Lack of HSR Funding Undermining Agreements With Freight Rail

Feb 7th, 2011 | Posted by

Over at Trains Magazine, Fred Frailey writes about the problems being faced in several states as state transportation agencies struggle to negotiate with freight railroads for trackage to run high speed passenger rail service:

It’s do-or-die time for President Obama’s high speed rail initiative, which badly needs a lift. Negotiations are stalled with three Class 1 railroads involving projects in North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington, according to informed railroad and government sources. The Federal Railroad Administration needs to come to terms soon with at least one of the railroads or risk having them walk away (or having the grant rescinded by Congress). The sticking point: Fear by railroads that their freights will be muscled aside by passenger trains. In all three instances, so-called service-outcome agreements reached by the states and railroads have been rejected by the FRA, which administers the grants.

Together, the three projects involve almost $1.4 billion in High-Speed Intercity Passenger Rail Program outlays, accounting for 13 percent of $10.5 billion in HSR grants announced last year. And they are but the latest of these grants to either be scuttled or endangered.

Frailey writes about the efforts by Washington State to work with BNSF to come to agreement on nearly $1 billion in upgrades to tracks between Tacoma and Vancouver WA, which would enable new and faster trips to be added to the Amtrak Cascades corridor. According to Frailey, these efforts are stalling:

Several times, BNSF and Washington’s Department of Transportation have agreed on service standards — for instance, how to measure delay to passenger trains and how much delay is acceptable — only to have FRA reject the agreements as not stringent enough on the railroad. The benefits of this project all accrue to passenger trains, rather than its own freight trains, the railroad contends. The parties are continuing to meet.

The problem is that the freight railroads, who own the track, want to maintain operational flexibility for their trains. That’s a sensible logic for them, and it suggests that the problem here might not be that the freight railroads won’t play ball (and in fact they are negotiating in what appears to be good faith) but that there’s simply not enough money to help make some of these problems go away.

President Barack Obama’s HSR plan is really two plans in one – and without the funding to really pull off either one. The first plan is to spend some money to upgrade existing tracks, owned by the freight railroads, to carry faster HSR service. The second plan is to spend some money to build true high speed service of over 150 mph on new tracks owned by the public.

Neither plan is adequately funded by Congress. Florida got just enough to get a starter HSR line, with some state and private funding rounding out the total. California will get a starter line too, but it’s really just one piece of the larger SF-LA route.

The first plan, intended to be more economical, isn’t producing the quick and efficient benefits that were anticipated. New rail infrastructure is badly needed, but needs more funding to be able to manage both the freight and passenger trains’ needs.

That’s not to suggest we give up now. High speed rail is essential to this country’s future. Instead it suggests that we need to keep pushing Congress to step up and fund the future, instead of finding ways to preserve the past.

  1. swing hanger
    Feb 7th, 2011 at 23:31
    #1

    Regarding the wording (and this is not just here) about the President’s two part plan- with regards to upgraded freight track, the word “HSR” should not be inserted, it does the concept disservice- better to call it “improved passenger” or “Amtrak Plus”. True HSR is grade separated, running exclusively HSR trains with no other types of trains (freight, commuter) sharing trackage.

    Brandon from San Diego Reply:

    Concur in spades. This so-called news is not HSR, except in name. True HSR should be safe and separate from other modes – no sharing of tracks. Too dangerous..

    Joey Reply:

    HSR shares tracks with regional trains all over the world, particularly in urban areas where you wouldn’t benefit much (if at all) from having dedicated tracks. In fact, it may be advantageous in some scenarios because it allows cross-platform transfers and dynamic allocation of capacity. If all of the trains conform to the same crash standards, if PTC is installed on everything, there’s no issue.

    James Fujita Reply:

    whenever possible, it is better to separate true HSR from regional trains and freights.

    And I question the “cross-platform transfer” argument. how do you control who has a Metrolink ticket and who has a bullet train ticket if transfers are cross platform?

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    whenever possible, it is better to separate true HSR from regional trains and freights.

    Only if you are being paid by the ton of concrete poured.

    If, on the other hand, you’re a taxpayer, a passenger, or a member of society, you’ll nearly always find that achieving maximum utility of and maximum efficiency from nose-bleed expensive infrastructure is the way to maximise social — as opposed to construction mafia — goods.

    how do you control who has a Metrolink ticket and who has a bullet train ticket if transfers are cross platform

    “Tickets please!”

    You don’t get out much, do you? Or not much outside the USA/Japan/British Empire faregates and barriers and security walls and airside and landside and waiting areas and … zone? But hey, more inefficiency = more concrete and less service delivered to the public for more money! Hooray!

    James Fujita Reply:

    I fully support giving HSR faregates. And I support gating Metro Rail. BART and Muni are already there. I don’t see what’s so inefficient about letting a machine determine who’s authorized to ride and who isn’t. We’re building a high-tech, high-speed rail line, we can afford not to skimp on the details.

    The situation would be no different from Los Angeles Union Station today, where getting from Metrolink to the Gold Line requires going into the pedestrian tunnel and back up again. Or from Metrolink to the Red Line.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    PATH passengers, NJTransit passengers and Amtrak passengers, long distance, Regional and Acela passengers all merrily use the platforms in Penn Station in Newark. The only faregates are onto the PATH side of the platforms.

    James Fujita Reply:

    it’s not like Acela is the epitome of high speed rail. it’s an FRA-supported brick on wheels.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It’s the closest we’ve got. It’s been going on at Newark since 1937, seems to work moderately well.

    James Fujita Reply:

    *shrug* It doesn’t bother me any if brick trains are good enough for you. I don’t live in Newark.

    Cancel the NEC portion of high-speed rail funding, then.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    I’ve never been stupid enough to ride Acela. Doesn’t really matter if Acela, NJTransit multilevels the odd Comet hauled by a diesel, PATH cars, Newark Subway cars, the buses or whatever else wanders into Penn Station is a brick or not. Normal people don’t care, they care about getting to where they are going. They do it quite effectively without faregates.

    James Fujita Reply:

    the point of high-speed rail is to eliminate bricks.

    and you can get where you’re going WITH gates as well. Here’s three minutes worth of people walking through fare gates

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The point of HSR is to get people from one place to another quickly. Except for the ones who are members of sites like railroad.net, they don’t care about the technical specifications of the train. The specifications of the train have little if anything to do with the fare collection method. What’s the compelling reason to have faregates?

    James Fujita Reply:

    of course the technical specifications matter. faster trains are lighter than bricks.

    and of course the two are unrelated. somehow the two arguments got connected here on the message board.

    you install gates for the same reason why you install gates anywhere else. to prevent people from not paying.

    gates also help with electronic tickets. they even have fare gates at LAX. they scan electronic boarding passes. by the time this gets built, I expect to see smart card and mobile phone-based high-speed rail tickets, just like they have in Japan.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    How fast the train goes ( or the bus or the airplane or the donkey cart ) has little to do with the fare collection method. What’s the compelling reason to have faregates for HSR? Or Caltrain?

    James Fujita Reply:

    and of course the two are unrelated. somehow the two arguments got connected here on the message board.

    you install gates for the same reason why you install gates anywhere else. to prevent people from not paying.

    gates also help with electronic tickets. they even have fare gates at LAX. they scan electronic boarding passes. by the time this gets built, I expect to see smart card and mobile phone-based high-speed rail tickets, just like they have in Japan.

    ****read my previous message in this thread***

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    There’s other ways to collect fares other than passing everybody through a faregate. What’s the compelling reason to use them?

    James Fujita Reply:

    same damn question, same damn answer:

    “you install gates for the same reason why you install gates anywhere else. to prevent people from not paying.”

    if you want more than that: automating a tedious process. freeing up human resources to do other tasks. more people can be keeping an eye on real threats, and not wasting time collecting and checking tickets. can collect and check tickets more accurately than human beings.
    allowing high speed rail to integrate more easily with existing smart card systems. moving the fare collection process from the train to the station, so that if there is a problem, it can be dealt with easier.

    Spokker Reply:

    There aren’t that money people who are not paying. Even on the Blue Line, which passes through some of the most fucked up neighborhoods in the country, fare evasion has not been that high.

    1992: http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m1215/is_n11_v193/ai_12907567/

    The highest fare evasion I have ever seen is 8% for the Blue Line weekends. On weekdays it’s about 2%-5% based on various reports I have read over the years.

    Or, do you expect fare evasion on high speed rail to be greater?

    James Fujita Reply:

    see also: second half of answer.

    you also free up human resources (i.e. security guards, station guides, station assistants, train personnel, etc.) to do other tasks other than “tickets, please”.

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    “you install gates for the same reason why you install gates anywhere else. to prevent people from not paying.”

    Really, fare gates prevent people from not paying? On which transit system? I have yet to see any faregate system that was not easily circumvented by cheaters.

    James Fujita Reply:

    and people also run red lights. not a compelling reason to eliminate red light signals.

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    Bad analogy. Traffic signals facilitate traffic flow, whereas fare gates do the opposite.

    James Fujita Reply:

    come to think of it, before the existance of automatic red light signals, police officers used to stand at busy intersections and direct traffic, using hand signals (parodied time and time again in cartoons).

    red light signals eliminated the need for police officers to police intersections.

    “people still run red lights” is no more a valid argument against red lights than “people still evade fares” is a valid argument against fare gates.

    James Fujita Reply:

    I wholeheartedly disagree with your assesment. I’ve seen people with bags, baby strollers, small children, etc. get through fare gates with no trouble at all.

    alternatively, I’ve seen people stopped at green lights, oblivious to the change in signal.

    I stand by my red light analogy. fewer traffic police, more officers free to do other tasks.

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    I’ve seen people with bags, baby strollers, small children, etc. get through fare gates with no trouble at all.

    The first time I took my son on BART, we nearly had to call 911 when his head got crushed in a BART fare gate. He was 2 years old at the time, and too short to be “seen” by the fare gate sensor.

    I stand by my red light analogy. fewer traffic police, more officers free to do other tasks.

    You have it exactly backwards. Faregate systems almost always have higher labor costs than POP systems. I think the analogy you are looking for is HOV lanes — no “faregates”, just sufficiently high fines to deter cheating.

    James Fujita Reply:

    the trouble with your first point, and even with my corresponding point, is that it’s all personal anecdote. yes, I’m sure that fare gates malfunction. but I’m also equally certain that millions throughout the world aren’t injured by fare gates.

    as for your second point, I’m not convinced that you are correct. you install the things, there’s labor involved. you do routine maintenance, there’s labor again. not exactly sucking a budget dry.

    but even if the cost is higher, there’s a LOT that we as rail transit fans support where the cost is high and there are cheaper alternatives. shuttle buses. not building rail at all. cheaper is not always better. that’s why we call rail an “investment”

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Look, you check the tickets while the train is in motion, you set people who did not have a ticket out at the next station and assess a fine.

    As for the argument that because people support higher up-front cost investments that are cheaper in the long run and when all external costs and benefits are tallied up, we should support a more expensive system that provides less benefit … I don’t get it.

    The argument for paying the higher cost is for an equal or greater increase in benefit. Paying a higher cost for reduced benefit does not seem to be quite as good a deal.

    Dan S. Reply:

    I don’t get the fervor with which the anti-faregates crowd defends their position. Normal people use transit systems without faregates all the time and they can do so easily and happily enough. Normal people also use transit systems with faregates all the time and they can do so easily and happily enough. I think we can agree on that.

    I have used the system in Japan a lot so I’m very comfortable with it, and I think it works great. On one occasion I rode the HSR from Brussels to Paris and I was impressed that I could just walk on the train with a ticket I printed out from the web onto a piece of paper, which the conductor scanned once on-board. That was convenient for me, but not leaps and bounds better than going up to a ticket machine and getting a paper ticket to use at the faregate, and the conductor really did spend longer checking everyone’s ticket on the TGV than is required on the Shinkansen. Plus he needed to carry a fancy electronic bar-code scanning machine that adds some cost compared to the rubber stamp used by Shinkansen conductors.

    If I seriously think about it, I think that faregates are a better solution for a really heavily-trafficked system. It limits the non-passengers on the platforms and reduces the workload for the conductors. My experience with it here in Japan suggests that there are no significant downsides with regards to providing an effective transportation service. However, I see that if your system’s success is predicated on sharing platforms with other services or using non-secured platforms, then another system is a better solution. Maybe the guy in charge has a personal vendetta against faregates. Fine by me. I wouldn’t begrudge the operator’s decision on this one either way.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Look, you check the tickets while the train is in motion, you set people who did not have a ticket out at the next station and assess a fine.

    Hmm. they do have me trained well – to not get on the train – without the aid of a faregate! – without a ticket…. With faregates you can’t get to the train without a ticket. Without faregates you can get to the train without a ticket. You just have to buy one on-board. At a hefty premium. The only people who get set out at the next station and face a fine are the ones who refuse to buy a ticket. The charge is some variant on theft-of-services.

    James Fujita Reply:

    I’d rather be told that I can’t get on the train because I don’t have the right kind of ticket than be told to buy a ticket at an exorbitant price, or pay a huge fine and get kicked off the train.

    And this conversation is going around in circles, so unless somebody makes a personal attack on my character, I’m getting off at the next stop before we make another loop. This is not the same as giving up, but I yield the floor for now.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The problem with buy-on-board is that it works only when every rider has their ticket checked by a conductor. Since POP assumes most people will not be checked, the fine for riding without a ticket must be much higher than the cost of a ticket, measured in hundreds of dollars.

    (The NEC is the worst of both worlds. At busy stations like Penn, all passengers have to have their ticket checked at the station, at a chokepoint leading down to the tracks, and in addition conductors punch everyone’s tickets on board.)

    Faregates are just a question of how busy the trains are. The cost of faregates scales with the number of stations; the cost of POP scales with ridership. It would be stupid to try to POP-inspect the Tokyo commuter rail system, or to faregate the Swiss regional networks.

    Spokker Reply:

    Proof of payment is the superior system. Not implementing it would be skimping on the details.

    James Fujita Reply:

    there’s nothing superior about Proof Of Payment. Los Angeles is used to POP; doesn’t make the system better than using SUICA on the Shinkansen.

    When I’m on Amtrak, it takes the conductor forever to get to my seat. On HSR, we could be halfway to Fresno before the conductors get to the guy who jumped onboard without a ticket.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    we could be halfway to Fresno before the conductors get to the guy who jumped onboard without a ticket.

    So just what is the opportunity cost of an extra couple billion in concrete to ensure that some guy doesn’t ride to Fresno for free once in a while? How much cheaper could fares have been? How much more rail service could have been provded? How much more track could have been constructed?

    In addition, compare the number of minutes wasted in pedestrian access to and from stations with limited numbers of expensive, manned, secured access points with the cost (measured in billions of your earth dollars) required to gain back that lost time via higher train speeds.

    Carefully justify your answer. Show your calculations. There will be a test.

    James Fujita Reply:

    sorry, I don’t have the numbers directly in front of me and I’m not interested in hunting them down for the sake of making your case for you. show me your inflated, unsupported anti-HSR numbers instead.

    besides:
    1) the concrete is a sunk cost. Union Station doesn’t have an unlimited number of tracks, so we are going to want the extra concrete for an extra set of elevated, HSR-only tracks. the added cost is the fare gates themselves. a drop in the HSR bucket.

    2) one platform equals two trains. that’s one incoming HSR train arriving on track 1, one outbound HSR train currently loading on the other side.

    3) even if you arguably get an electrified Metrolink train onto the other track, hey guess what? that train’s headed for San Bernardino. stupid me, I’m headed for LAX. *makes the long, grueling thousand mile journey to the LAX Express tracks** woe is me.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Union Station doesn’t have an unlimited number of tracks

    So why waste space on faregates? The objective of a train station is to facilitate the movement of passengers, not annoy them. ( Not everyone, especially people with luggage, appreciate them as much as you do )

    James Fujita Reply:

    where’s the waste? you could put fare gates into the existing space without needing any additional space.

    and millions of transit riders are not annoyed by fare gates on a regular basis. they’re a part of daily life. In Tokyo, they’re practically invisible.

    Spokker Reply:

    You could also make fare evasion on HSR a crime. You’d get to San Francisco for “free,” but the trip would cost you $1,000 or whatever in fines.

    “and millions of transit riders are not annoyed by fare gates on a regular basis. they’re a part of daily life. In Tokyo, they’re practically invisible.”

    As small as the inconvenience and lost time is, it’s there. And there are plenty of riders who must go to the add-fare machine after their ticket is rejected (“Oh, excuse me.”). And there are tourists who are morons. And there are strollers and bikes and and and… “Oh pardon me, I need to get to the wide ass fare gate because of my stupid baby.” And you hold people up.

    Multiply these small delays by millions of riders and it adds up.

    Perhaps fare gates make sense on Japanese trains that require station attendants to shove people in like sardines, which makes fare inspection impractical, but I doubt California HSR is going to have that problem.

    Fare gates also make it harder to accommodate connecting services as well. Perhaps one day you’d be able to buy a Metrolink + HSR ticket from a Metrolink ticket machine. Instead of showing your ticket to the fare inspector, you now have to make sure the fare gates are compatible with Metrolink’s fare media.

    Don’t believe this is a problem? Look at how much trouble they are having figuring out what to do with Metrolink riders who transfer to Metro Rail. They have all kinds of ideas, all retarded, and they know it. The most expensive solution is for Metrolink to switch to TAP, but that is an expense they should not have to endure even in the best of times. The best most cost-effective solution at the moment is to hold onto your Metrolink ticket and show it to Metro’s fare inspectors when asked. This is one of the reasons the fare gates have not been locked yet.

    You’re also going to need security to ride trains and watch platforms anyway, with or without fare gates. Security can double as fare inspectors. They can interact with passengers. They can answer questions. They can keep an eye out for Vikings who wish to harm us and our way of life. Every fare inspector is an extra pair of eyes who can chase creepy rail fans out of the stations.

    James Fujita Reply:

    Don’t try to import Los Angeles Metro’s problems with TAP onto HSR. Those are bureaucratic problems and political problems, not technical ones.

    If Tokyo can come up with a smart card which can be used on the subway, private commuter trains, the Yamanote Line, JR trains in both Tokyo and the Kansai region and as far north as Sendai, at vending machines, at Family Mart, as currency to purchase Shinkansen tickets, in conjunction with smart phones AND with credit cards, Los Angeles can certainly borrow the same technology. Even San Franciswco can use one card on Muni buses, BART and I forget what else.

    It’s all the same technology, whether here or in London, Hong Kong, Singapore or Tokyo.

    Do delays happen with fare gates? Yes. Do people try to pay bus fare with wads of nickels? Also yes.

    Of course you’re going to need security. Fare gates means that they can spend more time being actual security, or even being helpful, rather than wasting time with fare cheats.

    And I do think the “creepy” element is more important than the “rail fan” part of the equation. I avoid being creepy at all costs.

    jimsf Reply:

    here in the bay area, finally after like 20 years or something, we have clipper and it seems to be working well. I hated the idea, but now I’m using it (no choice- they took away my old school discount sticker card) and it works pretty well with the exception of having to tap multiple times to get it to read. But it is working across multiple agencies and you can load it in many places as well as have it autoload monthly from your checking account.

    The card seems to hold info from all agencies, amounts, and assorted standard and discount passes from multiple agencies. I don’t know how, (witchcraft?) but it does.
    Maybe we need a statewide version that works across all agencies including hsr so that anyone can travel anywhere within cali with a single loaded card. ( or load as you go card) It sort what we have now with Fastrak right for the toll bridges and lanes?

    James Fujita Reply:

    I have both a TAP card and a TransLink, which is supposedly the predecessor to the Clipper. I haven’t had the chance to use it since they “rebranded” the TransLink. My TransLink is linked to my credit card, something TAP can’t do (*yet).

    I do think that California should try to make ALL of their smart cards interchangeable, especially since Japan has been doing this sort of thing already with their cute little mascot cards.

    Spokker Reply:

    “Even San Franciswco can use one card on Muni buses, BART and I forget what else.”

    But at what cost? In Tokyo, the economies of scale might be there to make the system worth it, but we’re not Japan. Our rail system will never be like Japan’s.

    When we can’t even get the money to actually operate trains and buses, there is no reason to spend scarce transportation dollars on fare gates and smart cards. It makes no sense.

    James Fujita Reply:

    How hard did we fight to get Expo Rail built? How hard are we fighting to get the “Subway to the Sea” to UCLA? How hard are we fighting against the Bus Riders Unions, the Fix Expos, the Neighbors for Smart Rail (whatever they’re called)? How much is all of this costing us? How much will Measure R cost in the long run? How much will 30/10 cost?

    “Our rail system will never be like Japan’s.”

    So do we stop trying? I try to be realistic in my expectations. No, we won’t be Japan, there won’t be an Aoyama-Itchome station next to my mother’s house like the one near my grandmother.

    But I refuse to be defeatist.

    The implementation of TAP has not been perfect, but it has been an improvement. Small little bit by small little bit, Los Angeles is getting better.

    My gawd, when you look at all that Los Angeles is trying to do, TAP is a drop in the bucket. It is a step in the right direction.

    Spokker Reply:

    Well, I am fighting against fare gates. Not really fighting, but you know, sending in my public comments for what it’s worth.

    What you are proposing is spending X amount of dollars to save Y amount of dollars where X > Y. In absence of the fare gate company that whined and dined Metro executives, this wouldn’t be happening.

    James Fujita Reply:

    you know, you make a good point. nobody ever bothers to write in on behalf of fare gates. nobody ever writes when they like an idea, only when they don’t like an idea.

    the cheap way of doing things is not always the right way. otherwise, Metro would be a bus company. we had that already, it was called the RTD.

    wu ming Reply:

    having taken subways and trains in taipei, kaohsiung, hong kong, shanghai, seoul, and tokyo, i am boggled that anyone’s making much of a fuss about fare gates. i can only assume that people are imagining something very different from the actual experience of going through an automated fare gate with a functional smart card. you just walk in, the machine goes boop!, and you’re on your way. ridiculously simple. if CAHSR manages passenger flow as well as taipei train station/HSR station, it will be the best system in the country.

    if the technology’s beyond americans, then import the technology. but opposing it because it’s newfangled is as silly as complaining about HSR trains that are quieter than loud stinky diesels because FUD!

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Bear in mind, American farecard implementations haven’t been up to the standards of Suica, Octopus, or whatever else they have in East Asia. The technology is proprietary. There isn’t much attempt at regionwide integration. There’s no attempt to generate extra revenue from electronic money – on the contrary, New York is trying to reinvent the wheel by hooking into MasterCard’s PayPass system. And like in London, there’s no thought of putting chips in things other than cards, such as watches or cellphones, so that people wouldn’t have to take a card out of their pocket.

    James Fujita Reply:

    well, you could also say that there hasn’t been a successful attempt at True High-Speed Rail in America yet, either.

    clearly, these things take time to implement. SUICA has been around since 2001, and it didn’t start out with smart phone technology, the Shinkansen, integration throughout Tokyo and Kansai.

    the point is, these things are all doable, even if we haven’t attempted to do them. East Asia doesn’t own a monopoly on smart card technology, and these things CAN improve transit.

    Wu Ming is absolutely correct. sure it’s “newfangled” tech, but so is HSR.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The point about true HSR in the US is completely valid; one of the counter-counterarguments for HSR is that the Acela is not really HSR, so the expected performance of CAHSR can be much higher.

    Useless Reply:

    @ James Fujita

    > whenever possible, it is better to separate true HSR from regional trains and freights.

    Funding doesn’t allow it in the US. Let’s wake up to reality.

    James Fujita Reply:

    I did say “whenever possible.” And it will be separated from San Jose to Palmdale. There’s no reason why it can’t be separated on the approach into Los Angeles.

    Useless Reply:

    @ James Fujita

    > I did say “whenever possible.”

    It’s 100% or nothing. As long as there is single shared track segment, crash standard enters the picture.

    > There’s no reason why it can’t be separated on the approach into Los Angeles.

    Not enough money.

    James Fujita Reply:

    We’ll be building the middle section first. Really, San Jose to Palmdale would be a good start.

    Meanwhile, Obama is fighting for funds at the federal level and who knows what sort of private investment (China, Japan, Europe?) California can grab.

    Who’s to say that by the time Palmdale to Los Angeles is ready for construction, there won’t be money to do it the right way?

    J. Wong Reply:

    Most HSR world-wide operates on a reserved seat plan (actually they charge more to reserve a seat) with only a few non-reserved seats. So fare gates aren’t an issue. Neither Japan nor Italy had any fare gates or any controlled access to either the platforms or the trains. You line up where indicated to board the car on which you’ve reserved your seat and just board when the train arrives. And the conductors come through quickly enough checking that everyone is in their proper seat.

    James Fujita Reply:

    They do so have fare gates on the Shinkansen.

    swing hanger Reply:

    Yes, there are fare gates at all shinkansen stations. The fare structure is different than the conventional lines, so even transfers require passage through fare gates (very smooth btw). As for reserved seating, it depends on the level of service- faster services will have predominantly reserved seating , while the all-stops locals (i.e. Kodama) will be mainly unreserved seating. I believe tickets are checked only on the first class cars, to prevent someone on a standard class ticket taking a nice seat, otherwise the fare gates take care of fare dodgers.

    wu ming Reply:

    HSR in taiwan all have fare gates. they are very easy to navigate.

    Useless Reply:

    @ swing hanger

    > True HSR is grade separated, running exclusively HSR trains with no other types of trains (freight, commuter) sharing trackage.

    That defintion doesn’t hold true in Europe and in Korea. Are TGVs, ICEs, and KTXs not true high speed rail services?

    Sure Japan, Taiwan, and China do have 100% exclusive HSR tracks, but the US can’t afford 100% segregated tracks.

    swing hanger Reply:

    Of course TGV, ICE et al are high speed when running on dedicated high speed tracks, but otherwise when on regular tracks, they are no more high performance than the commuter trains they share tracks with, and are hobbled by the operating restrictions that shared trackage inherently impose. Whether the U.S. can afford it is depends on the government funding levels, and private investment available, not your own declarations.

    Joey Reply:

    Think about this for a second. Let’s say, hypothetically, that it would be easy to build additional tracks for HSR in urban areas. What benefit do you get? Slightly more schedule flexibility, though depending on the number of commuter trains present probably not a lot more. Speed? Remember, you’re in an urban area anyway. Noise and speed restrictions imposed by the alignment are going to exist anyway. If you don’t find existing speeds sufficient, upgrading existing tracks to say 125 mph or so is easier than building a completely new set of tracks.

    James Fujita Reply:

    Additional tracks for HSR in urban areas would allow you to avoid FRA regulations completely.

    See also, “hitting trains with 6 kg steel balls”

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    See also “hitting fly with a sledge hammer”

    James Fujita Reply:

    so you’d rather deal with FRA waivers and all of the potential limitations that mixed traffic would entail than have a Shinkansen-type closed system operation?

    mind you this is a completely hypothetical scenario, although it’s definitely possible from San Jose to Palmdale, and might be possible in Los Angeles if funds were available.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The FRA is already trying to assert authority regardless of track separation. That’s what the steel ball is about. It may have recognized that buff strength requirements make trains unusable, but it hasn’t given up on globally unique regulations that make trains difficult to procure.

    James Fujita Reply:

    whatever the motivation for it may be, “6 kg steel balls” deserves to be the new code for FRA regulations.

    sometimes I think the FRA is a bigger obstacle to high-speed rail than either NIMBYs or the Union Pacific.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They use regular old everyday window panes in the windshields of Shinkansen or TGVs or ICE or whatever? 6kg sounds suspiciously like “bowling ball dropped off an overpass” which happens fairly often.

    James Fujita Reply:

    BTW, it took me a while to confirm this, but a “6 kg steel ball” is basically (almost) a shot put.

    look out for mad shot putters!

    Alon Levy Reply:

    You’re talking as if there are no overpasses above the LGVs.

    James Fujita Reply:

    I’m beginning to wonder if there will be any overpasses on Cal HSR. Every urban section seems to elevated, not that I think that’s necessarily a bad thing, mind you.

    I’d think it would be just as easy, possibly less expensive, probably just as logical, to keep pedestrians OFF THE OVERPASSES than it would be to eliminating competitors because they aren’t sufficiently prepared for every possible contingency situation that the FRA can dream up.

    James Fujita Reply:

    EDIT: in the event of unavoidable trenches, build pedestrian walkways and bridges with fenced cages over the trenched areas if that’s what’s necessary.

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    In France there have been several occurences of suburban youths dropping concrete blocks or metal objects from road overpasses. So, the “6 kg steel ball” regulation doesn’t seem so inept. It has saved train drivers’ lives.
    You can’t even totally rule out a collision on exclusive tracks. Two years ago, a heavy public works vehicle broke loose down a steep hillside, crashed through the fence and was hit by a TGV. The cars stayed in line and the crumple zones absorbed the shock. No-one was injured.
    The FRA certainly knows about these and other incidents. It won’t accept anything lower than UIC regulations. The Japanese will have to comply if they want to bid.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The FRA is not asking for UIC regulations. It’s asking for new things, including the steel ball.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Semantic quibbles are fruitless, because they can not be resolved by resort to facts. “What label to put on this thing” is a subjective question.

    Before the DoT tightened up the language, legally it was “High Speed Rail” if it was faster than 90mph. And that was the state of play from the early 90’s.

    And indeed, the reality on the ground is that our passenger rail network is so backward that for the large majority of the country, 90mph really is higher speed than what we got.

    There are three whole classes of speed above what is conventional passenger rail for the United States. Legally, they have all been a single mush of “High Speed Rail”, since the 90’s, and only recently upgraded to the three tier “Fast, Faster, Fastest” language.

    The only rhetorical benefit for using “real” instead of “Express” is to join with one half of the Republican excuse that incremental upgrades aren’t “real” improvements, while Express HSR is too expensive, so we don’t get to do anything at all.

    If, on the other hand, the rhetorical purpose was to get Express HSR built, there’d be no reason to oppose the “Fast, Faster Fastest” formulation is perfectly fine.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I thought the rhetorical benefits for using “real” were that it actually was standard usage and that it would not mislead people into thinking that an average speed of 60 mph is any type of HSR. The main rhetorical benefit of HSR is the fame of the Shinkansen and the TGV; anything far short of that is a letdown.

    A side benefit is that it frames the FRA as being completely irrelevant to the discussion, instead of accepting its unique terminology. You might as well say that you support death panels, partial birth abortion, racial quotas, and illegals.

    Spokker Reply:

    Average speeds of 60 MPH would be an improvement in Southern California. Those “snail trains,” as Mica puts it, are still important.

    James Fujita Reply:

    important, but irrelevant to a high-speed rail debate.

    if we had any sense, we would be building subways, electrified commuter trains, LAX Express-type electric trains (might these be in the 60 mph average?) and true HSR.

    at the very least, the subways and the true HSR should be doable, even with our limited budget.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    You know perfectly well that the Regional HSR tier is not limited to average speed of 60mph. You’ve lapsed into another false dichotomy, excluding the middle.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Emerging HSR would be limited to about 60 mph – about the same as what’s achieved with higher top speeds between New York and Albany.

  2. Nathanael
    Feb 8th, 2011 at 06:39
    #2

    Gah. This is another case where the FRA doesn’t seem to know what it’s doing. Both NCDOT and Washington have actually been pretty strict about demanding good performance, yet FRA thinks it knows better. What’s up with that?

    BruceMcF Reply:

    The Secretary needs to find a way to breathe down their necks.

    They may feel that they are avoiding a bad precedent ~ but given the tremendous capital cost savings available if the private railroads are willing participants, they are being penny wise and dollars foolish.

  3. Useless
    Feb 8th, 2011 at 07:51
    #3

    http://www.asahi.com/business/update/0207/NGY201102070038.html

    Speaking of freight rail, details of FRA crash standard inquiry to high speed train makers was leaked from Japan.

    There are 13 crash performance issues that FRA’s asking from bullet train makers, of which three were leaked.

    – Can your train model protect the train driver when colliding with a stationary freight train at 32 km/hr?
    – Can your train model protect the train driver when colliding with a heavy truck loaded with 18 tons of steel coil at crossing?
    – Can your train model withstand a direct impact from a flying 6 kg steel ball and not allow a hull penetration?

    The said Japanese maker replied yes to all, but this would require heavy modifications and put Shinkansen at a disadvantage.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Why in the world would any of those standards matter for a high speed train running on dedicated grade separated tracks?

    Useless Reply:

    @ Paulus Magnus

    > Why in the world would any of those standards matter for a high speed train running on dedicated grade separated tracks?

    Because these bullet trains won’t run on grade segragated tracks at all times in the US. Mixed traffic is the rule of thumb here in the US.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    I’m fairly sure the lines are grade separated and dedicated to passenger rail only.

    Useless Reply:

    @ Paulus Magnus

    > I’m fairly sure the lines are grade separated and dedicated to passenger rail only.

    Grade Separation with road traffic, yes.
    Passenger rail only, not necessarily as freight trains will use Caltrain corridor late night.

    And the other “passenger trains” sharing tracks we are talking about are Caltrain(UIC-standard double decker EMU) and Metrolink(FRA standard).

    Mixed traffic is necessary to reduce construction cost. Since all but Chinese venders and Shinkansen would comply with at least UIC standard, there is no need to roll back the crash performance requirements.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    A heavy truck loaded with 18t of steel coil at a crossing? Really? If there are gated crossings and the gates have not come down, what is the train doing going through that crossing at full speed?

    Useless Reply:

    @ BruceMcF

    > what is the train doing going through that crossing at full speed?

    Not at full speed, but at a normal crossing pass speed per regulation.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    What are they doing going past an open crossing gate AT ANY SPEED on a corridor with PTC and all gated crossings?

    If the rail corridor does not merit being brought up to at least Rapid Rail quality, why run an Express HSR train on it?

    thatbruce Reply:

    You’re assuming that the crossing gates can reliably sense when they are unable to be fully brought down (ie, road vehicle obstructing the boom) or when a road vehicle has become stuck on the tracks and not obstructing the movement of the crossing gates. Then, you are assuming that the crossing gates are tied to the rail signalling system, that the triggered signal (if the crossing gates report failure) is located far enough back to allow the train to be brought to a complete halt, and that the reaction time of the engineer or automatic system is sufficient to start applying the brakes in time.

    A failure of any of these pieces in a non-grade-separated environment will and does result in a train demonstrating inertia to a hapless road vehicle, which is why you endeavour to have your rail vehicles able to protect its passengers in such a collision.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Precisely. If its a dumb gate, don’t put Rapid Rail traffic down that corridor ~ it may be possible for an SUV to be stalled on the tracks without the gates detecting it, but a truck loaded with 18 tons of steel coil ought to be detectable in a quad gate or better crossing for 110mph or faster rail traffic.

    If its a fail-unsafe design, redesign it to be fail safe.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The plans for CAHSR, FLHSR, and the Northeast call for full grade separation, and zero track-sharing with freight. (No, time separation does not count as track-sharing. Unmodified FLIRTs run on legacy freight track right now, without PTC, protected by time separation.)

    Useless Reply:

    @ Alon Levy

    > The plans for CAHSR, FLHSR, and the Northeast call for full grade separation, and zero track-sharing with freight.

    Yea, but not with other passenger trains. Mixed traffic with other train types(Namely FRA compliant trains) is a fact of life in US HSR scene. Denying this won’t get you anywhere, like how Japanese kept denying mixed traffic requirement(Japanese were still angry at mixed traffic plan when they replied to FRA crash performance inquiry this month) and dug themselves into a deep hole.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Notice, however, that none of those questions have anything to do with other passenger rail cars and had everything to do with conditions that do not exist for HSR.

    Useless Reply:

    Paulus Magnus

    Surely they do. California high speed trains will share tracks with Metrolink trains, which are very heavy. Caltrain double decker EMUs would be lighter, but not by much.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    The question about hitting a freight train at 32kph was directed at hitting a freight train, not at hitting a Metrolink train.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    And what is a Metrolink train doing carrying 6kg steel balls? Is that a Mad Max Metrolink traing with artillery on top?

    Useless Reply:

    @ BruceMcF

    > And what is a Metrolink train doing carrying 6kg steel balls? Is that a Mad Max Metrolink traing with artillery on top?

    Don’t shoot the messenger. I didn’t ask that question; FRA did.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    You were just above defending the question by arguing that a Metrolink is analogous to a freight train. I’m just wondering what a Metrolink carries that is analoghous to the FRA’s 6kg steel balls.

    thatbruce Reply:

    Heads of politicians?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Politician’s heads are much lighter. Filled with all that hot air….

    Alan F Reply:

    The NEC is fully grade separated between DC and NYC. Even so, I recall an incident a year or 2 ago where a car either flew off a ramp or bridge and ended up on the NEC tracks. Maybe worrying about a truck with 18 tons of steel coil is a bit much for grade separated tracks, but a HSR train is going to have enough crash protection to deal with automobiles, maintenance trucks or other trains on the tracks.

    But the question about the flying 6 kg steel ball is interesting. Is the FRA worried about people hurling shot-puts at moving trains? Or is the 6 kg steel ball moving at human thrown speeds slamming into a HSR train at high speed a substitute for the kinetic energy of a bullet fired from a hand gun? In short, ask about strength resistance of the front engine and side windows for impacts, but don’t phrase it in a way that asks directly whether the windows can handle small arm weapons fire in gun happy America? Just curious, don’t what to start a OT gun discussion here.

    Useless Reply:

    @ Alan

    > but a HSR train is going to have enough crash protection to deal with automobiles, maintenance trucks or other trains on the tracks.

    Not with Shinkansen or Chinese bullet trains.

    > But the question about the flying 6 kg steel ball is interesting. Is the FRA worried about people hurling shot-puts at moving trains? Or is the 6 kg steel ball moving at human thrown speeds slamming into a HSR train at high speed a substitute for the kinetic energy of a bullet fired from a hand gun?

    The scenario describes a 6 kg steel ball impacting the driver’s cabin(probably at full speed?). The steel ball must not enter the cabin, and the train driver must be protected. The news particle offers no further description.

    I think FRA was worried about debris or object collision, like a bird or a deer at 220 mph.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I think the FRA is worried that it’s becoming obsolete and its bureaucrats might have to get real jobs.

    jimsf Reply:

    Americans will throw rocks at the trains. What is the result of a piece of granite ballast or larger, hitting an ICE cab window at 220? Just wondering. Also not only are americans going to throw things at these trains, they are going to find ways to put things on the tracks, rocks, shopping cars etc things they drop from overpasses, etc etc. They will do this and don’t think a fence is going to stop them from doing it. Its part of a streak of retardation in this country, the one that says, “the red light doesn’t apply to me” or “what happens if I touch this hot stove” or “I like to cross against the light at a busy intersection because unlike the others, I’m invincible.” Everybody here knows damn well this is how people behave here and HSR and its fence are not going to prevent it. The FRA seems to know that.

    Spokker Reply:

    There are groups in France who have attempted to sabotage the high speed trains. How would the FRA do a better job than SNCF in dealing with it?

    James Fujita Reply:

    I can think of several answers, none of them satisfactory:

    1) hire millions of security officers to keep rail fans away from the tracks

    2) obviously, we need to make our trains into tanks to avoid hordes of rock throwing Frenchmen

    3) ignore the problem and hope it goes away. also, taller fences.

    jimsf Reply:

    not in dealing with the sabotage, but in making sure that a certain amount of fairly easy to get random crap doesn’t bust through the cab in a teenage prank.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    I have to agree.

    It’s tragic, but somehow also funny, that part of the stupid things people do is fool around the catenary on an electric railroad. This can give you quite jolt at 600 volts for a trolley line, but is usually lethal at the 11,000-volt and higher pressures of main line electrification. There have been reports of people trying to cut the copper of overhead wires on the NEC, and all that is found are charred remains and a melted set of bolt cutters.

    It’s not just here. Some clown in Australia was “train surfing” on a freight train (riding on top), and did not take note that the wires came down close to the equipment as his consist went under a pedestrian bridge at a station. Witnesses waiting for a passenger train described this young man’s fatal act of foolishness as both horrifying and spectacular.

    jimsf Reply:

    you know some inbred fool is going to toss a shopping cart off an overpass onto the tracks to see what will happen.

    thatbruce Reply:

    Usually that bit of protective mesh protruding out from the overpass above the overhead wire deflects it to the side so the cart either lands beside the tracks, or passes within critical distance of the messenger wire. Cluey rail operators notify local law enforcement and slow their trains down when a section of overhead uses current without a train being present.

    Spokker Reply:

    You can see for yourself what happens when you touch the catenary wire.

    NOT SAFE FOR WORK http://www.liveleak.com/view?i=1db_1249751863 NOT SAFE FOR WORK

    Yeah, he’s probably dead.

    thatbruce Reply:

    Nice demonstration of abrupt changes in electrical potential (ie, he didn’t get zapped until he raised his hand, and the discharge was to his head, not his hand). The threshold factor is probably what induces many people to try it for themselves, on the basis of ‘no-one got zapped last time when we were this close’.

    jimsf Reply:

    It like the ones who see gates down, lights flashing, and train coming, and then in their mind they process “I should run across the tracks now” Not that we don’t all have our glitches in judgement, but, that one really baffles me.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    You got people who learned from mile long coal trains ambling along at bicycle speed (and its for freaking ever if you get caught at one of those intersections in back end of nowhere Montana), and then the distance illusion makes them think the train they are looking at is “not much faster”, and they win a Darwin award with oak clusters.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The Northeast is full of those unruly, masochistic Americans. Somehow, the Acela never runs over track trespassers and never gets hit by rocks.

    The FRA should stick to things that have actually happened.

    Clem Reply:

    HSR doesn’t have to run on dedicated grade-separated tracks. For lower speed, shared corridors in approaches to city centers, it is reasonable to mix with other traffic and possibly have a few grade crossings until full grade separation can be completed.

    If you think about mixing four different classes of traffic, namely FRA Freight, FRA Passenger, UIC and Shinkansen, I think you might see the following relationships mandated by the FRA:

    FRA Freight – FRA Passenger: yes, no restrictions
    FRA Freight – UIC: no, time separation only (per Caltrain waiver)
    FRA Freight – Shinkansen: no
    FRA Passenger – UIC: yes, with PTC (per Caltrain waiver)
    FRA Passenger – Shinkansen: no
    UIC – Shinkansen: probably OK with PTC

    As for grade crossings, UIC would require selected grade crossing upgrades (per Caltrain waiver). You have to remember that most high-speed trains are built to the same UIC standards involved in Caltrain’s waiver, and that waiver allows 114 trains/day through 43 grade crossings… that’s a lot of exposure, showing that FRA isn’t all that worried about UIC grade crossing collisions. If a Velaro were to trundle up the peninsula at Caltrain speeds, there would be no technical or regulatory barrier to operating through existing grade crossings. Operationally it might not be optimal, but you can’t have everything on day one.

    Loren Petrich Reply:

    So you propose a gradient of train types, from lightest to heaviest:

    Shinkansen, UIC, FRA Passenger, FRA Freight

    Each type will be allowed to coexist only with its neighboring types.

    Useless Reply:

    @ Loren Petrich

    That’s too complicated.

    It should be just FRA Freight, FRA Passenger, and UIC.

    UIC trains could share tracks with either FRA types only with PTC. Problem solved.

    No need to make problem more complicated by bringing Shinkansen, or even Chinese types, into the picture.

    Clem Reply:

    That’s too simplified. Caltrain’s UIC waiver mandates time separation with FRA freight trains. It only allows mixed operations with FRA passenger trains. See above.

    Clem Reply:

    And to clarify, the waiver doesn’t actually allow off-the-shelf UIC trains… it is specifically a waiver of a handful of FRA rules with strict requirements for showing alternate means of compliance. Rather than calling it FRA “non-compliant” I would call it “alternate-compliant”.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Or “comply by application” rather than “comply by spec”.

    And that is a hurdle: a series of waivers of specifications due to each individual application showing that it complies by some other means is management by exception.

    There should be a Heavy Freight spec, a Rapid Rail spec, and if a train complies with both specs, it can run on either.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yeah, let’s exclude the lightest, most advanced suburban rolling stock from the picture and make about half the world’s rolling stock makers jump through hoops to enter the American market. Brilliant.

  4. Nathanael
    Feb 10th, 2011 at 02:51
    #4

    The FRA still seems to be exceptionally bonkers. I’ll agree with Mica on that.

    (Or maybe it’s just in the pay of Union Pacific.)

Comments are closed.