Amtrak Cascades Another Successful Example of Intercity Rail in America

Aug 7th, 2011 | Posted by

I’m writing this post from my seat on Amtrak Cascades #508, just outside the small southwestern Washington town of Woodland. I’m on wifi and we’re running alongside the Columbia River. It’s a beautiful afternoon, after a nice weekend in Portland, Oregon.

Oh, and the train is sold out. According to the station agent at Union Station, this train, which departs PDX at 6:15 PM, is usually sold out on the weekends, and nearly sold out during the week. That echoes what the station agent at King Street Station in Seattle told me yesterday morning, that not only was train #501 south to Portland usually sold out on weekends, but so too was #510, the morning departure for Vancouver, British Columbia.

The stats bear it out. In 2010, 838,251 people rode the Amtrak Cascades service somewhere between Vancouver, BC and Eugene, OR. That’s a 10% increase over the 2009 numbers, which were themselves a small dip from the 2008 record, which was a 14% increase over 2007. The Cascades are now the busiest Amtrak service outside the Northeast Corridor and California. The system’s firebox recovery rate is now at 72%.

The trains themselves are unique in the United States. The Cascades use Talgo 200 tilting trainsets, with an operational speed of 110mph (though owing to FRA rules, the actual top speed in service is 79mph). It means the train can take curves that the Coast Starlight trains can’t, meaning the Cascades connects Seattle and Portland faster than conventional Amtrak equipment (outside the NEC, at least). These are the only Talgo trainsets in operation in the US – Wisconsin had signed an agreement with Talgo to use their trains on the Hiawatha, and Talgo would have built the trains in Wisconsin. But teabagger governor Scott Walker killed those plans earlier this year, and the federal government took the money back and gave it to, among other states, California.

The ride is comfortable and, with wifi, means someone like me can stay connected via my iPad or other digital device, whereas on Interstate 5 I couldn’t do it. And if I want another beer, the bistro car is just behind me.

Still, the Amtrak Cascades takes about an hour longer to get from Seattle to Portland than driving. Without traffic, driving time from SEA to PDX is about 2:30. On the Cascades, it’s scheduled at 3:30. Stimulus funding will help the Washington State Department of Transportation build some sidings and the Point Defiance Bypass, which will shave at least 10 minutes off the travel time. WSDOT’s goal is to get the trip down to 2:30, which would be exactly the same as driving.

And yet the ridership numbers show people are willing to pay a time premium already. Perhaps it’s because the Cascades serve two centrally located stations – King Street Station is in the heart of downtown Seattle, next to the light rail station and the soon to be under construction First Hill Streetcar. Portland’s Union Station is also near downtown, in the middle of the thriving Pearl District, right next to two MAX lines and the Portland Streetcar (soon to be extended across the Willamette to Portland’s eastside). So it’s an incredibly convenient way for people to travel between those two cities.

3:30 might just be at the outermost edge of travel time that can sustain Cascades ridership. Seattle and Portland are only about 170 miles apart, meaning that a California-style HSR plan would connect the cities in about an hour, depending on intermediate stops. A true HSR service of above 150 mph would require significant construction of new tracks, which is a good idea but not currently in WSDOT’s plans owing to the cost. They prefer to spend their money smoothing out some curves, adding sidings so freight trains can be passed, and adding more trainsets so more service can be offered along the route. That’s a good intermediate solution while plans develop for true HSR service. In California, however, even using Talgos at a top speed of 110 mph to connect SF to LA would not provide you any great savings over the car, and probably not much over flying (door to door). The SF-LA distance of about 420 miles is ideal for a TGV or AVE-style true bullet train system, which as we all know is exactly what California is planning to build. And such systems can carry a LOT more passengers, which will be needed on both the California and Pacific Northhwest corrridors as oil prices and the costs of flying and driving make train travel much more attractive. California is planning for that future, and the Northwest will need to do so as well.

The Cascades joins the Acela (which turns a profit) and the Amtrak California routes – particularly the Capitol Corridor and the Pacific Surfliner – as successful examples of intercity rail in this country. These routes prove that demand for intercity rail service is there. And if you can get much faster speeds, on dedicated tracks, serving city centers – precisely what the California HSR project will do – then there is every reason to believe ridership will be high.

HSR deniers may tell you that nobody rides trains in America. Try telling that to the riders who sold out the Amtrak Cascades this afternoon.

  1. Alon Levy
    Aug 7th, 2011 at 20:43

    What you should mention is that the current cant deficiency on the Cascades is 5″, which is the same as that achieved by the Regional north of New Haven. This is due to two problems:

    1. The FRA-compliant locomotive and the deadweight cab car are very heavy and have a high center of mass, restricting the safe cant deficiency to 6″.

    2. BNSF further restricts cant deficiency to 5″ in order to avoid interfering with freight trains.

    The first problem is tractable. The second one is much more serious: it implies that mixing with freight trains forces average speed to be low and not just top speed, and therefore even medium speeds require lines that are passenger-primary.

    political_incorrectness Reply:

    Very good points indeed. Once the FRA anarchy rules are out, I think it will become much easier for adding passenger rail in this country, given the lackluster vision for passenger rail that there already is.

    VBobier Reply:

    Considering the FRA’s initials I think stand for Freight Railroad Administration, It sounds like their rules are in need of some rules for Passenger Service or an overhaul. Someone needs to get the pitchfork out and prod them with the pointy end…

    Alon Levy Reply:

    FRA = Federal Railroad Administration.

    But your moniker for the agency is disturbingly accurate.

    Nathanael Reply:

    And this is why the long-term plan is to build an exclusive passenger track along the rural segment of the line.

    Mixing with BNSF on the *urban* segments seems to be essentially unproblematic, apart from the FRA rules.

  2. Leroy W. Demery, Jr
    Aug 7th, 2011 at 22:42

    Shame on Robert for propagating utter nonsense about “driving times” – and shame on the rest of you all for letting him get away with it.

    The Rand McNally road distance, Seattle to Portland (CBD to CBD) is 174 mi.

    (Yeah, I know … “I don’t know who Rand is, but I could never trust a McNally” … so I’ll use my GPS).

    If you drive this distance in 2 h 30 min, then you are a reckless driver and a lawbreaker, and deserve to be “nailed” by the WA State Patrol:

    174 mi / 2.5 hr = 69.6 mph; round off to 70 mph.

    You are a reckless driver and a lawbreaker – with or “without” traffic – because the posted speed limit is less than 70 mph on a significant share of the distance. The posted limit is as low as 55 on some segments (e.g. through Centralia).

    Adverse weather conditions, not necessarily confined to winter months, include rain, fog and “black ice” (the latter is uncommon but is not unknown). Other “impediments” include maintenance work and traffic congestion – not confined to weekday commute hour. The blunt fact is that, although more than one of the “locals” will tell you otherwise, driving Seattle – Portland in 2:30 is not only “imprudent,” but it is sometimes dangerous or simply impossible.

    My point: we need additional service much more than we need a 2 h 30 min travel time, Seattle CBD – Portland CBD. Perhaps every 2 h Seattle – Portland, with the first “arrivals” before 9 a.m. and the last “departures” shortly after 9 p.m. “Some” services – perhaps “most” – should continue south to Eugene and north to Vancouver, BC.

    Three hours flat, Seattle – Portland (… with good schedule adherence …), would work just fine. I remember clearly that, in 1991, the last southbound train of the day, which I rode, arrived in Portland 30 minutes early (!). I do not recall what the “scheduled” timing was. This suggests that a three-hour timing might be attained with a minimal investment – if “everyone” were willing to do this.

    Dedicated HSR tracks would require very roughly 10 times the current rail traffic level (Seattle – Portland; the annual ridership statistic posted by Robert includes all traffic, Vancouver, BC – Eugene, as he states). I doubt that our current population base would justify this. However, a doubling of current traffic is, I think, quite “imaginable,” together with additional commuter traffic Seattle – Tacoma, and traffic from as far south as Olympia if Seattle – Tacoma commuter trains were extended there. However, I don’t think that WSDOT has much of a plan to accommodate significant, sustained rail passenger traffic growth.

    Providing the needed track capacity for significant service expansion – I admit – would not be “easy.” Certain issues related thereto might not be well-known outside WA State. For example: WSDOT has concluded that a 20-mile segment of I-5 between Kelso and Chehalis must eventually be rebuilt on viaduct to reduce vulnerability to closure by flooding. This has happened four times since 1990. During the most recent closure, in January 2009, no alternate route was available because all three mountain passes between eastern and western WA were closed by mudslides and avalanche danger. The parallel BNSF line would also need to be rebuilt – but suffice to say that no one has any idea how these projects would be financed.

    174 mi / 3.5 hr = 49.7 mph, round up to 50 mph. A much more reasonable estimate for “likely average” drive time, Seattle – Portland. Much more comfortable for one’s passengers, too (unless they enjoy hardcore “rally” type travel).

    Seattle CBD – Portland CBD in 2.5 hr? Go ahead and try it, if you must, but don’t get caught.

    political_incorrectness Reply:

    Issue with a dedicated HSR line between Seattle and Portland is the cost of $10 billion. I am not sure if taxpayers on both sides of the Columbia River would be willing to fund two new bridges across the river even though they are needed. I am very sure if 2.5 hours can be done at 110 mph, dedicated HSLs could allow express travel times of 90 minutes. Kelso-Chehalis definitely needs to be rebuilt due to the many curves in the area, this would easily bring down travel times down a handful of minutes from being able to go 79 mph on those sections.

    Right now, Interstate 5 on the weekends is having chronic traffic jams from Joint Base Lewis McChord that cascades all the way to SR 16 in Tacoma sometimes. Hopefully Lakewood commuter rail will help, but Sound Transit really needs to work with Pierce to get people to connect to the trains via bus. If buses for routes connected with the trains, there would be no issues at all. My vision for Seattle-Tacoma-Lakewood would be a quad track Class VI in order to facilitate Sounder, higher-speed Amtrak, and maybe fast freight for all I know. We need to plan for the future.

    And you did consider Robert was giving those drivers the benefit of the doubt that some people will drive +5-10 mph? I suggest going to the Southwest of the country where speedlimits are about 10 mph higher.

    Derek Reply:

    Variable tolls make traffic jams obsolete.

    Michael Reply:

    Then please explain the San Francisco – Oakland Bay Bridge…

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They haven’t raised the toll enough.
    From Wikipedia:
    The Bay Area Toll Authority reported that by October 2010 fewer users are driving during the peak hours and more vehicles are crossing the Bay Bridge before and after the 5-10 a.m. period in which the congestion toll goes into effect. Commute delays in the first six months dropped by an average of 15 percent compared with 2009.

    Leroy W. Demery, Jr Reply:

    “Variable tolls make traffic jams obsolete” ??


    A ballot measure, drafted by the inimitable Tim Eyman and bankrolled by arch-road gangster Kemper Freeman, will appear on the November ballot in WA State. That’s “statewide.” Among other things, “Initiative 1125” would ban variable tolls outright.


    (Note the language added to get Freeman’s support: Section 3: “State government, the department of
    transportation, and other agencies may not transfer or use gas-tax-funded or toll-funded lanes on state highways for non-highway purposes.” That’s an attempt to block conversion of the carpool lanes on the Interstate-90 bridge across Lake Washington to rail use. Eyman acknowledges that “I-1125 would kill the planned “East Link” LRT line. That’s far from certain, given the certainty of extended and costly litigation.)

    This sort of ballot measure places the “variable tolls” concept “at risk” in any jurisdiction which has “initiative and referendum.”

    political_incorrectness Reply:

    Mr. Tim Eyman. anti-tax man of Washington state who is going to bring our transportation system to ruins. If he goes anywhere other than Washington state, better get ready to fight him.

    Arthur Dent Reply:

    Good catch, Leroy. The other way to figure it is with Google maps, which puts driving from downtown Seattle to downtown Portland at just under 3 hours. Amtrak’s ticket price is $52, which is about 30 cents per mile for the 175 mile trip. This is cheaper than a car for one person, and costlier than a car with two or more people. As always, the last mile on either end could complicate things if traveling by train, depending on the final endpoints.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    This is cheaper than a car for one person…

    …assuming that you trust the AAA’s shoddy methodology and that you consider all fixed costs to be variable costs.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The IRS comes up with similar cost per mile figures.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Two wrongs do not make a right.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The IRS sources its numbers to the AAA calculations, which could well be correct for businesses, i.e. the main bodies claiming deductions for travel expenses. Although the AAA still overestimates maintenance costs and depreciation, at least the fixed costs can realistically be apportioned per unit of distance driven.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    If your fleet has more than 4 vehicles in it the IRS makes you keep track of actual expenses. They have an enormous database of automotive expenses. They ain’t pulling their number out of thin air and AAA propaganda.
    $20,000 vehicle driven for 100,000 before it’s disposed of comes out to 5 cents a mile.
    You’re driving a new car for 20,000 miles a year ( 100,000 / 5 ) your insurance isn’t going to be cheap. My liability insurance, out here in the wilds of the Adirondacks where there are few cars to have accidents with, comes out to 2 cents mile. Someone driving 20,000 miles a year would pay more and if they re driving a new car they will be carrying comprehensive. Not hard to think that someone driving a newish car in an average suburb pays a $1,000 a year for car insurance. 5 cents a mile.
    New cars don’t need a lot of repairs but they do need maintenance. Oil changes, fluids refilled, new tire every two years or so. Very easy to get to 5 cents a mile on that even with a new car.
    Can’t drive without a drivers license, plates on the car and inspections of some sort in many states. Thats not a lot of money. but it can come up to $200 a year. or a penny a mile if you drive 20,000 a year. we’re up to 16 cents a mile before we’ve put gas in the car. 20 MPG at 4 bucks a gallon is 20 cents a mile. 36 cents a mile before you put a new muffler on at 60K. Or replace the battery. Or fix the air conditioning.
    Or pay interest on the car loan.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Total US household spending on cars / total US VMT = $0.432, see explanation here. And this is an average over all vehicles, whereas the AAA claims $0.55/mile for light vehicles and higher figures for SUVs.

    But you’re missing the point, which is that most of those costs are not marginal. For example, depreciation is not a marginal cost of driving; at the levels of use that are normal for households, cars depreciate per year more than per kilometer. For another example, although pay-as-you-go insurance is both spreading and desirable, it’s not yet the law of the land. And so on.

    Derek Reply:

    “For example, depreciation is not a marginal cost of driving; at the levels of use that are normal for households, cars depreciate per year more than per kilometer.” says subtracting one year from my car’s age adds $235 to its value, subtracting 12,000 miles adds $225, and subtracting one year AND 12,000 miles adds $485. So you pretty much have to add both numbers together. Therefore, depreciation is a marginal cost of driving.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    What you’re missing is that a car depreciates the moment it is driven off the lot. The difference between the price of a new car and that of a five-year-old car on Craigslist is a lot more than $2,425; it’s closer to $10,000.

    joe Reply:

    Consumer reports calculates cost of owning and operating each vehicle they test. They assume a 5 year ownership and some degree of financing.

    For their average vehicle driven 12,000 miles/year for 5 years: 46% of the cost is depreciation and 26% is fuel with 4% for maintenance and repair.

    Costs can be divided into carrying costs, tied to the vehicle purchase, and operating costs associated with ongoing driving expenses. Operating costs include fuel, insurance, and maintenance and repair costs. Depreciation, interest, and tax are carrying costs.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    What you’re missing is that a car depreciates the moment it is driven off the lot.

    And one can allocate the cost to the sheer joy and pleasure of signing the paperwork or one can allocate the cost to the 100,000 miles of ownership. If you wanna allocate it to the joy of paperwork your cost per mile is going to be lower. The IRS, when they come up with 51 cents a mile isn’t as sentimental.

    Joey Reply:

    The issue here is that most people own a car anyway, which will depreciate whether or not you take the train.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It depreciates less if you leave it in the garage. It needs less maintenance if you leave it in the garage. Leave it in the garage enough and it need less insurance.

    Joey Reply:

    True, but there are certain costs which exist regardless

    Derek Reply:

    Surely some households can give up one of their cars when mass transit makes it feasible to do so. This is why so-called “fixed costs” are, in fact, variable costs.

    Joey Reply:

    Yes, at least, to an extent, but we were talking about (at least, originally) the cost of taking the Cascades vs driving in the present day.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Sure. But we’re not discussing transit policy that would allow households to give up a car; we’re discussing intercity service, which competes with a marginal rather than core car trip.

    Derek Reply:

    It’s also a commuter service within the large metro areas (Bay Area, Los Angeles, San Diego).

    Clem Reply:

    Cost of driving is only half the equation. You need to include the cost of additional time, if driving takes longer… the speed is a lot slower, and you have to stop to pee or stretch your legs. Then there’s the opportunity cost of staring at the road rather than reading a book, watching a movie, sleeping, having coffee, or (gasp!) getting some productive work done.

    Arthur Dent Reply:

    Agreed. But you also need to include the cost of getting to and from your actual destinations, which in most cases is not a rail station. For some small number of riders, having a car in a city for the last couple blocks will be a hindrance. But that’s limited to people who are coming/going within a couple blocks from the station. The vast majority of riders will be traveling beyond either or both ends of their rail journey, and not all people are destined for cities.

    While you’re at it, since you’re including costs of peripheral benefits, you should also include the cost of not having a car at your destination for the duration of your stay.

    This is not intended to be an argument in favor of cars over rail. If a public transit system is sufficiently well-planned and executed, the cost of not having a car could be a bonus. This is the case for Portland. Unfortunately it’s not the case for the Bay Area, LA, or any other part of California. Evolving beyond car culture requires better local transit options.

    thatbruce Reply:

    The situation you describe, being one of finding yourself at your destination without your own car, is no different for people traveling via air, and will be answered with the same solutions as at airports. Taxi services, rental cars and local transit. Rail of course is different in that the stations are more likely to be closer to the central part of the city, where there are more public transit options than the typical airport has on the outskirts of the city.

    As much as maligning BART, Muni, Metro etc might be fun and with cause, they are functioning public transit systems that like Portland, can get you to where you need to go if that is near part of the transit network. Outside that network (which can be reasonably dense around areas where people go to), there are always taxis or rental cars.

    Leroy W. Demery, Jr Reply:

    My wife flew into Oakland one early afternoon, back when I was working in Vallejo. She had one small “roller bag.” No fuss, no muss: AirBART to Coliseum / Oakland Airport station, then BART to …

    I suggested that we pop over to the S.F. Ferry Building or the mall at Powell station to have lunch. She wasn’t unduly enthusiastic (something about having to bring the bag with us).

    OK, I grumbled, but, once we go to Vallejo, I’ll be “stuck” in the office until the “project” gets “done,” even if that takes until 9 p.m. There’s very little in the way of places to eat within walking distance (of Georgia St. and Sonoma Blvd) – and almost nothing after 5 p.m.

    She reconsidered, and we had a great time at the Ferry Building, with a side trip to Powell. We then went to Vallejo via BART and express bus.

    Gripe all you wish about BART and Muni, but there are very few U.S. cities where one can do something like this, and over such distances (e.g. S.F. – Vallejo = 30 mi) – whether the “intercity” mode is air, rail or bus.

    Nathanael Reply:

    I will say that major train stations need much better rental car service. It’s not easy to rent a car at LA Union Station, for example.

    Seth Reply:

    Anyone who drives this route knows that it takes 2:30-2:40 without traffic. Yes, 70 MPH in a 60 MPH zone is speeding, however that seems to be the flow of traffic, especially between Tacoma and Seattle, so I’d take issue with calling that ‘reckless’. That being said, traffic jams, especially between Tacoma and Olympia are more common due to increased JBLM (Fort Lewis) traffic, and there are several other bottleneck locations on I-5 between Seattle and Portland. If the Cascades can reliably – key word – deliver a travel time of 3:15-3:20, I think you’ll see many more people make the switch from driving, especially as traffic gets worse.

    wu ming Reply:

    the flow of traffic in western washington is more like 5-10 MPH below the speed limit, puttering along blithely in all lanes while a minority of speeders vainly try to weave through the plodding matrix of cautious seattle drivers.

    political_incorrectness Reply:

    One reason I cannot wait to be back in Montana.

    Leroy W. Demery, Jr Reply:

    I concede that “70 mph in a 60 mph zone” – with specific reference to the segment Tacoma – Seattle in I-5 – is not necessarily “reckless driving.” Provided, of course: daylight hours, clear weather, dry pavement, and so forth. However, I assert that driving too fast for conditions (whatever these might be, and whatever the appropriate speed might be) is, by definition, “reckless driving.”

    A particularly dangerous WA State road hazard is “black ice.” This must occur in CA (somewhere), but I do not recall ever hearing the phrase there. By contrast, warnings about “black ice” (e.g. television weather reports) are common during the wintertime in WA. If you have ever hit a patch of “black ice” (as I once did, at low speed), you will never forget the experience. Many people believe, apparently (and falsely) that this particular hazard does not occur on “freeways,” or “on I-5 between Seattle and Portland.” It can, does, and on occasion leads to tragic consequences.

    So: if you’re in WA State during late December / early January (dawn roughly 8 a.m., dusk roughly 4:30 p.m.), and you drive Seattle-Portland at night, with wet pavement (common) and temperatures at the “low” end of the “typical” range (i.e. a few degrees above freezing) … and you insist on driving “at” the speed limit, much less 5-10 mph “above” it … then you’ll see the eye of a fool in your rear-view mirror.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    For those who are not familiar with it, “black ice” is water frozen on a road surface in such a way that it doesn’t look frozen; it only looks wet. In reality, it is ice as smooth and slippery as a mirror. Your main warning is that you are driving on what looks like a wet road–but you don’t have the trademark tire hiss from driving on water. That’s because the ice is “dry” or solid; you are driving on a “dry” surface that unfortunately has no adhesion at all. Best course of action is to just let the car slow down, and not make any sudden moves as the speed decays. Hopefully you won’t be going too fast. . .

    jay taylor Reply:

    Going fast =/= driving reckless. If that were true then Germany would be one scarey place to drive, and it isn’t.

    Peter Reply:

    I beg to differ. Freeway driving in Germany is only unscary on the freeways that have reasonable speed limits.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    You just have to know how to drive and how to act on German highways. The scariest elements on the German highways are the slow trucks doing their “elephant races” (a truck going at 95.2 km/h passing one going at 95.1 km/h) when there are two lanes per direction…)

    Peter Reply:

    Just because something is commonly done somewhere doesn’t mean that it’s safe…

    There’s a reason why a number of other European countries are nudging Germany to reign in its speed limits.

    Miles Bader Reply:

    Maybe they should restrict the value of individual cars instead; that’d at least reduce the “rich douchebag” factor…

    Peter Reply:

    Somehow I feel that that is even more unlikely than lowering the speed limits.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Which countries would those be? Italy, where traffic on the autostrade flows at 140 km/h and people can do 160 in good weather? France, which was the same until Sarkozy decided to enforce the speed limit as an act of greenwashing?

    Peter Reply:

    It could have been the EU government. It was years ago that I read/heard about it, don’t remember the details.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    Just driven from Orange to Genève and back today; traffic flows well at 140 km/h (official limit 130); that allowed me to safely do 120 (to keep consumption on a reasonable level), and still be safely faster than the trucks being limited at around 100.

    Driving at higher speeds is not unsafe, if you know what you are doing, and the speed is adjusted to the road (and its conditions).

    The most dangerous situation was when an elderly lady was on the middle lane driving at 80 km/h…

    One thing which considerable increases safety on the European highways is that it is forbidden to pass on the right side (left in the UK).

    … but now, we are getting a bit far OT…

    Leroy W. Demery, Jr Reply:

    I am not familiar with “typical” weather conditions on the German autobahn system. However, “inclement” weather is not uncommon between Seattle and Portland during “winter” months – and even during “summer” months … sometimes. Freezing weather is hardly unknown, in particular on the “inland” segment of I-5 south of Olympia. Some people (myself among them) suspect that “climate change” will bring greater and more frequent “temperature extremes” to western WA.

    Seattle – Portland in 2:30-2:40 “without traffic” (and with a significant amount of speeding)? Well, yes – sometime. At other times, this is imprudent, unsafe or impossible. The key point is that the Cascades services do not have to match this “theoretical” maximum. A reliable (key word, as “Seth” notes) timing of 3:00 – 3:15, rain or shine, would suffice.

    The investment needed to reduce the rail travel time below 3 h would be better spent on extending “most” services north to Everett, perhaps even Mount Vernon, with “some” continuing north to Bellingham.

    political_incorrectness Reply:

    If you reduce time below 3 hours south and get rid of the 15 minute required layover, extensions north are more of a possibility. I do wish they could have the Vancouver trains start in Tacoma and the Portland trains start in Everett. However, those tracks have significant curvature that limits the speeds of the trains. If the entire alignment from Tacoma-Everett was 110 mph, I am sure a 45 min trip from Seattle to either destination would be possibly. It might be possibly with the two new trainsets Oregon is purchasing from Talgo. I hope they can complete Port Defiance Bypass within 2 years instead of 4.

  3. Howard
    Aug 7th, 2011 at 23:25

    How much faster could the Capitol Corridor trains go if they used this tilting Talgo 200 trainsets? Is this what the HSR bond Capitol Corridor money should be used for?

    Joey Reply:

    Probably not much faster if UP has anything to say about it. As Robert said, BNSF limited speeds to assure no conflicts with freight traffic, and they’re known to be the cooperative ones.

  4. Jerry
    Aug 8th, 2011 at 01:13

    The very comfortable Talgo Cascades train is 30 minutes faster than the Coast Starlight over the same route between Portland and Seattle.

    Alan F Reply:

    The Coast Starlight is a long distance train. Amtrak adds additional padding into the schedule for the long distance (LD) trains to provide time to catch up on the schedule when the train gets delayed for freight traffic. The LD trains also tend to have longer station stops for people taking luggage on and off the train. So you can’t necessarily use the Coast Starlight trip times and say the difference is entirely the tilt and speed of the Talgo train sets.

    political_incorrectness Reply:

    True, but if you look at Thanksgiving when extra departures are added, the regular sets take 4 hours instead of the 3 hours and 30 minutes.

  5. Reality Check
    Aug 8th, 2011 at 02:29

    Rail plan, landowners to collide

    About 1,100 pieces of property – farms, businesses and homes – lie along the potential routes for California’s high-speed trains between Madera and Shafter, where construction is planned to begin in late 2012.

    Within the next week or so, the California High-Speed Rail Authority will begin looking for companies to negotiate with property owners and seal the deals on rights of way for the first 120 miles or so of tracks in the San Joaquin Valley. It’s a contract that could be worth up to $40 million.

    It won’t be an easy payday. However skilled the negotiators are, getting a foot in the door – never mind consummating a satisfactory deal – will be a challenge when some owners just don’t want to sell.

    “It’s going to be the toughest possible reception we can give them,” said Helen Vierra Sullivan, whose family farms almonds north of Hanford. “My land is not for sale. … How can they take away my heritage, my livelihood, something my family has invested blood and sweat in for more than 80 years? It’s wrong on so many levels.”

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Her land is totally for sale, for the right price. Somehow, private developers manage to get landowners to sell when they build a new sprawlburb. The only difference with HSR is that HSR has deeper pockets and could be compelled to overpay more.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Other way around. She’d gladly sell CHSRA the whole thing, but for a price that factors in her water rights. Since el trein requires no fabulous marble master bath suite with his and her sinks, she doesn’t want to sell because *someday* some big home builder is going to come and pay top dollar for her pristine, wonderful land that isn’t bisected by some tracks and totally unsuitable for geometrically precise, taupe colored subdivisions.

    Or, even if said home builder doesn’t want the land itself for houses, it can still buy it and transfer the water rights……

    CHSRA meanwhile, can lowball her all day and night because they have eminent domain power, but they also don’t need the land for its water rights. (The property market is also, as you might have noticed, shitty.)

    Now if the Authority is smart it will get local jurisdictions (hello Fresno) to buy the water rights for the land taken OR simply have the Authority buy it and resell them somewhere else. (Enter conservation agency X….) Needless to say, there is a viable solution out there.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The viable solution is to forget about the 99 corridor for now and concentrate on Bako to LA..

    Even I did not anticipate that 600 point drop today. And don’t blame the teaparty for the capitulation; without the debt ceiling debate the crash might have been delayed to October or so. If anything the teapartyers brought attention to the imbalance and started the adjustment. Otherwise we would have been totally blindsided.

    Austerity is the name of the game as sovereign debt is the root of the malaise. Analogies to the thirties are useless as conditions are profoundly different now. If you believe the teaparty and S&P are responsible for the flash crash you probably believe LBJ knocked off JFK, like Jackie.

    Adios stimulus.

    Nathanael Reply:

    “Even I did not anticipate that 600 point drop today. ”

    I did. I’ve been waiting for this to happen for a while, the thing was a bubble.

    You really don’t know anything about economics, but that’s not a surprise. Try reading Naked Capitalism back for a few years if you want to get a clue. The root of the problem is in crooked banks; but analogies to the 30s are very apt because the consequences are a classic pre-New-Deal bust.

    synonymouse Reply:

    I thought they would juice it back up right away, but that did not happen until today. I guess the market thinks Bernanke will delay QE3 until a more auspicious moment.

    But Barack’s through. Now Wall Street will have to cut an entente cordiale with Romney.

    joe Reply:


    Not sure you’re on target. They can low ball her and get cross wise with a Judge. The same judge that would hear most of the Kings County cases I suspect.

    We had two lots on land bought in 1940’s in IL along a state road and built a home on one lot in the 1940s. In the 90’s when IL expanded the road, the state wanted part of the 2nd lot (sans the home) for cheap and left us with a useless fraction of land that was unsellable by the regulations governing lot size.

    We sued and won. It wasn’t that hard to convince a Judge they were splitting the lot and not offering fair value.

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    I know what you mean, but again, this land is currently zoned for agriculture, not houses. That’s the speculative bit on the part of the farmers…

    Nathanael Reply:

    The CHSRA is probably going to be perfectly fair to her. What she really ought to ask for is transplanting of the almond trees in the disrupted segment to neighboring farmland…. but that’s if she’s serious rather than speculative.

    datacruncher Reply:

    A little followup by Sheehan in his blog about Legislative meddling with the land acquisition process:

    “AB 615 has a twist, however. As it has moved through the legislative sausage-making process, it was amended in the state Senate’s Transportation and Housing Committee to require the rail authority to essentially hire Caltrans, with its right-of-way expertise, to manage and carry out the acquisitions. (One of the committee members who voted for the amendment, Sen. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, is a harsh critic of the rail authority — and, coincidentally, the ex-husband of the bill’s author, Bonnie Lowenthal).”

    “Problem is, Caltrans says it doesn’t have enough staff to handle the added workload. In an April letter to legislators, the agency said its right of way department is already understaffed and is losing people at the rate of 7% per year. “Unfortunately, this means that Caltrans does not have the capacity in the right of way function to assist [the rail authority] without severe impacts” to the projects to which the department is already committed.”

    More at:

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    I’m not sure this is tin foil hat territory– isn’t Lowenthal just looking for an agency to manage that is subject to Legislative “oversight”? Even Will Kempton allegedly mentioned in the Peer Review Panel that CHSRA should work with CalTrans more than they do…. Hell, they could use the Department of Water Resources too….

    It’s sort of puzzling, but then again I’m pretty sure this isn’t the whole story.

    joe Reply:

    Yes, Lowenthal wants to bookkeep the project budget in a state agency so he can bully-audit it to death, then drag the skin off to Long Beach and wrap it around his pet rail project.

    But, Caltrans has relevant expertise t the CAHSR Project. It’s sensible to assume, without asking, that Caltrans could do some of the CAHSRA work but it’s typical political-know-nothing on Lowenthal’s part to forget or misunderstand the State is understaffed and losing talent.

    This is the typical disconnect between a powerful politician and reality.

    Peter Reply:

    I guess she doesn’t realize that if she refuses to sell, they will just seize the property anyway. And she’ll still get her money.

    VBobier Reply:

    Yep, If she wants to say No, they’ll just do It anyway and cut a check for the fair market value, whatever that is right now. Refusing will not work, Eminent Domain will and since It’s in the Public Interest, I doubt the person objecting will have much if any traction. Resistance is irrelevant.

  6. Reality Check
    Aug 8th, 2011 at 14:31

    Today’s Palo Alto Daily Post:
    Funding issues derailing HSR

    High-speed rail is practically dead in its tracks.

    After years of planning, proposals, voter approval of a $9.95 billion proposition to fund it, and months of arguments, particularly on the Peninsula, as to whether high-speed rail is the future of transportation or an expensively inane system to build in this state, the federal government is deciding for us.


    So it’s a dead deal. May it rest in peace.

    Reality Check Reply:

    Since the prior link appears to require a Yahoo! login to see the actual PDF, here’s the full OCR’ed text:

    Funding issues derailing HSR

    By Diana Diamond

    High-speed rail is practically dead in its tracks.

    After years of planning, proposals, voter approval of a $9.95 billion proposition to fund it, and months of arguments, particularly on the Peninsula, as to whether high-speed rail is the future of transportation or an expensively inane system to build in this state, the federal government is deciding for us.

    Federal funds evaporating

    Given the trillions of dollars in spending cuts Congress approved this past week, officials indicate there will be no more funding for this 800-mile bullet system for at least the next several years.

    That’s a huge problem for the High-Speed Rail Authority, since they were counting on at least $15 billion more in federal money to make this system a go.

    Several prominent politicians I talked to acknowledge the system is faltering, although they won’t specifically declare its end has come.

    State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, said the congressional debt reductions “make additional federal funding even more remote.” And the authority now has a more challenging task to identify the needed funding for the railroad. Funding for the high-speed rail system was supposed to come from the federal, state and local governments, as well as private funding.

    Only $3.6 billion has materialized from the feds, the state is out of money, and local governments don’t want to chip in. The private sector is silent. And now the hoped-for $15 billion infusion is evaporating.

    Tough choices

    State Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, said the Legislature might decide this fall on the bullet train’s future. A revised business plan from the authority is due in October, because the initial plan drew strong criticism over its funding sources and ridership figures not only from California’s Legislative Analyst Office’s, but also from two prominent review committees. Their concerns will have to be answered in this revised business plan.

    Gordon, also said any more federal investment is highly unlikely. Legislative options, he said, are a) to pack up one’s bags and forget about high-speed rail, b) remain in a holding pattern and maybe move ahead instead with portions of the project, or c) find a way to do this, perhaps by borrowing more, going for another bond or getting private sector funding. “The debate is all over the map right now,” he added.

    Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said that if groups like the Legislative Analyst’s Office are having problems with the estimated costs and revenues, “it will be difficult to get investors for this project.”

    “I’m hearing more now about let’s just stop the whole thing — but that’s not yet the mantra in Sacramento,” he said. “But somehow a decision has to be made.” But Palo Alto Councilman Pat Burt said, “It’s increasingly likely there will be no funding for the system for a long time.”

    I’ve always doubted the viability of the high-speed rail system. The original projections from the authority were for 100 million riders a year — meaning every person in this state would have to take three trips annually. Now the ridership estimates are at the 40 million level. But there are only 8 million airplane travelers who go between San Francisco and Los Angeles yearly, and the train won’t lure all of them away, so where do the rest come from?

    We were originally told the system would cost $32 billion, then $43 billion and now more than $60 billion. In reality, it could be $150 billion. California can’t afford it. So it’s a dead deal. May it rest in peace.

    Look for Diana Diamond’s columns Monday and Thursday in the Post. As a columnist, her views are her own and not necessarily those of the Post. Email

    synonymouse Reply:

    If it is a hard truth that the funding has been pulled, the CHSRA should drop Borden to Corcoran straightaway. If you want to put the nails in the coffin go ahead and blow the little money on nowhere to nowhere. It will become the Reason Foundation slogan.

    Fill the gap so Amtrak can run the San Joaquins ASAP to LA.

    Nathanael Reply:

    There’s no funding problem. There’s a time delay problem. The portion currently funded will almost certainly be built; the demand for the LA connection is pretty much unstoppable and LA *will* find the funding. The article by Diamond is the usual bullshit.

    The only thing is that a bunch of it is probably going to be delayed. Again. Which is bad.

    VBobier Reply:

    Yeah funding is problem, just not a permanent one… Kick a majority of the Repugs plus the Tea Thugs in Congress out and funding should be less of a problem, Besides We have enough to last until somewhere into 2013 last I read and there was never a huge multi year transportation project that had all its money set in stone as to where and when It would appear…

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Another blogger called the TEA party the “Take Everything Away” Party.

    Off topic, but what could be some interesting developments for the competition, courtesy of the Infrastructurist:

    I particularly like the comment below by a fellow named Don K., from the first link:

    “Meanwhile, I’m guessing there would be lots of unhappy Republicans in, e.g., WY, ND, SD, NE, ID, who will be saying, ‘We’d have to increase our gas tax to what?'”

    Jerry Reply:

    D. Diamond writes for the very NIMBY Daily Post in Palo Alto.
    High Speed Rail is very much alive and well all over the world.
    If – as she wishes – HSR in CA is dead – it says volumes for the entire states future regarding jobs, pollution, and transportation.

    joe Reply:

    And Palo Alto’s roads which have 38 Million dollar’s worth of road repair backlogged.

    Not all PA are NIMBY’s

    From Daily News Group readers
    San Jose Mercury News (California)
    August 5, 2011
    Dear Editor: I keep reading letters citing China’s recent high-speed rail accident as a reason to oppose high-speed rail in this country.

    Far more people are killed in this and other countries on highways than in rail accidents. Highway deaths are so common, they’re not mentioned in the media except in local editions, and then only if the incidents occurred locally or had some other local angle. Rail accidents, on the other hand, get publicity wherever in the world they occur, because they are so rare.

    The recent deadly train accident in China is cited as a reason to not build high-speed rail in this country. Yet I’ve not heard anyone oppose the building of highways in this country because of the 40,000 or so annual deaths that occur there.

    Ellen Fletcher,
    Palo Alto

    Reality Check Reply:

    Ellen Fletcher is a former Palo Alto city councilwoman. She’s considered the mother of Palo Alto’s bicycle-friendly reputation, etc., their bicycle boulevard, etc. She rides her bicycle most everywhere and once said she puts gas in her car maybe only a couple times per year.

  7. TomCV
    Aug 8th, 2011 at 17:16

    Well HSR is dead?
    Off topic and check this……..
    Watch the Scene how to get on the Train in China.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Where is this? It looks very much like the famous scenes of the people-pushers in the Tokyo subway, complete with the blue uniforms and white gloves.

    quashlo Reply:

    It’s mislabelled. It’s from 1991, Tōkyō area.
    This is Hibarigaoka Station on the Seibu Ikebukuro Line, a private “commuter” railway line through the western / northwestern suburbs of Tōkyō.

    Original source video and cameraman are here:

    Accompanying videos:

    Peter Reply:

    WOW, that’s a narrow platform to be crowded like that on…

    Leroy W. Demery, Jr Reply:

    The various versions of this video (original, and, um, “unauthorized duplicates”) all have soundtracks. Train announcements and wry comments by train crews (e.g. “Mainichi!,” = “Every day!”) can be heard – clearly – in Japanese.

    Moreover, as “quashlo” notes, anyone reasonably familiar with Tōkyō rail systems would quickly identify the Seibu Railway upon first glimpse of the rolling stock.

    The photographer makes clear that crowding of this magnitude is a thing of the past, because additional lines have been constructed, “flex time” has become popular, and so forth.

    I suspect that early “unauthorized duplicates” were mislabeled purposefully as “China” – and monoglot Amerikanskiys (among others) bought this hook, line and sinker.

  8. Brandi
    Aug 8th, 2011 at 18:36

    I have to agree with Robert. The Cascades is a very successful. I was there about a month ago on vacation and on the weekend all the trains were sold out and on the weekday more than half the trains were sold out. 72% Farebox Recovery is impressive too. I’m going to bet the Chicago – St Louis becomes this popular in a few years. We just need to get all these people using Amtrak to write the congresspeople for HSR.

  9. calwatch
    Aug 8th, 2011 at 21:08

    Not sure why this got moderated in the Palmdale thread (the URL?) but this is from the San Gabriel Valley COG. It is also reiterated in an article in the Antelope Valley Press on Thursday after the Antonovich birthday BBQ in Lancaster. Mike Antonovich is starting to drop hopes of HSR ever being implemented, and is calling for medium speed Metrolink service instead: In the AV Press article (not available online, unless you pay their exorbitant rate), Antonovich is even considering proposing the train stop in Palmdale and having Metrolink continue south from there with a 60 minute travel time into Downtown Los Angeles, to avoid all the problems with Acton and Santa Clarita. The thought is that it is easier to double track Soledad than it is to tunnel or viaduct through rural Acton/Agua Dulce.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Yeah, the URL was a bit odd – tried to download the PDF last night on the train and it didn’t quite work. I approved this post and the one on the Palmdale thread.

    synonymouse Reply:

    I don’t know if I understood the proposal in this pdf. Was Mr. Antonovich assuming that neither Tejon nor Tehachapi would be built?

    Peter Reply:

    No, I think he is assuming Tehachapi will be built, and he is proposing to end HSR in Palmdale and have passengers switch in Palmdale to an upgraded, higher-speed Metrolink.

Comments are closed.