Saturday Open Thread

Nov 27th, 2010 | Posted by

I’m up in Seattle for the coming week, but should be able to maintain the usual rate of daily posts – especially with what should be a very interesting CHSRA board meeting on Thursday.

It’s not just California that is well-positioned for high speed rail. The Pacific Northwest rail corridor is suited to 220 mph HSR. The Amtrak Cascades were packed today – so much so that an extra train was added using older (but refurbished) Amfleet cars instead of the oh-so-comfortable Talgo trainsets. Because the Cascades route serves the main population centers of the Pacific Northwest, true high speed rail would be very popular and useful, providing service that is much speedier than driving along the I-5 corridor. The current plan involves improving the corridor speeds to 110 mph, which isn’t a bad idea, but is also less ambitious than the region deserves.

Hopefully HSR supporters here can push their state governments to propose true HSR – which could connect Seattle to Vancouver BC or Portland in under an hour – and get the project off the ground.

  1. ant6n
    Nov 27th, 2010 at 18:08
    #1

    So HSR Vancounver-LA in how many hours?

  2. political_incorrectness
    Nov 27th, 2010 at 21:32
    #2

    It is funny how I just left Seattle. I am hoping to start a proposal to build a high-speed line between Seattle and Portland. We need to improve train travel.

    Jerry Reply:

    It is a pleasure to ride the very comfortable Cascades. If you compare the schedules from Portland to Seattle the Cascades beats the Coast Starlight by 55 minutes.

  3. Jack In Fresno
    Nov 27th, 2010 at 22:48
    #3

    It’s so hard to follow the longer discussions in the comments section. Nested comments are so difficult to keep track of who is talking about what. I love this blog, but I have to take a break from some threads because they are entirely too long. There has to be a better way! Can we get a message board?

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    Ask Robert. I agree the comments are unwieldy.

    jimsf Reply:

    i agree too. hard to follow.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    What exactly is unwieldy about them? What exactly makes it hard to follow? I’m not disagreeing with you, I just need more specifics so I can diagnose it and try and make some improvements.

    Victor Reply:

    How about an Edit function? For starters.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    How does the lack of an Edit function make threads unwieldy?

    I understand the arguments for an Edit function, but making threads easier to follow doesn’t seem to relate.

    James M. Reply:

    It would help to see messages not read since last visit. With the lengthy threads, it takes a lot of reading to figure where one has left off.

    Thnks, Jim

    Donk Reply:

    Agreed, this is the #1 thing missing, as it is difficult to go back over a page and figure out what is new.

    Also missing is “back to top” link at bottom of pages. Scrolling back up takes a while.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    I’ll have to see if there’s a WordPress plugin for the “messages not read” thing.

    I should be able to include a “back to top” link at the bottom of the page myself.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    “back to top” is built in, press the home key. there’s other ways to do the same thing

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    To echo others, Robert:

    What is unwieldly is that threads often drift far far away from the original post regardless of how soon the thread is started. So to that end, you don’t need to make editable comments or even rate them. You just need to have the threads display themselves not chronlogically by first post, but either by total number of replies or the most number of replies in the last six to eight hours. Then have some way that registered users can see what is new or not, so that we can spent more time thinking about our comments and less time trying to “read” the comments.

    Still, you’ve done a good job and all I want is to be able to contribute meaningfully.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    That makes sense. I’ll see what I can do for a “new messages” feature. If anyone knows of any WordPress plugins for it, let me know.

    Jack In Fresno Reply:

    Nested comments are great for one our two replies, but on a site like this with 30 or so replies per comment it’s difficult to follow. Go back to the way it was before, which is similar to every modern message board, if you need to refer to someone’s statement allow for a quote button. Secondly, break the comments into pages. That would be easier as I could remember that I left off on page four, and now there are 17 more pages to read.

    Joey Reply:

    A message board sounds like a great idea, considering that certain topics keep coming up again and again in different comment threads.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Who would maintain the board? I don’t have time to do it. But it is not a bad idea.

    Brandon from San Diego Reply:

    It would likely need to be maintained by a team of people. And, perhaps organized by subject or corridor or something

    Brandon from San Diego Reply:

    See Transit Coalition board for a good undersatanding for structure. However, that is more by line or geographic area. With HSR, I suspect an organization more by subject.

    Dan Reply:

    Perhaps collapsible comments are the answer? A rating system for comments wouldn’t hurt either … but perhaps I’m expecting too much given that we *still* can’t edit comments.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    I’m still opposed to editable comments; it’ll never happen on my blog. I’m not a big fan of a ratings system either, having experienced it these last 7 years at Daily Kos.

    Collapsible comments are worth looking at. As with anything, there has to be a WordPress plugin for it.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Either comments editable for the first ten minutes or a preview option is the number one upgrade. Especially since right hand end of the text edit box is obscured by the layout on Firefox leaving you quite literally typing blind at the right hand edge of the line.

    jimsf Reply:

    yeh I have that edge issue too on my mac, the comments don’t stay in the box.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Oh yeah, the right edge obscuring is really annoying. It forces me to do things like delete a mid-line word just to see what was obscured if I need to edit anything.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    It is frustrating, I agree. Not sure what the solution is – I don’t think we can widen the comment box across to the right column, and further reducing the number of possible replies seems unwieldy.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Not sure what the solution is

    Compose it someplace else then paste it in. Has all sorts of advantages.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Can you narrow the text box to fit the available space?

    Arthur Dent Reply:

    Until those features are resolved, try this:

    1) Use your favorite text editor for composing your post. Word, email, or wherever a spell checker resides. Copy/paste it.

    2) To get to the top of the screen faster than scrolling, use .

    Arthur Dent Reply:

    O-kay, looks like the control keys got wiped out. That should read:

    2) To get to the top of the screen faster than scrolling, use CTRL-HOME.

    Dan S. Reply:

    I’ve never seen anyone else back it publicly, so I’ll do so now. I also think editable comments are a bad idea. Too easy for pundits to revise the history of our public conversations. Let’s say I make a post where my pro-HSR bias so clearly shows my papering-over of logic and well-known examples and it is exposed as a fraud by the dozens of comments by the excited community of bloggers here. I’m embarrassed, so I change my original post to make it seem more logical and relevant, and suddenly all the replies now seem like over-reactions and don’t even apply anymore. Lame. Make a post, live up to it! :-)

    I do agree that the entry system is not good. Seems like there’s no way to pre-flight your href links and block quotes and other such decorative blogging arts. And of course the right-margin problem.

    As to the ease of following the threads, the layout is fine for me, but I’d also appreciate a way to mark my progress somehow and read new posts since my last visit. And it would be nice to have a personal dashboard with links to all open threads in which I posted comments, to see how people are responding. But perhaps the lack of such a feature is a good flame-retardant, too!

    Victor Reply:

    collapsible comments, Good idea, With the most recent being not collapsed. I’d still like to be able to edit My comments though, Instead of making another entry in the same area as the comment that I can not edit.

  4. Brandon from San Diego
    Nov 27th, 2010 at 23:15
    #4

    Yuku has message boards.

    A huge benefit of a message board is that they can memorialize everyones comment and threads can be arranged/started by subject, or area or what-not. I am sure many here are already familiar with SkyscraperPage and SkyscraperCity. There are also a number of college sports boards too.

    jimsf Reply:

    they even have transportation there

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Yuku, however, is a horrible system.

    Brandon from San Diego Reply:

    Why?

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Poor design, rather intrusive ads, and tends to crash a lot from what I’ve heard. There’s really no reason why CAHSR should use it instead of something like vBB.

    Brandon from San Diego Reply:

    You can buy-out of the ad experience

  5. jimsf
    Nov 27th, 2010 at 23:18
    #5

    ohyeah I like the skyscraper pages style.

  6. tony d.
    Nov 27th, 2010 at 23:52
    #6

    Love the skyscrapercity page! Is 262 posts on the Merced thread a record for this site? Oh the passion!

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Not even close. The record is 505 comments, on this Bakersfield thread.

    Brandon from San Diego Reply:

    So, 2 Valley segments get the most responses?

    Matthew Reply:

    My guess is that it’s an indication of not having enough posts about other components of the system than the peninsula. When posts do show up, it brings up topics that haven’t already been discussed at great length. It seems to me that the main arguments about the peninsula have already been made, and there’s somewhat less interest in rehashing them, while other components of the system may have more open issues to discuss.

    Brandon from San Diego Reply:

    My secret point was that, yes, the penisula gets too much broadband space.

    thatbruce Reply:

    Or that people in the peninsula spend far too much time on computers ;)

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    In both cases, it also reflects the fact that HSR supporters in the two cities are passionate – and numerous.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    But the response from people in Bakersfield has been mostly negative – that’s part of the reason the HSRA chose to start from Fresno instead.

    Peter Reply:

    Or Fresno is closer to the middle of the CV.

    Brandon from San Diego Reply:

    Assuming all things are equal, that might be the case. But, things are not always equal. They likely are not here and CHSRA picked a segment with little regard to local sentiment.

    Dan S. Reply:

    In the case of the Bakersfield thread, doesn’t it really represent the fact that project opponents in that city thought that Robert and this board were official points of outreach from the CHSRA? :-) Made for a good read, though.

  7. John Burrows
    Nov 28th, 2010 at 00:06
    #7

    According to the CaHSRA 2009 business plan addendum, the current ridership and revenue forecast does not fully include several niche markets. Included as a niche market would be auto based tourism travel and travel to sporting or special events. “These are not negligible markets and will be reviewed in the ridership upgrade work underway” .

    It will be interesting to see how much of a bump this “upgrade work underway” will give to ridership and revenue numbers

  8. Alon Levy
    Nov 28th, 2010 at 01:06
    #8

    Amtrak Cascades is one of only three Amtrak lines that’s allowed to use a cant deficiency approaching that of modern non-tilting trains. The FRA gave it a waiver by using tilting Talgos.

    The Pacific Northwest is an okay corridor for HSR. It’s something like priority #7 nationwide. Once there are good lines running in the Northeast, Midwest, California, and Texas, let’s talk about Seattle-Portland.

    Joey Reply:

    I assume another of those three is the Acela, but what’s the third?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The Regional is allowed 5″ north of New Haven. The FRA’s reasoning is that high-speed trains, which according to its standards include the Regional, are more comfortable for passengers at high speed.

    jimsf Reply:

    texas? pffft, screw texas. perhaps you’ve forgotten what they did to us.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    No, I remember. I also remember what California did to everyone.

    But seriously, the Texas Triangle is a strong route. The connecting transit makes LA look like Tokyo, but those are big cities with horrible traffic and fast population growth.

    jimsf Reply:

    we are still paying for the enron screwing on our pg&bills

    Alon Levy Reply:

    True. Also for Reagan screwing on everyone who was in a union.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    I would prefer not to work on corridors one at a time. I agree it’s not the top priority, but we should build them all at once.

    More importantly, if the feds are going to stop funding HSR for a while, HSR development will be left up to the states. And it would make sense for WA and OR (and BC) to get cracking on a true HSR system for the region.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    If it’s done federally, then it should be done with the best corridors first, just like how Japan and France did it. The last thing you want is an Interstate-grade boondoggle on your hands; rail can and should be done better.

    But if it’s done on a state basis, then you’re right, it doesn’t really matter what Texas and Illinois do. And you’re right that WA, OR, and BC should be working on a plan as ambitious as CA’s.

    Al-Fakh Yugoudh Reply:

    There are ways for interstate cooperation. It is true that most HSR projects around the world have been within one State with only partial funding from the EU, however there was interstate cooperation for the Eurostar between UK and France, Belgium, and there is interstate cooperation in the Lyon-Turin currently under construction. All of these projects are under the aegis of the EU, but with minimal involvement by Brussels bureaucrats, except for some funding. For the Northeast and the Northwest corridors I think that interstate cooperation would be preferable to the Feds. Nothing will get done if you leave it to the Feds. Only the highway lobby could get anything done at the Federal level, trains have no chance especially with the Republicans in charge. States that are going to benefit from these projects need to be more proactive. At the Federal level there are those states with no people and disproportionate representation in Congress (Wyoming has as many Senators as California) which have no interest in funneling fed tax money to these projects that benefit only some regions. These unpopulated states are disproportionately Republican and will have a lot of influence in the next Congress.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I don’t know about the Northwest – gun to head, I’d say you’re right there. But for the Northeast, it can’t possibly be done purely on an interstate basis. First, investment in better intercity service on the Northeast Corridor requires completely gutting the FRA, and that requires federal involvement. Second, there are so many states with disparate, usually commuter-oriented interests, that without federal intervention some segments would get worse rather than better. And third, the profit potential for the NEC is so large that even Republicans, especially Mica, would support it if the price were normal.

  9. jimsf
    Nov 28th, 2010 at 08:42
    #9

    So if there was hsr in the pac nw, say vac-sea-pdx-eug

    what would the travel times be between city pairs at 110, 125, 220?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Leave Eugene out – the population is too small. They should just electrify the existing line and run HSR trains through at lower speed.

    Seattle-Portland would be between 1 hour and 1:15 and Seattle-Vancouver between 0:45 and 1:00, depending on how many slowdowns there are in the built-up area. A modern low-speed intercity train could do Portland-Eugene in about 1:30, assuming the track is optimized for passenger service, but this could balloon to 2:00 if UP insists otherwise.

    jimsf Reply:

    how bout just upgrades to run the cascade talgos at 110. That would be the easiest? and bring reasonable travel times?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It would be pretty much irrelevant. The problem is not top speed – it’s slowdowns. To avoid these, independently of top speed (which those would raise anyway), the following should be done:

    1. Level boarding.

    2. Passenger train priority over freight trains, with double-track segments if there’s any risk of passenger trains falling off-schedule due to conflicts.

    3. Modern equipment, capable of higher cant deficiency and acceleration. Any off-the-shelf noncompliant European loco would be okay. EMUs would be even better.

    4. Minor curve modifications.

    5. Electrification.

    Those should be the goal for all intercity service in the US. With these points, trains could achieve an average speed of about 75 mph on moderately curvy legacy track, even with a top speed of 90 mph.

    jimsf Reply:

    well, but say you were only doing express trains, vac-sea-pdx-eug then level boarding and all that wouldn’t be so important because there would only be 2 stops between vac and eug. So if you ran express with existing cascade talgo and did nothing except increase the speed from 79 to 110, wouldn’t that result in reasonable express travel times at hardly any additional cost? ( double tracking and track upgrades only)

    Alon Levy Reply:

    No, it would still be important. You’d rather the stop at Seattle took 2 minutes, not 10. Medium-level platforms with level boarding cost in the tens or low hundreds of thousands. The benefit for express trains would be smaller, but so would the cost. If anything the cost would go down faster than the benefit, because express stations have longer dwells.

    Double-tracking is pretty expensive, and so are the signaling upgrades and grade crossing protections you need to go 110. Not anywhere near as expensive as greenfield HSR, but you still should pursue the cheapest minutes to cut from the travel time first.

    jimsf Reply:

    ok so what if all you did was increase the operating speed. you’d still save what, 20 or 30 mintues off each city pair?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I’m not sure – I haven’t seen a track map for that area, so I don’t know which portion of the line is at speed. If it’s anything like the Northeast and Empire Corridors, you’d be lucky to save 30 minutes on Portland-Seattle. Realistically, more like 15.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    It costs more to the passenger rail program to upgrade all shared track to Class 6 with 10 mile : 50 mile passing track in light freight areas and dedicated passenger track in heavy freight areas …

    … compared to shifting the cost to the freight operator, as Alon proposes. Of course, cost shifting does not make the cost go away, and can easily result in a net increase in cost, just on different balance sheets.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It’s not all shifting the costs to the freight operator. Level boarding means recognizing that in the 21st century people shouldn’t hang from freight trains’ sides while the train is in motion. Modern equipment isn’t a problem to anyone but FRA bureaucrats. The higher speed would require more passing sidings and more freight timetable discipline, but that’s true regardless of whether it’s achieved by 110 mph top speed and crappy operating practices or 90 mph top speed and the best operating practices.

    jimsf Reply:

    but I don’t think you can run freight trains next to high platforms.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They took out all the high platforms in the Northeast? when did they do that?

    James Fujita Reply:

    Triple track the stations, put platforms on the side tracks, put freights and express passenger trains in in the middle. Build pedestrian tunnels or bridges to link the northbound and southbound platforms.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    How high is high? 20.6″ is better than nothing, if 36″ or 51″ is not workable. Though as adirondacker notes, when they have to, they turn out to be able to.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Oversize freight is about 2′ above top of rail. The main question is what the height of a flatcar is, and it’s almost always about 2′. The 21.7″ (=55 cm) platforms I’m advocating as a potential solution are compatible with virtually all oversize mainline freight lines in the US.

    If oversize freight is a problem on the line, then additional bypass tracks are the wrong solution. They’re expensive to build and maintain, especially the switches. It’s fine if there are only intercity trains, which make few stops, but once you want to start a commuter overlay anywhere, higher platforms force additional bypass tracks or gauntlet tracks.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Oversized freight on a nominal passenger line is not necessarily a serious problem, provided there is another full-clearance route somewhere in the vicinity. This can lead to detour problems, but that’s not a new problem; there were marine boilers, built in the American Locomotive Company’s plant in Schenectedy, N.Y. during WW II, that had to take a detour that added something like 200 miles to the normal routing because they were close to 18 feet tall, and that was on top of a low-deck flatcar, which put overall height at close to 20 feet! This was at a time when a lot of railroad tunnels and highway overpasses in the eastern part of the country put a height restriction on locomotives of 15 feet, and occasionally less.

    A very famous shipment that was oversized and fragile to boot was the big reflecting mirror of a telescope at Mt. Polomar, Ca.; I’m not an astronomer, but I seem to recall the thing is something like 200 inches in diameter, and is still there. Imagine shipping something like that from Corning, N.Y., to California! Imagine the insurance charges on it today!

    The big problem can be that those detours may no longer exist; a notable example in the New York area was the normally sleepy Putnam Division of the New York Cental. It didn’t have that much traffic on it, but it had more generous clearances than the main line, and came in handy on quite a number of occasions for shipments of 150-foot bridge girders and other oversize cargoes. Sadly, the wonderful rural Putnam is long gone; another road so many of us wish was still around. . .

    Clem Reply:

    Jim, YouTube “Ossining freight train” and you’ll see plenty of examples of freight blasting past high platforms. It only seems to be a problem west of the Mississippi.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    D.P. the Ol’ Put(nam) was wonderfully rural because it was wonderfully curvy which made it wonderfully slow. It may have seemed like a good idea in 1870 but probably not even then. It went through bankruptcy and mergers fairly frequently until the New York Central gained control.

    Clem, there are high platforms west of the Mississippi? Front Runner in Utah? where else? Front Runner uses old NJTransit equipment so I’m gonna assume 48 inch platforms….

    Peter Reply:

    Front Runner uses Bombardier BiLevels.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Peter all the pictures the LA foamers posted of ancient Comets in LAUS came from somewhere….well LAUS. From Wikipedia:
    FrontRunner runs 11 MPXpress (MP36PH-3C) locomotives from Motive Power International of Boise, Idaho, 22 new bi-level Bombardier cars, and has recently repainted 25 refurbished ex-New Jersey Transit Comet Is which entered service on September 17, 2008. Thirty ex-Metra gallery cars were given to UTA free of charge, but they were determined to be in too poor condition to refurbish, and are being scrapped and used for spare parts for the Comet trains

    Peter Reply:

    Oh, right, forgot about the Comets. That doesn’t mean they have high platforms, though.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Try building a new system without level boarding at the new stations….

    jimsf Reply:

    have you ever watched one lumber through a station? They move a lot and would hit the platforms. They send huge oversized freight cars through sacramento. I use to watch them while sitting trackside waiting to load baggage on the starlight. Gigantic, lumbering, thumping, swaying, rocking freight cars that would take out a chunk of platform.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    You could use retractable gangways, as on the Sprinter between Oceanside and Escondido.

    jimsf Reply:

    or maybe just put the platform off the mainline.

    jimsf Reply:

    like they did here

    BruceMcF Reply:

    When I think about the ad campaigns in New South Wales to reduce rail corridor tresspass, yellow lines to indicate the correct places to saunter across the tracks to the platform on the other side is a trip.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    If there are oversize freight trains on BNSF’s line, then the correct approach is to have 550 mm boarding height, which is lower than the oversize freight on American mainlines. Unlike Richard I don’t think it’s ideal on a line without such constraints, but it’s usable if it’s necessary.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    And don’t forget the platform announcement, “{Bing Bing Bong} Fat ass freight coming through, please stand clear”.

    Well, something like that.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    The Japanese also spent a lot of time studying the Chicago, North Shore & Milwaukee. This was an interurban that ran from Chicago to Milwaukee. Fastest time seems to have been about 2 hours for a trip of less than 100 miles, but that line had loads and loads of stops, and despite that seemingly low average timetable speed, the road regularly ran in the No. 1 slot of train-miles operated in excess of 60 mph, beating out giants such as the Pennsylvania, the New York Central, the Burlington, and the Santa Fe

    http://www.northshoreline.com/

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chicago_North_Shore_and_Milwaukee_Railroad

    The road’s most notable equipment was its two Electroliner trains, both of which still exist in museums.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Electroliner

    Take note that these trainsets were tested at over 100 mph, yet could negotiate 90-foot radius curves and tight platform clearances on the Chicago El tranist system which they used to reach a terminal there, and also ran on street trackage in Milwaukee. Pretty good for a longer than normal trolley car!

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Happy to see you concede that it is in substantial part about shifting costs to the freight operator.

    Lots of management consultants over the past couple of decades have come into to tell going concerns how to change their operating practices to get this or that benefit, and while the benefit sometimes shows up and sometimes doesn’t, the estimate of the costs of changing how things are done is almost always low-balled.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    First, Amtrak isn’t a going concern. It’s a subsidy hog that exists so that Montana Senators will vote for Northeast Corridor improvements.

    Second, I’m not a management consultant. If I had any interest in being one, I wouldn’t be writing comments on blogs. In particular, I’m not saying “Amtrak should implement my plan” – I’m saying that this is how it works in most other developed countries, and the costs I’m implying come from real-world costs there.

    And it’s not just me, or for that matter Richard. In basically every American transportation forum where there’s a European railfan, you’ll see a lot of comments of this type, coming from multiple people independently.

    jimsf Reply:

    I’m saying that this is how it works in most other developed countries, and the costs I’m implying come from real-world costs there.And it’s not just me, or for that matter Richard. In basically every American transportation forum where there’s a European railfan, you’ll see a lot of comments of this type, coming from multiple people independently
    but what other countries do is irrelevant in the US because we don’t do things that way here. Whether we should do them that way, well, it doesn’t matter, cuz we don’t and probably never will. The only progress that will be made here is progress that is made working within the way the US does things.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It really is relevant. The way Japan got to where it is today is by learning how the US did things, copying, and then finding a way to make it better.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    when it comes to HSR, as near as I can tell, the Japanese intensively studied the NEC….

    jimsf Reply:

    but what I mean is that its irrelevant because americans arent gonna do it. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink it. Remember, this country has been rendered incapable of drinking that water. good ideas no longer matter here.. The only thing we can do is salvage californias willingness to ignore what the US does. and beyond that, to work at mediocre solutions within the existing contexts being careful not to upset anyone. I am not willing to go down the “things are changing and if we only do this idealistic thing then the country will move boldly into the future” road because I know better than to get those kinds of hopes up. Once you’ve seen the political process repeat itself since the 60s, until now, it becomes very apparent that there isn’t a lot of hope for anything bold or even sensible happening. But please, wake me when it does.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    I was referring to your proposing to change the operating practices of freight railroads, so talking about Amtrak would seem to be a massive red herring.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The Japanese were studying American prototypes for high-speed trains, planned for 100-125 mph cutoffs and air lines that were never built. The 0 Series Shinkansen borrowed a lot from existing American designs; that’s why the Japanese went with standard gauge and not broader gauge.

    The only operating practice I’m asking freight railroads to change in this case is giving passenger trains priority. They’re already legally obligated to do that, but they often don’t, especially if they’re UP. BNSF seems more responsible about it.

    swing hanger Reply:

    While Japan National Railways no doubt studied American prototypes, the 0 series trainset owes more to previous Japanese designs such as the 151 series EMU as well as the Odakyu 3000 SE trainset, which are based more on European concepts of trainset design utilizing lightweight carbodies. Running gear (bogies) were similar in design to the Minden-Deutz type, and the carbody shape was based on aeronautical principles (the designer was involved in the development of the “Gekko” night fighter in WW2, and you can see the similarities in the nose design). In fact, Japanese engineers were sent on year long study trip to Europe in the mid fifties, with Switzerland being a focus- the post-war coach designs being of particular interest to them. As far as railway operation is concerned, by the fifties, Japan could look within it’s borders to witness high speed/high frequency interurban operations- among them the standard gauge Hankyu and Hanshin Railways.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    The faster the transit speed of the train, the bigger the penalty of unnecessary standing at the station: cutting time at the platform from 10 minutes to 5 minutes is the equivalent of raising the transit speed of a 25 mile section from 60mph to 75mph.

    If it has to be a siding platform because the freight trains can’t keep their fat asses inside the proper loading gauge, that’s the first track to lay.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Level boarding alone would be a huge timesaver.

    WSDOT has been getting funding to work on straightening curves and lengthening sidings (for freight trains to use when yielding to a Cascades train) for a while now. And if the Point Defiance Bypass gets going, that will shave 6-7 minutes off the trip (it all adds up!).

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Fascinating how much of this was known by those despised “olde tyme” railroaders. . .

    1: Level boarding–pretty much standard on the Northeast Corridor, most of which dates to Pennsylvania Railroad days, on a line with the traffic levels to justify paying for it.

    2: Passenger train priority and appropriate passing tracks–standard practice back in the days when railroads were more dominant, before reduced revenues, constrained rates, inflationary costs, and especially subsidized transportation forced them into a perpetual and ironclad economy mode of thinking.

    3: Modern equipment, capable of higher cant deficiency and lighter overall weight. The lighter overall weight was the real secret of the success of the streamliners of the 1930s and 1940s, and roads that were seriously in the passenger market, such as the New York Central, the Burlington, Santa Fe, and the Florida roads went in heavily for the new rolling stock; this was understandably not as strong a priority for a road with relatively light passenger traffic, such as a Nickel Plate or a Lehigh Valley, and a number of roads would have wanted to do more but were constrained by financial weakness, of which a prime example was the Baltimore & Ohio. Not much was done about cant deficiency, but there were some experiments, notably at least one pendelum-suspension coach that was used on Santa Fe’s San Diegan in the late 1930s. These experiments might have proceded further if the rail passenger market hadn’t been torpedoed by the same factors mentioned above that lead to the strict economy mode the railroads are still in.

    4: Minor curve modifications–Almost every railroad has had rebuilding of this nature on portions of its lines at some point in its history. Chesapeake & Ohio went in big for these in the 1930s and 1940s, some of which included new tunnels to bypass curves from following rivers; the most notable example was Fort Hill Tunnel in West Virginia, opened in 1947. Some of it still goes on. The problem remains paying for it. Again, see what I consider those “market fixing” or “game rigging” factors noted above.

    5: Electrification–Same as No. 4. To the real “olde tyme” railroaders of the 1910-1930 era, with their long background in steam, what could be accomplished with electric operation seemed nothing short of miraculous. Like so many other things, the problem was and remains paying for it. Even the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad had to use government money from the Reconstruction Finance Corporation to pay for its big electric push in the 1930s. Incidently, in many ways this agency, which went by the acronym of RFC, would be the counterpart of a so-called Infrastructure Bank. The current administration has plenty of precedent for this, although there was some criticism of the program.

    Of course, I have links :-)

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tilting_train

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reconstruction_Finance_Corporation

    I do have to mention not everybody was or is completely enthusiastic about the RFC:

    http://eh.net/encyclopedia/article/butkiewicz.finance.corp.reconstruction

    Have fun.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I’m well aware that most of these ideas were proposed by the railroads before WW2. Even other ideas I’m not mentioning, like making maximum use of rolling stock, are really due to those railroads. (However, clockface scheduling, integrated ticketing and schedules, and timed cross-platform transfers are not.)

    But all that has been forgotten. Amtrak doesn’t care about electrification. The freight railroads have actually deelectrified – I’m sure you know much about the Milwaukee Road’s poor timing. Cant deficiency is lower than what was achievable in the 1950s, because of one poorly done test of passenger comfort. The railroads have focused on heavy freight and not passenger trains, so cant is lower, and all research into tilting trains was abandoned, and ceded to Talgo. Level boarding is not only not pursued, but actively sabotaged because of a combination of oversize freight and sheer inertia.

    Nowadays, most old-time railroaders would consider those ideas foreign. They’ve gotten used to diesel trains, very long dwell times at stations, etc. And they’ve resisted attempts at reform imposed from the outside: when SEPTA tried to run the regional rail lines more like urban transit, modeled explicitly after the S-Bahn concept, the workforce rebelled, and the workers who had seniority moved to Amtrak and Conrail to avoid adapting to a new operating culture. (That’s why I’m telling Bruce I’m not trying to be a consultant; if I did, I’d need to learn a lot more about corporate cultures and how to change them.) Part of it was due to new foreign ideas, like reduced staffing levels, but much of it was really an extension of previous ideas of the New Haven about efficient use of capital. The ultimate source didn’t matter – it wasn’t how things were done, and they weren’t going to change.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    “Sigh . . ”

    http://www.progressivefix.com/how-america-led-and-lost-the-high-speed-rail-race

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yep, pretty much. I’m positive I read this a while ago – I think Robert linked to this article, actually.

  10. jimsf
    Nov 28th, 2010 at 08:47
    #10

    vac-sea is about 140miles sea-pdx is about 175 miles and pdx-eug is 110 miles. totaling about 425 miles. So it would be pretty easy to get it to about an hour per city pair or 3 hours for the whole route.

    Mad Park Reply:

    Technically perhaps, but as many commentators keep correctly insisting, it is unlikely ever to happen – far to many naysayers and NIMBYs in the suburban and rural counties, too much intransigence by the freight railroads, too much money going to DOD, too mnay small town unwilling to allow crossings to be closed “for safety reasons” and on and on. There can, ought and will be some incremental improvements in speed, stations and cant, but it is a pipe dream to believe that the US will ever have the political will or appropriate the funding to build a true 65000 km HSR system here. Sorry, as a reader now in my 7th decade of life, I have to agree with jimsf.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    If you look at the really expansive fantasy maps, they go up to about 16,000 km. And that includes a lot of connector lines between different regional networks, like Chicago-Atlanta and North Carolina-Florida.

  11. Brandon from San Diego
    Nov 28th, 2010 at 10:41
    #11

    Have any track diagrams of the proposed system been published? Either for the entire system, specific segments, or the proposed first construction segment?

    BruceMcF Reply:

    I see some mapping in the Environment Impact reporting, eg: App A-1: Hydrology (pdf), but I don’t see track diagrams as such at the WADOT site.

  12. BruceMcF
    Nov 28th, 2010 at 10:47
    #12

    Enthusiastic HSR call your Congressman action diary at dkos, could use people dropping links to more detailed HSR info.

  13. jimsf
    Nov 28th, 2010 at 12:16
    #13

    just curious. would it be worth it to tunnel here?

    Victor Reply:

    BART I think has a tunnel going from Oakland to San Francisco, So yeah It could possibly be done, But a survey of the underlying rock strata and the depth of the water would be needed to be done first, Plus other stuff that would be called for in an Engineering study, Plus of course Money. Why? As to how much It’s worth, That I don’t know.

    Joey Reply:

    Considering that the Capitol Corridor and San Joaquín combined amount to a maximum of 2 TPH during peak hours, it’s probably not worth it, even if service is supposed to increase a little in the future.

    Brandon from San Diego Reply:

    Absolutely, but begin in Richmond and surface in Benecia

    jimsf Reply:

    you can’t begin in richmond and surface in benecia because you’d leave out martinez and the new station in hercules.

    Brandon from San Diego Reply:

    I don’t feel a station in Martinez is warranted because it is so hard to get to from the freeways. As an Amtrak station, ridership is great there, but that is probably because it is the first station in the Bay Artea and on the east side of the Bay Area.

    jimsf Reply:

    well you may not feel its warranted but since the the city of martinez just spent a buttload of money building a brand new one, they probably feel differently. Its also the contra costa county seat and very easily accessed from highways 4 and 680.

    jimsf Reply:

    1.5 miles from 680 and 2.07 miles from 4

    Brandon from San Diego Reply:

    Those streets are mighty slow. I know, I have been there many times.

    Regarding a station in Martinez… my response was made under the assumption that the question was for a theoretical question concerning a more direct HSR alignment from SF to Sacramento. Concerning local stuff… I am pretty indifferent. Stations in Martinez and Benecia for local stuff is warranted.

    Brandon from San Diego Reply:

    Did that make sense?

    jimsf Reply:

    yeh, no I was just thinking of it in terms of eventually speeding up ccjpa and sjq service but making a straigher route and using say, 110 or something. I just wonder how we can get sac-emy from 2 hours down to 90 minutes for instance. Then it would really compete with driving- even driving at non rush hour. 90 minutes plus the 15 minutes of the bridge for an 1:45 sac to sf would be perfect.

    Joey Reply:

    I just wonder how we can get sac-emy from 2 hours down to 90 minutes for instance

    How about SF-SAC in 66 minutes? And how about the fact that we wouldn’t have to spend any additional money to do so?

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Sure, straighten the route if there is a loop that is in reach of cutting out with a 1:40 ruling grade. But if that water route is slow, there’s likely a lot more bang to the buck from speeding it up than by cutting it out with a tunnel.

    jimsf Reply:

    check out the renderings here. right side green column under “tiger grants” looks pretty nice. ferry/train multimodal.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    You mean, to cut across from Martinez to the median of the John Muir Parkway, east of the Cummings Skyway?

    It seems like there would be some mostly viaduct solution that could make that crossover, even if there was a cut or tunnel somewhere along the way.

    jimsf Reply:

    thats what I was thinking, you may have to tunnel into the steep hills that abut dowtown martinez and tunnel up in elevation to emerge at a level point along highway 4 – and surface rail to meet up with the existing row at the new hercules intermodal.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    I don’t see it – not to save ~4mi. of corridor versus the water route. Whatever improvements can be made to provide a dedicated express slot on the water route to give a dedicated express track ought to fit in the budget of the tunnel … so that’s saving 4 minutes at a 60mph transit, ~3 1/4 min at a 75mph transit.

    There’s got to be other places to save well over 3mins ~ 4mins with the excess of the cost of the tunnel and expressway alignment less the cost of improving the water route.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    BTW, that was after finally getting to the resolution in google maps that gives elevation lines in terrain mode. The nap of the earth is over 300′ in a lot of that section, never mind the ridgeline.

    Jon Reply:

    You could probably cut out most of that expensive tunnelling by dropping into the median of Hwy 4 at Willow Ave and leaving to the north side of the road at McEwen Rd. Then go into a tunnel and emerge at the mainline just west of Martinez station.

    Jon Reply:

    For that matter, there is already a more direct east-west line which roughly follows Hwy 4, albeit broken by Hwy 4 in Muir. (Note the nearby ‘Muir Station Rd’.) That could be upgraded and used for Oakland-Bakersfield trains, with a new station serving Muir/Mountain View/Vine Hill.

    All this stuff requires some sort of federal or state rail track company that can purchase lines from the freight companies, upgrade them to modern passenger standards and lease them back to freight and passenger operators. Not gonna happen otherwise.

    Peter Reply:

    Heh, that’s funny, I was looking at that same section for tunneling myself.

    Peter Reply:

    A few weeks ago.

  14. jimsf
    Nov 28th, 2010 at 13:39
    #14

    I think the will just doesn’t exist in the US to make any of this stuff a priority. Honestly what do you have, a handful of politicians who back rail investment, but who lack leadership, and public who is at best, indifferent and in most cases, hostile, to the idea. When we start seeing marches and rallies, and a million man march on washington, and stuff like that, then you can expect it to become a priority. But that will never happen, unless there is some dramatic catastrophe, and even then, a month later people will forget about it. IF the only real hsr that ever gets built is the one in california I think that will be just fine and dandy. Let the other 49 wallow in getting just what they asked for.

  15. Matt Korner
    Nov 28th, 2010 at 13:41
    #15

    I have a question.

    Why aren’t shorter express trains with, perhaps, more automation and more spurs and sidings a feasible way to decrease travel times? Or, would such a modification work?

    Is it possible to make high-speed rail more like personal rapid transit so that there is less deceleration and acceleration involved?

    Maintaining constant speeds is so important for this mode that I question why the subject has not been addressed in the 50 years since high-speed rail was first introduced. The technology is seemingly there in order to make such an all-express system cost-effective.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    You can’t convoy different vehicles into one train. PRT developers have been trying to do this for decades, without success. At high speed even when all trains move at the same speed and there are no stations the capacity is very limited, making more smaller trains infeasible.

    On top of it, high-speed switches are expensive. Usually they only go up to 160 km/h, with a few going to the low 200s, which means that trains wouldn’t be able at the same high speed on the mainline.

    The TGV is already all-express, for the most part. The trains accelerate painfully slowly, and SNCF’s business model is to run 1-2 tph express on each important city pair, maybe making 1-2 intermediate stops to give some service to smaller cities. The Shinkansen isn’t – partly for capacity reasons and partly for efficiency reasons, the JRs aren’t interested in having any trains skip important intermediate stations.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Mobile coupling uncoupling of trains has been done; the uncoupling portion was even done on a regular basis (do a look-up of “slip-carriages,” a British term). However, uncoupling was always considered at least somewhat risky, and coupling at speed was always even more so; that was never done at more than a fraction of the speed you would have in a high-speed operation, and then only in emergencies, as recently (and loosely) recreated in the film, “Unstoppable.”

    If you’ve ever been in a locomotive cab with the slack from even a light train running in, or been in a trolley car that was coupling up to another to make a longer train, as I was in Baltimore some time back, you might appreciate why. The kicks in the frame that come through to you are quite surprising, even when you expect them.

  16. Matt Korner
    Nov 28th, 2010 at 18:27
    #16

    I was thinking more along the lines of electrical multiple units without much human control. I don’t really understand the reason capacity is very limited, unless the headways need to be particularly generous, even with automation.

    The slower speeds required by the switches are more understandable. Perhaps, researching and developing higher-speed switches would be worthwhile if they are able to expand express service.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    There are a number of reasons, most due to physical limitations. The first to remember is that steel on steel is actually pretty slippery, both wheel and running surface being as hard as they are, and the end result is perhaps comparable to driving on ice. That’s what makes a railroad so energy-efficient, but it also means it really feels the effects of even slight grades, especially with heavy locomotive-hauled trains, and it also means stopping distances are amazingly long, on the order of miles for trains running at even moderate speeds in the 60 mph range. The other thing is weight; even extra “light weight” equipment as some have suggested here will have coaches weighing over 40 tons; most equipment is a good deal heftier than that. It can kick you pretty good, even at low speed.

    Clem Reply:

    There needs to be at least one full stopping distance between trains, mostly to allow different routes to be set for successive trains through the same interlocking. No amount of signaling technology (moving block, blah blah blah) will ever overcome this constraint. The higher the speed, the longer the stopping time, and the lower the track capacity.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    What precise problem is being solved by this? Its easy to have gadgetbahn solutions that solve problems that are already being solved in straightforward direct ways. Its also easy to have gadgetbahn solutions trying to be all things to all people, when one-size-fits-all transport technologies never fit all, and never fit most with much efficiency.

    Matt Korner Reply:

    The number of stations is one of the criticisms that has been lodged against California High-Speed Rail, but, conceivably, with technological innovations that enable more express service, travel times can become more competitive and the service, as a whole, appears increasingly viable. Private investment also becomes more likely.

    Peter Reply:

    “The number of stations is one of the criticisms that has been lodged against California High-Speed Rail”

    Only by people who haven’t realized that express trains don’t stop at every station. Or by people who know it, but are still seeking to exploit the extra stations by complaining about them to people who don’t know that express trains don’t stop at every stations.

    It’s a red herring.

    Matt Korner Reply:

    It seems like we have a handful of options. We can use double-tracking and other redundancies that allow trains to be automatically diverted in order to avoid obstructions. We can require safety restraints and backwards-facing seats for passengers and crew. Or, we can reverse-engineer a U.F.O. to ascertain the way aliens are canceling the effects of inertia.

    I suppose the idea of the “smart” slip carriage that operates under its own power is probably the most feasible. But, does anyone know of any serious research and development in this area?

    Such a technology seems like it would require an elevator-like compartment to travel between the slip carriage and the main-line train.

    Peter Reply:

    “We can use double-tracking and other redundancies that allow trains to be automatically diverted in order to avoid obstructions. We can require safety restraints and backwards-facing seats for passengers and crew.”

    Are you talking about trains here? Because the best and easiest way to prevent loss of life on trains is to make accidents impossible. And PTC and complete grade separation is the best way to make accidents impossible.

    Seems like the suggestions you’re making would be better for airplanes. And even then, you can’t exactly have the pilots face backwards.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yes, there’s active research and development into PRT vehicles that can be coupled and decoupled on the fly. There’s been active research into this since the 1970s and it’s still going nowhere. You have a better chance going with a high-speed train powered by an antimatter engine.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They aren’t going to couple and decouple on the fly, they are going to have 1 or 2 second headways.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The 2 second headways are if they can’t couple. But the PRT trolls seem convinced that they can couple or do a rigid computer control and go down to half-second headways.

    thatbruce Reply:

    And to reference Clem’s reply above, you need a headway between vehicles which is sufficient to bring the following vehicle to a safe halt if the first vehicle should stop suddenly. Once the speed goes up, the distance required for a safe stop also goes up, which in turn increases the amount of time required for the appropriate headway. (this is more directed @Matt Korner).

    As an example, take any heavily loaded freeway running at speed, have one vehicle fail suddenly, and count how many vehicles run into it before the following drivers can react and get out of the way. Plenty of occasions where 4 or more vehicles have run into one another with loss of life, but for rail operations, just one occasion is far too many.

    Matt Korner Reply:

    Clearly, a conventional slip carriage would not work. However, if a conveyance using a similar principle traveled atop, beside, or underneath a high-speed train, conceivably, passengers may be able to be transferred between the two vehicles, as in this proposal:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r1TaTBZMG60

    Some sort of elevator-like compartment traveling between the two vehicles I’m sure would be necessary, however.

  17. jimsf
    Nov 29th, 2010 at 05:19
    #17

    If anyone can stand another dan walters column…

Comments are closed.