Blended HSR Plan for Peninsula Gains Momentum

Aug 1st, 2011 | Posted by

A few months ago the “hybrid” or “blended” plan for mixing high speed rail and Caltrain on the Peninsula generated strong criticism from HSR advocates, including on this blog. However, it’s also clear that support is growing for the plan. The Bay Area Council’s recent endorsement of a hybrid plan and call for the MTC to lead its implementation as part of a larger statewide rail plan appears to now be gaining increased momentum:

Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Livingston, who wrote the language in Proposition 1A, a voter-approved $9 billion bond measure that passed in 2008, told the Daily Journal that a plan offered in May by state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, and two other high-ranking lawmakers may be an acceptable way to get high-speed trains into San Francisco quicker by limiting the system to Caltrain’s right-of-way rather than constructing the full buildout of the system on four tracks.

Galgiani initially opposed the idea because Simitian said back in May that getting just one high-speed train into San Francisco a day would satisfy the legal requirements of Proposition 1A….

“I wrote the bond language and there is nothing that says it all has to be done at once,” Galgiani said.

A blended system could help ridership build up to then determine any additional infrastructure needs, she said.

“It is important to determine the needs of the system and the community,” Galgiani said.

Galgiani is quite correct here, and it may make sense to use a blended approach in the interim to carry high speed trains to San Francisco via the Peninsula while longer term plans are developed to implement fast, high-capacity passenger rail on the Peninsula rail corridor. The current fit of NIMBYism will fade, as those who cling to 20th century fantasies of metropolitan life will be replaced with those who realize that passenger rail is essential to high property values and a good quality of life.

If a blended plan can provide access to downtown SF for a significant number of trains, carrying enough passengers to make the HSR system pencil out financially, without preventing longer-term fixes for the system on the Peninsula, then yeah, it’s probably worth considering. The details matter a lot, and HSR advocates need to be at the table for any such discussion.

Will the blended plan be enough? Maybe not. The San Mateo Daily Journal article linked above indicates HSR critics may shift the goalposts, in an effort to undermine the project no matter the details:

Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said the California High-Speed Rail Authority, however, needs to present a feasible business plan for the project come October or face calls of ditching it outright.

Cost estimates have gone from $30 billion to $40 billion and now to more than $60 billion to fund the project, a figure taxpayers simply cannot afford, Hill said.

“Escalating cost overruns are outrageous. Who is going to pay that when there is no guarantee for a private partnership? This project could double the state’s debt service,” Hill said. “If the third business plan in October doesn’t pencil out, it is time to pull the plug on the project.”

How will “pencil out” be defined? Will Hill include the costs of doing nothing? Will the $80-$160 billion cost to expand freeways and airports to handle the traffic that HSR would carry? What about the cost to the economy of gas prices? What about the lost productivity that comes from sitting behind a wheel or on an airplane? What of the financial costs of carbon emissions that would be spewed in the absence of HSR? What about the lost jobs that would have been created for HSR and the tax revenue those jobs would have been created?

I’m guessing Jerry Hill wasn’t even thinking of those costs at all, and his accounting is probably unbalanced and deeply flawed.

And that does give me pause about embracing a “blended” approach on the Peninsula. If this is to be a compromise, then HSR critics need to have some skin in the game. They need to stop attacking the project, stop calling for it to be defunded, and start working with us to find ways to make it work. If a “blended” HSR plan is just a way to bait HSR supporters into backing some NIMBY-friendly plan while the critics run around making nonsensical claims and trying to destroy the project itself, then that’s no compromise at all, and HSR advocates should stay away from the effort.

If the Peninsula wants a “blended” solution and are asking HSR advocates to give up some things, they need to meet us halfway – and that includes, at a minimum, a cessation of the misleading and evidence-free attacks on the project. If they’re serious, they should have no problem at all agreeing to those terms.

  1. Jerry
    Aug 2nd, 2011 at 01:02

    The devil of course would be in the details of a “blended” system.

    Joey Reply:

    Of course. None of this talk about “blended plans” ever impresses me because every plan is “blended” to an extend, the question is how “blended.” So far no one has specified.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Blend in BART, blend out Caltrain.

    Joey Reply:

    Interesting tidbit about that I found recently, actually. When looking through the BART to SJ EIR, I discovered that the tail tracks at Santa Clara are poorly positioned for future extension northward (unlike the tail tracks at Millbrae. They curve sharply along the UP right-of-way toward Drawbridge rather than going above or below the freight tracks, as extension northward would require. Now, this may be overly optimistic, but this seems like a sign that the peninsula corridor is not in BART’s radar anymore.

    Jon Reply:

    Yeah, I noticed that. I reckon they have their eye on a short expansion from Santa Clara to Great America (new 49ers stadium!) rather than heading up the peninsula.

    IMHO the best argument for peninsula BART is the paroxysms of rage it would cause to certain commenters on this blog…

    synonymouse Reply:

    But if Van Ark were thinking Altamont would be more feasible MTC-BART support would be very helpful in bringing around the politicians.

    The East Bay has really been getting the shaft of late(Pacheco, MTC to SF)so I suspect that media outlets like the Oakland Tribune would quickly endorse a shift to Altamont.

    There are some machinations afoot – the anti-Caltrain stalwarts of old, like Hemminger, Kopp and Willie Brown, are still around and presumably have plenty of influence with Jerry Brown, who holds the purse strings.

  2. tony d.
    Aug 2nd, 2011 at 07:32

    Its a good thing that this assembly idiot from San Mateo isn’t above the voters of this state.
    Heck, he’s not even above the voters of his district, county who overwhelmingly want HSR.
    I think the majority Robert honestly want a blended system, with full build out coming later.
    The view of this character out of SM is truly in the extreme minority.

  3. morris brown
    Aug 2nd, 2011 at 07:40

    For some real numbers see:

    (click on lower right X to go into high res mode.)

    Hopefully some sanity will eventually penetrate the legislature and this project will be killed.

    Derek Reply:

    “Actual riders are always fewer than forecasted riders.” False.

    Walter Reply:

    I like the mention of the El Cajun line in San Diego–they clearly looked into that one for at least 10 seconds. They further explain that Phoenix’s light rail ridership coming in more than 25% over its estimate doesn’t really count because of what kind of people ride it.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    ” ‘The light rail here, which opened in December, has been a greater success than its proponents thought it would be, but not quite the way they envisioned. Unlike the rest of the country’s public transportation systems, which are used principally by commuters, the 20 miles of light rail here stretching from central Phoenix to Mesa and Tempe is used largely by people going to restaurants, bars, ball games and cultural events downtown.

    ” ‘The rail was projected to attract 26,000 riders per day, but the number is closer to 33,000, boosted in large part by weekend riders. Only 27 percent use the train for work, according to its operator, compared with 60 percent of other public transit users on average nationwide.’ ”

    “This should be troubling for light-rail supporters. Fixed guideway transit works best when it moves people from one high density place to another. That’s why they tend to work better on hub-and-spoke transportation systems that key in around a downtown or Central Business District. With such a low commuter share of travel, Phoenex’s light rail system doesn’t appear to be competitive with its more important travel market: downtown commuters.”

    Ho, ho, ho, ho! Shades of Alfred Runte (railroad and National Park historian and writer) in front of a committee of Congress, in which some fellow from Nevada said Amtrak was “irrelevant” because so much of its patronage was tourists. Runte replied along the lines of “Well, then the whole state of Nevada is irrelevant to America, because its economy is so dominated by tourism, with a lot of that in Las Vegas.”

    Runte got laughs from most of the people there, except the fellow from Nevada.

    Travel is travel. . .

    tony d. Reply:

    You have absolutely no room to talk about “sanity” Morris.

  4. Derek
    Aug 2nd, 2011 at 07:41

    The cost to taxpayers of air and ground traffic congestion relief is very nearly zero. Simply convert the freeway lanes to express toll lanes, and allow airfares to rise in order to eliminate the shortage.

    Perhaps this option should be on the table. Then we can start having an intelligent discussion of what it is we really want.

    tony d. Reply:

    What part of 2008 Prop. 1A passing don’t you get?
    It’s no longer a case if HSR SHOULD be built but HOW it will be built.
    Wake up to reality my friend (if you choose).

    Derek Reply:

    My option doesn’t exclude HSR.

  5. J. Wong
    Aug 2nd, 2011 at 08:35

    The reality, of course, is that NIMBY’s know that they have to kill the project entirely. If they don’t, then HSR will run up the Peninsula to SF even with the constraints of the “blended” system. And once that happens, ridership will start to increase leading eventually to a full build out.

    Caltrain’s ultimate goal is also full grade separation. I don’t know how the NIMBY’s plan to keep that from happening.

    thatbruce Reply:

    Even without HSR, the Peninsula NIMBYs have Caltrain in a Catch-22. If no further grade separations are done, there will be ‘why is nothing being done to stop the endless parade of rail crossing deaths?!?’ coverage. If Caltrain proceeds with any further grade separations, the outcry is ‘you cannot destroy these trees. think of the environment!!!!’.

    In a like manner, any suggestion of running higher capacity or faster trains along the Caltrain ROW is greeted with ‘oh noes, you cannot do that, you will block the crossings and maim people’, nevermind the fact that higher capacity trains means that the number of trains per day won’t change, or that having faster trains is dependent on grade separations being completed. The sound bite has been said, and once stripped of its accompanying facts, can never be properly refuted.

  6. morris brown
    Aug 2nd, 2011 at 08:37

    Here are just a few issues and problems with the project today.

    New Report: California Should Review Its High-Speed Ridership Estimates

  7. tony d.
    Aug 2nd, 2011 at 08:53

    Anyhow, enough with the bogus ridership and cost articles. Glad to see the blended system getting serious consideration, with full build out later when the current NIMBYS are pushing daisy’s.

  8. jim
    Aug 2nd, 2011 at 09:04

    With a blended system, it’s hard to see much more than 1 to 2 tph HSR running into SF (unless Caltrain frequencies get cut way back). 1-2 tph doesn’t generate enough revenue (even at 85% of airfare) to provide reasonable ROI on any major private investment on California HSR. So a blended system on the Peninsula is incompatible with a public-private partnership to build out the system. You can have one or the other, but not both.

    morris brown Reply:

    Your analysis is correct.

    Howard Reply:

    Why not build a 3 track system? The third center passing track would add capacity and flexible passing opportunities within the existing Caltrain ROW.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    With a blended system, it’s hard to see much more than 1 to 2 tph HSR …

    You’re not seeing very clearly at all if you can’t see more than 1tph HS on the Caltrain corridor.

    (Well, given the beyond-fucked-up Transbay Terminal, it’s hard to see too many trains of any type running to SF. But ignore that for the moment.)

    Here’s a more than adequate first phase that can reliably accommodate 2tph HS to SF, 4+tph to HS SJ, along with far better Caltrain service than today, all done with a grand total of about 10 miles of quadruple tracking.

    To fully build out in a second phase, allowing as much traffic as corridor demand can possibly support at 4tph HS to SF, 4+th HS to SJ, 4tph or better Caltrain to every station add another ~15 miles of quadrupling. Done. Easy. End of story.

    See The Caltrain HSR Compatability Blog.

    This stuff is very, very, very straightforward, and very easy to do right.

    jim Reply:

    The question is how much expansion and grade separation is acceptable to the blended system backers. Perhaps I’m misreading them, but my perception is they wouldn’t accept any grade separation and not much quad tracking.

    If one can freely quad track “within the Caltrain RoW”, then, yes, lots of trains can share the RoW. But I don’t think that’s what’s being proposed.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The Hillsdale four-tracking scenario makes sure to quad-track where there’s room for it, away from PAMPA.

    Jon Reply:

    It also requires Altamont being used instead of Pacheco, at least under RM’s proposal. Changing the entry point to the bay area in order to appease a few NIMBYs in Palo Alto seems rather like the tail wagging the dog to me. It also sends the message that if you’ll get what you want if you litigate rather than work constructively with the project.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Dear Jon,

    You can do the same service pattern with the insane Los Banos HS route also.

    It just requires vastly more expense and vastly more impact to Caltrain while delivering fewer riders and costing the taxpayers of California and the USA an extra $15 billion or so.

    Why would anybody choose to do construction on an constrained ROW in an active rail line where impacts and costs are guaranteed to be largest and opposition greatest? That would be stupid!

    Just because one theoretically can do something really idiotic doesn’t mean one is obliged to do so.

    Jon Reply:

    In other words, if you want to accommodate a decent level of HSR and avoid 4-tracking PAMPA, you have to switch to Altamont. Which might by “very, very, very straightforward” from a technical point of view, but not from a political one. I’m pretty sure changing the entry point to the bay area is outside the scope of this Blended Plan.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Dear Jon,

    Since MTC and Caltrain and CHSRA are involved, you can be positive there is no technical or economic “plan” in in a “Blended Plan”. Unless you count “enrich the engineering contractor segment of the economy as greatly as we can get away with” as an economic plan.

    It only takes a half hour’s reflection by a reasonably astute or informed person to come up with a very straightforward and obvious Caltrain Corridor To Do List.

    None of the parties purporting to be producing a “Blended Plan” are doing any of these very basic and obvious measures, so it’s perfectly safe to assume they have no “plan” other than to throw more money at the same proven failure consultants who’ve got us — collectively, in mass transportation in the USA, not just in Bay Area HSR routing — to the wonderful point we are today.

    Keep believing, man! Keep the faith! The skilled planners really do have a workable plan this time, for sure!

    Jon Reply:

    That’s one of your stock answers. Doesn’t address how politically a change to Altamont is going to be “very, very, very straightforward”.

    (btw, thanks to Alon Levy for illustrating quite wonderfully the technical vs. political dynamic of these debates in a recent blog post.)

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    Fewer riders?

    Amusing, since Palo Alto could end up being the most heavily used station in the whole system. It’s the West Coast’s version of Wall Street.

    Joey Reply:

    Except that all indicators suggest that Redwood City will get the station, not PA.

    Either way though, it’s not going to be the most heavily used station in the system. Certainly not more than central downtown stations like SF. The Authority says that the most heavily used stations will be SF (close to 25000 riders per day), then Anaheim (I’m skeptical of this), then LAUS (reasonable), then SJ.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    How in the world would Anaheim have more boardings than LAUS? LAUS is a terminus for every single HSR line in the project.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Disneyland. Or people driving all the way from San Diego instead of flying. Or something. Personally I find the projected Anaheim ridership a much more damning piece of evidence against the model than the change in the coefficient for frequency.

    Arthur Dent Reply:

    If Caltrain and HSR were designed to be interoperable, interchangeable and compatible – any train, any track – you could have BOTH RWC and PA. And Mountain View. And Sunnyvale. And Burlingame. And San Mateo. You could have them all – theoretically.

    Obviously you wouldn’t want them all, but you do get to pick and choose what makes sense, and you get to change your mind over the years as the peninsula changes and evolves. Changing where the train stops would be a simple matter of changing the schedule. It would not involve redesigning and rebuilding stations. Oh, but PB would never go for that. Why, though, is Caltrain holding out?

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Even with HSR, you wouldn’t get many people taking the train up from San Diego to Anaheim, it’s a wash with current day Surfliner service thanks to the dogleg through the Inland Empire (and without factoring in that the CAHSRA’s trip planner does express trips rather than locals, regardless of stations).

    Just another factor that makes me increasingly think that HSR will need to have two LA-SD lines, one through IE and one through OC (the latter probably not more than 125-150mph peak speeds).

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    The Authority says that the most heavily used stations will be SF (close to 25000 riders per day), then Anaheim (I’m skeptical of this), then LAUS (reasonable), then SJ.

    The model projects Palmdale as having almost as much ridership as LAUS.

    But, you know, the model isn’t invalid — just needs “tweaking”.

    Joey Reply:

    Changing the entry point to the bay area in order to appease a few NIMBYs in Palo Alto seems rather like the tail wagging the dog to me

    Maybe, but there are plenty of other reasons to choose Altamont.

    tony d. Reply:

    No there’s not. Hence why you don’t hear about Altamont anywhere except for some posters on this blog.
    Its all about PAMPA. Jon nailed it!

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    This is pretty much the only place that covers it and isn’t solely for NIMBY issues. Altamont is faster for two major corridors, cheaper to build, causes less interference during construction, serves more people and is reputed to be cheaper. These are all entirely valid reasons to go Altamont.

    Joey Reply:

    You’re dealing with NIMBYs in PAMPA or in Pleasanton etc. That’s not why I support Altamont.

    Clem Reply:

    Pleasanton may be a tony place, but its real estate prices are less than half of Palo Alto’s.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    How much land to they have to condemn in Palo Alto?

    William Reply:

    There are also plenty of other reasons to choose Pacheco.

    Like I say before, with equal number of people that would be served by either Altamont or Pacheco, the reality comes down to which corridor has the political support. And the reality is, San Jose wants HSR, but Livermore, Pleasanton, and even Tracy don’t want HSR.

    Also, what’s wrong with creating a more livable downtown San Jose and Gilroy less so than doing the same thing in Livermore and Pleasanton?

    Joey Reply:

    Has everyone along the Altamont corridor unanimously said that they don’t want HSR? Because people on the peninsula have said that they don’t. Heck, some people in Gilroy have said it. Does that mean that it’s true for everyone?

    William Reply:

    ah, this is where Caltrain ROW comes into play, no matter what Peninsula resident think or do, they cannot actually stop HSR, as everything happening on Caltrain ROW is not actually happening in the cities themselves. So, as long as SF and SJ are supportive of HSR through Pacheco, then HSR would be fine on Peninsula.

    In Livermore and Pleasanton, however, HSR would be going through completely new ROW, where it would be much easier to stop HSR.

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    There are any number of alignments through the Trivalley that avoid nimby concerns. For example, using the I580 and I680 medians (which also happen to be the most ideal alignments for hitting job centers). Instead, the only alignment studied by the CHSRA is precisely the one that locals said they didn’t want.

    Joe C. Reply:

    Yep, Altamont is all about PAMPA. No other reason at all.

    The millions more people who live/work/commute along that corridor, viable Bay Area-Sacramento service, improved operating efficiency, lower overall cost, and better value to the public at large, all fairy tales brought to you by the well heeled residents of Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Atherton.


    Jon Reply:

    Yep, Altamont is all about PAMPA. No other reason at all.

    When did I say that there were no good reasons for choosing Altamont? All I said was that PAMPA’s demand for no more tracks and no aerials is a bad reason to switch to Altamont.

    Personally I travel SF – Sac via Capital Corridor on a regular basis, so I would love to have Altamont service to Sac. But back in reality, the blended plan has to proceed on the basis that Pacheco will remain the entry point to the bay area. So why not discuss how that might work rather than going off into Altamont fantasies?

    tony d. Reply:

    FINALLY! Someone who gets it! Yes, let’s deal in reality and the situation at hand rather than constantly
    crying, whining over some route fantasy. Outstanding post my friend.

    Joe C. Reply:

    let’s deal in reality and the situation at hand

    Ah, yes…reality. Well, here is some reality:

    Money available is very finite. I know, huge shock. It remains to be seen where it will come from to complete even, Phase 1. A driving concern should be keeping costs down, building the most useful infrastructure possible, and delivering the most value to public per dollar spent.

    tony d. Reply:

    Hence the discussion about a blended system from SF-SJ, which would save billions.
    Notice SF-SJ, NOT SF-Redwood City (my apologies for injecting reality into the discussion).

    tony d. Reply:


    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    If you are going to spend the extra cash, ditch Pacheco and just go straight Altamont and save billions.

    tony d. Reply:

    Save billions!? Oh boy. Paul, I hate to break this to you, BUT A DECISION ON BAY AREA ROUTING HAS ALREADY
    BEEN MADE (going on 3 years). Again, reality or fantasy…its your choice.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    And a decision on Grapevine/Palmdale routing was already made, oh wait a minute, it’s up for review.

    tony d. Reply:

    Oh wait! Palmdale or Grapevine still serve LA/SoCal directly. Wet dream Altamont would bypass
    Silicon Valley and NorCal’s largest city. How much would that new wetlands-destroying
    Dumbarton rail bridge cost again? By the way, you’re to easy Paul.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    San Jose would still be served by Altamont, simply not as a stop on the way to San Francisco. As for San Jose’s size, it’s fairly meaningless and one might argue not properly a city since it is a bedroom community rather than attracting more outside workers.

    As for destroying wetlands, fine by me. The current crop of environmentalists are nothing more than a pox.

    Joey Reply:

    How much would that new wetlands-destroying
    Dumbarton rail bridge cost again?

    According to the Authority itself, Altamont would only cost $300m more than Pacheco, bridge, SJ line, and all. Of course, now that the geology below Dumbarton is well known, tunneling wouldn’t be that expensive either.

    William Reply:

    You might as well propose tunneling all the way to the eastern edge of Fremont,, as there is no easy, non UP owned ROW through Fremont, or even through the Mission Hills.

    Isn’t the new, high Dumbarton bridge costs ~$1billion?

    Joey Reply:

    There are a few ROWs through Fremont. There’s SR-84 to the north and and a few utility ROWs to the south.

    As for the cost of the crossing, we are comparing the cost of all of Altamont vs all of Pacheco, not individual elements.

    Clem Reply:

    LOL overlay hahahahaaaa

    jim Reply:

    Even so, it requires closing about two dozen at grade crossings including a big bunch in Burlingame/San Mateo and another bunch in Redwood City, both of which would require the sort of elevated structure that the BAC denounced: “Minimizes community impacts by forgoing construction elements that are not needed in the near/mid‐term.”

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Only if those are the overtake points… and San Mateo is being grade-separated anyway, if I remember correctly.

    Anyway, here is a somewhat trollish schedule in which there’s no distinction between Caltrain express runs and HSR. HSR uses Pacheco, the overtake point is Hillsdale, four-tracking is only required near Hillsdale and San Jose, where there’s room.

    Clem Reply:

    The bunches of grade crossings and potential grade separations coincide quite nicely with hotbeds of peninsula opposition. The two big ones are in Burlingame/San Mateo and Palo Alto/Menlo Park/Atherton (PAMPA). RWC also has a cluster, but you don’t see as virulent opposition there.

  9. Paulus Magnus
    Aug 2nd, 2011 at 09:15

    Sorry, but why exactly is 2 tph insufficient revenue generation? That’s enough seats to cover existing proven demand and pretty much everyone sane agrees that the current 8 or so planned is absurd and 4 is a more realistic maximum need.

    jim Reply:

    Two tph will generate enough revenue that the line will generate an operating surplus (positive EBITDA). But if some private entity has put up $20B to complete the build out, they’re going to expect at least $1B/yr income from it and preferably $2B. That’s over and above the operating costs.

    Do the arithmetic: 2 tph is 60 train movements a day, 80% load factor on 1000 seat 400m trainsets is 17.5M riders/yr. at $100 average fare is $1.75B revenue per year. Operations cost is likely to be something over $1B. That’s a healthy operational surplus. But not enough to pay off a 50% share private investor.

    Risenmessiah Reply:


    It’s insufficient revenue generation if you hope, like the Schwarzenegger people did, that the Chinese are going to come in and plow a ton of money into the project and its going to be a “public-private partnership”.

    Any private sector aid was going to include some subsidy by their sponsoring government to absorb loses associated with construction. The point is, no one under the last Governor could SAY that. For the Koreans, Japanese, French, Germans, Chinese or even Bombadier, HSR is a glorious way to get rid of those pesky dollars you have swimming in your central bank and build your export market.

    The Chinese would have gladly paid for construction if that forced us to buy their trains for 40 years….(Of course, once Arnold decided to see if he could also get them to buy Stew Resnik’s pistachoes…things went south….)

    My guess is that a private investor might chip in $10 billion, but no more. Still I’m working on ideas that would move the project forward even with that lessened amount.

    jim Reply:

    I didn’t mean to start a Pacheco-Altamont war. But it seems to me (and still seems to me) that this is a good example of TANSTAAFL. The Authority can either save a bunch of money by descoping (sharing track at the north end and terminating at 4th and King, sharing track at the south end and terminating at LAUS) with the rest deferred to “full build out” or it can keep to the original scope and be subsidized by private money. I haven’t run the numbers but I’d expect that public outlays are similar in both choices. What isn’t possible is both descoping and private subsidy. There’s an irreducible minimum of public money needs to be committed.

    Back when I taught project management I tried to tell my students that decisions on one part of a project had ramifications across the project and the PM needed to examine what they were before making a decision. This is a good example: going with a blended system on the Peninsula has effects outside the Peninsula

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Exactly right.

    The crazy thing about this exercise is that they have no intentio of looking at the system and addressing the catastrophic “decisions” (Transbay Terminal design, separate and unequal Caltrain/Metrolink/HSR trains and stations, Los Banos, 220mph through city centres while not fixing easy low-speed slowdowns, etc) that have very pervasive and expensive direct knock-ons. Futzing around on the margins with the elevation of one or two grade separations in Mountain View while ignoring tens of billions in added capital costs and avoidable on-going operational problems is entirely the sort of window-dressing one might expect from organizations with wretched management. (Wretched management, or management that serves interests other than their public paymasters — one or the other.)

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    No, you didn’t.

    Ultimately I think the Peninsula segment is the last to be built so this is really an academic exercise. We will have HSR service before some of these decisions are hashed out.

  10. morris brown
    Aug 2nd, 2011 at 10:20

    Fresno Bee:

    Calif. farm subsidies, rail at risk of federal cuts

    “If you were to look at this Congress, you’d have to say it will be cutting high-speed rail,” said Rep. Dan Lungren, R-Gold River.
    Lungren is among many congressional Republicans who already have questioned further federal spending on high-speed rail. While the budget-cutting deal does not strip funds that already have been provided, high-speed rail’s future vulnerabilities are clear.
    “I think the long-term impacts on that will be difficult,” acknowledged Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, a leading high-speed rail supporter.
    Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom agreed, citing the debt ceiling agreement as one reason that the project is in trouble.

    So is California going to continue to support starting construction in the Central Valley, fully realizing that what will be built will be orphaned without further funds to build anything useful, for many many years. In fact the plans currently don’t include electricity or other elements that make the proposed 100 mile “Initial Construction Segment” useful for High Speed Rail, and Prop 1A bonds funds can’t be used in such a scheme.

    A bit refreshing to see huge Democratic supporters like Newsom and Costa, showing some kind of realistic thinking.

    Jack Reply:

    Transportation bill this year or next should give us more clarity on where the Fed is going to be with HSR funding. The money we have is going to be spent, nothing you can do or say will change it.

    Will we get full system is still up in the air, but Bako to Fresno is sure going to get a nice upgrade!

    Also, during my commute I noticed your HSR boondoggle banners have been 1) Burned, 2) Defaced 3) Torn up. Not enough money lying around in your couch cushions to get them replaced Morry?

    synonymouse Reply:

    To the contrary Fox News claims the stimulus was hardly touched, so the CHSRA will still be able to shovel billions PB’s way to erect Stilt-A-Rail in the boonies.

    A few days ago I caught a Rick Steve pictorial on the tube on Rome. Some footage on one of the aqueducts feeding into Rome. It was sadly in terrible shape, moldering after 2 millenia. Maybe that is what PB’s erections will looks like in a few centuries.

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    I don’t think we get a real transportation bill until 2013…. Mica is of course ready, but he’s alone at the rodeo on his side of the aisle.

  11. synonymouse
    Aug 2nd, 2011 at 10:27

    IMHO the entry of MTC into the fray answers the speculation as to when the BART Empire would make its move. Consider the campaign started, however subtly. MTC essentially works for BART and its hostility to Caltrain is legend.

    So the Wunderman-MTC, etc. offensive is a big plus for those who oppose Caltrain-hsr on the Peninsula. With Ring the Bay imposed by the trojan horse MTC whither hsr? Perhaps terminate at Diridon Intergalactic but I think Altamont would stage a comeback from the grave of great ideas.

    It is all local machine politix. Of course PB wins in any scenario but its true allegiances lie with BART, which it dominates. The CHSRA is a much bigger pot and PB could eventually be ousted by other players. So go with the sure thing. Same for the Pelosi machine which is much more intimate with Amalgamated than the BLE.

    Peter Reply:

    Still winning…

    synonymouse Reply:

    No, I am no fan of BART. But it is mildly amusing to witness the PB foamies oblivious to what’s going on.

    Mike Reply:

    Okay, I’ll bite, Synonymouse. How do you see the offensive by the BART/MTC/PB/Wunderman Evil Empire playing out? Give us some predictions that we can test in the future; if you’re right you’ll be hailed as a prescient genius. If not, not.

    synonymouse Reply:

    What you are asking is way, way beyond my job description, but I’ll give it an off-the-cuff try.

    You’ll want to start with movements coming from out of nowhere. Op-eds about the advantages of Ring-the-Bay and BART manifest destiny, letters to the editor, items in columns appearing in Bay Area newspapers, editorials in the Chron, Examiner and Tribune about how they ought to consider completing BART as an alternative. It will be pointed out how much money would be saved by using BART’s already buillt entree into the City and putting all capital improvements north of SFO on indefinitive hold.

    Opinion formers, “experts”, transit gurus, like Kopp and Diridon, power brokers like Willie Brown will start talking up about how BART is the better solution. Eventually BART will let it out that it might be possible to build a subway for PAMPA since it would only be 2-track. Kopp is already on record as saying essentially this. Eventually you will see “grassrooots” campaigns emerging.

    Some fabulous estimates will be quoted for mining the various and sundry tunnels in SF. And of course every transit operation, perennially broke, will be vying to usurp hsr funds.

    A Peninsula vote favoring BART would be the last nail in Caltrain’s coffin.

    I am sure I am forgetting a lot of the usual dirty tricks.

    Clem Reply:

    This is an excellent reading of the tea leaves. BART from Santa Clara to Millbrae, and HSR from Redwood City (via Altamont, now that BART-SJ is secure) with exclusive use of the Bayshore Cutoff (not exactly a hotbed of Caltrain ridership). The section of four-track concrete-o-rama is limited to Redwood City – San Bruno, with the last ~3 miles of conrete-o-rama in Millbrae/San Bruno already built… San Bruno at Caltrain’s expense, no less! Of all the cities in between, only downtown San Mateo and Burlingame pose anything that resembles a challenge. PAMPA gets a two-track BART subway, which is oodles cheaper and 3 to 4 times smaller in cross section than a cost-is-no-object four-track 125 mph subway.

    Maybe that’s why they are proposing a $500 million Caltrain tunnel in Millbrae to avoid touching the $100 million BART station… as a straw man to create massive savings in a BART ring-the-bay scenario. The shoe certainly fits.

    The only thing frustrating about such a scenario is how much operational synergy is lost. Blended is the way to go… any train, any track, any platform.

    Joey Reply:

    I’m now skeptical that BART still has a ring-the-bay plan only because the tail tracks at Santa Clara, unlike those at Millbrae, are poorly designed for extension northward.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    When did they build BART in Santa Clara?

    Joey Reply:

    It doesn’t hurt to look at planning documents once in a while.

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    I suspect that Clem (and the Mouse) are correct that strange things are afoot. The MTC just voted to move out of the old Lake Merritt BART HQ to a new site across the street from the Transbay Terminal. As well, it is curious that a “Caltrain capacity study” should be such a huge undertaking for a task that can be computed in 30 minutes using standard, off-the-shelf software.

  12. Reality Check
    Aug 2nd, 2011 at 12:21

    Panel finds flaws in high-speed-rail forecasts
    Peer-review group calls for changes in California rail authority’s ridership model

    The California agency charged with building America’s first high-speed-rail system has been using a flawed forecasting model to predict ridership for the proposed system, a peer-review panel concluded in a report that largely confirms previous criticism from transportation experts and rail watchdogs.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Okay, so the Palo Alto Online just discovered the peer review report. So what?

    Reality Check Reply:

    The “so what”, of course, is how and what they report about it.

    political_incorrectness Reply:

    I’ve already left my comments in regards to this article. As per usual, media overhype just like with UC Berkley. They want to see other models, which then everyone jumps to, oh there is more they can do, “ITS FLAWED”. It is driving me absolutely insane how journalism wreaks of sensationalism and making stories of people vs the big bad government.

    So what do we do when gas prices go up? Is it realistic to keep expanding roadways if they aren’t going to be affordable to use in the future? I feel like I am forced to use a car because of the lack of alternatives. It’s time to buck the trend of roadway expansion and get on board with a new of getting around FFS.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Here’s a fundamental fact: if something is a poor and inefficient and ill-conceived and third-rate project at $2/gallon gasoline, it is still a bad project at $150/gallon — in fact, it’s worse, since squandering resources is even less affordable.

    Yeah, CBOSS may appear to suck. But wait until after Peak Oil: then it won’t suck any more, because, uh, well, um, because, let me look it up in the blog posting text, oh here, we are, this is it, it’s because “those who cling to 20th century fantasies of metropolitan life will be replaced with those who realize that passenger rail is essential to high property values and a good quality of life.” Or something like that.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    That headline and lede are completely incorrect and suggest they did not actually read the report.

  13. morris brown
    Aug 2nd, 2011 at 17:08

    Wall Street Journal:

    Crash Spotlights China’s Train Crisis

    The Railways Ministry, Whose Products Beijing Hoped to Export Globally, Now May Need a Bailout

    Will China soon start selling the Trillions of dollars they have in US Treasuries to cover such a fiasco? Everyone please tell me again about all the successes of High Speed Rail world wide.

    tony d. Reply:

    Please tell me again about the successes of cars, planes, roads, airports world wide? Of course none of the aforementioned never had accidents.
    You never cease to amaze with your constant anti-HSR bull shit.

    ericmarseille Reply:

    >Everyone please tell me again about all the successes of High Speed Rail world wide.

    French TGV:

    More than 150 million passengers ridership per year
    50 billion passenger-km/year
    +- 3 billion euros turnover
    Operating margin : not disclosed (too high!)
    6 to 10 thousand very needed permanent jobs in HSR lines construction
    Never a death in high speed rail operation in 30 years
    Improving the province-Paris economic, social and demographic balance
    Making France more attractive to foreign investment thanks to an advanced transports infrastructure
    Making Alstom and SNCF more competitive to win international tenders and market shares in the deregulated european market
    Saving millions of tons of foreign oil, hundreds of million euros in our external balance sheet
    Contributing to the fight against climate change
    Preparing the country (together with electric cars -coming soon-, nuclear and wing energy) to shift nearly totally from petrol to other forms of energy

    And more generally allowing even poor people like me, to forget for a week-end the grey of the northern skies and take a plunge in the mediterranean, to take a short holiday at his mum’s place, to discover places, to witness the burial of one of his relatives, to keep his money for a shopping spree rather than putting it in the trip, etc.

    Will it do?

    ericmarseille Reply:

    Correction : much more than 3 billion euros turnover per year but I don’t find the numbers
    Must be somewhere between 6 and 9 billion euros
    If someone can correct me

  14. Andre Peretti
    Aug 2nd, 2011 at 18:32

    I don’t understand all the fuss about ridership forecasts. They are just a gamble, and even more so for HSR which is a game changer and will create unforeseen situations interacting with each other. It’s like predicting the weather 10 years in advance.
    SNCF’s predictions for Paris-Lyon were wrong. Ridership was 50% higher than predicted.
    Basing predictions on whether Amtrak’s ridership is going up or down is irrelevant. HSR is a different animal.
    SNCF launched the TGV not because train ridership was on the increase but because it was falling dramatically year after year. Losses had become enormous. The only people riding trains were those who had no other choice, or those entitled to big reductions: members of numerous families, mostly immigrants, who paid only a small fraction of the fare. Economically challenged people (up to 90% reduction). SNCF’s fate was suspended to government subsidies which were voted every year with narrower and narrower majorities, under the pressure of unions who staged huge demonstrations. The “abyss” of SNCF’s deficit made headlines.
    The TGV changed the picture nearly overnight. The image of SNCF as a welfare organisation on life support disappeared from the media. Suddenly, rail had a future.
    It’s now widely ackowledged in France that the TGV saved SNCF.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Hsr in California could indeed by the best thing that ever happened to Amtrak, but not the way they are going about it currently.

    We don’t have an SNCF reseau so we will have to incremental it. Hopefully Van Ark is getting Tolmach’s message, even if it goes over the heads of the PB-Palmdale foamers.

    Peter Reply:

    You know, other than you and Tolmach, I’m unaware of anyone advocating bypassing Fresno, Bakersfield, and Palmdale.

    Why would van Ark have any interest in making you and Tolmach happy? Obviously no one that he listens to is of the same opinion as you and Tolmach.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Michael Setty, sort of.

    Miles Bader Reply:

    The people doing the fussing don’t actually care about the numbers, they’re just looking for a “hook” on which to hang their usual complaints, and hope to spread a feeling of uncertainty, with the ultimate goal of reducing public (and thus politician) confidence to the point where the project is killed or gutted.

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    I don’t understand all the fuss about ridership forecasts. They are just a gamble, and even more so for HSR which is a game changer and will create unforeseen situations interacting with each other. It’s like predicting the weather 10 years in advance. SNCF’s predictions for Paris-Lyon were wrong. Ridership was 50% higher than predicted.

    The difference is that nobody believes CHSRA underestimated ridership by 50%.

  15. jimsf
    Aug 2nd, 2011 at 20:30

    No matter the topic, this blog spirals into the same crusty tired arguments post after post after post. You know, some of us might like to focus on what’s right about the project. Some of realize that, in spite of what some of you think about fatal flaw doomsday “flaws” in the design and routing of the project, there is more than one way to skin a cat and there is plenty of good to focus on. Some here, including pro hsr people, are under the delusion ( or suffering from delusions of such grandeur) that if the project isn’t done their way then it is a failure. After all, they know everything. So much in fact that they have oodles of time to spend telling us so right here on this blog day in and day out.
    Let me tell you something. Get over it. There are some things that aren’t going to change and you’d better learn to live with things or be unhappy. In fact, there are some people here who, once the trains are up and running and carrying millions of passengers, will still spend the next decades of their lives complaining about how “they (chsra) didn’t do it right.” There are things that aren’t going to change:

    the transbay termanal. pacheco, palmdale, in addition for good measure, locally, the central subway, no geary subway. Hsr isn’t going via altamont. There wont be dumbarton crossing in the next 20 years. BArt is going to san jose and beyond. Bay are people like bart and they dont need any of you to tell them why they shouldn’t. californians are happy with the amtrak state partnership. Those are just a few things that are what they are and are not going to change. So for christ effing sake get over it. Would it be at all possible to have some pieces that focus on all the good stuff thats going on or is everyone too busy basking in being tea party negative Nadines. No amount of bitching is going to change any of the things listed.

    jimsf Reply:

    this blog is boring.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    you mean the 847th round of Altamont versus Pacheco isn’t compelling?

    jimsf Reply:


    Joey Reply:

    Fine. Let’s just argue about what kind of food they’re going to serve in the café car and pretend like everything else is fine and dandy.

    William Reply:

    Well, there are lots of people who consider the Pacheco alignment choice “fine and dandy”, especially for people who lives in the South Bay. For the whole Santa Clara valley and south Peninsula residents, serving San Jose directly, more frequently has move value.

    Of course you can find plenty of Easy Bay residents thinking of the same way about Altamont.

    The point is, one can keep arguing Altamont is a better choice, and there will be plenty of other people who would argue Pacheco is a better choice.

    Joey Reply:

    My comment above was dealing on a lot more than Altamont. Even if you accept Pacheco, you’ve got that “signature” bridge over the freeway, that multilevel monstrosity at Diridon station, and that’s not even accounting for the issues that affect both alignments, such as lack of a coordinated service plan (or coordinated anything with CalTrain for that matter, such as signaling and platform height), a terribly designed station throat etc at Transbay, a mostly useless additional terminal in SF, completely unrealistic service projections, etc.

    So I will say again, this goes far beyond Altamont vs Pacheco.

    William Reply:

    Speaking for myself, I don’t think the I280/CA87 alignment is a good idea, and I support the original programmed alignment in the existing corridor.

    As for SJ multi-level station, I can see its advantage as it allows merging to Caltrain north of CP Coast, thus avoiding all the weaving mess, and potential source of HSR delay, between San Jose and Santa Clara. The current 4-track/2-platform design seen in the latest Work-Group looks pretty reasonable to me.

    As for shared issue between the two alignment. I agree those are the issues, but not “showstopper” level of issue.

    Joey Reply:

    A single-level station would cause no conflicts if FSSF were accepted as the track order (something I forgot to mention). And you should really only need 3 tracks (2 UIC, 1 FRA) south of SJ.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    As for SJ multi-level station, I can see its advantage as it allows merging to Caltrain north of CP Coast, thus avoiding all the weaving mess, and potential source of HSR delay, between San Jose and Santa Clara. The current 4-track/2-platform design seen in the latest Work-Group looks pretty reasonable to me.

    Diridon Interdimensional Hypermodal Spaceport, its design driven by the galaxy’s very finest transportation planning professionals (they all just happen to work at PBQD, HNTB, PCJPB and for the City of San José, the Capital of Silicon Valley), with its planned 4 HSR and HSR-only elevated tracks and its planned eight (EIGHT!) Caltrain and steam train and freight tracks with seven platform faces, and excluding the two VTA Toonervilley Trolley Tracks, and excluding the two BART tracks, will have 38% more platform tracks than the planned (and highly controversial) Stuttgart 21 main station in Germany, which has been determined to be capable of accommodating 49 trains per direction per hour (11 long distance, 39 regional trains in the peak hour) on its mere 8 platforms on its mere one level.

    By Stuttgart’s standard, a train station of the size of Diridon Multireality Interstitial Duplexdecker Transporter Hoverport could only be justified by FIFTEEN HSR HSR per hour PLUS OVER FIFTY CALTRAIN per hour.

    I doubt that even Cruickshank can come up with 65 trains per hour scenario for The Capital of Silicon Valley and Tenth Largest City in The United States of America.

    An far more plausible explanation is that highly corrupt, rent-seeking “engineers” have a very very very strong personal interest in financial engineering, specifying structures which are more than twice as large as can possibly be operationally justified, solely in order to maximize the amount of engineering make-work, construction and the size of project budget.

    This sort of laughably transparently fradulent crap can “look reasonable” to people who walk around with their eyes closed, but it’s off-the-scale unreasonable to anybody who has travelled or observed or read about how things can and do work outside our little national bubble of public works embezzlement.

    The actual real-world 30+ year demand for San José Capital of Siliicon Valley Central Train Station (absolute max 8tph Caltrain, absolute max 4tph HSR under the Los Banos routing) can be accommodated with 5 platform tracks on a single level. Anything beyond that is gold-plating and systematic, deliberate, and knowing rent-seeking fraud by the consultants and agency employees involved.

    jimsf Reply:

    I ahve to admit that on made me laugh. But Sanjose Hypermodal Interdimensional Transitorium would give a better acronym.

    Joey Reply:

    Oh, and CP coast is (or should) be irrelevant. You don’t want to mix CalTrain with unreliable FRA dinosaurs any more than you want to mix HSR with them. Keep UP/Amtrak separate for the entire run.

    jimsf Reply:

    yes lets. Would you like to discuss the dinner menu or the lunch menu?

    Clem Reply:

    What we have here is a political calling out the technicals. Yawn.

    Clem Reply:

    The link, once again with feeling

    William Reply:

    Now can we stop fighting?

    jimsf Reply:

    that does sum it up.

Comments are closed.