Union Pacific Continues War Against High Speed Rail

Oct 29th, 2011 | Posted by

It should come as no surprise that Union Pacific, which has long opposed high speed rail, is continuing to wage war against the California project. They gave their anti-HSR comments to the LA Times so that the paper would run a story critical of the project. Ralph Vartabedian, the biased anti-HSR reporter at the LA Times, ran with the comments in this story:

Union Pacific says the California High Speed Rail Authority’s Central Valley route raises serious safety issues, disregards the company’s property rights and would disrupt its freight operations.

The company’s comments as part of an environmental review assert that the authority, which is building the $43-billion system, has made a “false conclusion” that the bullet train would not affect the freight railroad’s operations during construction or later passenger service. Documents and drawings show encroachment onto the railroad’s right of way in Fresno and Merced. The comments were provided to the Times by Union Pacific.

UP’s concerns are the same old tired bullshit they have spewed since at least 2008 – that bullet train tracks or operations anywhere near their own tracks are somehow an encroachment on their freight movements and is inherently unsafe. UP wasn’t able to offer the LA Times any evidence of these claims, which is significant since Vartabedian would automatically print them without bothering to check their validity himself.

More importantly, this is a reminder of UP’s constant obstruction and harassment of the effort to improve passenger rail in California. Kings County farmers who are upset at the HSR route would do well to target UP with their complaints – were UP more cooperative, perhaps a Highway 99 alignment would have been a possibility south of Fresno.

Let’s also remember that UP is a creation of the United States government, established with massive subsidies in the mid-19th century with the task of hauling people and freight across the continent. If Congress wasn’t a broken institution we might be able to expect Congress to step in and tell UP to back off, or help mediate a resolution to the issue. Unfortunately, Congress is AWOL.

The California High Speed Rail Authority will have to respond to UP’s comments, which were submitted as part of the draft EIR process. And that should shed some light on what, if any, issues actually exist here. What is clear is that UP’s war on passenger rail continues, and it’s long past time for Congress to step in and do something about it.

  1. Brandon from San Diego
    Oct 29th, 2011 at 18:10

    What ifUP is right? If indeed CHSRA has plans that encroach into UP’s ROW, then their concerns are 100 percent legitimate.

    joe Reply:

    What if Spiderman joined the Fantastic Four?

    At least Marvel took the time to write a what if comic.

    UPRR wasn’t even attempted to explain the safety issues. We just have to take them at their word.

    BMF from San Diego Reply:

    Comics are not real. And when incidents happen in a comic… well, real people do not die.

    wu ming Reply:

    as opposed to incidents in hypothetical comments, which kill people every day.

    jimsf Reply:


    Beta Magellan Reply:

    There’s definitely some concern if HSR and freight are running right next to one another—I recall hearing that HSR can disturb freight in open hoppers when passing by at high speeds. However, this probably isn’t about that. Union Pacific’s main concerns are probably:

    1. Liability—if there’s an accident they want full insulation. In fairness, their jitteriness comes partly from the aftermath of Glendale and Chatsworth, but it’s also become a way for the public to pick up the tab for their insurance costs, as with MBTA’s purchase of the Framingham/Worcester line from CSX. What’s worse is that this jitteriness even extends to shared rights-of-way. In upstate New York, CSX wanted very wide separations and a physical barrier between passenger and freight tracks, and I’m pretty sure Denver’s East Corridor is using FRA-compliant EMUs at the behest of BNSF, even though they’re only share ROW, not tracks. You can talk to UP about better accident avoidance through better operating practices and trains that don’t telescope all you want, but also remember that UPRR’s corporate bureaucracy predates most federal agencies.

    2. Extracting concessions from CHSRA = new revenue stream

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    From a business point of view UP’s position is understandable.
    They know freight train derailments do happen. A train may jacknife or scatter heavy cargo over more than 100 feet from the tracks. In the current situation it’s no big deal. The insurance indemnifies the customer for the delayed delivery and destroyed goods.
    Now suppose there are high speed trains running within freight scattering distance. Then, you have to take into account the possibility of multiple human injuries or casualties. Insuring against those risks is far more expensive and may upset UP’s business model. Unless CHSR accepts responsibility for accidents caused by freight trains. That’s probably what UP is aiming at.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:


    From UPRR’s perspective they get a few tens or hundreds of millions (chump change for a huge corporation) for the use of the right of way they own.

    In return they get exposure to billions in liability — pretty much regardless of any legal agreement, pretty much regardless of fault, because that’s the wonderful way things work in the U S of A.

    It’s a pretty straightforward business decision to keep with the known and manageable business model of derailing or colliding with the occasional exploding thrown in from time to time and generally only killing a couple of employees in the process.

    This isn’t the best public policy outcome, but that’s the way God’s Own County and the Leader of the Free World works. And good luck getting the most right wing federal courts in a half century to change anything for the better.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    Can we understand UP’s statements as “we are not able to safely operate our railroad”?

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    No. It’s more that given the legal environment in California (specific legal doctrine held by courts), if you are hit by an object, but you hit someone else, you maintain liability in theory for who you hit, even if you had nothing to do with the reason you were hit.

    In other words, if the HSR trains derails and hit UP…the liability tree is that should the crash cause oil or other other hazardous materials to spill UP would be on the hook. This is even if you had a Chatsworth like situation where the HSR driver is at fault etc. etc….

    But the Illinois agreement, I think has more to do with the fact that UP secretly fears that the operator of the HSR service might have the legal power to run some freight and usurp its most lucrative business eventually. That’s probably the reason for the stonewall. (And it doesn’t help that UP is owned by an evangelical right wing Republican mogul who probably wants to see Obama be a “one-term-president…)

    Max Wyss Reply:

    Experience shows that it would be more vice-versa… chances that UP has a serious derailment are IMHO higher than the high-speed rail system. So, the liability fears would be understandable to some extent.

    Now, about the freight argument… the freight for which the high speed line would be useful, is not really transported on UP, but either by air or on the roads.

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    Financially speaking, they do operate it safely. American freight trains are a safe investment, otherwise Warren Buffet wouldn’t have invested $38 billion in them.
    For a shareholder “is UP safe?” means “am I sure to get my dividend?”.
    Words have different meanings according to where you stand.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    I think UP’s concern is more in the realm that derailments and such are not 100% preventable and that any freight derailment where the passenger train was unable to be stopped in time would lead to fairly catastrophic results, exposing them to the potential of far more liability than they feel they are compensated for. Of course, CAHSRA could always offer to pitch in financially for upgrading of the track they run adjacent to if that’s the major concern regarding derailments.

    RisenMessiah Reply:

    UP’s arguments are going to get tenuous however because they want the shortest distance possible between distribution points and the Port of Oakland. However, that also requires running through cities along the way where there are grade crossings. I think even if the project was all viaducts all the way there’s nothing UP can really accept.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The UP’s position is succinct and logical. The message is PB stay away from our route. They know there are other functional alignments the CHSRA could utilize but refuses to for corrupt political reasons. The UP has the winning hand. Why – because freight rail makes money while passenger rail loses money. I suspect under harsher accounting methods even the airlines are losing money and always have.

    The State is broke to the point Moonbeam wants to trash state worker pensions for the idiocy of 401K’s(dependent upon the wishful notion that high-risk investments will be around forever). And you want to add a BART version of hsr with TWU compensaton packages?

    The solution is political. Follow John Friendly’s advice: “Every now and then you gotta lean on ’em a little.” Lean good and hard on Palmdale, Fresno and the home of Iconic Galactic Diridon. Tejon,-I-5, Pacheco, Dumbarton will work nicely and does not inconvenience the UP more than trivially.

    Michael Mahoney Reply:

    It’s not just upgrading of the track. Derailments are also caused by bad rolling stock, and UP has no control over the quality of freight cars they get from another carrier. A journal box seizes up, car jumps the tracks, train derails, tne wreckage spills onto the HS line, and people die.

    UP has asked for a 200-foot wide safety median between the tracks; CHSRA says 100 feet is enough. Nobody seems to have done any engineering studies, and there is no experience to look at because no one has ever been stupid enough to run a HS line next to a freight line before.

    Has anyone noticed that a 100-foot safety median would require purchase of about 3 times as much land as had been planned?

  2. Steve S.
    Oct 29th, 2011 at 19:15

    It is, however, highly unlikely that there would be track or grade impingements between an HSR alignment and the freight alignment. For one thing, the overall rail regulatory environment is very strict about not wanting to see the kinds of fast and lightweight trains that run elsewhere–that CAHSR wants to run–on our freight railroads’ tracks.

  3. VBobier
    Oct 29th, 2011 at 19:42

    The UP is full of It and I agree If Farmers don’t want the CHSRA to buy any of their land then have them(the farmers) put pressure on the UP where It belongs for a 99 alignment or shut up.

  4. peninsula
    Oct 29th, 2011 at 20:46

    Funny…. It was just a week, or so, ago that the California High Speed Rail Authority submitted statutorily required report to the California State Legislature which was crafted to indicate that everything was just fine and dandy with UP – progressing nicely thank you very much…, certainly intended to give the impression that compensation agreement was all that was in the way, Parrticularly leading with “UP has proposed” (in other words, – we’re in a great productive give and take conversation with UP… )

    “Eric M Reply:
    October 29th, 2011 at 10:18 am
    Exactly. Page 8 of the August executive summary states:

    Merced to Fresno and Fresno to Bakersfield: Conclusion of agreement with UPPR for
    construction from San Joaquin River southward through Fresno is needed to facilitate the start of
    early construction. UPRR has proposed that the Design and Construction agreement used between
    the UPRR and the State of Illinois be used as a template for the agreement. However, the UPRR
    has indicated that it prefers to finalize the reimbursement agreement before drafting of the Design
    and Construction agreement commences.”

    Well well well, lo and behold the CHSRA has had UPs EIR comments (presumably in time for close of the EIR comment period prior to Oct 15, well before CHSRA submitted report to the legislature), that says exactly the opposite – UP having NONE of CHSRAs EIR.

    I wonder when exactly it is that the legislature finally decides that these guys are liars. Someone should be facing some criminal charges here.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    Just to clarify: the executive summaries and progress report are prepared by PB for the Authority, they are not for the Legislature.

    Tony d. Reply:

    And you @#$%& think UPRR is right in their stance!? I know you’re wishing, but UPRR isn’t some Knight in shining armor that’s going to keep HSR out of your backyard or prevent it from being built. In the short term HSR will face road blocks such as a Republican congress that lacks a spine. UPRR isn’t one of them. They will be dealt with!

    synonymouse Reply:

    Hey, UP management appreciates passenger service:


    And has a steam program too, the only US rr. Now if it could just merge with the NS and bring back their steam.

    OK, who is more trustworthy, the biggest railroad in the US or PB-Bechtel dba’s, the people who gave us the Big Dig and BART Indian broad gauge? No brainer.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    PB also designed the IRT. What’s your point?

    Nathanael Reply:

    PB. No-brainer. Do you know ANYTHING about the history of Union Pacific?

    Peter Reply:

    Here’s what I posted in the last thread on this issue, it still applies:

    “UP is acting exactly like I would expect a hard negotiator to act. Publicly put on a hard face, draw lines in the sand, etc. This improves its bargaining position.

    At the same time, it continues to have fruitful negotiations with the Authority, and has suggested that the two use UP’s agreement with Illinois as a basis for the agreement between the Authority and UP.

    Why people think this means “OMG WE HAVE TO PULL THE PLUG NOW!!!” is a mystery to me. Oh, wait, these are the same people calling to kill the project anyway.”

  5. D. P. Lubic
    Oct 29th, 2011 at 22:56

    Off topic, but a handy place to put it–an older post from William Draves at Nine Shift (it originally dates back to 2006), but it continues to get comments, and it is on a subject that turns up occasionally here–the generational change to de-emphasize cars:


    In particular, check out the following comments, some of which are from earlier this year.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    And in a related development, auto crashes are down considerably–and it looks like it is at least partially because teens are taking what I consider a more reasoned and mature approach to driving, even if it means not driving:


    StevieB Reply:

    Only 32,788 people died in automobile accidents in the United States in 2010. Still it is the leading cause of death in the 15 to 20 age group.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Accident rates go down dramatically when driving declines. It happened in 1941 and in 1973.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    IIRC they flatten or go down when the economy sucks too. People become more cautious. Less carousing too. You could check by correlating recessions to accident rates….may just be that VMT growth slows or goes down during recessions….. Also if IIRC things like speeding tickets drop dramatically during recessions.

    Beta Magellan Reply:

    But not red light cameras.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    More red light cameras means more revenue for the government, collecting fines. Helps during a recession when revenues are down……

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Well, yeah, 2007-10 is another big one. But the dramatic (and temporary) drops in driving historically were at the start of WW2 and the oil crisis. Recessions before the current ones involved much less reduction in driving.

    Of course, when driving surges, as it did in the late 1950s and early 1960s as the Interstates were coming online, the number of accident deaths surges.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    I’d naively, as a zeroth-order approximation, and not caring to waste more of a gorgeous day googling, expect crashes to go as vehicles^2.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Congestion matters. As congestion increases deaths go down. It eventually gets to the point where injuries go down too. Just past that crashes go away too because everybody is standing still. Pedestrains love it. They are going faster than the cars and can cross the street anywhere.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The more cars there are, the more careful drivers are. As a zeroth-order approximation crashes go as vehicles^(2/3).

    As a first-order approximation, go here.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The less cars there are the less car-car accidents there are. Up here in the woods many times it’s impossible to have car-car accidents because there isn’t a second car. Car-deer, car-moose, car-tree and the every popular car-telephone pole…. I swear the one down by the store has a sign on it that only drunk drivers can see .. “Win the Darwin Award!”

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    The model is flawed. Countries with less than 0.2 cars per head are also the ones where anybody can bribe the examiner and get a driving license. French people who repeatedly failed the exam in France go to Africa and get their license, valid in France. So, when you have people who don’t have the basic reflexes driving driving unsafe cars on narrow dangerous roads and no police to enforce road laws, you’re bound to have accidents.
    Even if you take care to state the cause of accidents or lack of accidents you have to be sure you select the right one. Example:
    In 1980 the number of deadly accidents on the Paris-Lyon freeway started to decrease.
    – The date corresponds to the opening of the TGV line
    – the same year the 82mph speed limit started being enforced on all lanes, with the words “can be briefly exceeded when overtaking” cancelled.
    Fear of radars is obviously the cause and attributing the decrease to the TGV would be railfan bias.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    At the time the original zeroth-order model was made, it dealt mainly with what are now developed countries, many of which had few cars per capita at the time. That it’s still valid suggests that countries without many cars are those in which most drivers are new, there’s no longstanding motorist culture, etc., and this leads to accidents.

    The cars they drive in the third world today are the same cars people drive in the first world. When I was in Cambodia, in 2005, the most popular car I saw on the roads was the Camry, and the cars looked fairly new, at the oldest from the 1990s. Despite this, they achieve the same accident rates the US achieved in the 1910s with the Model T.

    Street width is not that big of a deal. In Japan, most residential city streets are narrower than 10 meters. Some are about 5. Accident rates per vehicle are fairly high by first-world standards while accident rates per capita are fairly low, as you’d expect of cities with relatively little driving. And in the US, during the great road-building of the Interstate, accidents per capita skyrocketed, and accidents per VMT flatlined, breaking a decades-long trend of 3.3% annual decline.

    Loren Petrich Reply:

    I think that a one needs to correct for level of economic development. The higher the GDP per capita, the easier it is to purchase good road infrastructure. So I think that a follow-on to Sneed’s work ought to introduce GDP per capita as a variable. How much is number of vehicles per person correlated with it? Accident rates?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Loren, the problem is that if you look at the graph of fatal accidents per VMT, and look for the great road-building programs, their effect is either nonexistent (the same linear trend persists for decades) or in the other direction (accident rates went up as the Interstates were coming online). Building your way out of accidents is no more possible than building your way out of congestion.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Actually, street width is a major contributor to the *severity* of car accidents…. wider streets cause drivers to go faster, which causes more deadly crashes.

    Narrow streets are safe, wide streets are unsafe, it’s that simple.

    Daniel Krause Reply:

    Even though deaths from automobile use may be down, the truly massive and tragic numbers killed by automobiles is why I continue to argue that HSR is a public health and safety benefit in addition to all the other benefits. As we will be debating the business plan, I think we need to be reminding everyone about the truly massive costs to society of people killed and injured on our roads and how preventing a percentage of these tragic events reduces costs to society. Not only will roads and airport expansion cost more in direct dollars than building HSR, they will multiply their costs by leading to additional costs in loss productivity and the increased need for medical services (especially for roads).

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:


    Now, which is the, oh, say, 10000 times more effective measure?

    (a) 15mph intra-city speed limit.
    (b) 200mph inter-city trains.

    Don’t all answers at once!

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I’ll quote John Adams on the subject of a):

    [Link] What would be the principal feature of a policy that sought to increase dependence on the car? It would be a package of measures designed to encourage people to move out of town and spread themselves about at densities that were too low to be serviced by public transport. This policy under the previous government met with impressive success; a 1999 study by the Town and Country Planning Association (Breheny, 1999) reports the loss of 500,000 urban jobs and an increase of 1.7 million low-density jobs between 1981 and 1996.

    A policy that sought to reduce dependence on the car would seek to restrict traffic in the areas where its growth is fastest – not in congested urban areas, where it has already stopped, but in the suburbs and beyond. Private sector consultants are now appearing, offering advice on relocation away from city centres. This free enterprise equivalent to the old Location of Offices Bureau is a completely unsurprising market response to the additional centrifugal incentives now being devised by the Labour government in the form of urban road pricing and work place parking charges. Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott insists that he is not anti-car. He, like his Transport Ministers, is happy for more people to own cars but he does, from time-to-time express the wish that they would leave them in the garage more of the time. He should perhaps replace his road-building programme with a garage-building programme.

    When people acquire cars they look for somewhere to drive them and park them, and they rarely find either in Britain’s cities. If the nation’s car population continues to increase, and the Government’s forecasters predict that it will grow substantially, the urban exodus will continue and dependence on the car will increase. Can Britain afford alternatives to the car? Of course. There is no shortage of money. In each of the last four years over £30 billion has been spent on new cars alone.

    joe Reply:

    ooh oooh oh oh! A!!!
    15mph intra-city speed limit.!!!!!

    … and a magic unicorn because a 15 MPH limit on city streets is so unicornish. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qDsqPaJht0

    Yes it would save lives – like prohibition.

    The Prima Facie speed limit on residential and business districts is current 25 MPH.

  6. Martin Hunt
    Oct 29th, 2011 at 23:31

    In the UK we manage to have regular passenger services, freight and High Speed (national and international) services all running next to each other without issue


    we also have one of the most paranoid safety regimes (although not as bad as some of your railroad rules) so there is no real safety or operational issue.

    We also run freight on our high speed line and through the tunnel at night.

    The US needs to enter the 21st Century and update its transportation system if it is not going to be a total irrelevance. (and UK needs get its nimby’s in order and get on with expanding our true high speed network – we are just starting the battle to get HS2 built between the UK’s main cities)

  7. Peter Baldo
    Oct 30th, 2011 at 06:45

    Train Orders links to this:

    I don’t like this. A 125 mph train (probably 80 mph average speed), traveling over the existing mountain passes, or worse unloading its passengers onto buses for the mountain segments, won’t ever attract enough riders to pay for construction. The trip length for the majority of passengers will be just too great. And $Billions of Federal money will be spent to pay freight railroads to upgrade and maintain their tracks to passenger train standards, tracks that will be abandoned once high speed track is built.

    swing hanger Reply:

    From the article:
    “But will a 45-minute improvement in the one-way Los Angeles-San Francisco riding time really entice many new customers away from airplanes or their own cars?”

    No. Compromise, and true HSR dies. Amtrak Plus, anyone?

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    I don’t think anyone here wants to back away from true HSR, but at the same time, we have proof (Acela) that just being faster than driving will generate operating surpluses. It would be considered aiming too low, but it might be enough to build support for true HSR.

    Of course, even that wouldn’t satisfy the critics, including anti-Commie, all-American car types, but I think we are in a waiting game with those guys, as in waiting for the dinosaurs to die. . .

    jim Reply:

    It isn’t just being faster than driving that generates Acela surpluses. The NEC regionals are faster than driving and they just about break even. The Acelas generate surpluses because Amtrak charges premium fares on them (and people pay premium fares to ride them). The average fare on the Acela is $140. The average fare on the regionals is $70. Just for comparison, the average fare on the Surfliner is $25.

    Peter Baldo Reply:

    The difference is that Acela serves a big linear population center. If they can’t sell Boston – Washington at first, there’s always New York – Philadelphia, or New Jersey – Washington, which are big markets in themselves. The East Coast also had a pretty good route to start with.

    Unless California makes San Diego – LA its starter system, the principal market it will have to build on will be Bay Area – LA. How many of those people will ride a train that takes 5 hours? That will still be a train with big operating losses. It will certainly not make profits with which to build a high speed rail line. And if you think CaHSR has a deficient business plan now, under this scheme high speed rail will be paid for with profits from a slow service that not enough people are likely to ride to break even.

    Simply upgrading freight lines, especially through the mountains, to two tracks capable of 125 mph will cost a fortune. And for that you still are stuck with 5-hour travel times, and freight trains to deal with. In this case, you might as well start from scratch.

    The incremental approach has worked on the East Coast, and it may work in the Midwest as well. But California will need fast Bay Area – LA service at the outset.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Is it possible to upgrade Tehachapi to 125 mph and still be freight compatible?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:


    synonymouse Reply:

    Exactly – there’s not enough utility on this backwoods detour to justify the expense of upgrade.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Freight doesn’t have to go fast. A hopper full of rocks doesn’t complain if it’s two hours late getting to the siding. Freight and 125 MPH service aren’t particularly compatible anywhere.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    It is possible to have both. However, it will mean that every train is using its assigned time slot. That also means that freight trains must run according a timetable. Examples: Lötschberg base tunnel (freight trains 100 to 120 km/h; passenger trains 200 to 250 km/h); the same is planned for the Gotthard base tunnel when it becomes operational in a few years. FWIW: signalling system: ETCS Level 2.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Possible but not worth it into and out of the Antelope Valley. There’s mountains but they ain’t the Alps .

    VBobier Reply:

    HSR will build a line, don’t like It? Tough, I really don’t give a rats ass…
    HSR is infrastructure and initial construction is what Yer objecting to, that and construction jobs.

    Wad Reply:

    @Peter, while it seems logical to start service on the busiest corridor — Los Angeles to San Diego — the problem is that ridership growth won’t scale up to the costs of improvement.

    Now that Surfliner is the nation’s second-busiest Amtrak line — it has surpassed Acela’s ridership — it’s going to be harder to grow ridership than what it has built in.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Acela is a premium service. People who don’t want to be gouged quite as much take a Regional. Amtrak discourages local traffic on the NEC, with extraordinarily high fares and by dropping service at stations that historically had it. Nobody in their right mind uses Amtrak to go from Trenton to Philadelphia or Stamford to New York. Want go from Cornwells Heights to New Brunswick? Take SEPTA to Trenton and change for NJTransit. Wanna go from Princeton to anywhere, they only stop there a few times a day. Take NJTransit to Trenton or Newark…

    From Amtrak’s National Fact Sheet:
    The Boston-New York-Washington portion of the Northeast Corridor carried
    10,375,209 passengers in FY 2010 on Acela Express, Regional Service or other
    trains. Three other corridors had ridership that topped one million or more:
    Pacific Surfliner Service (San Diego-Los Angeles-San Luis Obispo, 2,613,604),
    Capitol Corridor Service (San Jose-Oakland-Sacramento-Auburn, 1,580,619) and
    the Keystone Corridor Service (Harrisburg-Philadelphia-New York City,

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Wad, it would cost 8-10 billion to improve the LOSSAN line for 90 minute service between Los Angeles and San Diego (with intermediate stations even most likely). Ridership would scale up tremendously, well in line with the costs of improvement (especially since car travel is expected to be a 3+ hour journey by 2020). Remember that CAHSRA and a few others predict that a similar travel time frame with fewer and smaller cities served would see about twenty million trips by 2020.

    joe Reply:

    Go for it ! Put HSR LA-SD on the next Ballot for a statewide vote.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    DP it’s faster than driving and faster than flying if New York is your origin or destination. About the only thing that would be faster is private helicopter that can take you downtown to downtown. The Boston-DC ridership isn’t very high… because it’s slower than flying and not that much faster than driving.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    That kind of reminds me of the principle the Deutsche Bahn set up for their ICE network: “twice as fast as by car, half as fast as by air”. …and that actually worked.

    …although, considering the “overal travel experience” when flying, “twice as fast ad by car” is almost “as fast as by air”…

    Wad Reply:

    Endpoints fallacy.

    The corridor doesn’t run Boston-DC trains because it’s supposed to be the predominant trip pair. Both those ends happen to serve a lot of other destinations along the way (Bos NY, NY DC, NY Phila, etc.), making the corridor stronger overall.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The NEC south of New York has much higher ridership than the NEC north of New York. New York-DC has three trains an hour at peak with a fourth train that runs between NY and Harrisburg. A quick glance at Amtrak finds 19 trains a day between NY and Boston. 47 a day between NY and Philadelphia and 12 a day between NY and Albany. One lonely train, the Vermonter, additional between New Haven and DC. IIRC on Fridays and Sundays there’s one through train from Springfield to DC. Massachusetts and Connecticut are working on making that more frequent.
    Somebody somewhere in the accounting department at Amtrak has worksheet with all the origin and destination pairs for every Amtrak station anywhere. In the Northeast I suspect various combination of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore and DC predominate.

    It’s faster than flying or driving for many origin and destination pairs between New Haven and DC, happier?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The NEC Master Plan has the top 10 city pairs in the Northeast. The top four are NY-DC, NY-Philly, DC-Philly, and NY-Boston, in that order. NY-Route 128 and NY-Providence are also on the list, farther down.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Hmm. So six out of the ten have NY as the origin or destination. And NY-Philadelphia and Philadelphia-DC has higher ridership than NY-Boston. Hmm.

    Beta Magellan Reply:

    Not to mention making space for passenger trains on busy freight lines—in practice this means means delays for passengers. Auto-competitive speeds are useless without good schedule adherence.

  8. swing hanger
    Oct 30th, 2011 at 07:51

    Off topic:
    Meanwhile, in Texas, quiet efforts are being made to lay groundwork for a largely privately funded HSR line between Houston and Dallas. Naysayers are apparent, but note the relative civility of the comments compared to the dialogue in CA:

    The City of Bryan seems eager to have input in the planning process (Texas A&M Univ. is in their backyard):

    Beta Magellan Reply:

    Interesting—SNCF did a report on HSR in Texas in 2009 (pdf) and suggested Dallas-Austin-San Antonio as a first phase.

    jim Reply:

    The main difficulty with Dallas-Houston is that both Love and Hobby are close to downtown and it becomes very difficult for HSR to beat air even downtown to downtown. The secondary problem is there’s no intermediate stations: all the traffic has to come from the two endpoints. The tertiary problem is that Houston has no transit to a downtown station and Dallas has very little. Longish term parking near the stations becomes an issue

    Nathanael Reply:

    The quarternary problem is that there’s no money, private or public, for rail in Texas. Nor is there a public body willing to make the eminent domain takings necessary.

    If any of this actually happened, the dialogue would get much less civil than in California.

    Wad Reply:

    This rail plan won’t follow the T-Bone. Bryan/College Station showing interest in the story would imply Texas is going with the T-Bone (Dallas to Houston and Dallas to Austin/San Antonio with a junction around Temple/Killeen/Fort Hood).

    The T-Bone would have great ridership, as opposed to a route directly linking Dallas and Houston. Along the T-Bone, there would also be Waco (Baylor U), T/K/F, Bryan/College Station and Houston. You have smallish towns that produce outstanding ridership on account of stationary generators — universities in Waco and College Station, and a military base in T/K.

    Wad Reply:

    The first sentence should end with a question mark.

    This rail plan won’t follow the T-Bone?

    swing hanger Reply:

    I believe the intention is to follow the t-bone, with the future junction with the San Antonio Line at Temple. As far as money, I think the intention of JR Central is to fund it primarily on their own, possibly with cooperation of the Japan Bank of International Cooperation, which has been given the green light to provide loans for HSR projects in developed countries.
    The leadership of JR Central’s U.S. representative office is composed primarily of ex-Bush Administration officials with past links to the DoD, dunno if this will have any bearing on getting the ball moving in Texas, but it’s interesting.

    Winston Reply:

    The dialogue regarding HSR in California was semi-civil until it looked like there was a chance of it happening.

  9. Donk
    Oct 30th, 2011 at 08:32

    Another $336M subsidy for freight railroads, in the San Gabriel Valley.


    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    How is improving automobile traffic via grade separation a subsidy for freight railroads?

    AndyDuncan Reply:

    Sort of a subsidy, the freight railroads pay to use the Alameda Corridor. Last I checked it was roughly breaking even including construction costs (It’s a very, very heavily trafficked line). If the Alameda Corridor East also charges for access, then the money could be recouped, but it’s unclear from that article if the funding is a true grant or if the state expects to be reimbursed.

    Beta Magellan Reply:

    Seconding Paulus, rail activists usually argue that grade separations should come out of the roadbuilding budget, since the main benefit is to road traffic (when was the last time you saw a train stop for passing cars?).

    James M. in Irvine Reply:

    Every time it smacks one…


    Risenmessiah Reply:

    The ultimate aim of the Corridor is to have freight running on a grade-separated track between the Port of Los Angeles and the Colton Crossing. The problem has been that initially it was sold as a way to encourage more business downtown and when that fell through, then Soboroff and pals starting pushing the “but if we just extend it east”… argument.

    However, Wal Mart’s logistics model relies more heavily on trucks and hence the project has still struggled a little. It will be a boon for transportation however if the Corridor succeeds in grade separating most port traffic before splitting off into the Southern Transcon of BNSF or the San Timeteo Canyon of UP. The only criticism I have is that unlike farm exports that are grown in California, most ACE traffic is just headed for Bentonville, and never contributes much more to our economy….

    Spokker Reply:

    Hey, doesn’t the thrice-weekly Sunset Limited also run through there?

    swing hanger Reply:

    Yep, the article mentions six weekly passenger trains, so that must be it.

    Spokker Reply:

    This’ll be the thing that finally gets the Sunset Limited to break even. Yee-haw.

    Wad Reply:

    It’ll still take half a week to get to New Orleans.

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    It won’t after the upgrade. There’s still spare rail capacity to get the Sunset Limited through to Colton. It’s the route AFTER that which is problematic.

  10. Risenmessiah
    Oct 31st, 2011 at 07:41

    Another LA Times article that mildly calls some of the planning for HSR into question for Phase 2:


    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Wrong link.

    RisenMessiah Reply:

    No…it’s the right link…you just aren’t reading in between the lines….

    StevieB Reply:

    Are you getting subliminal messages involving a secret conspiracy?

    RisenMessiah Reply:

    Part of the reason that L.A. has been so insistent about Palmdale and Ontario is that they own those airports. Now, with Ontario losing passengers and Palmdale flat out closed it causes us to question if the Inland Empire Dog-Leg is worth it…..

    Peter Reply:

    Ditch the Inland Empire. An upgraded LOSSAN would be way more worth it.

    VBobier Reply:

    Agreed, It’s an established corridor with ridership, make It faster & slowly upgrade LOSSAN to electrified HSR along It’s entire length, but this most likely won’t occur before LA to SF is built, LA to SD is, I think 2nd phase territory, and isn’t the Coastal Commission something that could be in the way here and there through parts of LOSSAN? In which case some legislation might be needed, maybe.

    VBobier Reply:

    Note: I’m still in favor of a route through Palmdale and Tehachapi…

    jimsf Reply:

    So am i and here’s why. The OC and San Diego Co. areas from IRV to OSD are high income, slow/no growth/ non transit folks. You would see a battle there that would dwarf PAMPAs. Those folks have their pristine high value southern coast communities and no one is going to get hsr through there. Nor is it necessary to get it through there because those people wouldn’t be caught dead using it. MEanwhile the fact is, this system is being built to serve the future pop of cali and nearly ALL of californias growth over the next few generations is going to occur in the san joaquin valley and the IEm and high desert. NOt only that, but the demographics in the valley,. HD and IE are more working class and therefore more in need of public transit options. The ***intermittant city pairs are going to be more important to the railroad than a faster la-sd trip time.**** period. hands down. To over look that is to be detached from reality. Like it or not the grown is going to be exactly along the planned phase one and phase two routes as currently written and lo and be effin hold, thats why chsra put the route where it is to begin with.

    jimsf Reply:

    btw why I just ditched the city and moved to MErced of all places. Thank you jesus you cant beleive the rent here!! Im practically rich now!! Yep this is where people are going to live because this is where the vast majority of people can actually afford to live. Not to mention is way nicer here and sans 7 million seriously affected attitude ridden dysfuctional people. Who knew!

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Oh please jimsf. OC and San Diego are spending hundreds of millions of dollars on improving and increasing rail service and make up about five million riders between commuter and Amtrak. The NIMBYs aren’t an issue as those areas between IRV and Oceanside are slated for tunnels anyhow.

    As for the IE and desert being the future growth centers, I doubt that. Water, congestion, and commute length all mitigate against that. Higher density is more likely.

    Working class, incidentally, isn’t who is going to be the major rider of HSR, that’s business class.

    And I agree that intermittent is more important. Which is why San Juan Capistrano, Oceanside, and Solana Beach, which already represent nearly half of the Surfliners ridership (925,000) are far more important than Riverside.

    joe Reply:

    “As for the IE and desert being the future growth centers, I doubt that. Water, congestion, and commute length all mitigate against that. Higher density is more likely.”

    What’s your rent for a family home ?
    Wife work? Day care for an infant – $1400 a month in PAMPA area is a steal and that’s subsidized by parents of older kids paying a bit more to help out the infants.

    So yes it makes sense if you’re not hired by The Google, or FacePlant to work a 16 hours day with 25 years olds, to move out of the high cost Bay Area and into the CV.

    Finally, not all workers will ride HSR to work in LA – HSR opens the CV to business and allow day trips to CV located offices. You can pay people less and they’ll live far more comfortably than a cramped development off an expressway. Put an office near a HSR station in the CV, save money and take the rail to a major airport.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    How come that in this discussion, both the main HSR-as-is defenders are suddenly talking about cities like any postwar suburbanite? Yes, we get it, cities are dirty (certainly not because of cars driven by suburbanites), expensive (certainly not because of zoning passed by NIMBYs with a property value hysteria), and unpleasant (they, like, have weird people in them), and everyone should just move to perfectly manicured exurbs and live in little boxes that all look the same. I know a bunch of people who think that, but those tend to be the ones who believe that freeways are God’s gift to humanity and trains are for hippies. What’s going on in here?

    bixnix Reply:

    While I agree with you that the airports are an issue, the biggest reason why Palmdale (and Lancaster) are part of the discussion is that they are part of L.A. County, and thus have one of the five county supervisors (Antonovich) representing them. Antonovich is also currently the “First Vice Chair” of the L.A. County MTA. He’ll be pushing the MTA to favor a high desert route.

    jimsf Reply:

    once again. the route goes to all the places where the future population growth is going to occur. its as simple as that. conspiracy theories not necessary.

    bixnix Reply:

    No conspiracy meant, only that the high desert has population, and significant representation in a very big county, that will be pulling for a high desert route.

    joe Reply:



    paul dyson Reply:

    Let’s get our geographic nomenclature correct. Palmdale and Lancaster are High Desert, not Inland Empire which is roughly San Bernardino/Riverside area.
    The long term thinking is to develop Palmdale airport as an alternative to LAX with High Speed transit of one description or another to connect to the urban centers. If it were also at the junction of HSR to Northern CA, San Diego and to LV as well it might be a real winner.

  11. peninsula
    Oct 31st, 2011 at 20:50

    98.5 Billion.
    7.4 – 10.8 Million riders by 2025

  12. Doug Carlson
    Nov 3rd, 2011 at 16:01

    We had our version of an anti-rail reporter here at the Honolulu Advertiser. The “Universe” has a way to sorting them out of the equation. The Advertiser went under in 2010 and he took a job with the State. It’ll probably be something else re Mr. Vartabedian –maybe a job with the railroad.

Comments are closed.