huh. If you increase the speed of the ENTIRE Central Valley segment from 350 to 400, you save just a little more than 20 seconds.

    Joey Reply:

    By comparison, if you decrease the Central Valley speed to 300 km/h, you only have to make up 32 seconds by reprioritizing those investments to other places in order to justify doing so.

    Emma Reply:

    Yup, keep on reading your way out…

    Again, I’m proposing that the tracks may be designed for speeds above 250 mph. Why? So that express HSR (HSR that only stops at major stations) can take full advantage of the track.

    Do you guys notice that a train that goes from LA-SJ non-stop doesn’t need to bother about the time to accelerate/decelerate? if that is true, then why whould those trains be restricted to 250 mph? That’s all I’m saying. I’m sorry for thinking 20 years ahead…

    Joey Reply:

    No – you’re missing the point. When you go from a section of slow track to a section of fast track, you need to accelerate in order to reach your new speed. Similarly you need to slow down before you enter a section of slower track again. Even at my exaggerated acceleration values, you can only gain about 0.14 km/h while accelerating. It takes a while to change speeds.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Joey, good job. Gold star!

    Speeding up fast stuff is a losing game.
    Speeding up slow stuff is always the way to go.
    Speeding up slower stuff returns more than speeding up less poky stuff.
    Speeding up the very slowest stuff (0mph) delivers the very highest return on investment of all.
    Average speed, not top speed, is all that counts, and the highest return fashion to bump up averages which are measured in units of time over length is to apply effort to short lengths with long transition periods (ie slow speeds).

    (Now perhaps you can see why people should be strung up, crucified, then burned alive, then waterboarded for their “design” “work” on the Transbay Terminal and Caltrain Extension. The criminal subhumans involved have caused hundreds of millions of dollars of expense elsewhere in the system by simply failing to take the blindingly obvious negative cost steps which get trains in and out of the terminal as quickly as possible and make the stops time as brief as possible. Die die die die die the lot of them. PTG is the rail design consultant. ARUP is the structural consultant. TJPA is the controlling agency. PCJPB (in the person of Bob Doty), MTC and CHSRA are the approving agencies. Die die die the lot of them.)

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Joey, there isn’t any train in the world that can accelerate at 0.5 m/s^2 when its speed is 350 km/h. The super-powered N700-I could accelerate at 0.11 m/s^2 then, and take 23 km to reach 400 km/h.

    Emma, the problem with the Acela is not the top speed. It may surprise you, but with zero increase in top speed and almost zero infrastructure investment, a high-acceleration train would do NY-DC in about 2 hours. The Acela’s slowness comes from long dwell times, low acceleration, low cant and cant deficiency, and arbitrary speed restrictions.

    Even with an express stopping pattern, acceleration matters. It affects not only stop time, but also the ability to recover from the slow zones of the mountain passes – to say nothing of the fact that higher power means a higher speed limit when climbing.

    Joey Reply:

    Alon Levy – you’re correct, but using a lower acceleration value only decreases the benefits of speeding up and increases the penalty for slowing down (though I don’t know what acceleration looks like around 160 km/h). Actually, do you have a source for this? I’m interested to see what acceleration at various speeds really looks like.

    Peter Reply:

    Alon Levy, do you happen to have a copy of the acceleration values for the N700-I? I’ve looked all over all the interweb, but couldn’t find anything other than “so-and-so many seconds to accelerate to 270 km/h”.

    swing hanger Reply:

    Peter, dunno if this is adequate, but here are the specs for N700i taken from the US Japan High Speed Rail website:

    *3.2 kmph/sec is the starting acceleration figure

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Peter, Joey: I don’t have a direct source. What I ended up doing was cribbing data from various sources. Acceleration equals tractive effort minus track resistance. Tractive effort is easy to calculate: it’s equal to the power to weight ratio in kW/t (i.e. W/kg) divided by the speed in m/s. Track resistance is a quadratic polynomial in speed. For the constant and linear terms, I fit a quadratic to the Velaro’s graph (different trains have slightly different values, but at high speeds it’s quite irrelevant). For the quadratic term, I used data from the Fastech 360’s tractive effort and top speed.

    I can send you an Excel file with a slow zone table for the N700-I based on this computation. Or you can do it yourself by doing integrals on Wolfram Alpha. Write integral_30^100 (x/(26.74 – 0.010262x – 0.000443322x^2 – 0.000012x^3)dx to find the time it takes to accelerate from 30 to 100 m/s. Replace the numerator with x^2 to find the distance it takes, from which you can compute the total time lost to a slow zone. You can replace the top and bottom limits of integration, but make sure the lower limit is at least 30; for lower speeds, acceleration is a constant 8/9 m/s^2.

    Emma Reply:

    Very interesting.

    @Richard Mlynarik About the Transbay Terminal. This is another thing that makes me worry. the CHSRA seems to mess up how trains enter and leave stations in the most efficient manner. Those are minutes that, added up, would mean 30 min. slower travel. It’s BS like this and those “iconic bridges” to nowhere that really harm traveling time.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    I would like to point out that both Emma and Jim are right. Speed is important, especially relative speed (i.e., faster than driving, able to rival air). And civilization is important, too.

    Speed’s attraction is pretty obvious, but the attraction of “civilized” travel may be a bit harder to pin down. I would nominate that part of it may be defined as to how uncomfortable the alternatives are, possibly combined with how slow the alternatives may be in comparison. Jim has mentioned the idea of relaxed travel by train, with food service and the like. I would also nominate that fighting traffic, or more specifically being stuck in it, is extremely frustrating; you just feel your gas, your time, and indeed your life is simply being wasted away, or at least that’s how I look at it.

    For that reason, a train that takes 2 hours to travel about 75 miles has value to me and to other passengers in West Virginia and Maryland. That train is not much faster than driving if the roads were free-flowing, but the roads usually are not free-flowing; all too often, “driving” is move 30 feet, wait, move another 30 feet, and wait some more. It’s boring as hell, yet you can’t let your mind wander, even though you’re going nowhere fast. Ugh! Who needs that?

    No wonder the younger crowd likes trains; even on this relatively bare-bones commuter service, we have snacks available in one of the cars, people can work or read papers if they choose to do so, others enjoy the scenery (wonderful views of open country between Martinsburg and Harpers Ferry, then a scenic run along the Potomac from Harpers Ferry to Point of Rocks); the more sociable types regularly get up card games on the train. Again, compared with that stop-and-move-and-stop-again nonsense on a road with 12 lanes, why would you want to drive?

    Oh, about dining cars–they weren’t invented to distract travelers from long, boring rides. They were invented to speed up trains! Before dining cars, trains would stop at a station with a restaurant; normal time was 20 minutes for such a stop, less if the train was late. The food at such establishments was infamous for its indigestibility, if not outright toxicity. Complaints eventually reached the ears of the management (and, knowing how such things work, I also suspect the management was listening to its own collective stomach after stomaching such a meal in one of its own stations). I also suspect that when one railroad on a route with competition started its own service, others had to follow suite to keep at least some passengers.

    This would later be a point of competition between railroads. In the classic era, between about 1906 (enactment of the Hepburn Act, which gave rate control to the Interstate Commerce Commission) and the collapse of private rail passenger service in the 1960s, competition between railroads, and to a certain extent against auto travel, was not price-based, but service-based. This was because, under the jurisdiction of the I.C.C., railroads had to charge the same fare between the same points, such as New York and Chicago. The basic ticket price was the same whether you rode on the New York Central, the Pennsylvania, the Lackawanna-Nickel Plate joint route, the Erie, or even the long-way-round Baltimore & Ohio. This price regulation would later strangle the railroads for a variety of reasons, but for a while your competion wasn’t money-based; it was value and service based. Airlines were once run on a similar basis–and may have been more profitable overall, although the market was also smaller because of higher fares.

    Which is better? Free-market advocates would undoubtedly argue for deregulation, and for good reasons, but I’m of the opinion that the actual results have been mixed. Sure, airplane fares can almost rival bus fares in some cases, but you also wind up with what amounts to a bus travel experience, and at the same time, the nice travel becomes unaffordable. When that happens, a lot of travel, particularly leisure travel, just doesn’t happen because it becomes a hassle. And, travel is travel, and as such, is an economic generator; ask Las Vegas or Hawawi if leisure travel is unimportant.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:


    This link is from a fellow who lives in Shepherdstown, W.Va.; a trip to his house from mine takes perhaps 20 minutes by car. Like me, he is a model railroad enthusiast, and also like me, has a strong interest in the Chesapeake & Ohio. His modeling efforts are centered around this town, where he grew up. Take note of how Gordonsville, Va. became quite famous as a food stop before dining cars, and still carried a measure of fame into the dining car era; and check out the illustrations and photos of the food service!

    Have fun!

    Emma Reply:

    Thanks for the link. I’m for reviving trains like the California Zephyr and the whole quality of travelling. For conventional long-distance trains. Not for inter-city high speed express rail.

    jimsf Reply:

    Im glad you mentioned that era of airline travel as well. Im just old enough to remember and compare air travel – 19070s pre de regulation and current post deregulation. Same thing. went from civilized to what we have now which resembles Muni’s 14 mission at rush hour.

    Same goes for the phone company. Ever try to make a payphone call when youre in a bind someplace today? Its impossible to have a good experience. Ever try to read you phone bill and make sense of it? No you just bend over and pay. Well there was a time when phone service meant phone SERVICE. YOu didnt have to do all the work. You picked up the phone and a very nice lady would answer and ask you what youd like to do and you would tell her. person to person, collect. reverse charge, local, long distance, whatever you wanted, the nice lady would hook you up and wish you a nice day. Now what do you get? you dont get squat. same with pumping gas. Why the hell do I have to pay to pump my own gas. Im the customer, get out there and pump my gas and check my tires and check my oil and give me extra green stamps or ill go elsewhere. You see folks, once upon a time, an american would never accept being treated they we are routinely treated by business today “what do you mean I have to go outside and get my money from a machine or you will charge me to come inside and get it”
    you guys don’t know what you missed. WE’d be a happier, healthier, less stressed, more relaxed nation if we traded quantity for quality. and I vote for implementing the siesta as well. you live longer.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Thank you for the compliments, Emma and Jim;

    As to the “quality” or “luxury” aspects of how a train is fitted out, that would depend on how much time you spent on the train. A subway, with its short-spaced stops and normally short passenger trips, can be extremely basic, while some high speed trains will be on routes long enough to justify food service, and, in the case of a proposed (i.e, way, way into the future, maybe) coast-to-coast, post-airplane night service, sleeping cars as well.

    What would one of my posts be without links?

    If you’ve been following me any length of time at all, you also know I’m a steam fan. Out of curiousity, do you also see any part in the great rail revival I’ve spoken of–everything from HSR to local streetcars–for steam trains, standard and narrow gauge, in the future?

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Came across what I consider another good little flick.

    Hope you enjoy it, too.

    thatbruce Reply:

    do you also see any part in the great rail revival I’ve spoken of–everything from HSR to local streetcars–for steam trains, standard and narrow gauge, in the future?


    When you get down to it, ‘traditional’ steam engines are inefficient, high maintenance and expensive on manpower (both in the cab and out), when compared to traction or even diesel. Outside tourist railways and the occasional coal line taking advantage of a cheap fuel source, the traditional steam engine is gone as far as day to day usage goes.

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    When discussing speeds and acceleration you all forget a very important variable: cost efficiency. This, more than techical reasons, determines choice of speeds.
    Take Paris-Marseille (489 miles), for instance. The TGV does it in 3 hours at an average speed of 163mph. This gives the TGV a 85% market share (from 22% in pre-HSR times). The SNCF has calculated that increasing that speed would be counterproductive. It would increase costs and make it less competitive with Ryanair.
    The same sort of cost analysis has led the SNCF to privilege uninterrupted trips to avoid braking and accelerating which consume a lot of energy and increase maintenance costs. Paris-Marseille doesn’t stop at Lyon, and Paris-Lyon doesn’t continue to Marseille.
    Commercial speed may increase in the future if the SNCF finds it worthwhile to beat the airlines on longer distances. I000 km (625 miles) in 3 hours is being considered but nothing has been decided so far.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Emma, the thing is that you don’t just design the tracks to achieve 250mph, you have to design the whole corridor to support 250mph. And of course, if 250mph is your absolute speed limit, then there will never be catching up from even the most minor delays, so the design speed limit has to be higher than the speed you are expecting to operate at for long enough stretches to matter.

    All of which costs money compared to an operating speed of 220mph.

    Assuming you have your unconstrained express running 100miles at 220mph, it takes ~28 min. to travel that segment. So a Star Trek segment where it used a “transporter” and traveled the segment at the speed of light could only save 28 minutes. Cranking the operating speed up to an average of 250mph over 100 miles takes ~24min. So over that 100mile stretch, you save 4 minutes at those averages.

    Now look at the same 30mph increase for two 50mile stretches at 125mph. An average operating speed of 125mph over 100 miles would be ~48min. Speeding it up to 155mph would be ~38min, a saving of 10 minutes.

    Time saving for average transit speeds is proportional to the percentage increase in speed, and 125mph to 155mph is a ~24% increase, while 220mph to 250mph is a a ~14% increase.

    That’s why Proof of Payment ticketing, where people get on the train and the train gets underway and then ticket inspectors (either exhaustively or by random checking) who has their tickets is important. You operate the trains like trains, and you spend fewer minutes operating at 0mph.

    jimsf Reply:

    the time savings from the train being able to get going before people have even found their seats has another benefit as well…. YOu don’t have to sit there and wait until all the strapping in and safety demonstrations are complete. You are half way out of town before you even find your seat. that whole plane boarding process is so maddening, sitting there waiting for people to get their act together. The pilot should just take off. Thatll get em seated faster.

    Joey Reply:

    Considering how incredibly long it takes to accelerate those final 30 mph, the savings would probably be less than 4 minutes. The Central Valley segment isn’t much more than 200 miles long, and it might very well work out that you couldn’t even reach 250 and slow back down again over that distance, even if you start at 220.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    At the savings of how many minutes? The speed you maintain is far more important for average travel speed than the speed you attain.

    Joey Reply:

    A design speed of 250 MPH implies an operational speed of 225 MPH, does it not?

  11. Chris G
    Oct 27th, 2010 at 06:18

    The stupid deserve what they get when they vote. Let Palo Alto become the Tombstone of peninsula.

    Same goes for NJ too.

  12. Andrew
    Oct 27th, 2010 at 06:46

    I vote that in 10 years when Palo Alto is begging for a station the CHSRA makes the city pay for all of it.

    YesonHSR Reply:

    They sure will and deserve it

    Eric Fredericks Reply:

    There probably won’t be a chance unless they brought a new proposition before a statewide vote. I would have to figure that Redwood City or Mountain View will be getting a station. I doubt there will be extra stations just sitting around, unless some of the Southern California stations drop out.

  13. Nadia
    Oct 27th, 2010 at 07:48

    Just one example of why the title of this blog entry is just silly:

    Others would be facts like PA has the 2nd highest Caltrain ridership outside of SF.

    And that all of Stanford’s expansion is based heavily on using Caltrain instead of cars to get to the area.

    Or that the city runs its own shuttle system paid for by the city.

    Or that all kids in PA district are encouraged to walk or bike to school (since schools purposely don’t have big parking lots). They even have a 3rd grade bike program to ensure kids know the rules, learn to ride safely, etc.

    Or that PA has 3 farmers markets in different locations during the week to encourage Community Supported Agriculture and encourage people to walk to the market.

    Or that PA is currently has plans to put it’s “other” downtown on California Avenue on a road diet:

    Seriously, we can disagree on the train – but to say that PA would rather shackle itself to cars is just utter nonsense.

    Scott Reply:

    So, residents of PA are going to start riding their bikes to Southern California?

    J. Wong Reply:

    No, they’ll ride their bikes to the Caltrain station and take Caltrain to SJ (or maybe RWC), and then to SoCal on the HSR :-)

    StevieB Reply:

    It is only 6 miles from Palo Alto to Redwood City. Certainly some will start their business trip to Southern California riding a bicycle in their suit and tie.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Or if they would rather be more comfortable on the HSR ride, have a suit pannier on their bike, which works fine as carry-on luggage on the HSR, and change into the suit near the end of the trip.

    I assume that there will be ample bike parking at the HSR station.

  14. jimsf
    Oct 27th, 2010 at 08:52

    PASADENA, CA–(Marketwire – October 26, 2010) – Parsons is pleased to announce that the Southern California Regional Rail Authority, the governing board of Metrolink, recently awarded Parsons a $120 million contract to design, procure, and install Positive Train Control (PTC) technology on Metrolink’s 512-mile regional commuter rail system.

    political_incorrectness Reply:

    *Hits head on desk* Let the money wasting begin on specific PTC systems.

    jimsf Reply:

    I had a feeling this would elicit a response. The article didn’t say anything about the type of PTC, and Im no techie, but to me it would seem that there should be one standard system statewide, if not nationwide, for all rail systems. Design it, perfect it, mass produce it to make it cheaper, make its parts interchangeable, etc etc oh and make it upgradeable. In other words, make it a MAC. Apple should design PTC with snow leopard os. plus the hardware will look really nice next to the tracks.

    Sheldon Harrison Reply:

    Jim, the characteristics you mentioned do not describe MACs, they much better describe Windows PCs.
    Cheaper – X
    interchangeable parts – X
    upgradeable – X
    Perfect it – Y

    Just thought I would mention it. You are right however, PTC needs to be a standard system nationwide.

    jimsf Reply:

    At work I have to use a pc. I wouldn’t recommend it for anything other than a place set your potted plants.

    HSTSheldon Reply:

    I hear you. Just stating that the characteristics you describe do not apply to MACs. They are not cheap, they are not easily upgradeable or at least much less so than PCs and their parts are less interchangeable. They are well made and function very well however, just not worth what is demanded for them. I have owned a PC for 8 years (on its last legs now) and it has done all that I needed at far lower lifecycle cost than a MAC.

    From your following post though, it does look like the PTC system will be standardized which is good.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Compared to custom built electronic gear of the same functionality, they most definitely are much cheaper, and use more interchangeable parts (heck, they even use Intel processors nowadays. And the requirement was to perfect the design, which rules Windows PCs out from the start.

    Also, the come with the software a lot of people need to use them out of the box, and that is also something to add to the list.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Funny you should mention that idea when Apple also has enough money to build the entire CAHSR system outright and still keep a tidy treasury. Coincidence? I wish it weren’t.

    jimsf Reply:

    If only there were an iTrain in our future.

    James Fujita Reply:

    If Apple built trains, they’d be all over this project. With an Apple Store in each HSR station and ads featuring Ellen Feiss urging people to switch.

    “I was driving my car to L.A., and the traffic was like beep beep beep beep beep beep….”

    jimsf Reply:

    lol thats great!

    The trains would be black with a white apple or white with a grey apple. Of course all the on board info and entertainment would be mac displays and interface. Wanna recline your seat? There’d be an app for that. Built in seat back ipads with seat to seat ichat.

    synonymouse Reply:

    If a very demanding and perfectionist private entrepreneur like Steve Jobs were building the California hsr rest assured it would be quite different from the PB-CHSRA scheme. He would seek the advice of the UP instead of trying to seize it.

    Joey Reply:

    Like UP knows anything about modern railroad operations.

    synonymouse Reply:

    A lot more than the influence peddlers and machine hacks who dumbed down to the Tehachapi Loop detour.

    Peter Reply:


    BruceMcF Reply:

    Joey, that’s not fair. UP knows a lot about the modern way to move gravel, timber, coal, and cheap electronic crap from China, which is get the tons over the miles for as few pennies as possible to make the bean counters in the shipping customers happy.

    Its just higher value added railroad operations that UP may not be quite up on.

    jimsf Reply:

    oh here it is – maybe it is a universal system

    Fully interoperable with the Union Pacific’s and Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway’s PTC systems, Metrolink’s PTC systemwide implementation program will consist of the following: — A PTC back-office system — Replacement of the current Computer Aided Dispatch system — PTC on-board computers, display screens, GPS tracking, and radios on 57 cab cars and 52 locomotives — Stop enforcement system at 476 wayside signals — A six-county specialized communication network to link the wayside signals, trains, and the centralized dispatch office PTC is collision avoidance technology that monitors and controls train movements. Parsons is a recognized leader in the application of communications-based train control systems and the technical lead on multiple installations worldwide. Implementation of PTC technology can improve safety for Metrolink passengers and workers, as it is capable of preventing train-to-train collisions, over-speed derailments, and movement of a train through a switch left in the wrong position.

    thatbruce Reply:

    In other words, they’re taking mostly off-the-shelf technology and putting it in their specific equipment and tracks that they operate over. They’re not designing their own almost-but-not-quite-entirely-unlike-a-standard-PTC system from the ground up. And this is the system that is intending to do full track sharing with CAHSR ;)

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Metrolink, recently awarded Parsons a $120 million contract to design, procure, and install Positive Train Control (PTC) technology

    Thank God they chose the very most best company in the world, after an extensive technical and economic review of open bids from the global market of qualified and experienced and not at all failure-prone or rent-seeking or trade-protected or ECO-loving or kick-backing companies, to install a known working, mutli-vendor, inter-operable system.

    PTG, the “people” who brought you the Caltrain Downtown Extension and Transbay Terminal “design”. The “people” who brought you the Caltrain “RIP” Electrification EIR. The finest engineering and systems integration brains anywhere on the planet, for sure. Just what Metrolink deserves.

    jimsf Reply:

    ( actually The tbt was designed by pelli

    Joey Reply:

    The station throat wasn’t.

    jimsf Reply:

    people dont care about station throats.

    Joey Reply:

    Except for the people who will be waiting for their trains to get in and out of them.

    jimsf Reply:

    They won’t know the difference. If I do a survey tomorrow and ask passengers whats more important the station throat or the terminal retail design. They will ( after asking me to explain what I mean by station throat) say the terminal design and amenities. Because while they are waiting for the train that is taking 6 minutes too long to get through the throat, they have time to go to jamba juice, buy a copy of vogue, and drop off the dry cleaning, which just saved them 45 minutes by not having to leave the property. Thats what they’ll say and they are the customers and thats what they want so thats what they’ll get and the only people who will be mad are nuclear scientists and nasa engineers who know that the universe is going to implode because people prefer shopping to math.

    Joey Reply:

    And how many of these people will actually understand the implications of station throat design?

    It’s like asking them if they care more about the rail gauge or the color of the seats. Even though the implications of the former are much more important, most people know nothing about it.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    No, people do not care about station throats.

    “Why can Caltrain run those Express services into the TBT?”

    “blah blah blah blah station throat blah blah blah”

    “What, the station can’t swallow them? Why can they swallow the locals and the HSR?”

    That’s precisely why they were able to get away with it … nobody will care until the consequences hit, and then it will be far too late to fix it.

    Joey Reply:

    Also – the original design was pelli’s but the TJPA has made a few somewhat-significant modifications since then.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    So much misinformation. Why the compulsion to type sans any hint of a backing of facts? I don’t get it.

  15. morris brown
    Oct 27th, 2010 at 10:59

    NJ gov: I’m sticking with decision to scrap tunnel

    Now if only we had a legislature or a Governor with this kind of guts, this project will be killed off immediately.

    nobody important Reply:

    You wish.

    thatbruce Reply:

    I’m sure that in an alternate universe, Boris Mrown is at the forefront of welcoming the start of CAHSR’s minor reconstruction of the BART ROW along the east side of the Bay, with the train deck for the new portion of the Bay Bridge being finished shortly after the car deck in a year’s time.

    dave Reply:

    Maybe you can do us a favor and move to NJ? I hear it’s great, huh. Think about it!

    synonymouse Reply:

    I don’t foresee unilaterally killing off a project that was approved at the polls. But how come the opposition to the CHSRA is not working on a re-vote initiative? Where is the Jarvis crowd? Very strange. Maybe the contractors greased their palms to lay back. I will be very interested to see how Whitman deals with having blown $150 million on a lost cause. Is it all a ritchie-rich ego trip or is she prepared to take on the likes of PB-Palmdale? She would sure make the UP happy if she did.

    Peter Reply:

    Where are you getting this “Whitman” crap, anyway? As of right now, she is losing by 8.8% on average, according to RCP. She has basically lost, after having blown nearly $150 million.

    Boxer also appears to have moved ahead, as well, in the final push.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Yeah, she has dropped $150 million to verify what was already known: the folly of taking on the Pelosi machine, like trying to unseat Intel. Many have tried and many have died.

    But one has to wonder if she will take humiliating defeat by skulking away, tail between the legs. Perhaps she will take umbrage at how her neighbors in PAMPA are being bullied by PB-Palmdale and take up the cudgels.

    With such a high level of discontent in the state with the CHSRA scheme the inaction of the Jarvisites is incomprehensible. One has to suspect their leadership is either being bribed or intimidated by the consultant-contractor-labor complex.

    Nationally the situation is truly bizarro, imho. Apparently the Fed is in a panic to produce inflation, ie. devalue the dollar. So they are ramping up the printing presses, with hsr schmes being possibly a primary benefactor. If it works they will be hailed as economic gurus. If not, we could see a scenario like Germany in the 20’s.

    Meanwhile the really rich are buying gold by the bar.

    Peter Reply:

    I’m entertained at how you always try to make it seem as if HSR is a top-priority agenda issue on a national or even state basis. Except for Wisconsin and maybe Florida, HSR is not a major issue in any race.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The hsr, to my knowledge, never came up in any of the debates. About the only topic that received anything approaching a detailed discussion was state employee pensions.

    Pump priming, aka the stimulus, is a major national political issue, with infrastructure spending being the mechanism mostly. Roads are a done-deal, but hsr campaign is more and more contentious. All I can say is whatever hsr is ultimately completed first had better live up to the hype. If not that will be the end of it. The highway lobby will have a field day.

    In California the welfare state will be hard pressed to defray the operating losses of BART, AC, Muni, et al, let alone the hsr. The rich and corps are tax exempt and what little left that can be extracted from the masses will have to go to “panem et circenses”.

  16. political_incorrectness
    Oct 27th, 2010 at 19:38

    The Jarvis crowd got disproven and their report was extremely inaccurate. They took the extremes of everything and bare minimums. I wrote a whole 14 page paper for my English 102 paper about the whole deal. There are better issues to account for such as the cooperation between the railroads, the federal funding, and coordination between various authorities. Those conflicts need to be resolved in order to have a project. Too bad the feds cannot just strip NJ of its roadway funding if they do not build the tunnel. That would force their hand and prevent them from spending money to expand the roadways already overexpanded.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    The USDoT is demanding a refund from NJ on the money that they already spent, as NJ has violated the agreement it made when it accepted that money.

    Obviously if the new cross Hudson tunnel is built as an Amtrak corridor, only some parts of the ARC project will be in it. One part that is highly likely to be completed is the works that they have already started. Some of the local connections for NJT may go, and the corridor may actually reach Penn itself rather than an Empire State building beneath … Macy’s?

  17. D. P. Lubic
    Oct 27th, 2010 at 20:48
  18. Ken
    Oct 28th, 2010 at 23:40

    Meh, their loss.

Comments are closed.