High Speed Rail and Carbon Emission Reductions

Apr 19th, 2012 | Posted by

One of the more troubling elements of the flawed Legislative Analyst Report on high speed rail was its attack on HSR’s role in reducing California’s carbon emissions. The LAO claimed that HSR would actually not be very helpful in achieving those reductions. But as we’ll see, the LAO’s claims here are flawed:

Given these considerations, the administration’s proposal to possibly use cap–and–trade auction revenues for the construction of high–speed rail raises three primary concerns.

• Would Not Help Achieve AB 32’s Primary Goal. The primary goal of AB 32 is to reduce California’s GHG emissions statewide to 1990 levels by 2020. Under the revised draft business plan, the IOS would not be completed until 2021 and Phase 1 Blended would not be completed until 2028. Thus, while the high–speed rail project could eventually help reduce GHG emissions somewhat in the very long run, given the project’s timeline, it would not help achieve AB 32’s primary goal of reducing GHG emissions by 2020. As a result, there could be serious legal concerns regarding this potential use of cap–and–trade revenues. It would be important for the Legislature to seek the advice of Legislative Counsel and consider any potential legal risks.

Of course, AB 32’s ultimate goal is to reduce carbon emissions for a long time to come. The purpose isn’t to just reduce to 1990 levels by 2020 – itself a goal that is widely seen by climate scholars as being way too modest to be effective – but to use that goal as a way to set California on a path to much greater reductions over the long term. It’s not as if suddenly efforts to reduce carbon emissions would or should stop in 2021.

• High–Speed Rail Would Initially Increase GHG Emissions for Many Years. As mentioned above, in order to be a valid use of cap–and–trade revenues, programs will need to reduce GHG emissions. While the HSRA has not conducted an analysis to determine the impact that the high–speed rail system will have on GHG emissions in the state, an independent study found that—if the high–speed rail system met its ridership targets and renewable electricity commitments—construction and operation of the system would emit more GHG emissions than it would reduce for approximately the first 30 years. While high–speed rail could reduce GHG emissions in the very long run, given the previously mentioned legal constraints, the fact that it would initially be a net emitter of GHG emissions could raise legal risks.

Which “independent study” is the LAO talking about here? Surely they are capable in this day and age of citing a source.

Aside from the legal risks, the bigger question is what the difference between HSR emissions are and emissions from other existing methods of travel between SF and LA. How much fewer are HSR carbon emissions than airplane emissions and vehicle emissions over that distance? The LAO didn’t examine that question. Previous studies indicate that in fact bullet trains actually have a significant advantage over planes and automobiles.

• Other GHG Reduction Strategies Likely to Be More Cost Effective. As we discussed in our recent brief on cap–and–trade, in allocating auction revenues we recommend that the Legislature prioritize GHG mitigation programs that have the greatest potential return on investment in terms of emission reductions per dollar invested. Considering the cost of a high–speed rail system relative to other GHG reduction strategies (such as green building codes and energy efficiency standards), a thorough cost–benefit analysis of all possible strategies is likely to reveal that the state has a number of other more cost–effective options. In other words, rather than allocate billions of dollars in cap–and–trade auctions revenues for the construction of a new transportation system that would not reduce GHG emissions for many years, the state could make targeted investments in programs that are actually designed to reduce GHG emissions and would do so at a much faster rate and at a significantly lower cost.

This criticism was taken up by Brad Plumer today on the WaPo’s Wonkblog:

The California High Speed Rail Authority claims that by 2030, if the train ran entirely on renewable energy, then it would start reducing the state’s carbon emissions by about 5.4 million metric tons per year. That would mean the rail network would cut California’s emissions at a cost of around $250 per metric ton of carbon dioxide over the ensuing 50 years, given the current price tag. (And this is an optimistic figure, since it ignores the energy used to build the system — by some estimates, high-speed rail would actually increase emissions in its first few decades.)

That’s a fairly pricey way to cut carbon. To put this in perspective, research has suggested that you could plant 100 million acres of trees and help reforest the United States for a cost of somewhere between $21 to $91 per ton of carbon dioxide. Alternatively, a study by Dan Kammen of UC Berkeley found that it would cost somewhere between $59 and $87 per ton of carbon dioxide to phase out coal power in the Western United States and replace it with solar, wind and geothermal. If reducing greenhouse gases is your primary goal, then there are more cost-effective ways to do it than building a bullet train.

Of course, one should not have to choose between different methods of carbon emissions reductions. Given the desperate need to make significant reductions in the near future, a whole range of different kinds of savings is needed, from changing the way power is generated to changing the ways people travel.

Additionally, one has to ask whether the costs of using HSR to reduce carbon emissions – even if more expensive than other options – are still a savings over the costs of global warming and high carbon emissions. Further, cost effectiveness should not be the only means by which a method of carbon reduction is judged. At least Plumer understands the other benefits of HSR and that they should be considered too:

Now, to be clear, this is not an argument against high-speed rail in general. There are all sorts of non-climate reasons why California might want a rail system: It might boost economic development in cities along the route, or offer residents more convenient transportation options, or allow the state to build fewer roads and airports. It’s even possible that, over the very long run, a passenger rail system could spur denser development that, in turn, reduces California’s dependency on automobiles. (That’s a more diffuse calculation and isn’t figured into the carbon numbers above.)

These are good points and ones worth examining in more detail, even if doing so is beyond my own expertise. But at least Plumer made that consideration. The LAO rarely ever acknowledges any benefits to the high speed rail project, instead biasing their analysis only toward the risks of the project and downplaying (at best) the benefits.

  1. Derek
    Apr 19th, 2012 at 21:57
    #1

    To reduce carbon emissions, place a statewide cap on total road lane-miles, and use congestion pricing to permanently eliminate traffic congestion and to provide a new revenue source to fix our roads and bridges.

    Recovering the cost of air pollution, up to $1600 per person per year, through a new gasoline tax, with the revenue given to hospitals to treat people with respiratory problems caused by that pollution, would help further reduce carbon emissions while reducing health insurance premiums.

    joe Reply:

    Neat theory but difficult to create an efficient market. I can’t forecast congestion. A business with shipping needs would leave the area/state.

    Lowering the cost of public transit has EXACTLY the same economic and environmental impact as congestion pricing and it’s not a regressive tax. So cut public fares by 50%.

    Derek Reply:

    I can’t forecast congestion.

    Sure you can. It happens on the same stretch of road every morning and afternoon.

    A business with shipping needs would leave the area/state.

    Or they’d ship stuff overnight when travel demand and congestion prices are low, or they would ship more stuff by rail. Only some of the ones who have to ship stuff during rush hour would leave the area, but this wouldn’t be all bad because it would reduce traffic congestion.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    And if they highly value receiving shipments during congested periods, they would also receive a benefit from the congestion pricing in terms of their shipments being able to get through.

    joe Reply:

    Yes you pay people to work at night and ship to customers/business that have to be open late to get your awesome 3AM shipment. It’s perfect.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    That’s with the status quo in a congested area ~ the two choices are between taking shipments early or late, or uncertain delivery times during the day and paying for the cost of the shipment being caught in traffic. The choices under an effective congestion charge are between taking shipments early or late, or more reliable delivery during the day and paying your share of the cost of the congestion charge.

    joe Reply:

    Derek – you are being silly.

    You advocate congestion pricing because it will reduce congestion – then you claim congestion is predictable, that claim is correct only if congestion pricing doesn’t work. No congestion isn’t rush hour.

    In a dynamic market – that’s what congestion pricing creates – I have no way to forecast what the collective decisions of my peers will be for that day.

    I may pay 1.00 for one day and 3.00 the next – it depends on congestion for that day. I am unable to make dependable choices about the cost/benefit.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    There’s no need for congestion pricing to be implemented on the basis of a dynamic market. That’s one approach, and you highlight one of the drawbacks of that approach (though in the mainstream economic mathematical modelling that eight years ago were saying there was no housing bubble, one that is substantially discounted by the assumptions of hyper-rational decision makers with more information than anyone actually has available to them).

    joe Reply:

    Words have meaning and so do impractical, regressive taxes like a congestion tax.

    If you don’t charge drivers a fee based on road congestion then don’t call it congestion pricing.

    I think the fee is impractical and regressive – I will not defend the tax. It creates a marketplace – yet another thing I have to track and consider in my complex daily life.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    No one is suggesting imposing congestion pricing in Peoria. The only one to get serious consideration in the US was Manhattan. If you don’t want to pay the congestion charge you have many different options to avoid it.

    joe Reply:

    What’s the formula for computing the tax?

    tax=f(congestion and ?) miles?, time of day?

    Do I need a tracking device?

    BruceMcF Reply:

    No, its generally a per day fee to operate a motor vehicle in the congestion zone. In the
    London congestion zone, its 7am to 6pm, 10 quid a day if you pay online in advance or the day of use, 12 quid if you pay the following day. Its 9 quid if you use CC auto-pay.

    The tracking device is a visible license plate on your vehicle.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    And, again, how regressive it is depends on how the congestion fee is used. If the congestion fee is used to fund improvements in public transport, then that’s obviously more progressive on average than having the sales taxes of public transport riders subsidize drivers.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    The problem with a new gasoline tax is not finding external costs to be paid for by a new tax. We could go on for quite a while hypothetically adding one or another external cost of gasoline consumption to the cost of gasoline. The challenge is getting the tax passed, in a political economy where the gas tax is in lieu of sales tax, rather than in addition to sales tax.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Let me point out something which Robert didn’t point out about the “alternatives” proposed by the LAO to reduce Greenhouse Gas emissions:

    (1) Green building codes. This literally costs the state government nothing. It doesn’t need funding. You just need to, you know, write green building codes.
    (2) Energy efficiency standards. This is, like green building codes, something which doesn’t actually need state funding at all. Promulgate and get going.

    So these aren’t competing for funds.

    Plumer does a bit better, but let’s look at his proposals:
    (1) Reforesting the Western US.
    With what trees? Climate change is making it hard to pick the correct, sturdy trees for our newly changed climate (see “emerald ash borer” for more). Plus, you can’t really do this in California; the deforested sections are either housing or desert.

    (2) Shutting down Western US coal plants.
    Are any of these actually in California? If not, it’s gonna be hard for California to do that.

    Now, I agree, pouring money into solar and geothermal installations — that WOULD be a better use of cap-and-trade funds. And once we have great masses of solar electricity and highly efficient houses, perhaps we should use that excess electricity for transportation. Like electric trains.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Except the most effective means of ensuring a long term build out of solar and other renewable energy is a feed-in tariff, which again does not compete for funds.

  2. Paulus Magnus
    Apr 19th, 2012 at 22:01
    #2

    So the LAO and Plumer are just now talking about what I talked about a year ago? :p

    I kid of course, hardly the first to point it out.

    Any CO2 emissions reductions are nice, but they’re fairly meaningless as a reason for HSR and don’t contribute much. In fact, if you cared about CO2 as a primary goal, electrifying freight network in CA would be a far cheaper way of meeting the same goals.

    Back of envelope calculation:
    484 ton-miles per gallon of diesel, 22.4 pounds of CO2 per gallon. 5.4 million metric tons thus comes out to 257,232,218,100 ton-miles. Average freight train is 3,100 tons, bringing our figure to 83 million train miles. 156 miles from Los Angeles to Barstow according to Southwest Chief timetable. Hmm. Not quite up to the challenge, that would require 1,500 trains per day to meet the criteria, which is one order of magnitude too many. On the other hand, electrifying the Southern Transcon all the way to Chicago would likely do it.

    Keeping it within California, electrifying the Southern Transcon and Sunset routes to the border as well as the Overland and BNSF’s San Joaquin line should do it by the same 2030 time period, judging by the expectations shown in this paper, and it would be at a fraction of the cost while also creating far more jobs.

    joe Reply:

    Nice try but CO2 isn’t the only pollutant and air quality isn’t dominated by CO2.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Go read the title of this post again and then get back to me.

    However, I should note that freight electrification does a better job of reducing those other pollutants than does HSR (especially, for obvious reasons, when it comes to particulate matter) and the replacement of coal power plants is even better by far.

    joe Reply:

    Okay. You want CA taxpayers to electrify the privately owned railroads instead of HSR. I don’t.

    Secondly your calculations confuse me – not that hard right? So where did you factor in the reduced automobile traffic and savings from congestion related emissions? It appears you are comparing only freight and passenger trains and not factoring in net benefits.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Okay. You want CA taxpayers to electrify the privately owned railroads instead of HSR. I don’t.

    I want the state of California to legislatively prohibit the use of diesel locomotives along certain corridors and compensate their owners for the taking in a fashion conducive to continued prosperity.

    Secondly your calculations confuse me – not that hard right? So where did you factor in the reduced automobile traffic and savings from congestion related emissions? It appears you are comparing only freight and passenger trains and not factoring in net benefits.

    Look at the title of the post. What does it say? Carbon Emissions Reductions. And HSR isn’t going to do squat about congestion and the pollution offset from diesel locomotives electrifying far outweighs pollution from some cars. This is massively increased if we can draw truck traffic to rail of course.

    joe Reply:

    you want us to pay to electrify private railroads.

    your math ignores HSR reductions in automobile pollution and pollution from congestion.

    Even NIMBY Melo Park’s EIR for their downtown development acknowledges HSR would reduce congestion on 280, 101 and parallel streets.

    There is no argument that electrifying freight would remove trucks from the road. none.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    you want us to pay to electrify private railroads.

    Constitution requires that takings be compensated.

    your math ignores HSR reductions in automobile pollution and pollution from congestion.

    Because the initial discussion was about carbon emissions. As far as I’m aware, no one has ever quantified the other pollutants from automobile travel which might be reduced by HSR.

    Even NIMBY Melo Park’s EIR for their downtown development acknowledges HSR would reduce congestion on 280, 101 and parallel streets.

    Doesn’t actually. “Could potentially” has a rather different meaning in the English language than would. Furthermore, any reduction there is due to use of HSR as commuter trains (similar as one may do now with Amtrak intercity on the Surfliner corridor) rather than HSR as high speed intercity travel; it’s no different than if Caltrain were to spend the money to increase its service accordingly between SF and SJ.

    joe Reply:

    Electrifying Rail isn’t taking property. It’s your suggestion and it requires taxpayers PAY for railroad improvements.

    Cars burn oil – HSR removes cars from the road and reduces CO2 emissions. Your math shows 0.0 impact. You ignore it.

    Benefits from HSR funded transit like Metro rail improvments figure into the cost of the project and its benefits. You ignore the benefit and count the cost.

    “Could Potentially” coming from a Menlo Park EIR – priceless.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Electrifying Rail isn’t taking property. It’s your suggestion and it requires taxpayers PAY for railroad improvements.

    Forbidding the use of diesel locomotives is a property taking. And it’s an improvement that, quite frankly, is only of benefit to said taxpayers and not to the railroads, the economics don’t justify it in themselves.

    Cars burn oil – HSR removes cars from the road and reduces CO2 emissions. Your math shows 0.0 impact. You ignore it.

    Look, I don’t ask for much, but seriously, I’d love for you to read posts. My calculation was an explicit attempt to match the claimed CO2 reduction of CAHSR.

    Benefits from HSR funded transit like Metro rail improvments figure into the cost of the project and its benefits. You ignore the benefit and count the cost.

    There are no Metro Rail improvements funded. Perhaps you meant Metrolink?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Forbidding the use of diesel locomotives is a property taking.

    No it’s not. They are free to go use them other places.
    When they pull up creosote soaked ties they have to go to an approved tie disposal facility.
    When they change the fluids in the locomotive they can’t just dump them into the ballast.
    If they decided that coal fired steam was the way to go, they couldn’t do it.
    If my septic tank fills up I can’t decide to dig a latrine.
    You can’t take the catalytic converter off your car….

    Nathanael Reply:

    Paulus, California CANNOT do what you suggest.

    The federal government could. But federal law pretty much exempts freight railroads from the type of state law you suggest; California can’t force them to electrify unless it wants to play hardball, and if you’re gonna pick a fight with the feds, I wouldn’t do it over this.

    I’d love to talk the freight railroads into electrifying, including bribing them to do so, but you know how UP would react. And sadly BNSF runs on UP trackage rights for crucial sections, so it won’t agree until UP agrees…

    You may begin to see the problem. An awful lot of the “better” uses for cap-and-trade money are not really possibilities for California. I listed the one really good option (direct funding of local solar & geothermal installations) above.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Not true, a number of municipalities passed laws forbidding the use of steam locomotives. No reason you can’t do the same for diesel.

    Nathanael Reply:

    They passed those laws BEFORE the current federal rules.

    Has anyone passed such laws AFTERwards? Specifically after Staggers?

    Nathanael Reply:

    Note that IIRC BNSF has specifically claimed federal preemption in avoiding local regulation of diesel emissions from one of its railyards in California. I wish I could remember the city. And I believe they won. They’re still subject to federal emissions law, of course.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Thanks for the link. It looks like the rules allow California to regulate “intrastate” locomotives only (!!!), and it’s negotiated with BNSF and UP to get a more coherent set of rules.

    joe Reply:

    “Forbidding the use of diesel locomotives is a property taking.”

    It isn’t property taking, not that I think your idea to pass that law is sensible.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Quite ~ corridor owners do not own the atmosphere that they are using as a pollution and CO2 dump. Forbidding the use of a technology that requires the use of common property as a dump is not a “taking”.

    But its a daft policy ~ there are substantial economic and national security benefits from a national program, more than enough to justify a system of subsidized interest and operator access and user fees to recuperate the original capital infrastructure cost.

    And you catch more bees with honey than with vinegar.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    you want us to pay to electrify private railroads.

    Capital funding would not be required. An interest subsidy with the original capital cost refunded by access and user fees would suffice.

    Peter Baldo Reply:

    I think the railroad is grandfathered a right to emit a certain level of CO2 at the outset, a level which will decrease slowly over time. If the railroad then converts to nuclear generated electricity, it can sell some unneeded pollution credits on the open market, to companies which cannot easily afford to cut CO2 emissions. That’s how electrification of the railroads could be financed. The contribution from the public is the original right to pollute, which is worth quite a lot.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    How much different is that from a carbon tax?

    Jonathan Reply:

    Is that a serious question??
    You can’t sell taxes, but you can sell cap-and-trade carbon credits. Perhaps more importantly, there’s no way that the Goldman-Sachs types of the world can make money from a carbon tax, but they can (and hope to) make money from a cap-and-trade system. With derivatives of carbon rights, even.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Or solar. In the long deserts, many railroad corridors are well-suited to solar deployment.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    @adirondacker12800 ~ its the same as a carbon tax in putting a price on carbon. Its different from a tax in targeting a quantity rather than a price. The Republican version, where you give companies a right to pollute that they can sell instead if they wish, is also different from a tax in that a private corporation gets the money. The other version, the cap and auction, sees the money collected either for “public expenditure” or else the public actually getting the money in the form of a social dividend check.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    …… so so cap and trade is another version of “privatize the profits and socialize the risks”
    Or as Johnathan pointed out there’s little opportunity for a carbon tax to be monetized but ample opportunity for cap and trade to be. Or cap and trade gives Wall Street visions of Manhattan condos and summer in the Hamptons and carbon tax is as easy and cheap to admister as existing fuel taxes.
    In any way related to the baroque proposals for VMT with GPS tracking versus straight fuel taxes?

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Seems like it. There are substantial benefits to a capped permit system over a carbon tax, and then cap and trade tries to trade off those benefits to gain more welfare for the rich. Which is why we keep seeing cap and trade advanced despite the fact that cap and auction has most of its advantages and few of its disadvantages.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    I’m going to assume that the grifters in DC like cap and auction better than cap and trade because the vigorish is extracted in DC not Wall Street. There’s not much vig in a carbon tax.
    Kinda boring to administer and not much opportunity to endlessly tweak the regulations.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    The primary difference in regulations is whether its upstream or downstream ~ more opportunity to tweak regulations with a downstream tax than there is with an upstream cap and dividend.

    But they do have that tendency as well ~ upstream is simpler, yet they seem to have a preference for downstream. And, yes, that does seem likely to be a more lucrative source of campaign contributions.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    How much coal generated electricity does California use?

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    ~1% in-state generation, ~20% from out of state power generation, much of it owned by CA public utilities. Sierra Club estimates 67 million tons of CO2 per year due to California imports

    Alon Levy Reply:

    In California, diesel emissions (read: trucks) punch far above their carbon weight when it comes to air pollution. This is seen in the study quoted in Derek’s link above, and also in another study by I forget which government agency linked on State of the Air’s footnotes.

    Old buses are also very polluting relative to vehicle-miles, but the newer ones have gotten their pollution levels down to gasoline levels; this is where you get 90%+ reductions in pollution from buses.

    Jonathan Reply:

    And don’t forget the Goddamn particulates. CA still has no statewide exhaust standards for diesel trucks.

    Vendors wanting to sell to the city of SF claim new buses have their particulate pollution levels down to _CNG-fuelled-vehicle_ levels. I don’t know the veracity of that, but you could find it in Muni interest groups.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It’s plausible. The FTA investigated and found that modern hybrids actually outperform CNG buses, and modern non-hybrid diesels do roughly as good (at least, the same order of magnitude).

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Particulate pollution levels can be further reduced by using a 20% biodiesel mix.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    The biggest advantage to freight rail electrification is for long haul, and while California is awfully big, much of the freight passes through California on the shorter dimension, east-west.

    And in any event, since there isn’t any one measure that can be done which will meet any reasonable GHG emission reduction target, the relatively effectiveness of the lowest hanging fruit is a misleading measure. The first 40% of what we need could be incredibly cheap, but if it is only 40%, its not the prevailing cost to take into account.

    Since it is in any event necessary to shut down coal power in the US to make a serious dent in greenhouse gas emission, then given the estimates of $59 to $87 per ton, then $60/ton to $90/ton seems a reasonable starting point for the effective marginal cost of reducing CO2 sufficiently.

    If full funding of HSR to reduce CO2 implies a cost of $250/ton, that implies that from 24% to 36% funding from a carbon fund can be justified.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I would argue the opposite – the biggest advantage to freight rail electrification is for short-haul. Long-haul traffic is already dominated by rail; there is much less opportunity for mode shift. It’s short- and medium-haul freight where rail has the most to gain. This requires giving freight rail the tools to be competitive for short-haul runs, and also to tax trucks for the various environmental and social costs they impose on everyone (road wear, congestion, pollution, GHG).

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The ton-miles are out on the mainlines. Electrify Los Angeles to Chicago and you electrify Los Angeles to Riverside too. And Chicago to Omaha. It’s never going to be worth it to electrify the ten mile branch line that sees a 20 car train twice a week.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Long-haul traffic is already dominated by rail

    Are you counting by value or by ton-mile? Trucks have higher mode share except for the lowest value cargo.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Perhaps he’s referring to the fact that UPS, FedEx, Roadway, and Yellow are among the biggest clients of the railroads.

    I think UPS is actually the single biggest. I believe those trips are counted as “truck” trips even when they’re actually intermodal trips — container or trailer-on-flatcar trips, with trucks only doing the local movement at each end.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Ton-mile. My lungs don’t care what kind of goods the trucks were carrying.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Nor do your lungs carry how many tons of cargo were hauled in burning a gallon of diesel.

    Long haul trucks have both a majority of the long haul freight market share and a majority of the long haul freight fuel consumption.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    The biggest advantage to freight rail electrification is for long haul, and while California is awfully big, much of the freight passes through California on the shorter dimension, east-west.

    I only restricted because of the inevitable complaints of CA spending money outside of CA, my preference is for entire route electrification. Although Barstow and Needles are both crew change points which makes them good electrification borders if you’re going to do it only partially.

    Nathanael Reply:

    BNSF’s study said that partial electrification would lose them money due to engine changes, but that full system electrification was on the verge of saving them money (if diesel prices went up by an undisclosed amount). It’s Chicago to the West Coast or nothing when it comes to BNSF.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    This would be the study which no one has actually seen, yes?

    Nathanael Reply:

    Nobody outside BNSF.

    So I’m only going by what the public announcements said. They were quite clear that partial electrification pencilled out much worse than total electrification.

    Nathanael Reply:

    …which actually makes a lot of sense given the current business model, which involves long run-throughs: crew changes, but no engine change, from LA to at least Chicago, but often all the way to the East Coast.

    HSTSheldon Reply:

    I have always said that probably even more than benefits of HSR, the heavy freight trains need to be electrified. The benefits multiply, especially in mountainous territory. The Southern Transcon, The Overland Route, the Sunset Route, The Water Level Route and the CSX East Coast Corridor all the way to Florida along with the FEC extension all need electrification immediately. Several other corridors also have great potential.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    There’s the Keystone West, which connects to the Shenandoah alignments at Harrisburg, though for that the first priority might be an express bypass between Tyrone and Cresson.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    You could do DC electrification, that permits easier adoption of dual-modes (including retrofitting of existing locomotives) to my knowledge.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It permits easier adoption if the DC is at a voltage appropriate for your DC traction motors.
    Instead of a nice relatively simple, relatively cheap transform at the substation there’s a complex expensive AC to DC converter at the substation with a relatively cheap relatively simple transformer to feed the converters. If they go with simple locomotives they have to have substations every few miles instead of every 20 miles. Assuming they go with DC traction motors. Almost unheard of in 2012.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    You use an onboard inverter to transform DC current for AC motors, they’re quite small and affordable nowadays. And DC traction motors are extremely common still though all but CN are transferring to AC locomotives.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Forgot to add: Historically, DC was preferred by commuter agencies and AC by freights when it came to electrification (though this was quite some time ago).

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Why use an onboard inverter to transform DC current for AC motors when the whole notion of DC catenary was a massive increase in capital cost of the power supply supposedly in return for easier dual-modes?

    There ought to be ample work for existing diesel locomotives under the Millenium Institute modeling of an electrified mainline rail system, so the issue would be an appropriate system for new dual-modes, and a dual-mode AC/diesel seems to make more sense than dual-mode DC/diesel unless there is already a sunk investment in a DC power supply to the catenary.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It used to be on their website.
    Comparisons of going with a dual mode fleet etc and the chairman of the board tossing around a cost of 10 billion to do the mainlines.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Note that if BNSF’s study was for BNSF to finance the electrification, they would be paying the full price of the electrification and only gaining a partial benefit. Cutting the capital cost to BNSF would obviously tilt the build / no-build in the favor of electrification.

    But the marginal build length is still going to be longer than LA to the border or SF to the border.

    Jonathan Reply:

    “We were on the edge of Barstow , … when the rush from electrification began to wear off”

    — apologies to Hunter S Thompson

  3. DavidM
    Apr 19th, 2012 at 22:11
    #3

    IIRC Dan Richard mentioned at Wednesday’s Assembly hearing that some of the supporting documents for AB32 explicitly mentioned HSR as a potential opportunity for CO2 reduction.

  4. joe
    Apr 19th, 2012 at 22:14
    #4

    Robert;

    Brad Plumer is mistaken.

    Planting tress offers benefits but they not to reduce CO2. Trees are carbon pools, not carbon sinks. Trees grow and die or are harvested but unless the wood/litter is buried, it returns to the atmosphere as via organic decomposition or by combustion. Trees, afforestation, does not offset fossil fuel emissions.

    HSR does.

    That’s a fairly pricey way to cut carbon. To put this in perspective, research has suggested that you could plant 100 million acres of trees and help reforest the United States for a cost of somewhere between $21 to $91 per ton of carbon dioxide.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Organic decomposition keeps the carbon in the biosphere. It does not convert organic carbon into CO2 on net: breathing is in a closed cycle with photosynthesis, and so atmospheric carbon does not change. Not sure where you’ve read that breathing is a nonzero source of CO2, but chances are it comes from some right-wing contrarian who does not know any science.

    It’s true that burning wood, or in general removing carbon from the biosphere, increases atmospheric CO2. For the same reason, returning carbon to the biosphere reduces atmospheric CO2.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Quite, so if coppice is harvested and converted to biocoal for power generation, the net gain is primarily the root growth, while if coppice is harvested and converted to biochar or buried, its a net sequestration.

    joe Reply:

    Point of observation, farming removes C from the soil. Practices to help retain and restore soil C are studied and they often require more pesticides since material left is a haven for pests.

    The solution is not bio char – not today – not as an alternative to improved transportation like HSR.
    Biochar would be a major upheaval in farming and agribusiness.

    Burying biomass is energy intensive – collect it, transport it and bury it somewhere.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Burying biomass is energy intensive – collect it, transport it and bury it somewhere.

    Yes, but since the biocoal is carbon neutral, the energy is available. And we’ve substantially reduced the energy intensity of the transport by first converting the biomass to biocoal and then by electrifying the railroads.

    The solution is not bio char – not today – not as an alternative to improved transportation like HSR.

    There is no single silver bullet that is going to bring carbon emissions down in the way we need to all on its own, so I’d argue that setting a specific components of a renewable energy portfolio and a specific component of a sustainable integrated transport system against each other is incoherent.

    joe Reply:

    Alon and Bruce;

    Roots die and decompose – the CO2 that was once sequestered as root wood is released from the soil – Soil Co2 emissions is a common measurement taken in studies. It involves heteotropic and autotropic respiration aka microbial and plant respiration.

    Soil pits dug in Amazon’s deep soils (30M) have to be vented or the CO2 from decomposition in the soil (heavier than ambient air) collects in the pit and it’s unsafe. They are not carbon rich – woody tissue decomposes.

    Carbon uptake by plants and stored as wood (etc) is a pool – not a sink. The plants eventually die and the CO2 rereleased from decomposed (or burned) roots, stems leaves. Even complex hydrocarbons gasses emitted from the leaves break down and return to the atmosphere.

    Biochar has a long resonance time but those soils also decompose. Microbes are everywhere.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    joe, increasing the size of a carbon pool ~ any non-atmospheric carbon pool ~ decreases atmospheric CO2, by the increment of the increase in size of the carbon pool ~ just as decreasing the size of a carbon pool increases atmospheric CO2 by the increment of the reduction in size of the carbon pool.

    A carbon pool that is in steady state neither increases nor reduces atmospheric CO2

    joe Reply:

    Bruce,

    Sure, a carbon pool in steady state. Why are we not in a steady state now?

    Oh yes, we clear trees for farmland – so we’ll remove farmland from production – forever. That’s a sink. No harvesting. That’s a emission.

    INcrease tree density – funny thing, that creates “dog hair stands” lots of tiny trees rather than fewer larger trees. Biomass in CA is predominately water limited. If you add trees that water (light and nutrients) are split and trees are smaller. Per unit surface area, biomass is a per unit surface area.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    We’re not in steady state now because of deforestation.

    “No harvesting, that’s an emission” ~ is not a coherent systems argument. The forest pool is the amount of biomass retained in the pool after harvest. Whether the harvested products themselves form a pool, or a sink, depends on the rate of their return of CO2 to the atmosphere. Growing of wood and harvest of the product for biocoal is carbon neutral. If it replaces a carbon emitter, it would reduce net carbon emissions. Growing of wood and harvest of the product that will be stable for a period as long or longer as it takes for the replacement wood to be grown is a pool. Growing of wood, conversion to biocoal or biochar and then burying it would be a sink.

    joe Reply:

    Let’s keep it simple here:
    In the USA, where will “we” grow new forests to create these pools of biomass? The alternative to HSR C benefits is to plant tress. Where? It can’t be on existing forest land because that’s already growing trees.

    Growing wood, harvesting, creating biochar and buying it. Well, that sure beats growing food.

  5. Richard Mlynarik
    Apr 19th, 2012 at 22:24
    #5

    Of course, one should not have to choose between different methods of carbon emissions reductions.

    Of course one should. Unless one is a single-issue madman.
    One should choose and prioritise the most effective methods; not those that are orders of magnitude off the scale of relevance.

    joe Reply:

    Now who would be the single issue mad man?

    The HSR benefits include improved air quality – but obviously that benefit doesn’t require optimizing all spending on that single metric.

    We’d be giving everyone free bicycles.

    Nathanael Reply:

    In some sense there is now only one issue, which is global warming — and on that issue, intercity rail is *not* orders of magnitude off the scale of relevance. Same-sex marriage is orders of magnitude off the scale of relevance for global warming.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Amazing!! Richard says something moderate, on-point, and indisputably correct.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    For orders of magnitude, sure, but that is over 100x the cost per ton, which is not in line with the evidence-based arguments being made. For an order of magnitude, if something has 10x the cost per ton of the marginal cost of getting the carbon emissions down where we need to, then carbon funds ought to not contribute more than 10% of the funding.

  6. joe
    Apr 19th, 2012 at 22:26
    #6

    HSR improves air quality; less gronud-level ozone, CO, smog producing N emissions and particulates.

    http://www.epa.gov/airnow/aqi_brochure_08-09.pdf
    The AQI is calculated for four major air pollutants regulated by the Clean Air Act: ground-level ozone, particle pollution, carbon monoxide, and sulfur dioxide. For each of these pollutants, EPA has established national air quality standards to protect public health.

    Diesel Pollution includes smog forming N emissions and particulate matter. Benefits of VTAs hybrid buses.

    http://www.vta.org/news/factsheets/hybridbusfactsheetFINAL.pdf

    Environmental Benefits of Hybrid diesel buses.
    • Hybrid technology is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by an estimated 15 percent
    • 96 percent total reduction in emissions of smog-forming nitrogen oxides and a 90 percent reduction in particulate matter, when compared to the 1997 generation buses they will replace

  7. Clem
    Apr 19th, 2012 at 22:34
    #7

    Did they use this debunked Berkeley ITS research or something derived from it? The authors of that study never acknowledged that their conclusion about HSR was wrong.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Most likely. Alternatively, they might have looked at one of the studies produced by the federal government that looked at high-performance intercity DMUs for HSR on the grounds that most HSR proposals in the US are actually medium-speed diesel trains running on legacy track.

    Jonathan Reply:

    HSR == inter-city DMUs? I’m .. shocked, shocked I say.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Bear in mind that in the original HSR legislation in the 90’s, anything over 90mph qualified under the act. The recent definition tightened that to 125mph+ for HSR – Express and 110mph~125mph for HSR – Regions, with the 90mph to 110mph grandfathered in as a third tier of “emerging HSR”.

  8. Paulus Magnus
    Apr 19th, 2012 at 23:00
    #8

    Related to pollution and emissions, here’s something DP might love: California’s experiment with steam buses back in 1972.

    synonymouse Reply:

    They also toyed with flywheels around the same time.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    I couldn’t resist:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steam_bus

    Of course, it would have to be the Brits who would do it in high style:

    http://www.darkroastedblend.com/2007/12/steam-buses-trucks.html

    We had an outfit building the things here, too:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brooks_Steam_Motors

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Those people who make jokes about us using 19th century technology are right, really; there is a great deal of everything we use that has been around a long time:

    http://www.machine-history.com/node/105

    Another photo, connected to the “modern” (1972) steam bus demonstration:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/metrolibraryarchive/2932188166/

    That photo is from a fascinating site–a Flickr account for “Metro Transportation Library and Archive.” The title looks “official,” but part of me wonders if this isn’t a site by some transit fan–there’s too much “fun” stuff for it to be by a transit agency!

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/metrolibraryarchive/

    Metro Digital Resources Librairan Reply:

    Our online Flickr photo collection is not some transit fan site – we are the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Library & Archive.

    Our archive of nearly 8,000 images in our vast holdings come from the collections of the predecessor agencies for Los Angeles County MTA dating back to the 1880s. The collection is so popular that it has been accessed online more than 1.8 million times in 3 1/2 years.

    We have a 50,000 volume collection (40% of which is found nowhere else in the world), our own YouTube channel, a vast collection of full-text digital documents, and much more.

    Please refer to our website (http://www.metro.net/library) and our Primary Resources Blog (http://metroprimaryresources.info) for more information.

    We also aggregate daily transportation news, much of which concerns California High-Speed Rail, at: http://losangelestransportation.blogspot.com — you may also subscribe to a daily email digest or RSS feed. Finally, you may keep up with transportation leaders’ Twitter feeds related to transit and transportation on our Paper.li daily tweet digest at: http://paper.li/metrolibrary/paperli

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Thank you for the correction. I can’t express how nice it is to see a “bureaucratic,” “unionized,” “inefficient,” and all-the-other-rest-that-is-bad-about-government-in-the-view-of-Rush-Limbaugh-types agency that takes pride in its past, including that of its predecessors.

    I will be glad to reference this site to others who have a strong interest in rail and transportation history, and again, thank you for making this material available to the public.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    The main referral to others with a mind for history:

    http://www.rypn.org/forums/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=33181

    Nathanael Reply:

    As I’ve discovered during home renovations, housing technology is even more 19th century, with much of it being even older than that. It’s actually startling how slowly new things generally get invented in heavy industry, which includes transportation, buildings, and manufacturing.

    Basically all our technological development in the 20th century was in materials science and electromagnetism (not counting the dead end of nuclear research). We build things out of much improved materials, but using practically the same techniques and assemblies as 100 years ago. Electric trains are much improved, however, because of much better electric motors.

    Nathanael Reply:

    I should say all our “heavy industry” technological development. In “light industry”, lots of chemistry. We’re only now getting to the point where biology research is turning into technology.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Also, for electric trains, solid state power electronics.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    And I couldn’t resist this, either–BART (or something like it) for Los Angeles, with what looks like broad gauge to boot:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/metrolibraryarchive/2932215074/in/photostream

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/metrolibraryarchive/2932214980/in/photostream

    And a final shot, a step back into a colorful past, and on the Los Angeles River to boot:

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/metrolibraryarchive/2931285643/in/photostream

  9. Paulus Magnus
    Apr 19th, 2012 at 23:46
    #9

    Incidentally, CAHSRA estimates are now down to 3 million tons per year. Source Assuming short tons, it’s ~250 pounds of CO2 per rider. Or about 272 miles per rider at EPA estimates assuming every single one was a diverted car driver and there was no induced demand.

    I don’t find it to be a terribly trustworthy number.

    Daniel Krause Reply:

    Seems like you need to consider riders that are diverted from shorthaul flights, which are likley to have much higher CO2 emission per capita than car trips.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    SFO-LAX is 160 pounds of CO2 per passenger, in economy class, according to the ICAO. It actually makes the numbers worse for CAHSRA.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    If CAHSR uses non-fossil sources as they promise to do, the emissions of an HSR will be no pounds. There might a be a gram or two in the oxidation of the lubricants the machinery uses.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    I’m aware of that. CAHSRA claims that they will reduce emissions by a total of 3 million tons, or about 250 pounds per passenger, which comes out to some fairly lengthy average drives if it’s an automobile passenger. Daniel suggested that air travel may have higher numbers, but it turns out that it is actually lower than the average amount supposedly diverted, meaning that every traveller caught from air makes the the average road journey diversion longer, hence worse for CAHSRA’s trustworthiness.

    Nathanael Reply:

    These sorts of numbers are deeply difficult to estimate.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    250 pounds per passenger is 24 million passengers. 250 pounds of CO2 is 12.5 gallons of gas. 400 mile trip that uses 12.5 gallons of gas is 32 MPG. If they based it on 48 million passengers that’s 125 pounds per passenger and the car has to get 64 MPG or only goes 200 miles at 32 MPG.

    HSTSheldon Reply:

    You can buy cars today that get 40 mpg fairly easily. Put two persons in that car and air has lost the CO2 emissions argument. Put 4 persons in that car and air has been obliterated in the CO2 emissions argument. I always like how the airline organizations compare almost full load factor aircraft to 1/4 or 1/2 empty ground modes when addressing potential for GHG reductions. Even a very inefficient 7 passenger SUV getting 15 mpg beats a fully loaded 787 or A380 if the 7 seats are occupied.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yeah, but in reality the SUV is not fully occupied, whereas the plane teds to be 70-80% occupied.

    Nathanael Reply:

    True. We do much better than the average car driver because there are practically always 2 of us in our 40mpg car — but I’ve realized this is far from normal.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Yes, and its the single occupancy trips that the HSR would be more likely to divert than the two passenger trips, and the two passenger trips more than the four passenger trips.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    But what matters is not the ability of new car buyers to buy a high mpg car if they choose to, but rather the choices actually made and the mpg of the motor vehicle fleet that results. A range of average fleet mpg is included in the ridership modeling, so its not as if the modeling is based on a single projection of average motor vehicle fleet mpg.

    Of course, the higher mpg motor vehicle fleet as a whole is likely to be a consequence of a series of oil price shocks, and under the `scenario of a series of oil price shocks scenario, the economic benefit of the HSR is higher.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Yes, diverted air trips are likely to have a higher average trip length, which could easily fully offset the full efficiency of air travel over low occupancy motor vehicle travel.

    Note that diversion of car trips to common carrier transport of any sort discriminates in favor of single occupancy trips and against full carload trips, so car-miles tend to be reduced by more than the simple ratio of car-miles per passenger-mile for all current car trips would suggest.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    Yes, diverted air trips are likely to have a higher average trip length, which could easily fully offset the full efficiency of air travel over low occupancy motor vehicle travel.

    Nope. Longest air trip possible under Phase I is SNA-SFO which is 186 pounds of CO2 (economy class).

    BruceMcF Reply:

    I think you mean the longest common diverted trips under Phase I ~ the longest diverted trip possible under Phase I would be San Diego / SFO. Those trips aren’t created by completion of Phase 2, though their distribution would get a substantial boost.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    I’d consider it to not be a divertable trip given the length of trip and necessity of connection. In any event, SAN-SFO is 192 pounds of CO2 by air. Amtrak estimates .21kg per passenger mile, which means 59 pounds of CO2 for the ride from San Diego to LAUS and a net emissions reduction of 133 pounds of CO2 which, again, makes the numbers even worse for CAHSRA.

  10. Peter Baldo
    Apr 20th, 2012 at 05:01
    #10

    Each family owns a fleet of vehicles. The fleet is chosen to be big enough, and versatile enough, to meet the demands of the family. If the fleet is no longer needed to meet specific transit needs, the fleet can be reduced in size and CO2 footprint. The CO2 footprint arises from building, and operating, and maintaining each vehicle, with building being a big contributor.

    A big reduction would come if big box stores like Home Depot would offer free delivery for large items. Then the big SUV in the driveway might not be needed. Another big reduction would come if a vehicle were not needed for high-speed, long-distance travel. Then, a small electric car might replace a bigger gasoline-driven one. If each child doesn’t need a car to get to a job, or sports, that 3rd or 4th car may not be needed. CO2 savings from restructuring the family car fleet, summed over millions of families, would be bigger than what one might estimate looking only at passenger-mile figures.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    The final point from Plumer is along those lines ~ for a regional rail corridor, its easy for the majority of the VMT impact can easily be from the indirect impact of target destinations locating near the primary stations and then the clustering of destinations reducing total mileage requirement for a multipurpose vehicle trip.

    Similarly, an intercity rail station does not have an appreciable impact on local public transport ridership in an area with a high mode share of public transport, but its far more useful for public transport services in areas with lower mode shares, where off peak services struggle with very low load factors. An estimate of the average impact would be highly misleading, since the main benefit is a strategic benefit concentrated at one end of the spectrum.

    On the flip side, it seems likely that 20% to 30% of ridership will be induced demand, so treating 100% as trip diversion when only 70% to 80% will be is overstating by 25% to 42%. So an omission of impacts of systemic changes combined with an overestimate of direct impact per rider ~ there’s an analytical tangle. Given the insistence of the LAO on a blatantly biased risk analysis, I don’t have any confidence that they have the combination of inclination and competence to sort that tangle out in any satisfactory way.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Thank you both for explaining these key points. This sort of thing is quite hard to estimate. What is clear is that Californians in cities need non-automotive options for local transport, *and* non-auto, non-airplane options for intercity transport, and that the two are complementary and help each other.

    Jonathan Reply:

    I’m with Peter. I’m a single person and I have three petroleum-powered vehicles. (I keep wanting to see one, but can’t pick one to give up). Truck for Home Depot runs; convertible sedan (because I live in California and my classmate, now a billionaire, got one); and a fully-depreciated 1977 “fun” car. When I get married, we’ll probably give up on one of the (then) four vehicles. Until then, in summer I commute by bicycle.

    Relevance to HSR: given a choice between driving to LA, and taking genuine HSR to LA (and being picked up, or getting a rental), I’d take HSR. Especially if it replaced an SFO-LAX connecting flight to the South Pacific.

    Nathanael Reply:

    I’ve got two; either intercity or local rail would allow me to get rid of one, both would allow me to get rid of both. I’m not in California, but *that*principle is pretty solid nationwide.

    Paulus Magnus Reply:

    You know Home Depot rents trucks, right?

    Jonathan Reply:

    @Pauluds: yes, I do. When the truck is i_n service_ (was often not-in-service at my local Home Depot), and when someone else isn’t renting it (which was also too often.) It’s a more-than-fully-depreciated vehicle, gets reasonable mileage nevertheless (lvery-ong-lived 4-cyl), and I’m not counting personal positive utility of doing engine-rebuilds, either.

  11. jimsf
    Apr 20th, 2012 at 08:32
    #11

    None of this matters. the bottom line is that any californian who travels a reasonable amount – and thats most californians, knows that we need a better faster more convenient option for doing it. Easier, faster, and more comfortable than driving, More convenient, more comfortable, and less hassle than flying. High speed rail is proven around the world to best for inter regional trips. And anyone with an ounce of common sense, who doesn’t live under a rock or cling to some irrational fear based ideology knows it.

    Its unfortunate that the media, the politicians, and and even some engineer types, continue to miss the most important point, and deliver the most important message, (even though its the public who clearly understood it best when voting) that what this system does is put everyone and everything very close to everyone and everything else with a huge number of city pairs connecting all the major regions (except the north coast and sacramento valley) and the states largest cities – connect them all together with a single system, single ticket, single seat ride with trip times that beat all other modes. And does it while proving un paralleled comfort and luxury.

    no one is delivering THAT message and THAT message is the important one. That it what the voters were thinking about when they voted for this. No one voted because of reduced carbon whatever. (maybe some nerds did)

    Derek Reply:

    And if you take a car off the road, it will be replaced by another car taking advantage of the congestion relief, so in the end HSR will have no effect on aggregate motor vehicle emissions.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    That assumes that essentially all intercity driving miles are through congested roads during congested periods.

    joe Reply:

    Nonsense.

    Derek Reply:

    Two University of Toronto professors have added to the body of evidence showing that highway and road expansion increases traffic by increasing demand. On the flip side, they show that transit expansion doesn’t help cure congestion either.

    nslander Reply:

    Or, each unit invested in transit instead of roads is one less unit of gas thrown on the fire.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    I believe you are confusing local transit with intercity transport, here.

    Now, when (IMV, overzealous) HSR advocates (IMV, erroneously) portray the HSR project as a congestion reduction project for large urban areas, they are criticized (IMV, correctly) on the argument that the mode shift from car to Express HSR that reliably occurs does not take a substantial number of cars off of congested roads during peak driving times …

    … and now here you are saying that when the mode shift from car to Express HSR that reliably occurs is taken as a benefit, it can’t be counted because that mode shift does primarily involve vehicles taken off congested roads during peak driving time.

    I don’t think it wasn a valid assumption when used to claim a doubly fictitious benefit ~ both because its not something HSR would have a substantial impact on, and because “congestion relief” is misframing the problem ~ and I don’t think its a valid assumption when trying to wave away impacts from mode shift from driving and flying to HSR.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Trains don’t provide congestion relief to road users. Over and over it’s been shown that increasing capacity on roads induces demand. Trains do provide road congestion relief to the train users. They aren’t on the road, so no matter how congested ( or uncongested ) the road is they aren’t affected by it.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Intercity trains only provide substantial road congestion relief to train users traveling on a section of the trip and a time of day that would be affected by congestion.

    Part of the appeal of HSR is that as road trips, a lot of those trips would normally be planned around trying to avoid the rush hour at both the origin and destination, and sooner or later you are going to get delayed at the wrong time and find yourself trapped in rush hour. As a train trip, rush hour will often be limited to whether it will be a hassle to get to the station.

    joe Reply:

    Late night trips can catch lane closures due to repair or construction along the 101. Also fatigued driving. Leaving 2 AM to beat the traffic on I5 is dangerous.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Think of it this way: New York’s transit use reduces congestion to the point that its existence alone depresses the size-congestion correlation in the US. The correlation between an American urban area’s size and its per-driver congestion cost by the TTI’s definition is 0.71. Remove New York and it goes up to 0.8, New York is so far below the regression line.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    ….well.. yes, the subway, like other rail with dedicated ROW, is delightfully free of road congestion…

    BruceMcF Reply:

    That model argues it has less road congestion than it would have at the average relation in the rest of the US applied.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    In round numbers only 25% of people in New York City drive alone to work. Every last one of them experiences congestion it’s 25% of commuters. 75% of commuters in Phoenix drive alone to work. One third of them experience congestion it’s 25% of all commuters. Which city is more congested?

    Jonathan Reply:

    Not a well-formed question. Define “Congestion”. You pose your statement as if to beg the question that “congestion” is defined by road-users-who-are-congested. Yes, I realize that that _may_ be your rhetorical point. Usenet/BBS/Blogs lack the non-written-word ques to be sure, let alone guess.

    And moreover: Define “Congestion” is not a vacuous question.
    Experimental deign (in the statistical sense) is _hard_. And (as I beleive I’ve commented here before), econometricians often make their living by slicing such definitions.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    “experiencing congestion” is not measured as a yes/no, its measured by average time lost. The model that Alon refers to says is that the congestion that the New York drivers experience would be higher if the average relation between city size and congestion held.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    How much time do subway riders lose to road congestion?
    I suspect that no subway rider has ever lost time to road congestion. They lose time because their entrance has been converted to HEET operation or they lose time because they have unfavorable signals ahead but the amount of time subway riders lose to road congestion is very very small if not zero.
    How much time do pedestrians lose to road congestion? More people in New York walk to work than take mass transit in most American cities. More people walk to work in New York than not-drive in many American cities.
    The average commuter in New York loses less time to road congestion than the average Real American because the median New Yorker isn’t on the road.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Yes, all true for the average subway rider, but the Texas Transport Institute measure of congestion that Alon Levy refers to is based on how fast traffic moves. If they count walking to work at all, someone who walks 20 minutes to work at 3 miles per hour would scored under the TTI index as experiencing more congestion than a car in traffic creeping along at 4mph.

    In the TTI index, even if they count subway commutes, someone in an Edge City commute moving an average of 40mph on the Interstate is facing “less congestion” as someone on a subway moving at 25mph, even if the subway is moving through an area with 20 times the density of job opportunities and therefore able to reach 12 times as many job opportunities per minute than the person commuting at 40mph in Edge City.

    Alon’s point is that even with the car centric TTI index of congestion, focused on how fast traffic is moving, the increase in city size does not slow down traffic as much as if the size-congestion relationship for the rest of the country applied to New York.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    … it’s too crowded, nobody goes there anymore….

    I think what you are trying to say is that as the city size increases congestion increases, measured as decreasing speeds. Until you get to New York. One of you is going to have to put it in English, not all of us are fluent in Statistician.

    How fast traffic is moving doesn’t capture door-to-door trip times.

    New Yorkers can avoid trips that are going to be slow and rack up miles on the car on trips that are going to be fast. New Yorkers can choose to make their commute with mass transit. Many do. It increases the average speed of their average car trip. Because all of their car trips are outside of rush hour. For most of them their car trips are in relatively suburban parts of the city.

    If at the end of my 12 mile trip at an average speed of 16 MPH I spend 15 minutes circling the blocks stalking the elusive free parking space I spend an hour, my trip is 16 miles long and I coulda taken the train or the bus faster. If instead of circling the block I choose to go into a garage the 7 and half minutes it takes me to pick up a ticket, negotiate the ramps and wait for the elevator to get back down to the street doesn’t affect my road speed because I’m not on the road. My 12 mile trip still takes an hour because it’s 7.5 minutes to unpark the car and pay for the parking. It still has an average road speed of 16MPH. Or I could drive someplace, where parking is quick and fast and then spend 15 minutes circling the block at home because alternate side of the street parking is “off” tomorrow and nobody else is moving their cars. Those kind of things skew where New Yorkers drive and their average speed…. they drive places that have high average speeds and take the train when they won’t.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The TTI congestion cost does not apply to people who do not drive. If you walk or take the subway, you are considered to have a zero congestion cost. But you are also not included in the denominator. The congestion numbers are given per driver, not per person.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    You’re aware that there are other studies about traffic congestion out there, right?

    http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/SmallReferencePools

    joe Reply:

    Here’s today’s LA Times. If the lesson form the Toronto Study is Public transit doesn’t reduce traffic then this new LA rail line will have no impact on traffic.
    http://wavenewspapers.com/news/local/west_edition/article_6a075b5e-8b3e-11e1-8404-0019bb30f31a.html

    Ahead of the grand public opening April 28 of the Metro Expo light rail line, bringing relief to the traffic-choked Westside that hasn’t seen rail services in 50 years, the MTA wrapped up its series of test tours Thursday afternoon for local ethnic media outlets.

    “In a few years, the Expo line will be going out to UCLA, North Hollywood, Pasadena and Union Station,” said Metro CEO Art Leahy. “It will become part of a network of travel that will go all around the western United States. I’m very excited about it. These two lines will carry 150,000 passengers daily and give commuters and others real options for parking their cars, hopping on the bus or train and beating high gas prices.”

    synonymouse Reply:

    The PE and LARy never should have been trashed in the first place. But the same planner class that ripped up those lines in the name of modernism is still running the show today. Fortunately rail is in vogue for the moment but the so-called “experts” – the ones who gave you BART broad gauge – have to be constantly monitored and critiqued.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The ones that ripped out trolley lines and the ones that gave you BART are dead. Few if any people will be consulting them.

    joe Reply:

    Paper isn’t freely available – the analysis is empirical – not sure the data had a public transportation “treatment”. Other papers describe a congestion offset with public transportation – so I’m interested in their paper and the conclusions.

    I would say that the hypothesis you propose would also work in the inverse, removing public transit would not increase congestion. Congestion would supposedly fall back to the “carrying capacity” of the roads.

    nslander Reply:

    jimsf-

    I agree entirely. Many of us have lost the plot. I think the most broad appeal for HSR lies in its potential for interconnectedness. This will give the state a singular competitive advantage, from its ability to promote smarter growth, to housing & employment, to tourism. This need to the frame.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    no one is delivering THAT message and THAT message is the important one

    Guess again.

    It’s just that when Anschutz Entertainment Group’s lobbyist says such a thing to Speaker Perez, they don’t want people to know what they are doing. This is why Synonymouse keeps on bringing up the phony deal with the Chandlers and Tejon.

    It’s because every Californian is raised to believe that the entire history of the State is “Chinatown” and “L.A. Confidential” and not something so Manichean. Most older Californians are very skeptical because they remember things being so great years ago and then over time it went downhill (for innumerable reasons).

    Realize, the country is undergoing a major demographic and socioeconomic realignment. If a politician acknowledges that, it likely means that they already know their careers are over. The players who still want in the game are still putting more money in the pot and bluffing behind a poker face.

    jimsf Reply:

    I don’t know why polticians even want their jobs to begin with. What a crappy way to make a living.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Some of them genuinely wanted to do good (most of the reformist Democrats of the “right-after-Watergate” election). Some of them really want power and money (the Keating Five come to mind).

    jimsf Reply:

    Growing up as californinan in the 20s 70s and 80s, the general idea was that california would always progress and lead the nation. That we would embrace what others didn’t have the vision or guts to embrace. That the optimism embedded in our state psyche fueled a manifest destiny.

    There was also an awareness of a bitter and hateful attitude from the rest of the country, including an especially dismissive, arrogant jealousy expressed by the east coast establishment. The new york based media would trip all over themselves to celebrate any brief moment when the golden state appeared tarnished.

    Now, the state has been successfully infiltrated by the nasty negativity of the loser states and the jealous establishment. They did this with the media.

    I resent it. And I resent them. I saw it happen. They have eaten away and undermined the spirit that always kept us going. I truly hope to see the rest of the country continue to suffer economically for several years while we rise again. Thats what they deserve.

    California will always be the prettiest girl at the party and there’s nothing that will change that.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The new york based media would trip all over themselves to celebrate any brief moment when the golden state appeared tarnished.

    It may seem that way to you but people east of the Sierra Nevada don’t spend much time worrying about California’s inferiority complex.

    flowmotion Reply:

    Haha, the flyover states really do have a hardon for hating on California. “They hate use for our freedoms.”

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Must depend on which flyover state and which portion of the population in that flyover state. Surely the Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck listeners in Ohio will be hating on liberal San Francisco, but they have so many crazy notions, it would be hard to ferret them all out …
    … not only hard, but likely a pretty foul, smelly job at that.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    But Jim, wrapped in his warm squishy cocoon of California Exceptionalism thinks that people east of the Sierra Nevada are so envious of California’s exceptionalism that they obsess over. Ranting about the San Francisco values of bagel eating Los Angelenos who don’t get offended when the bag boy at the supermarket acknowledges his tip with “gracias”….isn’t envy. At least not on the surface anyway.

    nslander Reply:

    Why do you have such a sharp opinion?

    BruceMcF Reply:

    There is certain to be LA vs NYC in the mess media somewhere, because its obsessed with itself and NYC and LA is where its most concentrated. “Flyover” is more a “plague on both your houses” reaction to that.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Nevada and Arizona do show signs of California envy. Further east, California just seems… alien. It’s so far away!

    nslander Reply:

    adirondacker-

    Perhaps not now, but an historical review of the hyperbolic press emanating from the east coast after most CA natural events/disasters proves otherwise.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It’s the same kind of hyperbole they spew when it’s the the shot of the trailer park after the Midwestern tornado, the floods in Alabama, snow in Maine….

    Alon Levy Reply:

    …strikes in New York.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    That too. But if you have even a mild case of California Exceptionalism you don’t pay attention to teh stories about New York strikes, New England blizzards or Midwestern tornadoes. If it was important it would have occurred west of the Sierra.

    nslander Reply:

    There’s hyperbolic and then there’s apocalyptical.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They only do apocalyptic when three snowflakes fall in Washington DC.

    nslander Reply:

    Time Magazine Cover Story:

    http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,980025,00.html

    “Aftershock: The latest catastrophe in a string of disasters rocks the state to the core, forcing Californians to ponder their fate and the fading luster of its golden dream”

    These histrionic are simply not invoked each time Oklahoma has a Tornado.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Heh. That is SO true.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    From one point of view they are being histrionic.
    From the California Exceptionalism view they are being entirely too calm and relaxed about threats to the Dream.

    nslander Reply:

    When the Mid-West or the South is hit by a tragic natural disaster, the narrative often acknowledges the resiliency and indomitable spirit of the plucky Americans living in the heart-land and their plans to dust themselves off and begin their lives anew. What do we get?

    “Lisbon in 1755 was the Los Angeles of its day, a great city made rich by trade, a capital of the world. But it was a decaying place, ruled by a King who sired bastard sons by comely nuns until he lost his mind. The wealthy traveled in sedan chairs during the day but rarely ventured out at night. Those who did wore long capes to hide their illegal weapons.
    It was about 9:30 on All Saints Day when the streets began to heave and toss, darkening the city under a cloud of dust raised from collapsing buildings. Church bells clanged…” http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,980025,00.html#ixzz1sd2pajvB

    Yeah, I’m not paying to read the rest of that. Nor will am I going to dig any further, but I recall the national coverage at that time, and that type of imagery had long since fixed in the national consciousness. One can blame Hollywood for perpetuating the narrative, but to see it invoked when the bodies are still warm is disgusting. Again, this was the Time Magazine cover story, when print media still had a passing resemblance to actual news. I challenge anybody to find ONE similar, Old Testament, frogs falling from the sky “news report” from a reputable national publication concerning another region.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Well, yes ~ just like 9/11 had more impact than the same would have had in another place. The high level decision makers in the media live in New York and LA. For the mass media, a disaster hitting St. Louis is hitting “them”. One hitting LA or NYC is hitting “us”.

    nslander Reply:

    Tom-

    Interesting take. A couple of questions:

    What do you think is AEG’s end-game (not “End-Times”)? I realized you mentioned “Chinatown” in a different context, but does Anschutz fancy himself a state-level Mulholland?

    If by “Manichean” you mean your perspective of CA political history is one that resembles the dualistic nonsense we currently see at the nation al level, I agree. The “Golden Age of California” was a consequence of the state being in the most privileged position to take advantage of the national labor shortage that largely explained “American Exceptionalism.” I think we give our former political institutions and captains of industry far too much credit, and we just need to slog through our new reality. Looking backwards is going backwards.

    Tom McNamara Reply:

    Anschutz is not trying to be Mulholland…he’s trying to be (like many others today) Andrew Carnegie. He wants to own a completely sealed system of content promotion:

    That’s why he built Staples Center, bought Live Nation and all those Regal Theatres. He wants to lock talent not just into a record contract but a distribution contract through all forms of media. The stadium and buying sports teams are just a small part of that. He’s also, as I understand it, a devout evangelical Christian that wants to use this network to broadcast content (like his Narnia Series) that is effectively Christo-facist propaganda.

    But that’s not all, Anschutz made most of his money in telecommunications by running Southwestern Bell (Qwest) into the ground by trying to run fiber optic cable along Union Pacific track (who he worked for and still has a big stake in). The idea failed, and Qwest went bankrupt but not before he sold his stock and built the Staples Center with most of the proceeds….

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    “Anschutz is not trying to be Mulholland…he’s trying to be (like many others today) Andrew Carnegie. He wants to own a completely sealed system of content promotion.”–Tom McNamara

    I’m not sure Carnegie fits that since he was in steel, but it sounds like a closer approximation would be the old movie studio system, back when the studios not only owned studios but owned or controlled theater chains as well. That got broken up in the 1940s, I believe 1947, if my memory is right.

    The whole business is vertical integration. Ford did this with automobiles at River Rouge, with rocks and wood going into the plant to come out as Model Ts. The only things he bought outside were batteries and tires, from Thomas Edison and Harvey Firestone, both of whom were personal friends and trusted. Rockefeller did the same thing with oil (and tank cars were supposedly his secret weapon against rivals), and Rupert Murdoch is attempting something similar with his News Corporation and all that it owns.

    Maybe it’s the romantic in me, but I don’t think the modern versions of chasing this goal have the style of what the old-timers did, perhaps because they don’t go far enough to be a self-sufficient enterprise. That’s something a number of early railroads were, among them the Baltimore & Ohio, the Pennsylvania, and the Southern Pacific. The B&O started so early, there was no iron or steel industry, and as a result it built a lot of its own locomotives and cars, and even rolled its own rails for a while. The Pennsy wound up being so big, it was worthwhile to do a lot on its own; about the only things it had to buy outside were food for its dining cars, perhaps coal and lubricants, and rails, the latter from PRR alumnus Andrew Carnegie. The SP did a lot on its own as well, largely because it was headquartered in San Francisco, and even after the opening of the transcontinental system, it still cost a pile and took a lot of time to ship locomotive parts and other things across the country, and so they built that big shop facility in Sacramento to make a lot of what they needed.

    You don’t see Murdoch, the Koch Brothers, or Anschutz doing things like that, such as making their own TV and movie cameras for whatever media they are working in.

    Jonathan Reply:

    @jimsf: the punch-line you are looking for here is:

    Cheaper, Better, Faster

  12. lex luther
    Apr 20th, 2012 at 08:48
    #12

    the tide is turning against HSR

    once the media turns against it, public opinion is swayed and then so is politicians sense of direction.

    Oakland Tribune
    http://www.insidebayarea.com/opinion/ci_20427294/oakland-tribune-editorial-legislature-must-not-authorize-selling

    San Bernadino Sun
    http://www.sbsun.com/editorial/ci_20434335/dont-sell-bonds-high-speed-rail

    wall street pit
    http://wallstreetpit.com/91367-californias-train-to-nowhere

    U-T San Diego
    http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2012/apr/19/stay-the-course-a-rail-road-to-ruin/

    the press-enterprise
    http://www.pe.com/opinion/editorials-headlines/20120419-state-rail-rashness.ece

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    And every–blasted–one of the the articles you cite fail to mention the cost of going on like we are, in terms of oil dependency, in terms of the real cost of highways. I would argue that we really can’t afford roads and cars, at least not the way we have been using them.

    I have to laugh at the headline from the Press-Enterprise–“Rail Rashness.” Rash? Rushed? This thing has only been talked about for 40 years or more, it has been in planning for at least 15! I’d hate to see what this writer thinks of as slow!

    And the Oakland Tribune and the San Bernadino Sun pieces are syndicated items. I wonder by whom?

    BruceMcF Reply:

    That is one of the key arguments for pursuing a selection of cross country electric freight and rapid freight corridors ~ its easier to finance the development of that system than it is to fund the maintenance of the interstate highway system with trucking’s present share of long haul freight.

  13. datacruncher
    Apr 20th, 2012 at 10:54
    #13

    New HSR opinion piece from the mayors of Sacramento, San Francisco, San Jose, Fresno and Los Angeles.

    http://www.sacbee.com/2012/04/20/4428222/high-speed-rail-for-a-more-sustainable.html

  14. synonymouse
    Apr 20th, 2012 at 11:03
    #14

    Good article in today’s SF Chron on the “culture of waste”:

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2012/04/20/MNK51O5RG8.DTL

    It segues quite nicely with the culture of cupidity and stupidity which is PB-CHSRA planning. Individuals like Kopp and Diridon imposing their personal agendas on the plan and urban bullies like LA, Fresno, and SJ beating up on their weaker siblings like Oakland and Sac.

    Come on Palmdale, let all that power go to your head. Sue the CHSRA for every gold-plated mitigation and upgrade you can imagine and if Brown and Richard bitch just blame it all on them for setting the trend by caving to the Chandlers.

    jimsf Reply:

    I thought we told you to quit watching All My Children

    synonymouse Reply:

    And this piece out of Politically Correct Pravda.

    If you are going to build out Tehachapi Stilt-A-Rail, guaranteed to run chronic operating deficits, you might as well set up a State-run airline and subsidize it as well. Let’s not discriminate.

    You guys want to spend $60 billion to buy out the UP. Why not spend a mere $500 million and buy out the Tejon Ranch? Factor out the Bear Trap Canyon alignment, set some aside for parklands and put the rest up for sale.

    As far as that goes tell the UP they are going to have to electrify to meet California air pollution requirements and front them the money to put up the cantenary, which has been pointed out is a mere fraction of the cost of a new line like Stilt-A-Rail.

    lex luther Reply:

    lol why stop there? spend a few trillion more and buy out the car makers in detroit and japan, that way we can build vehicles only run on electricity, then buy out PGE, SMUD and Edison and move to nothing but solar and wind farms.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Industrial policy works. People don’t like to admit it, but it does.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Well, it worked OK for the United States from 1790 to 1970, but lately we’ve been experimenting with only having industrial policy as bought and paid for by the industries themselves, which does pose a serious risk of being trapped in pandering to the interests of a powerful industry that was once a foundation of our economic success, but in the future can no longer play the same role.

  15. EJ
    Apr 20th, 2012 at 11:46
    #15

    Aside from the legal risks, the bigger question is what the difference between HSR emissions are and emissions from other existing methods of travel between SF and LA. How much fewer are HSR carbon emissions than airplane emissions and vehicle emissions over that distance?

    What % of trips in the current ridership forecast are “induced demand”? I can’t find it in the latest business plan but past forecasts had a significant induced demand component. If substantially more people are making the journey, that could easily cancel out emissions reductions.

  16. Tom McNamara
    Apr 20th, 2012 at 11:49
    #16

    It’s interesting that the LAO report would not include any mention of SB 475 as part of greenhouse gases.

    Sure, AB 32 requires emissions and encourages cap and trade to make that happen. But SB 475 demonstrates that the Legislature realized that other changes at the local level would be needed to make the statewide reduction possible. HSR provides one such avenue, and an important one as long as property tax revenue is chained to Prop 13.

    This is the equivalent of talking about Prop 13, by the way, as “the law of the land on education” without mentioning Prop 98 at all (and this is done frequently enough.) But the LAO should know better than to make the mistake of not emphasizing the entirety of the applicable statute and the changes to session law over time.

    Nathanael Reply:

    SB 475 is much more significant but it seems like as many local politicians as possible want to pretend it never happened… it’s too disruptive to Business As Usual. I think there are some lawsuits which may get their attention.

  17. lex luther
    Apr 20th, 2012 at 14:28
    #17

    HIGH SPEED RAIL IN ARGENTINE DERAILED

    http://www.worldpolicy.org/blog/2012/04/20/argentina%E2%80%99s-high-speed-trains-delayed-and-derailed

    swing hanger Reply:

    Most HSR proposals for countries outside of the G8 and a select few leading emerging economies like China are just pipe-dreams or hype. Argentina can’t even keep their commuter trains from crashing.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    America can’t keep its commuter trains from crashing, either.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The ones with rudimentary PTC stopped crashing into each other when they got the rudimentary PTC.

    Nathanael Reply:

    So Argentina hit a major financing problem due to corrupt French banks. They’re cut off from most international loans because of previous governments, and they can’t build the trains locally. They’re also trying to recover from a disastrous 1990s rail privatization (aka looting).

    And yet they’re now getting China to fund a giant expansion of conventional passenger rail, running at 100 mph, faster than the US.

    Comparatively, the US is doing pretty badly.

  18. lex luther
    Apr 20th, 2012 at 14:39
    #18

    **Congress to give money to Amtrak in 2013 budget, but not California High Speed Rail**

    http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/04/20/2759686/congress-poised-to-reject-calif.html

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Yes, the money that California will be getting in 2013 has already been budgeted, authorized and appropriated.

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