Ralph Vartabedian Seeks to Stir the Blended Plan Pot

Mar 26th, 2013 | Posted by

I was wondering when the LA Times’ anti-HSR reporter Ralph Vartabedian would swoop in to gloat over Quentin Kopp’s vehement opposition to the blended plan. Well, tonight he finally got around to the story:

In his declaration, Kopp says that the bullet train business plan approved last year by the authority violates several voter-imposed requirements, and the project “is no longer a genuine high speed rail system.”

Among the taxpayer safeguards are requirements that construction of the system occur in “usable segments” and that the state have funding in hand to complete each segment before the start of construction. Kopp said he helped craft the provision when he headed the rail authority.

He says the current plan to build 130 miles of rail in the Central Valley for $6 billion, starting this summer, will not produce a usable segment. The first truly feasible segment of passenger service in the state’s plan would connect Merced to the San Fernando Valley at an estimated cost of $31 billion, Kopp said. And the state does not have that kind of money in sight. The initial section of track is a “subset of a usable segment” and violates a fundamental mandate intended to protect the state from starting a project it can’t complete, Kopp’s declaration asserts.

Kopp also says current plans for a so-called blended system, in which bullet trains would share tracks with local commuter trains from Gilroy to San Francisco, is at odds with voter approvals. The plan was meant to quell opposition to bullet trains running through the wealthy communities of Silicon Valley. But Kopp maintains that it could slow bullet trains too much, violating a legal requirement that at least some trips between Los Angeles and San Francisco not exceed two hours and 40 minutes. And agreements to upgrade local rail systems also violate the law by diverting bullet-train bond money for other work not agreed to by voters, Kopp contends.

As I explained when I wrote about this last week, while I am not a fan of the blended plan, I don’t agree that it violates Prop 1A. The Attorney General’s office and the state Legislative Counsel have both weighed in with letters confirming that the plan conforms to Prop 1A. A court will have the final word, but the support of both of these top state legal officers is significant and will carry some weight.

There is a lot of debate about the details of the blended plan, including how much it can actually deliver on the promise of San Francisco to San José service within 30 minutes (see Clem’s blog for an argument that it can’t achieve that time in regular service). It may not provide for an ideal level of service on the Peninsula. But so far I’ve not yet seen a strong argument that it violates Prop 1A.

I get Kopp’s frustrations. I’ve always believed that HSR is best when it operates on dedicated tracks. At the same time, I don’t see another way for the political problem on the Peninsula to have been resolved. The NIMBYs are a clear minority, but they have always been better organized, and efforts by HSR advocates to counter-organize have never had the kind of resources they need to be successful. Money can make a lot of these problems go away with tunnels and trenches, but thanks to the insane Tea Party representatives in Congress, that money is a lot harder to get. So what else is to be done? Punting on the four track system is not something anyone enjoys, but it is a sound political strategy that does fit within the reality that HSR was always going to be built in phases.

And in case anyone is wondering, this unnamed HSR advocate quoted below is not me:

“It is going to get built, but it is going to get built ugly,” said one bullet-train advocate close to the state rail authority.

Not only is that not a quote from me, I don’t even agree with that statement. The blended plan is not ideal, but it is workable and Dan Richard is absolutely right that it’s quite similar to how HSR operates in many European countries.

The blended plan is best viewed as a phase of HSR development. The first operating segment will be from Merced to the San Fernando Valley. From there the system will expand to connect downtown San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles, just as the Interstate Highway System began with isolated rural segments and used surface streets to connect segments until other freeways were built in the urban core.

Eventually, soaring demand for passenger trains on the San Francisco to San José corridor will produce the political momentum to add two more tracks and provide the dedicated rails for HSR to get to and from the Transbay Terminal. So while this spat is unpleasant, I do not believe it will undermine the project or prevent it from moving forward. And in the end that’s what matters.

  1. Roger Christensen
    Mar 26th, 2013 at 21:40

    At this point any plan that is not today’s 9 hour slog between LA and SF that includes a lurching bus is very welcome.
    The agenda for the April 4 Fresno meeting lists the Fresno-Bakersfield route selection as an informational staff report item. Will this report be posted before the meeting? Anyone know what the staff report decides?

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    I would imagine that staff would first report to the Board

  2. BMF of San Diego
    Mar 26th, 2013 at 21:43

    I’m souring on CHSRA, and, I believe I was one of the initial biggest supporters.

    The blended plan will delay the voter approved initiative by 50 years.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    I want a pony also, but since it is not a simple matter to wave a wand and get a complete end to end HSR system system built and paid for, are you now saying you give up?

    BMF of San Diego Reply:

    Wtf are you writing about?

    I want true HSR per the voter approved legislation. That is one that provides train service at varying service types, at varying times of day, and does so with the utmost safety. The blended plan does not provide that. It makes compromises.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Someone who wants to get off the train in Riverside compromises your non stop ride to San Diego. Which ones do we make?

    synonymouse Reply:

    Funny you should mention Riverside:


    Dumbshitz should have never ripped up the PC.

    I remember Riverside in 1969 was so smoggy it looked like right out of one of those Jack the Ripper London fog movies.

    synonymouse Reply:


    Neil Shea Reply:

    No you don’t want HSR. You want people to stay off your lawn.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Bollocks. BMF wants HSR. I want HSR. Neil, are you so wedded to a Cruickshank-rosy view of the world, that you can’t even imagine people disagreeing, in good faith, over whether the “blended” plan will work as “HSR”?

    Neil Shea Reply:

    Thanks Jonathan. After the US has collectively sat on our petard for decades, and given the politics and the potential for long delays, it’s not hard to spot folks who’d rather kill the project than understand that some things can be improved later. You seem willing to stick with airplanes and cars past the point when there’s no more polar ice cap for example.

    joe Reply:

    The State’s legal authorities endorsed the Plan including Blended.
    The Peer Review panel Proposed Blended as an interim technical solution to get rail serviced started faster.

    These are not rosy views. They are from well informed, accountable and authoritative sources.

    A simulation by Citizen Clem estimated current Caltrain diesel can make the run in 39 minutes. Prop1a requires it be done in 30. That’s 9 minutes and he thinks they can run a stunt and meet the law.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    And when it’s done it can beat 30 mins but if you want that to be your excuse to advocate for the status quo then it’s better just to come clean. Just say “I love my car and jet travel, and my grand kids don’t need transportation alternatives or an ozone layer.” There, you said it, feel better? Or step off the curb, take a chance, lets get started and keep improving.

    joe Reply:

    I agree with you – maybe wasn’t clear. The Blended plan has support from rail advocates like the Peer Review so I doubt the critics that clam it will set HSR back are correct.

    BMF of San Diego Reply:

    Ironically… Yeah, I want the dog walkers to keep their dogs on a leash and off my lawn. I don’t mind the kids living next door chasing a ball onto my lawn… No biggy.

    Btw, I chose to buy a house that was within walking distance to a train station. I value fast effecient and safe alternative modes of transportation! Period!

    However, I would Have trouble accepting and appreciating such service if…. One small portion of a system ends up handicapping the whole system. Remember, trains starting from San Diego, Los Angeles and Sacramento should be programmed to travel through the peninsula. Well… I blended system will compromise both the number of trains from each location AND their ultimate travel time.

    Think about it…. Is it fair that Travellers from any of those locations have fewer train trip opportunities as a result of a blended plan?

    I don’t think so.

    joe Reply:

    The Peer Review recommended Blended as a start.

    Since they are rail experts and rail advocates – they are Peers to judge the system after all – the suggestion blended limits HSR is a contradiction to their advice.

    They opined that HSR service can be expanded as demand for more service proved it was justified. Expansion is within the ROW for the most part.

    Threats such as Jerry Hills Senate Bill 577 are real but threats will always be there and CA will have to swat NIMBYs down.

    Clem points that the current trains diesel can, in his simulation, make the blended trip from SJ to SF in 39 minutes. This horrific compromise is a 9 minute off the 30 minute time in Prop 1A.

    I am forever annoyed by the pampered fools in PAMPA (not all are) but that’s no reason to overreact to a interim compromise that benefits the fools and CA.

  3. synonymouse
    Mar 26th, 2013 at 22:13

    I like this one:

    “We do not think ‘usable’ in the context of ‘usable segment’ necessarily means ‘usable by high speed trains.”

    Handcars and speeders good enough.

  4. joe
    Mar 26th, 2013 at 22:16

    Huh, Gilroy?

    Kopp also says current plans for a so-called blended system, in which bullet trains would share tracks with local commuter trains from <b Gilroy to San Francisco, is at odds with voter approvals.

    The other shoe, Jerry Hill’s bill has to be stopped.

    SB 557, as introduced, Hill. High-speed rail.
    Existing law creates the High-Speed Rail Authority with specified powers and duties relating to the development and implementation of an intercity high-speed rail system. Existing law, pursuant to the Safe, Reliable, High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century, authorizes $9.95 billion in general obligation bonds for high-speed rail development and other related purposes. Existing law appropriates specified funds from the High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Fund and from federal funds for high-speed rail and connecting rail projects.

    This bill would add detail to provisions governing the expenditure of certain of those appropriated funds. The bill would specify that of the $1,100,000,000 appropriated for early high-speed rail improvement projects in the Budget Act of 2012, $600,000,000 and $500,000,000 shall be allocated solely for purposes of specified memoranda of understanding approved by the High-Speed Rail Authority for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission region and the southern California region, respectively. The bill would limit fund transfer authority between certain appropriations to temporary transfers for account management purposes. The bill would restrict use of certain appropriated funds, to the extent they are allocated to the San Francisco-San Jose segment of the high-speed rail system, to implement a rail system in that segment that primarily consists of a 2-track blended system to be used jointly by high-speed trains and Caltrain commuter trains, with the system to be contained substantially within the existing Caltrain right-of-way.

    This bill would also require any track expansion for the San Francisco to San Jose segment beyond the blended system approach to be approved by all 9 parties to the Bay Area High-Speed Rail Early Investment Strategy Memorandum of Understanding, as specified.
    (a) The High-Speed Rail Authority.
    (b) The Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
    (c) The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board.
    (d) The San Francisco County Transportation Authority.
    <b(e) The San Mateo County Transportation Authority.
    (f) The Santa Clara County Valley Transportation Authority.
    (g) The City of San Jose.
    (h) The City and County of San Francisco.
    (i) The Transbay Joint Powers Authority.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Hill’s Bills – Excellent and if you don’t like that you can do Ring the Bay and terminate hsr at Diridon, to the great satisfaction of the Capital of Silicon Valley.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Yes extending PATH to Trenton and Metro to Baltimore is good enough for HSR trips between NY and DC too. Why not go whole hog and extend the 5 train to Stamford and the Orange Line to Providence? It’s only 100 miles between Trenton and Stamford. The passengers will get a reallllly good look at the Fulton Transit center when they change trains.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    Ring the Bay … Pelosi Mind Rays … Roundabout … tin foil … Martians

    nick Reply:

    Kill Hill’s Bill !

  5. Ted Judah
    Mar 26th, 2013 at 22:54

    There’s always a chance that the resistance over the blended plan has something to do with CBOSS. Namely, that the Resistance has gotten pretty good assurances that HSR speeds on the Peninsula under the blended plan will need even lower speeds and more FRA accommodation than we think.

    Cascade-style Talgos hurtling down at 80mph.

    Still, the blended plan supporters are just ensuring that BART Rings the Bay…..

    synonymouse Reply:

    Could be – if the courts throw out the blend. What does BART have to lose by laying claim to the Peninsula? The purpose of hsr on the Peninsula was to fight off BART, but perhaps PB intentionally threw a wrench in the works by trying to infuriate and radicalize PAMPA with bs about berms and 4 track aerials.

    PB is BART as well as CHSRA.

    Tony D Reply:

    The courts won’t throw out the blend (that was easy)

    synonymouse Reply:

    Most likely not, but this represents BART’s last chance. We are close to that point in “blend” planning where standard gauge OC is locked in and BART Indian broad gauge 3rd rail locked out.

    BART-Bechtel promised “vactrain” and instead had to default to an NYC subway and then fucked that up.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    The existing CalTrain ROW is always going to be standard gauge. BART would either go above or below that ROW. Secondly, the real motivation to renege on the MOUs with MTC and Metro is that Brown needs to provide incentive to lawmakers to release the NEXT round of Prop 1A funds to finish Bakersfield to Palmdale.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Interesting point and perhaps the case.

    But as Clem has pointed out getting rid of UP freight is a lot easier than thought. The standard gauge line would be ripped up and replaced by BART Indian broad gauge. Bechtel manifest destiny. Next stop Sac.

    synonymouse Reply:

    with no bathrooms

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Third-rail contact requires full grade separation, though. Besides, if you already own the ROW, that’s around 55% of the construction cost unless you tunnel. CHSRA could simply grant an easement for BART’s viaducts and make Ring the Bay a reality.

    synonymouse Reply:

    There are not going to be aerials in PAMPA.

    Lee in SF wants to them down in Doppatch. It is called gentrification and adds millions to the property tax rolls.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    But for San Francquisto Creek, you could tunnel the whole way and just make Menlo Park with its untold Facebook millions foot the bill.

    My guess is that there will be aerials in all the densest part of downtown PA, but that they will retain privacy by planting some trees or something that obscures the sound and sight of B-A-R-T.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The ROW is wide enough in most places for four tracks, why would then build over or under other tracks. They could build next to them.
    Third rail doesn’t need grade separation. It’s preferred but it isn’t required.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    The issue is liability. Grade separation is absolutely worth the cost given that every parent of child committing suicide down there (not that it’s a fair characterization but it happens) will litigate the lack of any public entity’s duty to avoid dangerous situations.

    As for why build over… remember, the HSR trains will need albeit at different voltages, catenary on top and BART would need third rail on the bottom. One structure to hold both those in place it’s so far-fetched.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    Syno – I think we all can celebrate if BART ‘Indian Gauge’ is stopped in its tracks, going no further than Santa Clara (or Diridon), Livermore downtown, and the current system limits (& maybe an ext in SF).

    In PA we definitely could end up with a berm in the south part of town, over Charleston & Meadow, when cooler heads prevail.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Very far fetched


    Neil Shea Reply:

    “Ring the Bay” requires someone give BART many $Billions of dollars. At $1.5B per mile linking up Millbrae to Santa Clara costs something like $60B. If someone finds that kind of money we can finish a complete HSR system SF-LA. So its typical Syno demagoguery to keep saying this.

    Even funding a few miles here or there ain’t gonna happen. Last time San Mateo county extended BART they got their hand burned pretty good, they’re still licking that wound. Even if they had any money (which they don’t) that wallet is staying shut.

    Over in Santa Clara county, they’re searching the couch cushions to just get BART to Diridon. After they get it to Santa Clara there won’t be any appetite to extend it for decades, probably for ever. They already have Caltrain and Light Rail to Mtn View.

    As much as MTC may have a hardon for BART, there won’t be any county matching funds, MTC doesn’t have a money tree anywhere, and BART needs $Billions of renovation in existing system. Then it needs more capacity in its core, so the existing counties will not support any expansions in other counties. (And at the state level Jerry B of course will want to finish the HSR he started.)

    Syno can post about mind rays, Ring the Bay, doglegs, and Nancy Pelosi all he wants. The rest of you can choose whether to get sucked in by it.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    They have the money


    Neil Shea Reply:

    There’s that teensy-weensy little detail about taxing yourself. I know you don’t live in California, but here new taxes generally require a 2/3 of the voters or the legislature. Taxes are often unpopular. A famous Californian started an energetic association to oppose all new taxes, often successfully:


    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    That doesn’t mean they don’t have the money, it just means they don’t want to spend it.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    So then, how do you build it without money?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    I dunno how are they gonna get billion dollar a mile tunnels when much cheaper above ground solutions exist?

    Neil Shea Reply:

    Exactly. BART is not cost effective. You can resist gravity for a while but not indefinitely.

    synonymouse Reply:

    @ Neil Shea

    I hope you are right about BART, but then your argument is undermined by BART making it to San Bruno and again to Santa Clara. If Caltrain were that secure BART should not be in either locale.

    A political “hardon” is all that it pimping and hustling DogLegRail.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    Hmm Syno yes, SFO and Santa Clara are both gap closures that people on the fence (me included) can support. But beyond that, you’re just paying to try to cross a $60B parched stretch of desert with no oasis.

    Now that we’re talking, I should ask you about Palmdale. I understand that there are two challenging mountains pass options, both expensive. I understand that one is shorter as the crow flies and the other can connect to that vacation mecca of sin Vegas. I understand (from you) that a large landowner controls a lot of land in one of them (although I also see signs for the Tejon Ranch Company in the Tehachapis along SR 58).

    What I don’t get is why you think there is some magic threshold that people will take HSR if it takes 2:30 from LA-SF but will not take it if it’s 2:50. I think either time is competitive with getting to LAX, shoe removal/security theater, air traffic holds, waiting for luggage, you name it. I don’t buy that we’ve passed some kind of magic time threshold that will say “gotta be LAX for me”. And I think the huge possible ridership to Sin City from up and down the state will dwarf any small falloff in traffic due to even 15-20 minutes of excess travel.

    So I’ve always suspected the DogLegRail thing with you is either a religious obsession or a source of amusement (to you, and annoyance to others). Would I be wrong?

    synonymouse Reply:

    No, my quasi or crypto religious obsessions are much more troubling and obtuse. For instance aren’t the two entities, God and Satan, brother deities suffering from sibling rivalry in the Egyptian style? To me religion are well-organized groups saying believe what we think exactly or we’ll kill you.

    A half-hour greater efficiency is the difference between survival and dying on the vine.

    Re-route I-5 over Tehachapi and see how much it costs in lost efficiency.

    It is unfortunate that by the time LA and Socal had grown big enough to warrant the Santa Fe’s attention highways, auto and trucks had broken the monopoly and deflated railroad expansionism. Otherwise Tejon would have been built.

    synonymouse Reply:

    autos and airplanes

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    No it wouldn’t. The current route is good enough for freight. Heads of lettuce don’t get bored on their slow trip to the produce markets in Los Angeles.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    Sounds like some good religious mojo. But you are ignoring the many additional passengers to & from Vegas, and we can always add a Tejon bypass later if worthwhile

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Cajon bypass might make more sense. Get all of the people east and south of San Bernardino destined for someplace other than LA out of LA. Cuts 120 miles or so off their trips to someplace other than LA.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    I like others can begrudgingly acquiesce to SFO and Diridon as gap closures (maybe even Livermore, but only if it goes downtown and links to regional rail). But prob most on here agree — no more greenfield BART!

    Michael Reply:

    Diridon isn’t greenfield? ; )


    Neil Shea Reply:

    Dude, Diridon is the Capital

    Peter Reply:

    There’s always a chance that the resistance over the blended plan has something to do with CBOSS. Namely, that the Resistance has gotten pretty good assurances that HSR speeds on the Peninsula under the blended plan will need even lower speeds and more FRA accommodation than we think.

    You see, that’s what we call “making shit up”. Every indication that we have is that this is purely Kopp’s ego being hurt that he won’t get to see his edifice in his lifetime.

    Jonathan Reply:

    I thought the quoted text was Ted Judah “making shit up” (in your words).
    Ted Judah’s comment is a complete non-sequitur at least for me.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    I have no doubt that you are right about Kopp’s ego, id, and superego. (By the way, are you really criticizing people in the blogosphere trafficking in unsubstantiated rumor and innuendo?)

    But that doesn’t explain Lynn Schenck’s behavior, nor the other unnamed sources in the article.

    Secondly, I am not “making shit up”. The Prop 1A money in the CalTrain corridor is going for electrification first and foremost. If there’s only two tracks, what that effectively means is that CalTrain will be electrified with CBOSS BEFORE HSR trains run on the corridor.

    CalTrain, for reasons of pure capacity, can’t buy and use trainsets that would be as light as any putative 220 mph HSR sets. So that means HSR trainsets sharing two tracks with CalTrain, with only CBOSS to manage flow. My guess is that because CalTrain will have to use FRA legacy equipment, there will have to be additional safety requirements in mixed conditions (i.e. HSR trains and CalTrain). Given the various options at FRA’s disposal, I’m guessing speed restrictions and distance restrictions will keep HSR from satisfying Prop 1A.

    synonymouse Reply:

    CAHSR will in effect cede the Peninsula to Caltrain.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Ted, Peter quoted you as saying:

    There’s always a chance that the resistance over the blended plan has something to do with CBOSS. Namely, that the Resistance has gotten pretty good assurances that HSR speeds on the Peninsula under the blended plan will need even lower speeds and more FRA accommodation than we think.

    That sounds like making shit up to me. It’s not what Kopp said. It’s incoherent to boot. What were _you- trying ot say (and don’t pretend it’s Kopp’s words) . What on Earth does the second sentence man, and how on earth does it connect to the first?

    Ted Judah Reply:

    My lazy typing might have made the point more difficult to understand, but after thinking about it more, perhaps this way will make sense to more people:

    The fastest speed the Federal Railroad Administration will allow legacy train cars to travel is 110mph.

    The slowest speed CA HSR can travel is 125 and still be worth the cost.

    The blended option means that the only way that HSR can bypass CalTrain is by using the Baby Bullet sidings and positive train control. You can dispute these suppositions, but I don’t really think anyone would believe a sub 100mph service on the Peninsula is worth the expense of the Prop 1A money that is going toward CalTrain electrification.

    joe Reply:

    I am at a disatvantage becuase I live in the area and commute.

    Caltrain helps reduce the automobile traffic and congestion while allowing growth in areas where the US is competitive. Ave salary for an IT worker here is 170K. Electrify the system and the air pollution is reduced, costs go down and service can be improved along THE corridor where the bay area is bery productive and has high paying jobs.

    Now they are adding two lanes to 101 and this is necessary while google uses self-funded buses to bring in workers. They are also adding 4k new employees in a new campus near the bay lands.

    When I read that HSR at 125 or less is not worth it I just think the focus is so narrow and out of context that it is not informative.

    Not investing in this area becuase of rail speeds is indefensible.

    That the system connects to the rest of the state and brings economic benefits to the CV makes this fetish over trains speeds incomprehensible. I don’t get it.

    WTF is magical about 125 MPH?

    Ted Judah Reply:

    You seem to not understand what I meant:

    I have no issue with the thought of investing the CalTrain corridor without HSR. But what you seem to struggle with is the economics of transportation generally. As an example, LAX had to do major upgrades at the Tom Bradley terminal because foreign carriers started to use the A380 aircraft. The option to not build is not an option because it is too financially lucrative for foreign carriers to use the A380.

    It’s the same thing with HSR. If you don’t build it to break even, you are wasting your money. And it won’t break if it does not exceed the FRA 110mph threshold. How do I know? Because that technology is already an option in places like Illinois, and the ridership isn’t there.

    The regions in California that are most vulnerable to the sort of congestion you speak are where lots of incorporated cities play off one another to make a unified regional plan impossible. If you have issues driving from Gilroy to Mountain View, call VTA. God knows if they can’t figure it out now, what do they do when Santa Clara County has 4 million people in it?

    joe Reply:

    The blended plan came from The HSR Peer Review Panel. It helps HSR. I see no economics based criticism to misunderstand.

    IL and the A380 are both incorrect models for comparison.

    It is a full 220MPH build from San Jose South. You’re exaggerating and misleading here with any Comparison to IL’s 110 MPH Amtrak or Airports-A380’s since HSR can “land” at SF and with Blended HSR can run 220 SJ onward.

    Who can show the extra few minutes with current track electrified is going to break the bank given it offers a single seat to SF way sooner than a full build. What is it 9 extra minutes between SJ and SF?

    I’d love to see the model behind that break the bank, temporary compromise.

    Certainly IL’s trains are not good analogs. I grew up there (Chicago #1 and Rockford #2) and it’s no a SF-SJ corridor anywhere in the state. Don’t even try Milwaukee.

    Peer Review recognized the blended limits capacity – it also gets service to SF sooner and that mens money. They recommend a full build when capacity is limited.

  6. Ted Judah
    Mar 26th, 2013 at 23:03

    OT: New England States Cash in With Regional Amtrak Routes.

    Jonathan Reply:

    D. P. Lubic already posted a link to this material.

  7. joe
    Mar 27th, 2013 at 07:43

    Via Paul Krugman

    The author tests this claim by taking advantage of a natural experiment, a subway strike in Los Angeles, and finds that even in LA, where public transit is a very small factor, the strike had a quite large effect on travel delays. And he concludes that the LA subway system easily passes a cost-benefit test.

    Subways, Strikes, and Slowdowns: The Impacts of Public Transit on Traffic Congestion

    Public transit accounts for only 1% of U.S. passenger miles traveled but nevertheless attracts strong public support. Using a simple choice model, we predict that transit riders are likely to be individuals who commute along routes with the most severe roadway delays. These individuals’ choices thus have very high marginal impacts on congestion. We test this prediction with data from a sudden strike in 2003 by Los Angeles transit workers. Estimating a regression discontinuity design, we find that average highway delay increases 47% when transit service ceases. This effect is consistent with our model’s predictions and many times larger than earlier estimates, which have generally concluded that public transit provides minimal congestion relief. We find that the net benefits of transit systems appear to be much larger than previously believed.

    Hard to get on a first read but the results show that previous, earlier estimates underestimated congestion relief.

    Derek Reply:

    Temporary congestion relief. Soon, traffic congestion will return to its former level, unless the region’s population flattens out. No amount of transit will change that. Never has, never will.

    thatbruce Reply:


    The exact same argument applies when talking about adding lane capacity, charging for parking, or toll roads. Each of this solutions provides temporary congestion relief, until the population pressure catches up with the added lane, or the market is able to bear the amount charged for parking or tolls. Congestion, in the face of a widespread growing population, is not a fully solvable problem.

    Derek Reply:

    False. Prices on express lanes are constantly adjusted to maintain a good balance between throughput and traffic speeds. If the lane starts to get congested, the price is raised. When traffic is light, the price is lowered. This is how tolls provide permanent congestion relief, without overcharging anyone. It’s very similar to an eBay auction.

    thatbruce Reply:


    When you’re agreeing with something, try not to be so kneejerkish negative about it.

    That ‘until’, and the words after it, are important. Raising tolls over time ensures that the condition ‘or the market is able to bear the amount charged’ isn’t immediately met, giving the illusion that the temporary relief from congestion that the toll road gives along its length appears to be permanent. We’ll ignore the observed effect that dynamic tolling has on the increased congestion in the adjacent un-tolled lanes/roads during times of higher tolls, as it obviously isn’t relevant to the problem of congestion along the tolled lane/road.

    Derek Reply:

    …the observed effect that dynamic tolling has on the increased congestion in the adjacent un-tolled lanes/roads during times of higher tolls…


    thatbruce Reply:



    I feel like Morpheus trying to explain the real world and ending with no better explanation than ‘you have to experience it for yourself’. At one point in time, I regularly went along CA-91 during my commute, and have had occasion to use the I-15 in similar circumstances. At times when the fee signs for the Express lanes indicated greater tolls, there would be a sudden increase in the number of vehicles using the general un-tolled lanes vs the tolled express lanes, an increase not attributable to vehicles entering the freeway. The preceding minutes before a toll increase would also see an increase in the number of vehicles speeding to be within the boundary of the express lanes and take advantage of the current toll vs the upcoming higher toll.

    Having said that, I have been unable to find any properly researched articles covering time-dependent induced traffic on un-tolled lanes that draws a direct correlation to times of higher prices on parallel toll lanes. The articles that I can find covering dynamic tolling (congestion pricing) do not explicitly cover effects on the adjacent un-tolled lanes at times when a higher toll is put into place. Some studies with congestion percentages for tolled and un-tolled lanes, such as one out of SDSU on the I-15 Carpool/Toll lanes in San Diego, do have congestion percentages for time of day, but do not correlate congestion in tolled and un-tolled lanes. That paper also points out that congestion relief in the un-tolled lanes as a result of the opening of the toll lanes was short-lived due to additional traffic coming online during the lifetime of the project. An earlier paper discussing survey results also notes the decreased effectiveness of the toll lanes in reducing traffic congestion in the un-tolled lanes over time.

    The Victoria Transport Policy Institute put out a guide to Generated Traffic and implications for planning, which is a good introductory read on the principles of induced traffic patterns, demand curves and other fun stuff, including the note that ‘Building grade-separated public transit (either a bus lane or rail line) also imposes short-run congestion delays, and the congestion reduction benefits are relatively small in the short term but increase over time as transit ridership grows, networks expand, and development becomes more transit-oriented.‘ Even a pretty graph (figure 9) comparing the congestion impacts of road widening vs grade-separated transit over time, showing the short term immediate gains of road widening diminishing over time compared to the long term advantages of grade-separated transit.

    Derek Reply:


    At times when the fee signs for the Express lanes indicated greater tolls, there would be a sudden increase in the number of vehicles using the general un-tolled lanes vs the tolled express lanes…

    Of course, because the tolls are raised when a lot of people want to get on the freeway at the same time, to keep everyone from crowding the express lanes. The unpriced lanes will naturally get congested just as they did before.

    But that wasn’t the question. The question is whether tolling some lanes is responsible for increased congestion in the other lanes compared to keeping all of the lanes unpriced. Not correlation. Causation.

    …the short term immediate gains of road widening diminishing over time compared to the long term advantages of grade-separated transit.

    Compared to the permanent advantages of express lanes.

    thatbruce Reply:


    Yeah, those sentence qualifiers are tricky things to comprehend.

    Of course, because the tolls are raised when a lot of people want to get on the freeway at the same time, to keep everyone from crowding the express lanes.

    Read the full sentence of mine you partially quoted. The bit you dropped from the quote explicitly mentions that there wasn’t a sudden increase of vehicles entering the un-tolled lanes at the time the tolls were raised as you imply. The increase in traffic in the un-tolled lanes came from the small percentage of drivers who would have used the toll lanes at the lower price, and who refused to use the toll lanes at the higher price.

    If you want to convince me of the permanent congestion relief of tolled express lanes, which you have so far failed to do so, provide data of your own, and, you know, read through the opposing data some time.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    Yup, permanent relief only for those who can afford the tolls. At modest toll levels (even several dollars a day) I’ll pay. When you raise the tolls much beyond that — to $20, $50 or more per day — then there is no relief for the rest of us in the untolled lanes. And we’d all greatly benefit from a transit alternative, both those of us who take it and those who drive with fewer cars on the road.

    (Of course the other alternative is choking off regional growth as many of us move away. At first that is the lower value workers but finally enough key folks say fuck it that you do get a permanent solution to congestion — regional economic stagnation.)

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It’s just awful the way Manhattan withered away what with the congestion being so bad…. Or Tokyo or London or Hong Kong or…

    Neil Shea Reply:

    No, actually they built transit. Derek’s thesis was that transit is useless and you gave examples of 4 of the most transit rich environments on the planet.

    Derek Reply:

    Derek’s thesis was that transit is useless…

    There are goals that mass transit fulfills better than any alternative, but long term traffic congestion relief isn’t one of them.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    People on the train couldn’t care less about road congestion.

    Derek Reply:

    When you raise the tolls much beyond that — to $20, $50 or more per day — then there is no relief for the rest of us in the untolled lanes.

    Every dollar someone else pays in tolls for a road is a dollar you don’t have to pay in taxes for the same road. In this way, everyone benefits from toll lanes. As a group low-income residents, on average, pay more out-of-pocket with sales taxes for freeways than with tolls.

    And even people who don’t drive in the toll lanes benefit, because it gives them a choice to bypass traffic congestion if they’re late for a meeting or appointment or have to rush to the ER. Therefore, the toll lanes aren’t only for wealthy people.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    So it’s temporary. So is the effect of raising the tolls. Yes, you can raise the tolls again – but you can also build more transit, etc.

    Derek Reply:

    Only a single round of toll raising provides temporary congestion relief. Making it a policy to periodically re-evaluate the tolls and raise or lower as necessary makes the congestion relief permanent. But no amount of transit can permanently eliminate traffic congestion.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    But the people on the train aren’t in the road congestion….

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Okay, so what you’re saying is that no single amount of toll can provide relief, but if you pretend that periodically raising the toll if required is enough, then it is.


    Can you now stop arguing like a fundamentalist, who thinks the Bible and The Fundamentals of the Faith are all anyone should ever need to read in order to argue about evolution? It’s grating.

    Derek Reply:

    Joe started it.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Whatever. Joe’s not the one who acts as if you’re not doing anything if you keep raising tolls over time to keep congestion down, but are doing something weird if you keep periodically building transit.

    joe Reply:

    To be clear, a healthy lifestyle does not prevent death. Eventually everyone will die.

    That’s not a argument against prolonging life, following a healthy lifestyle.

    So eventually congestion will return, eventually we’ll all die.

  8. Emma
    Mar 27th, 2013 at 16:22

    Turning HSR into commuter rail, one blended plan at a time. I’m pretty convinced any new blended plan will violate Prop 1A anyway because there is no way that it can meet the promised travelling times. If there is any segment that should be HSR-only, then it’s the San Fernando – Merced one.

    nick Reply:

    I know this has been said before but surely it is only when and if the entire line is built that anyone will be able to say whether or not the times will be met. all the cashr defense would have to argue would be that since the blended plan isnt the final plan then 1a hasnt been violated. and whilst the strict letter of the law states 2:40 it would be extremely perverse if the whole project were thrown out if it missed the target by say ten minutes.

    I am not a lawyer but surely also the terminology “usable segment” like much law rather then being precise is somewhat vague. something to do with loads of lawyers fees I think ! saying something is usable isnt the same as saying it has to be used only that it could be ! it is the same with the 2:40 as it isnt stated how many trains have to meet the target so you could run one non stop sf la train per day. if you think this is unlikely consider the following :

    In the Uk there is a statutory process for railway line closures. as this was passed by parliament the only way of avoiding the process is to not totally colse the line i.e. running one train in one direction only at some bizarre time of day ! These are called “parliamentary” trains. sometimes the service is even bustituted.

    Tony D. Reply:

    Nick has it totally right Emma. Repeat after me…THE END PRODUCT! THE END PRODUCT! THE END PRODUCT! (In other words, if the ultimate goal remains the same, NO #%&@! violation of Prop. 1A!)

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    BUUUUTTT: PB has quoted meeting the running times based on the blended plan as if the blended plan is to be the finished product. It’s all part of the “let’s pretend it costs $68 billion and not $100 billion”. How do you miraculously cut costs by a third? You don’t build a third of the project. You camp out on someone’s streetcar line and pretend….

    The problem remains as it always has…the voters passed 1A to enjoy a finished product and not to pay for it. They want the view from the top of the mountain but not the climb.

    Tony D Reply:

    What the hell was that!? So when the entire system is built, be it full build out or blended at the ends, if the sold out trains make it from LA-SF in 2:45, do we then tear down the entire system because of some supposed violation of Prop. 1A?
    Know one has still explained how blended endpoints would somehow violate Prop. 1A. No facts, No case!

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    People have patiently explained several time how it violates prop 1a but supporters refuse to acknowledge the arguments. To simplify

    1. Can’t meet the times which we put specifically in the law to prevent a non-HSR system from being built
    2. Are not building a usable segment as defined by the law. Simply the law says you have to have all the money before you build a segment to prevent a stranded project. They ignored that by building a non-electric track that is not usable by HSR (which the law specifically says has to be electric)

    And yes, if you miss by 5 min you are in violation of the law. If you did not want hard and fast times they should not have written the law that way, But the truth is they could meet those times, just not with a blended system. Actually whoever wrote the law did a good job of defining times that are easy to meet with a full system and hard to meet with a blended system which was the original point.

    And before everyone starts with the “one time only” or “after you have spent the bond money you can do whatever you want” arguments I will just point out the CAHSR authority itself has admitted the blended system has to meet the time requirements (and they claim they will meet them even though all facts point otherwise).

    joe Reply:

    I hope these same patient people can convince a judge that the CA AG is wrong.
    Maybe that crack team that defended Prop 8.

    It is really misleading to pretend the legal authorities in haven’t weighed in and supported the current plan. Also it is very important to admit the law is ambiguous – intentionally – such as “useable segment” which gives the Authority latitude to exercise their responsibilities and judgement.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Duh. Had the CA Attorney General’s office seen PB’s simulaton — which shows that under PB’s assumptions, the “blended” plan <b.cannot meet Prop 1A’s requirements, not once the TBT is open! — before issuing their opinion?

    Neil Shea Reply:

    John – below you posted that a case is underway providing a venue to address exactly your concerns. You don’t need to hire a lawyer, just set forth your concerns in clear language (as you do), and file it with the court clerk.

    You are right that this issue has been ‘litigated’ ad nauseam on this this blog. Many of us here are confident that it is perfectly legal to begin the project as long as nothing done *precludes* meeting those requirements in the future (after future phases including the investment of more money). The Attorney General’s office and the state Legislative Counsel agree with us.

    So now we’d think that at least one of those “People [who] have patiently explained several time how it violates prop 1a” would file a simple summary of their argument with the court, now that the CHSRA has helpfully “sued everybody”.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    So we are back to it has to erupt simultaneously from the bosom of the Earth as a trainload of revenue generating passengers glides in from the sky or it can’t be built.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Actually the law just says you have to have the money, not instantly build it. They simply don’t have the money for a usable segment. I would even give it to you if they were pre-spending anticipated tax revenues, but they are not doing that either. They flat out just don’t have the money for the first usable segment.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    and what’s the difference between having the catenary erupt at the same time as the tracks and building the catenary ten years later?

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    Having the money up front is the issue. Stop acting like building and having the money to build are the same things

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    You are the one arguing that they have to build everything all at once. Including the electrification they aren’t going to use for a decade or so.

    nick Reply:

    define usable segment

    Resident Reply:

    (g) “Usable segment” means a portion of a corridor that includes
    at least two stations.
    (f) “Corridor” means a portion of the high-speed train system as
    described in Section 2704.04.
    (e) “High-speed train system” means a system with high-speed
    trains and includes, but is not limited to, the following components:
    right-of-way, track, power system, rolling stock, stations, and
    associated facilities.

    Neil Shea Reply:


    nick Reply:

    the reason why 9 out of 10 court cases against hs2 in the uk failed was mainly because they were disputing certain procedures not being done – yet there was no evidence that they would not be done in the future. the environmental impact statement being an example. this is because the uk govt have not yet passed hs2 into law. if it was law and certain elements such as the environmental statement had not been done that would have been a different story.

    as far as cahsr is concerned as i said above I can’t see how anyone will be able to conclusively prove that either the 2:40 times wont be met nor that the initial segment will not be a “usable segment” if it has ballast ties and tracks built to 200 mph standards then it clearly it is “usable” even if it isnt. similarly if it is possible to meet the 2:40 nothing has been violated. like the hs2 court cases i dont see how something can be declared unfit for purpose or illegal 20 years before anyone will know !

    synonymouse Reply:

    “sold out trains make it from LA-SF in 2:45,” – just maybe over Tejon, no way over 50 extra miles of Tehachapi.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    Syno, you didn’t answer my question above. Assuming that the Tehachapi route does take 15 minutes than a theoretically perfect Tejon routing might take, why would any reduction in travel due to this slightly longer travel time not be offset many times over by passengers to Vegas from up and down our state? (You seem to be obsessively focused on this detail for religious or trolling reasons.)

    synonymouse Reply:

    The Vegas potential is simply not there. But they are going to have to spend a lot of money to reacquire this knowledge. That’s just the American Way.

    Tejon, I-5, Altamont optimized shaves off a half hour. Any improvement – at considerable cost – on the Peninsula would only save a fraction of that time. And Tejon is cheaper to build, maintain and operate- the Ranch accordingly is convinced the westside of their holdings is more valuable than the eastside. Pay their price; it is a pittance by comparison.

    By your reasoning all flights from SF to LA should be forced to stop in Fresno enroute.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It won’t save a half hour. It wouldn’t be cheaper.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Optimized straight shot express a half hour faster and cheaper.

    This reality is of course anathema to the CHSRA and why it has been a priori pulled off the table. The plan has been placed on the “Index”. Everything about the the CHSRA is utterly and totally political. The inevitable and substantial operating deficits will in time cause this fact to dawn on the lumpen.

    EJ Reply:

    That’s not what SNCF claimed. No offense, but I’m more inclined to trust the folks that have been building and running HSR for a few decades now…

    synonymouse Reply:

    The SNCF plan seems to have been quite preliminary and tentative. Van Ark does not seem to have been particularly supportive, probably a very wise stance politically at the time.

    But Van Ark did ultimately recognize the standalone value of the Tejon option and the need to engineer it out adequately to determine the precise optimum route alignment, how to construct it and approximate its cost. The same would have to be done for I-5, where there is considerable leeway for siting the line. This takes engineering expertise and commitment to fully exploring the option from the top.

    Alas the CHSRA is cast in concrete committed to the DogLeg. Van Ark must have known it but, like Caesar, resolved to go to the Forum anyway

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Not for anyone in the Antelope Valley who wants to get anywhere outside of the Valley and nor anyoen who want to get to or from Las Vegas.

    nick Reply:

    but it is never going to be built that way no matter how many times you mention it

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    First you have to understand that the blended plan is a sham. Unlike Europe, there is no existing electrified railroad with compatible technology and rolling stock with which to blend. You either have to build those systems first (Caltrain electrification) or force a change of train somewhere. Building those systems of course costs a lot of money and really are part of the cost of HSR, but instead we pretend that it isn’t. All part of the deception of the voter that is needed to get project built.

    nick Reply:

    how do you build a new transport network all in one go ? projects are normally built in stages thats why they are called projects. the blended plan will allow hsr infrastructure to be used sooner via the blended plan.if if didnt, you would have completed segments sitting unused and then you guys would complain about that ! I agree that it would have been better to have
    connected the initial segment at one end or the other rather then starting in the central valley but that was part of the deal that provided the federal funds as you all know

    Jonathan Reply:

    Nick, the problem with the blended plan is that it’s not HSR infrastructure.

    It’s electrified, slower-than-HSR-over-legacy-track infrastructure. The “blended” plan simply does not meet the requirements of Prop 1A; “blended” is spending money which was earmarked fo rHSR, on non-HSR expenditure.

    Anyone who says otherwise, plainly doesn’t understand “maximum”, and has it confused with “minimum”.

    nick Reply:

    firstly we need confirmation that the blended plan is the final plan. and if hsr trains can use legacy track I don’t really see the problem. projects have to react to the realities on the ground and if local pressure means that hsr has to do some track sharing what is wrong with that.

    cahsr should not live or die depending upon whether it meets the 30 minutes, the 2:40 or that it may not use dedicated tracks all the way. Are saying is that if a court decides that cahsr may not be able to meet these requirements (ie what if they said it would actually be 2:50 or 33 minutes in each scenario). that we just throw it away for the sake of a few minutes ?

    the reality is that those opposed to hsr and hs2 in the uk are scrabbling around trying to to derail these projects and that is the main driver for their actions. the “may not meet prop 1a” is a smokescreen in the sense that antis dont really care about projected times as long as some court somewhere says that they dont/.Obviously prop 1a has to be adhered to but if the blended plan is said tonot meet 1a then all the authority have to do is say “guess what the blended plan isnt actually the final plan”

    Neil Shea Reply:

    Well said Nick. “Just cuz we always had an ozone layer – and my parents had train service – doesn’t mean my grand kids need any of that”.

    It is only ever planned to go 125 mph on the Peninsula anyway so let it start at 110 or 90 or even 79 and let’s get the longer segments running fast to start

    nick Reply:

    okay so lets say we accept the idea that the blended plan is the final plan (be good if someone could provide a link where cahsr or pb actually say this) then if the blended plan can meet the requirements what is the problem)

  9. Robert Chin
    Mar 27th, 2013 at 19:11

    So if there’s some sort of accident or other incident on the line, with only two non grade separated tracks — will this translate into system wide delays that take an entire day to resolve for both Caltrain and HSR?

    Neil Shea Reply:

    You can imagine incidents that take a few hours to resolve (like the suicides now) but generally not an entire day.

    BUT — your solution is? You want more money to accelerate work? You want NIMBYs to be more cooperative to the overall needs of their communities and their state? You want more tracks and grade seps? Me too, and I want a pony

  10. John Nachtigall
    Mar 27th, 2013 at 19:18

    The CAHSR just sued me (and you). So mean.


    Apparently they have gotten tired of being picked to death by a thousand cuts.

    Interesting notes in the article. One crackpot held up a case in San Jose for a year. So how are they going to break ground in a few months if they now have to resolve what is sure to be a big harry long lawsuit. The clock is ticking on that federal money.

    It will also be facinating to see who all joins up. Politics makes interesting bedfellows. Could be quite a diverse group.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    Doing their job. So John, you’re going to join the case? This is the forum for everyone who wants to make the argument that we can’t start building anything unless it is a finished system going SF-LA in 2:40. Anyone who truly believes that should file a brief in this case. Anyone who just likes to whine … the world has enough whiners already.

    VBobier Reply:

    Agreed, enough whiners…

    synonymouse Reply:

    The NAACP still go after them for not enough minority whatever.
    The unions can still go after them for scabs.
    The contractors can still be sued and sue back for alleged improprieties.

    Some can sue more equally than others.

    John Nachtigall Reply:

    I must say Neil I am tempted. I will have to read the “summons” in one of the newspapers to see what is involved. On one hand I think the professional lawyers that are already suing are making a good case. On the oth hand like any Internet forum poster there is a part of me that believes that I make a more compelling case than anyone else. :-)

    I will see what is involved, because I agree with you, one should not be allowed to whine if they ignore the chance to actually do something.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    Good answer, and I do think your concerns should be heard. I don’t happen to agree with them, but hopefully our court system is not so intimidating that citizens cannot participate.

    My take is that the authority should be enjoined from doing anything that will *preclude* ever meeting those targets, but since 1a does not in itself provide the funding to fully meet the targets itself then it can be used as long as it moves us generally forward in the direction toward meeting those targets. I believe that the current plans are highly defensible as moving us forward toward the targets, and certainly not precluding achieving them upon system completion.

  11. nick
    Mar 28th, 2013 at 18:48

    it may well be that they have brought this court case to determine if the court will accept the blended plan as the final plan

Comments are closed.