Virgin California (Part 2)

Nov 12th, 2010 | Posted by

Early in 2009 we reported on Virgin Trains’ interest in US high speed rail. Virgin is, of course, owned by Richard Branson, who also operates the successful Virgin America airline based out of SFO. This week Forbes reports Branson is still interested in American HSR, and has some corridors in mind:

The Virgin Group has joined a consortium to make a bid for high-speed railway projects in Florida. I spoke to Virgin’s Sir Richard Branson before his Virgin Unite Charity event, ‘Rock The Kasbah,’ in Los Angeles, where he said that he’s looking to invest in high-speed rail because it can be a more eco-friendly way to travel. It’s no coincidence that Branson is talking about it now just following the mid-term elections and the threat Republicans might try and pull Federal funding for proposed projects across the United States. ‘I think it’s important for the States’ and Federal government to help support these trains but it’s also important for companies like ours and other investors to be involved, too,’ explains Branson. Aside from Florida, Branson is looking at other areas to invest in high-speed rail. ‘I think it would be great to have a fast train from Las Vegas to California.’.

I’m sure we’ll keep hearing that “no private investor is interested in HSR” even after we keep seeing reports like these that prove private investors are, in fact, quite interested in helping fund HSR. They don’t want to pay for it entirely themselves, nor should they. Infrastructure like this ought to be funded by the public, for the public benefit. But if Republicans are to insist on some kind of private contribution, then Branson is making clear there is interest in that, and HSR deniers and NIMBYs should not deny this reality.

The consortium Branson is reportedly part of appears to include SNCF, which brings some HSR expertise that Branson’s companies currently lack. Details are lacking, and it’s still unclear whether Florida’s new governor or Rep. John Mica will continue to support the Florida HSR project. Still, this is further evidence that if state and federal governments remain supportive of HSR, and if they demand a role for private investors, those investors are likely to show up. The conditions of their participation matter a great deal, of course, and we’ll be actively working to ensure that private funding works for the benefit of Californians using the system, not the other way around.

  1. jimsf
    Nov 12th, 2010 at 18:33
    #1

    as long as they have the white leather seats with the seat back touch screens with cable and refreshments, and the mood lighting, I’m all for it.

    Joey Reply:

    HSR generally lacks in-seat entertainment, for the simple reason that journey times aren’t usually long enough to justify it. The need for it also decreases when you aren’t strapped into a tiny seat for most of your journey.

    jimsf Reply:

    Uh, I fly the one hour and one and a half hour virgin flights to la and vegas and fully use those features. Whats wrong with everyone around here that they want us riding on soviet style featureless trains. a 3 hour trip is enough time to watch a full length movie. And some of us don’t have “laptops”

    Eric M Reply:

    Don’t forget, at ground level, there is a lot more to see out the windows versus 30,000 foot viewing. Everytime I am on the TGV or ICE, I find myself gazing out the window, reading something or just plain snoozing. It is very relaxing.

    jimsf Reply:

    I don’t want to look out the dang window. I want my m t v!

    Alon Levy Reply:

    They don’t these on the TGV. Why should they have them on CAHSR?

    Matthew Reply:

    There are TVs in the seat backs of some British trains. You can watch 5 minutes for free, but then you have to pay by credit card or mobile phone to watch the rest. I’m sure there are plenty of other train systems where they provide airplane style entertainment systems. This seems like a relatively minor detail to squabble about. I’d rather not have some distracting video display, but I’d take a train with or without one.

    jimsf Reply:

    because we can. Is there some reason we shouldn’t?

    swing hanger Reply:

    Adding displays is costly, and they have to be maintained- of course, these costs can be passed on to the passengers. For first class passengers, it may be a viable, but otherwise comfortable seating, clean windows, and fast, reliable service are more important.

    jimsf Reply:

    Its just part of the general maintenance. Is not a big deal. Anyway they could always charge for it and make it a comp in 1st. It could be a source of revenue. People get board, they swipe their card, 5 bucks for an hour of tv. Say 200 people per train spend the 5 bucks, thats a grand per train times 20 trains 20k a day in additional revenue. Add that to the markup on the food, beverage and liquor, and there’s all kinds of profit.

    It like the hotels in vegas, which, in the old days used to give a lot of stuff away to get people there, and make the money off the gaming, but now, they make each part of the casino hotel profitable, The restaurants, bars, in rom movies, spa services, etc.

    Al Reply:

    We’re talking about something that’ll be running in, what, 2020? I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that anyone who’ll want one will have a fancy smartphone capable of anything the seatback screen might be used for, and more. Lots of people will have laptops, tablets, etc. Wait and see, but I expect seatback screens will go the way of carphones.

    J. Wong Reply:

    You’ll be able to bring your laptop or IPhone, plug it in, and watch whatever you want.

    jimsf Reply:

    I don’t have a laptop or an “iphone”

    Peter Reply:

    Well, if they built Tejon, you could marvel at the inside of the tunnel for half an hour.

    Clem Reply:

    Would Tejon be a 100-mile long tunnel?

    Peter Reply:

    No, but it wouldn’t be going at full speed on the incline either.

    Peter Reply:

    You spoiled my joke.

    ;)

    jimsf Reply:

    Why does everyone hate seatback entertainment and plush amenities! And I want it to have that map thing just like on the plane ( only insteadof a little airplane symbol there would be little loco symbol of course) And also there has to be those air blowing things. I have to have fresh air. Cabins are always to stuffy with all those people in there breathing.

    Brandon from San Diego Reply:

    I am with you, Jim.

    When HSR arrives, I’ll be riding 1st Class and taking advantage of the perks.

    I slummed-in on a Paris-London HSR trip… and it might as well been a airplane with the seating configuration and tightness. The only benefit was the awesome views of the Frensh countryside.

    I took 1st Class on an HSR trip from Madris to Barcelona and back… fantastic experience. Delicious meal, newspaper, movie and champagne. The benefits of that trip made up fo rthe terrible views.

    jimsf Reply:

    okay! good. See you at the bar. Check this out, what’s funny is people all over manhattan and weho were paying a fortune to do their condos this way just a few years ago.

    jimsf Reply:

    and when the san diego portion opens, thats what, sfc-san , 4 hours? almost a transcon flight. YOu know what would be nice too, late night trains with a quiet car, where they keep the lights off and you can just sleep on your way home. I assume the inside of of hsr trains are very quiet with no outside noise filtering though.

    Joey Reply:

    I’ve found it surprisingly easy to just dose off on a train ride even in full daylight. Noise isn’t a problem – the faint humming of the motors and sparse conversations around you just become background noise and if the seats are nice enough you can just put your head back and close your eyes. I mean heck – have you noticed how many people sleep on BART, even considering that it’s loud, has no headrests, and is used only for short journeys?

    jimsf Reply:

    oh yeh I used to sleep good on bart when I was commuting. Of course it was clean in those days.

    Emma Reply:

    White leather seats are ridiculous. It takes forever to clean them and plane seats take up a lot of space. For 1st class, they might be worth consideration.

    jimsf Reply:

    actually the backs of the seats are white but the leather portion is gray. If you think cloth is a good idea, let me take you on a little bart ride so you can see the result. Im afraid to sit on a bart seat for fear of contracting something.

    Emma Reply:

    Where did I say that cloth is a good idea? All I’m saying is that airplane seats were designed having 8 hour journeys with the possibility to sleep in mind. If you take a look at current HSR seats, you will see that they are just as comfortable but take less space and weight. They are also better for sitting at one of the tables in the first class section.

    jimsf Reply:

    My point is that we should have nice train interiors and plenty of amenities is all. Virgin has the nice leather seats. So if say, virgin, were to become the operator, would they offer the same level of amenities on the train that they offer on their flights from sfo to lax. ie leather seats, seatback entertainment, and at seat meal service. My answer is, “I certainly hope so”

    jimsf Reply:

    If you want to steal the airline’s passengers you will have to do more than match the ticket price. You have to offer a higher level of comfort and amenities, especially since one will be stuck on the train for 2.5 – 3 hours instead of 55 minutes.

    jimsf Reply:

    Here look and be sure to read whats below the pic. Think about it.

    TomW Reply:

    Leather is actually very practical for seats. It’s hardwearing, doesn’t stain, and cleans quote easily. (I’ve even seen it on buses!).

  2. jimsf
    Nov 12th, 2010 at 18:40
    #2

    its veryverynice.

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    Virgin has Airbus 320s, just like Easyjet, but its interiors are so much nicer that it doesn’t even look like the same plane. That shows how differently the same shell (plane or train) can be treated.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Just like Pullman, which, in the heavyweight steel car days, had only 2 standard underframes (70 feet long and 80 feet long), upon which were built scores of different cars, and also scores of rebuilt cars, using many standard parts in all sorts of combinations.

    http://collections.carli.illinois.edu/cdm4/index_nby_pullman.php?CISOROOT=/nby_pullman

  3. Peter
    Nov 12th, 2010 at 20:02
    #3
  4. jimsf
    Nov 12th, 2010 at 20:19
    #4

    check this one outfrom china and this one

    Joey Reply:

    As I recall, the first one is a high-speed sleeper train. The second appears to be first class anyway.

    Matthew Reply:

    The second looks like the layout of 1st class in a German ICE.

    swing hanger Reply:

    Probably because it’s the Chinese version of the Siemens Velaro…

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Shades of the Chesapeake & Ohio! That 2-1 seating, with what looks like swivel seats on the left, is essentially the layout of a C&O Imperial Salon coach from the 1930s.

    http://www.cohs.org/repository/Archives/cohs/web/cohs-7448.jpg

    http://www.cohs.org/repository/Archives/cspr/web/cspr-125.jpg

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    2 by 1 seating was “Parlor Car” service on almost any railroad.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Are you sure about that? The car diagrams I have for parlors is 1-1, with swivel seats both sides. Nice, spacious interior, but low, low, seating density, and the seats don’t recline.

    Of course, I’m thinking of standard-era (heavyweight) cars on the New Haven. . .

    Hmm, seats that swivel and recline. . .sounds like it could be this

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Darn, so much for my ability to disguise links:

    http://www.la-z-boy.com/Furniture/Recliners/

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Oh, and parlor car service was also usually extra fare. One of the unusual things about C&O’s Imperial Salons was that the went for the standard coach fare.

    Eric M Reply:

    That second picture looks like the seats from the ICE first class in Germany too.

    Eric M Reply:

    And if you look closely, the little black digital displays above the seats show when each seat is reserved to & from. So if you just buy a ticket at the last minute without a reservation, you just find a seat that is open for your leg of the journey, not guessing involved because it shows when the seat will be occupied from what city to what city.

    jimsf Reply:

    nice. but don’t suggest that around here with all the comfort haters. Not in cali, its plastic seats and a pepsi machine at the end of the car and thats all you get!

    Peter Reply:

    Didn’t you shoot me down months ago for suggesting those displays for Amtrak?

    jimsf Reply:

    Hmmm, I don’t think so. Why would I be opposed to that?

    Peter Reply:

    I think you said they would cause too much chaos with people sitting in reserved seats, etc.

    jimsf Reply:

    nope, that’s not something I would say. Im sure of that. It wouldn’t cause chaos. In fact it would be a great sales tool. Must have been someone else.

    Peter Reply:

    http://www.cahsrblog.com/2010/03/amtrak-seeks-to-become-an-hsr-operator/

    Peter Reply:

    It’s just over halfway down.

    jimsf Reply:

    Id didn’t say anything about seatback entertainment there…???

    Peter Reply:

    Eric M’s comment was about the reservation displays, not seatback entertainment.

    jimsf Reply:

    oh well I was talking about seatback entertainment. HSR will get new equipment so there is no reason not to have seatback entertainment.

    Now in the previous post from yesteryear you were suggesting seat specific reservations, and I believe I did concur. We do it already with sleepers. With new reliable equipment it wouldnt be a problem. With the current aged fleet, and the need to make last minute changes in consists, specific seats might be a problem. That was my point in the old post.

    I started this post saying simply that If virgin wants to run the cali trains, then I want the leather seat, mood lighting, and seatback refreshment ordering and entertainment screen.
    and I do.

    Joey Reply:

    And if Virgin doesn’t than you don’t???

    jimsf Reply:

    well it would be nice, but the topic was virgin. So yes, I guess now if I don’t get the virgin experience, yes, Ill be disappointed.

    Of course now is where richard or someone would chime in to say the extra weight of the lcd screens will negatively affect the radioactive output of cant deficiencies or can efficiencies, or grade separation or some thing.

    Butif we are gonna buy new trains, lets get some nice ones with full amenities. 3 hours is a long time.

    You know the upside to hsr versus flying is also a downside. While its true you spend less time on the plane and more time schlepping around , that shlepping does keep you occupied. One the train, you captive for longer so it need to be very comfy and entertaining.

    jimsf Reply:

    but check this out, its a little wacky, but they seem to like it.

    jimsf Reply:

    oh not that…. I mean this

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Neat photos in both places.

    What stands out to me is how the railroad in the “under construction” shots looks so much like how you would build a modern highway, except that it is narrower and has a different “superstructure.”

    It never ceases to amaze me that the anti-rail crowd keeps coming up with the same lame excuses about this being something so different, bizzare, scarey, or whatever; it’s not, it’s quite famliar, it’s in many, many ways better than highways and cars. Of course, HSR won’t do some of the jobs cars do–but at the same time, we are short on something HSR and other rail transit can do that cars don’t do, as noted above.

    A side story about the “scarey” business: A few years ago, I was talking to a young father about his little boy, and of course we got into how children like trains, including the old steamers. He commented about how he had visited the steam-powered Strasburg Rail Road in Pennsylvania, and noted the difference in the boy’s reaction to the locomotive compared with a visit to a drag race.

    At the drag race, the boy (5 years old at the time) had been frightened of the cars. He had asked his father, “Daddy, why do those cars sound so angry?” This was not the case at Strasburg. There, he gladly approached and walked around the locomotive, studying it, unafraid of it despite its comparitively enormous size, sounds, and heat. His father described the engine as “friendly,” like a large dog or a gentle horse.

    That boy sure makes some grown-ups look silly.

    The engine in mind–Strasburg 90, the biggest locomotive operated there.

    http://www.railpictures.net/viewphoto.php?id=330313&nseq=12

    http://www.railpictures.net/viewphoto.php?id=328106&nseq=14

    http://www.railpictures.net/viewphoto.php?id=304318&nseq=29

    jimsf Reply:

    I’m in full support of civilized luxury at all times. Entertainment options, first and business class, at seat meals on china, train attendants in each car, and tv in the loo so I don’t miss Rachel’s debunktion Junction segment if I have to go.

    jimsf Reply:

    ITs actually something called CAF in Turkey I mean we certainly wouldn’t want to go around trying to be all advanced and fancy like the turks.

    rafael Reply:

    CAF is the Spanish train manufacturer that won the order from TCDD.

    Roberts point here related to private funding for HSR in the US. Richard Branson decided to latch onto the Florida project for now because SNCF and Bechtel have already put their hats in the ring for that one. California HSR is a much more ambitious project that needs to complete its EIS/EIR process and secure a lot more public funding before any private investors will materialize. Patience, grasshopper.

    Whether or not the seats will have video screens doesn’t seem a particularly pressing issue to me right now. Let’s make sure the tracks and stations get environmental clearance and funding first.

    jimsf Reply:

    The thing I like about virgins entertainment is how it so resembles my cable at home so i can watch all the stuff I normally watch, food network, msnbc, comedy central, history, etc. and I can channel surf. You cnt do that on a portable dvd player or something. It really passes the time.

    Victor Reply:

    I couldn’t sit in leather/vinyl seats for 2hrs and 40mins, I’d be sweating like crazy and that would soon make a raw red rash on My legs in the areas effected, Cloth seats and I do well together as the cloth at least breathes somewhat.

    jimsf Reply:

    well that’s what you get for traveling nude!

  5. dave
    Nov 12th, 2010 at 22:33
    #5

    This short report sums up why I support HSR and why I beleive in it. Simple, not hard at all. NIMBY’s take note! This answers many of your fears.

    http://www.mpbn.net/News/MaineHeadlineNews/tabid/968/ctl/ViewItem/mid/3479/ItemId/14175/Default.aspx

    Ted Crocker Reply:

    Yes, but the HSRA, the state and the Fed seem to be ignoring the advice found under the Executive Summary of this report, and therein lies a big part of the problem.

    “To obtain the economic and transportation benefits … the United States should:
    Follow through on its decision to build a national high-speed rail system akin to the commitment to build the Interstate Highway System in the 1950s.
    Use high-speed rail to focus future development by locating stations in city centers, and planning for intensive commercial and residential development near stations.
    Make high-speed rail stations accessible to people using a variety of transportation modes.
    Integrate high-speed rail with improvements to commuter and freight rail.
    Encourage private investment, but with strong public protections.
    Keep clear lines of accountability by establishing clear criteria for funding all high-speed rail projects to ensure taxpayer money is focused on the most important projects.
    Guarantee transparency regarding how projects are evaluated, how decisions are made, and how funds are allocated and spent.
    Make high-speed rail green by investing in energy-efficient equipment and powering the system with renewable energy wherever possible.
    Set technological standards for projects receiving federal funding.
    Encourage cooperation among states through federal funding policies that reward states.
    Encourage domestic manufacturing through federal policy that expands the capacity of American companies to produce high-speed rail systems and components.
    Articulate a vision for the future of America’s rail network and measure progress toward the achievement of that national vision. An ambitious but fully achievable and desirable goal would be to link all major cities within 500 miles of one another with high-speed rail by mid-century. “

  6. D. P. Lubic
    Nov 13th, 2010 at 04:27
    #6

    Off-topic–Vintage connecting service, as recalled by Orange Empire Railway Museum, Perris, Ca.:

    http://railfan44.rrpicturearchives.net/showPicture.aspx?id=2302811

  7. Emma
    Nov 14th, 2010 at 12:40
    #7

    Why do you guys think that an investment by Virgin would bring plane seats to high speed rail? Would NASA bring space suits if they would invest, too? This doesn’t make sense.

    Plane seats take up a lot of space and are not designed to fit on the larger tables in the First class section of HS trains. They are designed to give the customer the option to sleep in them. Example: http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_-2i3-C1Saeg/RdH2a8Myc5I/AAAAAAAABCE/GkDi87HZJss/s400/2_1117feat.jpg

    First Class in planes still beat high speed rail because customers are ready to pay thousands of dollars for comfort. On top of that, the longest journey you will take with CAHSR will be about 4 hours. Just enough for one meal.

    I hope CAHSR will get some inspiration from Thalys. The red color is good to the eye and in my opinion even increases appetite: http://lh5.ggpht.com/_zZJ8XUR5jq4/SCnXl_vEhMI/AAAAAAAABAQ/JxMYbVnS4-U/IMG_0013.JPG

    http://tinysandwiches.com/images2/IMG_3215_thalys.jpg

    http://polytropia.com/images/musings/Thalys_Lunch1.png

    http://images.travelpod.com/users/traveleurope/europe2007.1177849800.lunch_in_thalys_train.jpg

    thatbruce Reply:

    Wait, you’re mixing concepts there, specifically first class in planes designed for long-haul flights, and HSR which is aimed at the short(er)-haul market.

    For CAHSR, with at most a 4 hour journey, there is no benefit to having the same first class seats that you see in long-haul aircraft. There may be first class seats very similar to those seen in first class on short(er)-haul flights, but not the chair/bed convertable ones with their larger footprint.

    Emma Reply:

    That is exactly what I was saying.

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