If You Build It, They Will Ride: Expo Line Edition

Dec 17th, 2013 | Posted by

In news that comes as no surprise to transit advocates, a USC study released this week shows that people who live near the Expo Line are driving less.

Expo Line Phase I Opening at La Cienega/Jefferson Station

Angelenos who live near an Exposition Light Rail station dramatically reduced the number of miles they drove and tripled their rail ridership after the opening of the new rail line last year, a new USC study released Monday shows.

Residents living within a half-mile of the new station traveled 10 to 12 fewer miles daily by car – a 40 percent decrease – after the new rail line opened, according to the study.

That same group also tripled their rate of rail travel, from an average of one daily rail trip per household before the Expo Line opened to almost three daily household rail trips after it opened, according to the report.

The study also found that people living near the stations saw their carbon emissions go down by 30 percent while the amount of time they spent engaged in moderate or vigorous physical activity went up by 8 to 10 minutes a day. The effect on car usage and rail ridership was most pronounced near stations well served by connecting buses and where streets were not as wide.

This is worth keeping in mind as discussions fly about remaking the high speed rail route. The California High Speed Rail Authority has done many things right, and one of the most important was putting the stations in city centers, near population rather than away from them, in locations with good transit service (or in the case of Fresno and Bakersfield, locations with the right conditions for good transit service). HSR’s catchment area is much larger than a half mile, of course. But by building urban, city center stations the system can attract more riders, especially when those stations are themselves linked to connecting rail.

The Expo Line numbers are impressive given that the line is only half open, with construction moving quickly on the other half from Culver City to Santa Monica. Ultimately it will connect Union Station to the beach in Santa Monica in about 45 minutes. Eventually one will be able to go from downtown San Francisco to Santa Monica in about 3:30 (assuming you can get from the HSR platform to the Expo Line platform quickly!).

Californians are repeatedly showing that there is a huge demand in the state for passenger rail service. It’s time for the state to step up and fund even more of it, from new Metro Rail lines to the bullet trains that will connect the state.

  1. J. Wong
    Dec 17th, 2013 at 20:48

    L.A. will actually become a reasonable place to live! (Or at least visit :-)

    VBobier Reply:

    Yeah, if one can afford to live there still.

  2. Donk
    Dec 17th, 2013 at 22:00

    Unfortunately, a 3:30 transit time from SF to Santa Monica would not be possible, since you will still need to transfer from Union Station to the Red Line to the Expo Line (so more like 3:45). Current plans call for the Regional Connector (the new subway that connects Expo, Blue, and Gold) to have one east-west thru line (SM-ELA) and one north-south (Pasadena-LB) thru line…the east-west line will bypass Union Station right to the south of it. So only riders from the current Long Beach Blue and Pasadena Gold Lines will have a one seat-ride to Union Station.

    I think the obvious assumption to make based on geography and demographics is that the most demand for a one-seat ride to Union Station will come from the Expo Line – both for geographic and demographic reasons. I am also not sure that most riders will want to go from West LA to East LA (or vice versa) rather than from West LA to Pasadena/SGV. They need to do some modeling to determine what the best combination(s), rather than just assuming EW and NS make the most sense.

    swing hanger Reply:

    Will the Subway to the Sea be completed by the time the full HSR line is operational?

    Donk Reply:

    Probably not. There is no subway to “the sea”, and probably won’t be even in the 30 years it takes to build HSR from LA to SJ/SF.

    The plans are for the subway to go as far west as the Westwood VA, right west of the 405. After that there seems to be more of an interest in going NS along the 405 or potentially along Lincoln than continuing further west on the Purple Line. The Expo Line will already serve downtown Santa Monica.

    But yes, many people will access Union Station from the Purple/Red Lines rather than the Expo Line. However, there will be solid ridership on the Expo Line, and additional riders will be picked up on the Expo Line from the Crenshaw Line. If a 405 line is built, I would imagine that almost anyone going from the 405 line to Union Station would connect at the Purple Line in Westwood rather than the Expo Line at the 405.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    With Villaraigosa gone I think the Purple Line isn’t going past Crenshaw. Look for the Expo line to start gaining branches that connect Westwood, Venice, and the Marina. Then look for the DC to be built so that you can connect the Expo to Pasadena.

    EJ Reply:

    The DC’s penciled in for 2020 – they’ve already started utility relocation.

    Donk Reply:

    Ted your statement is nonsense. There is so much momentum behind the Purple Line extension that there is no stopping it. The main threat to the project is mismanagement and cost overruns – both are likely, it is just a matter of mitigating the two.

    Paul Dyson Reply:

    With the downtown connector loop it’s possible at least in theory to offer service between any combination of routes. We’ll see what the final operating plan is, it won’t be complete for a few years. The glaring instance of building on the cheap is the surface running of both Blue and Expo lines just south of downtown and the flat junction in the middle of the street where they meet. Unbelievable!

    Dennis Lytton Reply:

    At least the junction at the other end by Alameda and 1st will be fully grade separated. (Though not “stacked” like Wilshire/Vermont).

    BMF of San Diego Reply:

    The Purple Line to La Cienega is out to bid right now for construction. Segment 2 to Century City will occur soon after. Segment 3 to Westwood/Va is a bit further; 2035 or 2036.

    Regional Connector will connect Long Beach to San Gabriel Valley cities of Pasadena and Azusa. Santa Monica to East LA.

    The calendar for all these projects seem awfully optomistic.

  3. Donk
    Dec 17th, 2013 at 22:15

    Somebody please explain something to me. In the engineering/science/medical disciplines that I am familiar with, nobody cares about anything you write unless it is published in a peer-reviewed journal or at least presented at a somewhat respected conference.

    I’ve recently seen many of these studies like the one cited here from USC School of Public Policy, where they just pasted a report on their website and the report picked up by the news. It looks like a bunch of students wrote this report with their professor with some funding by the Haynes Foundation. In my field if this wasn’t peer-reviewed, it would be of lower standing than a Wikipedia entry. So in the field of Public Policy, is something like this taken as fact? The LA Times sure bought into it.

    I am not saying the report is necessarily wrong, I am just saying I don’t trust the data.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    In my field, if you’re from a respected institution, and have a track record of not being a total hack, then as soon as it’s on the arXiv, it can be referenced. If you’re making extraordinary claims (“this is a proof of the Riemann hypothesis”) then people may be skeptical until the referees are satisfied, but for a paper below the level of a Fields medal, the assumption is that you’re a serious researcher and if you posted something then it’s true. The actual refereeing process is more about whether the paper is interesting enough to be published at the journal, and about catching small errors. It’s only results that are self-evidently huge and hard that peer review is more about checking correctness than checking interest.

  4. Emmanuel
    Dec 18th, 2013 at 00:23

    That’s the part Californians and Americans don’t want to understand. The public transit system is crap because they are not expanding it. But, the government is not expanding it because there is no demand. What the government and the voters don’t understand is that once you build an expansive and reliable infrastructure, the riders will follow.

    That being said, I’ve seen a trend in our state towards massive stupidity. But, I need confirmation. Is it just me or are public transit projects being expanded and built away from from densely populated, lower income communities and instead designed for tourists to pass “scenic routes” and stop at attractions? I can only go with what I have seen in San Jose and San Diego where you can see the old rails buried by concrete that run through neighborhoods where a light rail would have made perfect sense.

    And then there are places like Los Angeles with inner city roads wider than highways and I as a European can’t stop asking myself why they didn’t build a light rail on the surface through the town. The argument of a lack of space is zero. You could easily sacrifice a few lanes. Just why is this country so far behind?

    swing hanger Reply:

    The decision was made in early the previous century that the car was the answer to all_transportation problems and that everyone needed (or at least aspire) to live in the suburbs. America is reaping what it has sowed, and I’m afraid its irreversible for the most part.

    Donk Reply:

    Building light rail on the surface streets for the most part is just not practical, given the damage done in the last 50 years. Even if they still had all the red car lines in LA, they would need to stop at every traffic light and would not be better than a busway. Even the current light rail lines that are not 100% grade separated are too slow. The Expo Line along Flower St in Downtown LA and the Pasadena Gold Line in Highland Park are two good examples.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    I can only speak about SF (and not about LA with any authority), but there is tremendous amounts of under-used surface right of way here.

    The problem is allocation — one 40-passenger bus or one 100-passenger streetcar receives as much priority as one single-occupant private automobile — not traffic lights, not lack of grade separation, not roadway width.

    Of course, it is very very profitable to pretend that the only solution is to put transit underground and out of mind. Or to spend tens and hundreds of millions of dollars “studying” whether to paint a bus lane. But the reality is that right of way is plentiful, we’re pretty much drowning in asphalt, and there is all the space in the world for (mostly-)surface transit.

    Eric Reply:

    Bus lanes (taken from cars) are a great idea for US cities. In some cases, tram routes (with lanes taken from cars) are justified too. But neither is an example of “rapid” transit, which is also needed in large cities.

    swing hanger Reply:

    Indeed, it seems suboptimal to rely on glorified trams (which the light rail cars are), to be the primary mode of rail transport in a metro area the size of LA. In a perfect world, something like up to 10 car “heavy rail” emus on dedicated ROW are going to provide the ability to meet future growth. But like most things transit and passenger rail, LRT is a political compromise.

    Ted Judah Reply:


    John Bacon Reply:

    One usfull light rail extension: Move the 4th & King N-Judah Terminal to inside Caltrain’s Fourth and King Terminal set up for cross-platform-level-boarding. Caltrin-Muni tracks could be completely separate so FAR end-strength regulations would never apply to the LRT. Give traffic signal priority along King & Embarcadero so thar a 4th & King to the Market Street Subway Embarcadero subway station trip could be completed in 6 minutes which is an average speed of 18 mph. Run Muni so that there will always be a LRT light rail train leaving Market & Montgomery guaranteed to meet any Caltrain run scheduled to leave 4th & King 10 minutes later.

    Donk Reply:

    Well in most cases, public transit lines have been built along open ROWs. Some of these corridors make sense, others don’t (e.g., VTA). A major triumph over NIMBYism was the Expo Line (phase II). The residents tried to “bury it” and turn it into a park by covering the line with mulch to. Then they filed a bunch of lawsuits. But they lost and the line will be complete in 2016.

    An example on the other side is Santa Monica Blvd. There was an old rail line right down the middle that was buried and turned into additional lanes around 2002. But if this would have been extremely slow and cumbersome if the whole thing was at grade – major tunneling/viaducts would have been required. Imagine if it had to stop at all the lights in Beverly Hills – there is one every block.

    I’m not sure what “old rails buried” you are referring to in San Diego. Do you mean in the downtown area or somewhere else?

    Emmanuel Reply:

    I’m referring to the ones along University Ave.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Is it just me or are public transit projects being expanded and built away from from densely populated, lower income communities and instead designed for tourists to pass “scenic routes” and stop at attractions?

    No, it’s not just you.

    The only exceptions are when minority communities are used to “ethnically cleanse” massive kickback boondoggles. The current prime example is the “Central Subway” in SF, which will make transit service to Chinatown slower and more expensive, not address the cars blocking the bus service which will always be the primary transit mode, and was designed and promoted by our very special friends at PBQD, will cost $2 billion.

    And, conveniently, anybody who breathes a word of opposition to this giveaway to politically juiced mega-scale public-private wealth transfer is a racist who hates seniors.

    What densely populated, lower income communities need is reliable and affordable service. If they ever get anything other than service, fare increases, and unusably slow US welfare type “service” you can be sure that they’re purely a political figleaf for tremendous contracting fraud.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The Central Subway is an unmitigated disaster – they could have extracted some greater utility out of it by planning for a straight ahead tunnel down Stockton, under Bay to the Wharf. Far from perfect but some saving grace.

    Now they are stuck in low-lying Columbus Avenue with presumably horrible sub-soil conditions and too far to the north for a realistic Marina extension. And Bredas on Northpoint?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Re “is it just me?”, the answer is no.


  5. joe
    Dec 18th, 2013 at 05:13

    Reality Check: Train to Somewhere…or Nowhere?
    “Morales said the agency will be working with the Treasurer’s Office, the Attorney General’s Office and the administration to address the legal shortcomings.”

    At the end of the segment, these two comments are attributed to Jeff Morales.
    o CAHSRA has developed a new policy for evaluating and accepting outside bids.
    o CAHSRA is working on a new funding plan due in a few months.

  6. joe
    Dec 18th, 2013 at 05:30

    Close to Home: P[ress] D[emocrat] editorial on high-speed rail was ‘misguided’
    Your recent editorial (“Time to put the brakes on high-speed rail,” Wednesday) could not have been more misguided and misleading. 

    Your editorial states that the $1 billion contract for the first segment of the project is on hold as a result of a ruling earlier this month by the Surface Transit Board. That is not true. The board’s ruling does not affect the contract and or work now underway in the Central Valley.

    It is important to note that the authority will complete the environmental review of each project section prior to construction commencing — an effort the authority is in the final stages of completing.

    Ben Tripousis is Northern California regional director of the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

  7. joe
    Dec 18th, 2013 at 05:38

    Drill, Baby, Drill

    Soil drilling begins in Fresno in advance of high-speed rail construction

    Geologists began drilling holes and collecting soil samples Tuesday in downtown Fresno in preparation for the first stages of construction on California’s proposed high-speed train project.
    The first soil borings by Earth Mechanics Inc. took place along H Street, under the Stanislaus Street overpass that spans H Street, the Union Pacific Railroad tracks and G Street. It’s the first of more than two dozen locations between the northeast edge of Madera and the south end of Fresno where the company will test the subsurface soil conditions.

    The tests offer a mole’s-eye view to geologists, and the results will help engineers determine what kind of foundations will be required for new overpasses and other structures needed for the first 29-mile stretch of high-speed rail construction, said Michael Hoshiyama, a staff geologist with Orange County-based EMI.

  8. Amanda in the South Bay
    Dec 18th, 2013 at 06:11

    The VTA built light rail, and very few people ride it.

    Tony D. Reply:

    By the looks of the photo above, it looks like Light-Rail was also constructed RIGHT down in SoCal; grade separated! The idiots who designed our system ran LR as a sidewalk trolley in downtown SJ with a whopping speed of 5 mph. It’s more like “build it right and they will use it.”

    joe Reply:


    In SF they buried the light rail system downtown and it runs fast. J MUNI for example breezes along the subway but exits at Church St. and meanders south down Church St. through Delores Park. Scenic but slow.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Uh no. Muni Metro is an unreliable operational disaster. America’s Finest Transportation Planning Professionals, on the job!
    Constant breakdowns, completely random headways with huge service gaps, zero line management, extreme inefficiency, a signalling system that’s consumed hundreds of millions and still barely works, “light” rail vehicles with poor availability, poor reliability, low capacity, and low accessibility. It’s all just magic underneath Market Street!

    Oh, and it gets even worse any time there’s a baseball game, because that’s the highest priority in the city, after all.

    Bad, and always getting worse.

    Anyone with a choice takes BART. Anyone with parking drives. Anybody up for it rides a bike.

    Putting things in holes doesn’t always lead to pleasant results.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    With an average weekday ridership of 160,100 passengers as of the fourth quarter of 2012,SF Muni Metro is the United States’ third-busiest light rail system after those of Boston and Los Angeles. Completion of the Central Subway will enlarge the ridership.

    Joey Reply:

    Light rail ridership in the United States. That’s some fierce competition you’re pitting MUNI against. Only systems of the highest caliber could compete on those grounds.

    Keith Saggers Reply:


    Richard Mlynarik Reply:


    JOE Reply:


    Have you ever had the experience where you call someone up and he or she doesn’t seem to be paying attention to you?

    The Jerk-O-Meter (or JerkoMeter) is a real-time speech feature analysis application that runs on your VOIP phone or cell phone that remedies precisely that experience. It uses speech features that measure activity and stress (and soon empathy) from your tone of voice and speaking style, to predict if you are ‘being a jerk’ on the phone. The phone displays appropriate messages, and can also be set up to inform the person on the other end of the line that you’re extremely busy. The messages range from “Stop being a jerk!” to “Wow, you’re a smooth talker,” based on your performance. The application is currently designed to analyze only the user’s conversation, and not the person at the other end of the line. The Jerk-O-Meter is the work of Anmol Madan, a PhD candidate at the MIT Media Laboratory, and Dr. Alex (Sandy) Pentland, a pioneer in wearable and socially aware computing.

    flowmotion Reply:

    Richard is 100% correct here, Muni Metro is awful.

    joe Reply:

    It is but the service in the subway is faster than the surface. I’ve used it for years. What’s the dispute here? Oh yeah – MUNI is the “worstest” PERIOD. That’s the only answer.

    Nothing can ever be anything but horrible and shitty and if you don’t agree – stooge! And of course who lives there in that transit crap pile? If there were only IT jobs elsewhere.

    Joey Reply:

    So then you’re okay with patchy, unreliable, and unpredictable service and shoddy, overpriced equipment? Because that’s what MUNI is. By US standards, it’s great, sure. But US standards are buses that maybe run every hour.

    Andy M Reply:

    Subways are not always faster than surface transportation in real terms. First, surface light rail / streetcars can be speeded by priorities at intersections and also reducing the number of places where traffic from side streets intersects. All but the most important side streets thus become right turn only when entering the streetcar street. With such measures in place, the surface streetcar with a reserved ROW (at best shared with buses, but no taxis or anything like that) and a minimum of intersections is almost as fast as the subway. Now add in that to access a subway you have a longer walk, need to negotiate stairs or escalators, or an elevator even if you’re mobility impaired or have a stroller, and very soon the subway actually eats more time. Furthermore from my own personal experience in Europe, on the surface, I can see a streetcar coming when its a long way off. I can dawdle a bit because there isn’t yet one in sight, or hurry a bit if its coming closer or even sprint if its already stopped? Down in the subway you have no idea how far the next train is until you’re down on the platform. The number of times I’ve had a subway pull away before my nose and I had to kick myself because I could have caught it had I only run a little faster. So based on that I propose that subways are not faster overall except for very long distances where such interfacing problems are negated by the overall higher speed over a longer distance. And now to add insult to injury, some cities in Germany are saying that subways they built in the 60s and 70s are coming due for major structural repairs approaching the magnitude of the initial construction and they’re having to go over the books very hard to decide whether or not they can afford keep them open. Before those subways were built there were streetcars. After they are gone there will be buses. Progress? I don’t think so.

    flowmotion Reply:

    > It is but the service in the subway is faster than the surface. I’ve used it for years.

    If you really are regular user of Muni Metro, then you’d know the system has a “meltdown” about once a week. Its not faster than the surface when it’s standing still. There really isn’t a dispute, Muni Metro objectively sucks.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Andy M, the Parisian trams average 17 km/h. That’s not almost as fast as a subway.

    Andy M Reply:

    Alon Levy, useful average speed is not from the moment the train moves to the moment it stops but takes into account the time I need to walk (or bus) to the metro, the time I spend at the ticket barrier, the time I spend walking to the platform etc. The commercial speed of the Paris metro is 26km/h, that of the tram as you say is 17km/h. However the maximum cruising speed is virtually the same (60 versus 65km/h). The difference in average speed is caused by the tram stopping more frequently. That means its closer to many people, they are not walking as far to find a stop. Therefore the average useful speed is actually more or less the same as for the metro. The advantage of the metro only comes into its own for longer distances. Even the bus is faster than the metro on many sections where they are parallel for a sufficient distance. One interesting observation I keep on making on such sections is that tourists catch the metro because the bus map is too complex fopr them, whereas locals catch the bus because its faster.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The trams are new; the Metro is from 1900. Compare how things are on M14 or the RER A with how things are on the trams, and the speed difference is much larger, as is the difference in ridership. 17 km/h is too low for trunk lines.

    synonymouse Reply:

    “And now to add insult to injury, some cities in Germany are saying that subways they built in the 60s and 70s are coming due for major structural repairs approaching the magnitude of the initial construction and they’re having to go over the books very hard to decide whether or not they can afford keep them open.”

    There and even more so here those large infrastructure investments were necessary to fend off the diesel busmen. Look at SF Muni; now they are hooked on diesels and refuse to do any further electrification. LA, if it is wise, will add serious subway to its light rail ops as a long-term protection against the next Jesse Haugh’s of the near future.

    The highway lobby will come back with a vengeance when electric and automated autos are ready for prime time and claw back all those transit only lanes. Look at all the pedestrians being run over and effectively next to nothing is being done about it. They hardly want to even put in sidewalks in new shopping centers, malls whatever you want to call them. They want pedestrians about as much as homeless.

    It is an ongoing holy war between public(particularly electric rail)transit and the highway lobby. BART belongs to the highway lobby side. It is the enemy.


    Andy M Reply:

    Synoymouse, what we are seeing today is the swansong of the auto lobby. The auto lobby has lost ground and lost support. Many cities are putting in light rail and streetcars. Some decades ago that was unthinkable. That alone shows the auto lobby’s bite is no longer as poisonous or feared as it once was. Furthermore, this is only the beginning. The auto lobby will never again be as strong as it today is, and it knows this very well. Every victory it can still take is a Pyrrhic victory. The lobby is having to give airtime and even support to the likes of Randall O’Toole because it has run out of more articulate people to speak on its behalf. Petty attempts at confusion, obfuscation, misrepresentation, denial and bickering over details have taken the place that the grand vision once had. I am sure that even the intelligent people in the auto lobby must cringe when they read his writings and wish it wasn’t for real. These are the last throes of a dying kind. If they want to claw anything back, they’re going to need claw on the ends of their arms, not cancerous decaying stubs of self-delusion.

    As fars as I am concerned, the subways built during the 60s and 70s were a smoke and mirror tactic by the auto lobby. The stupid and the poor who were unable to afford a car had to be hidden underground so as not to embarrrass the rest of civilization, while at the same time giving the lobbyists the fig leaf of not appearing totally one-sided in this debate. As the lobby crimbles, their concrete will crumble with them.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Yeah, the RER A was totally a pro-car sop, about hiding train riders underground. It couldn’t be that it averages 46 km/h and the trams 17, or that it has far more capacity because it can run longer vehicles.

    Same comment about North American postwar subways. MARTA’s a flop, but where is the light rail equivalent of SkyTrain or the Washington Metro? Calgary is slowly faltering, with at-grade costs that aren’t much lower than those of underground SkyTrain, and even the success it does have comes from running in dedicated ROW most of the way, rather than on-street like trams that are reintroduced into mature cities. Portland has an embarrassing transit mode share. And the larger the city, the more important being able to commute fast across town is.

    Joey Reply:

    And what does this tell us exactly? I wasn’t disputing the fact that MUNI Metro has the third highest ridership in the US, just that this is a shitty metric on which to measure transit.

    Roger Christensen Reply:

    So in 2016, with Expo 2 and Foothill Gold opening, Los Angeles will have the highest light rail ridership in the country.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    You make that sound like a good thing.

    JOE Reply:

    “Putting things in holes doesn’t always lead to pleasant results.”

    It’s not the act or the hole, it your thing. From the description, it clearly doesn’t work well enough for you.

    Now that will be five cents please.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Guess again. Sacramento is an example of a city that doesn’t need transit oriented development because it has a very viable urban core and density. Sun Belt cities and Detroit imitators need TOD. Sacramento county does have spawl but it is amazingly disconnected from the inner reaches of town.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Wrong reply box, sorry.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Richard, I am curious as to what would be your analysis of how to deal with Geary Street. What’s the best alternative at a funding level you could sell to the City voters?

    Neville Snark Reply:

    Syn – what is the latest on Geary st? I think the plan was for a separate lanes for buses, but of course we’d prefer rail or failing that at least trolley-buses.

    synonymouse Reply:

    For me some issues are median pedestrian safety, especially on the de facto Geary Blvd. mini-freeway, much-needed expansion of Geary Carhouse-Presidio Yard and complex wire work that would be needed downtown slowing trolley buses.

    Downtown tunnel would be nice; ditto for streetcars with better capacity than trolley buses. But absent nothing else in the immediate future they should wire up the #38 straightaway. But Muni nowadays is clueless.

    Alon Levy Reply:


    synonymouse Reply:

    Thanks, Alon, for the link.

    Pathetic. And they have the dates wrong – the “B” line went in December, 1956. Rumor had it it was ripped up before George Christopher could be sworn in as mayor.

    Clearly trolley buses the only quick option. The fact they refuse to do that and are manifestly procrastinating means only one thing: Wretched, scummy, treacherous BART machination.

    **** broad gauge and high-rise tenements. LA is now smarter and less corrupt than the Bay Area. I never thought I would believe that or even possible.

    Neville Snark Reply:

    yes thanks

    Michael Reply:

    Portland’s light rail also goes very slowly through its downtown and it’s a success and they added a second core line crossing through downtown along the other axis, mixed in traffic with busses.

    Jon Reply:

    Yep. San Jose’s problem is that it’s employment center is sprawled out in the 237/880/101 freeway triangle, whereas Portland’s employment is more concentrated in downtown. Serving sprawl by transit will always be difficult.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    And mixed in traffic with cars, unless they develop an automated electric rickshaw those are the alternatives other than biking or walking. It doesn’t matter where the slow bits are, what matters is the door-to-cubical trip time. It can go slow downtown if it goes fast in the ‘burbs. Or go slow in the ‘burbs if it goes fast downtown.

    Donk Reply:

    Downtown San Diego is also painfully slow. But yeah the sections outside of downtown are relatively fast, and are getting faster now that they are swapping out all of the old LRVs and stations with low floor boarding.

    Jonathan Reply:

    Amanda, Tony D:

    All the VTA light rail shows that if you build light rail really, really stupidly, then few people will ride it.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    One guess who is designing CHSR! (And designing it “really, really stupidly”.)

    One bonus credit guess as to how the VTA light rail ridership “projections” relate to reality.

    Amanda in the South Bay Reply:

    Jonathan-that was my point. Contra Robert, building transit by itself isn’t good enough, it has to be designed well-and VTA light rail has massive design problems.

    jonathan Reply:


    fair enough. But you didn’t spell out the reasons. Did you just want to point out Robert’s (deliberate?) ignorance of the facts; or did you intend to try to educate him?

    Ted Judah Reply:

    You need land use to correspond to transit options. Cities control zoning in California; counties or special districts that have no such planning power build and operate transit. Put more incentives for cities to build more density and transit flourishes. Look at Sacramento and the contrast is easy to spot.

    blankslate Reply:

    Are you implying that Sacramento is a “good” example of transit-oriented development?

    Ted Judah Reply:

    See above. My iPhone opened the wrong box.

    Jeff Carter Reply:

    What about BART to Silicon Valley?

    Who is designing this?

    What are the ridership “projections”?

    What are the cost “estimates”?

    Will it “turn a profit” for VTA?

    What will be the realities?

    jonathan Reply:

    What are the differences between current-best-estimate answers to Jeff’s questions; and answers to the exact same questions about BART-to-SFO??

    Jeff Carter Reply:

    The final EIR/EIS ridership projections for BART to SFO/Millbrae can be found here:

    BART Millbrae Extension Final EIR/EIS Ridership “Projections”

    Basically they “projected” 68,600 riders/day at the 4 new stations. The avg. ridership for FY 2012/13 is around 38,700 (exits x 2).

    When it was apparent that ridership was far short of projections, they lumped the ridership of the few years previously opened Colma station to make the BART/SFO/Millbrae ridership look better than it really is.

    The initial costs were projected in the neighborhood of $800-900 million; the actual cost was $1.5 billion.

    The promoters of BART/SFO swore up and down that it would turn a profit for SamTrans. In reality, it nearly bankrupted Samtrans.

    Samtrans was also forced to pay BART a $200 million “buy-in-fee” I have not seen any mention of a VTA buy-in-fee for BART to Silicon Valley.

    jonathan Reply:

    Yes, the above was basically my point.

    Basically they “projected” 68,600 riders/day at the 4 new stations. The avg. ridership for FY 2012/13 is around 38,700 (exits x 2).

    Is that actual extension ridership, or the fraudulent numbers which include riders on and off at Colma?

    Jeff Carter Reply:

    This is only the SFO/Millbrae extension, South SF, San Bruno, SFO, Millbrae stations, not the fraudulent Colma inclusion.

    If you include Colma, the 38,700 number jumps to 47,400 (exits x 2). BTW the EIR “projections” with Colma included was 84,800.

    The previous link didn’t work try here:


    Jos Callinet Reply:

    Is San Jose’s VTA light rail likely to be phased out due to its low ridership, or an effort made to improve it to attract more riders?

    Ted Judah Reply:

    I think what will happen is that density will follow BART’s stations like a magnet. Some of that will spill over to VTA, and then for the routes that don’t see an uptick, there could be some changes.

    joe Reply:

    They need to fix some things too,

    In 2010, the VTA board adopted a Light Rail Improvement Plan that prioritized four capital projects to speed up light rail and make the service more reliable. Two of these projects are seen as huge benefits for Levi’s Stadium. One goes by the nifty name “Santa Clara Pocket Track and Double Cross Over,” while the other is called the “Mountain View Double Track.”

    Sarah Syed, senior transportation planner and project manager for the Light Rail Efficiency Project, explained that “currently we have a single-track segment where it takes over 10 minutes to transfer it, so no trains can leave Mountain View during the time a train is on that single-track segment. Closing that gap will really go a long way to allowing us to have more frequent service and more reliable service here.”

    The Santa Clara Pocket Track and Double Cross Over is scheduled to be completed by August, but the Mountain View Double track will not be finished until well into 2015.

    “It will be challenging for us to operate the service frequencies we need in the interim,” Syed said. “In the Mountain View project we’re adding a second track there because of the future operating plan with BART. We are accelerating that project by a year, so we will have it done in time for the Super Bowl.” Levi’s Stadium will host the NFL’s Super Bowl in 2016.

    blankslate Reply:

    Except that employers are flocking to the NW county, nowhere near BART, and show no interest whatsoever of building near the planned BART stations in Milpitas and Berryessa.

    Milpitas is building thousands of units of housing near the BART station. The way things are looking, it will be an area of superblock apartment complexes that will be convenient for dual-income households with one job somewhere near an SF or East Bay BART station and the other job in Mountain View/Sunnyvale/Palo Alto, accessible by car or light rail.

    Berryessa, meanwhile, will basically be a park and ride station.

    When BART to downtown SJ opens sometime in the 2020s things may change a little more.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Expect many more changes now that the US has opened up a Patent and Trademark Office inside San Jose’s City Hall. That will anchor a ton of traffic in the South Bay. But how it works out with the start ups, the venture capital firms, the other finance people, and the established tech campuses out to be a sight to see.

    Joey Reply:

    VTA Light Rail will be kept around as an example of how Silicon Valley is “committed” to transit while expanding expressways and garage mahals.

    joe Reply:

    Issues with and planned improvements for light rail.


    They’ll run express trains from BART Alum Rock to Mountain View /Caltrain, double tacking the line to improve headway, turn trains back to improve service on busier sections.

    Joey Reply:

    No mention of TPS? It’s easy and effective, but I guess VTA still isn’t willing to inconvenience drivers in the slightest.

    joe Reply:


    VTA Light rail has ROW over automobile traffic on the Mountain View line. http://goo.gl/maps/5ypEH Here near the Hacker Dojo, at the HW 101 exit ramp. Here crossing central expressway http://goo.gl/maps/WXYIz

    Joey Reply:

    Many intersections are separated but many more are not. With station stops and having to stop at red lights, it’s difficult for transit to compete with driving. The sections I’ve heard are particularly bad are N 1st St and that detour into the office parks in Mountain View.

    Amanda in the South Bay Reply:

    The Winchester-MV line only has its own ROW *AFTER* Lockheed Martin going in the MV direction. Hence Nasa Bayshore Station near HackerDojo does have its own ROW (because its the old spur off the Caltrain tracks going to Moffett). From Downtown SJ, north along 1st, all the way along Tasman and Java Drive to Lockheed Martin, the VTA light rail competes with traffic, and fails miserably.

    joe Reply:

    Well it “fails miserably” but does the train have priority over automobile traffic or not?

    It does in the sections I described. That’s independent of ROW or not. The system doesn’t force the train to wait at the 101 exit ramp or crossing central expressway which are both busy sections of roadway.

    Amanda in the South Bay Reply:

    The number of crossings on Tasman and North First is much greater than the number of crossings from Lockheed Martin to Mountain View

    joe Reply:

    Any crossings prioritizing rail traffic over auto?

    Amanda in the South Bay Reply:

    Most (all?) of Tasman is already double tracked.

    joe Reply:

    That’s right most of it.

    The last leg along central expressway is one track and, as described in the VTA links, the headway is impacted. A train cannot depart the terminus at Caltrain until the inbound arrives.
    This additional track will allow for 1) increasing headway on trains 2) express trains 3) better timing between VTA and Caltrain for transfers.

    aw Reply:

    “This additional track will allow for 1) increasing headway on trains”

    It should allow for decreasing headway, and increasing frequency.

    jonathan Reply:

    Directly proportional, inversely proportional: a minor detail.

    joe Reply:

    Strike that, reverse it.

    But at least we have something for Johnathan to chew on over the weekend.

    blankslate Reply:

    No it will not be phased out. There’s an outside possibility that some extremely low-ridership stations will be closed to speed up service. Besides that, there are the efficiency improvements joe linked.

    Going forward, VTA has de-emphasized expanding light rail, in favor of more effective investments in BRT and BART.

    Development is slowly happening around the light rail system. About 4,000 apartments are under construction in the Tasman/1st area of San Jose near light rail stops. A similar number are planned or under construction near the Milpitas BART station, which is also a light rail station. There are also three high-rises under construction in downtown SJ.

    Unfortunately, recent employment growth is not as transit-oriented as housing, which is a shame, because transit-oriented employment is even more important in generating transit ridership.

    Amanda in the South Bay Reply:

    Making light rail not be a shitty experience is important in generating transit ridership.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Going forward, VTA has de-emphasized expanding light rail, in favor of more effective investments in BRT and BART.

    Comedy gold!

    A billion down the tubs … and nothing to show for it. Other than having the worst performing system in the world-performing nation on the planet, that is.

    Lesson learned.

    So …

    Let’s throw away ten billion and see what happens.

    Amanda in the South Bay Reply:

    At this point the VTA should disband and just be subsumed into BART. Surely no greater transit project than building a subway under the Alameda to the Starbucks next to the Santa Clara Caltrain station can be found.

  9. Derek
    Dec 18th, 2013 at 08:49

    New travel demand projections are due from U.S. DOT. Will they be accurate this time?
    By Eric Sundquist, State Smart Transportation Initiative, 2013-12-16

    Enough time has passed by now that 61 yearly [traffic] projections can be compared to the reported VMT. And in 61 cases out of 61, the [Conditions and Performance Report to Congress] estimates were too high. For example, the 1999 C&P overshot 2012 reported VMT by more that 22 percent—almost 11 extra states’ worth of driving.

    joe Reply:

    “To be fair, while U.S. DOT publishes the C&P and its demand projections, the projections come from state and local traffic estimates done as part of the Highway Performance Monitoring System.”

    and this

    “High estimates of VMT have several negative implications, including 1) they imply a level of “needed” spending that is politically unachievable, 2) they can spur overbuilding on projects, draining resources from critical preservation multimodal investments, and conversely 3) they can discourage construction of lower-cost, lower-throughput streets that improve livability and property values.”

    The scientist in me asks if CA has examples of overbuilt roads. Roads built to an inflated demand estimate that are currently underutilized. Maybe the toll road in OC.

    Rob Dawg Reply:

    “The scientist in me asks if CA has examples of overbuilt roads. Roads built to an inflated demand estimate that are currently underutilized. Maybe the toll road in OC.”

    There might be some case for Hesperia north I-395 and west on CA-58 to Mojave but I wouldn’t because of the safety benefits. For the most part CA roads projects are required to demonstrate existing unmet demand.

    JOE Reply:

    I guess the 101 expansion from San Jose to Morgan Hill (parallel to Caltrain) was expanded from 2 to 4 lanes and not the original 3 as planned. That expansion was well beyond demand – an autobahn for about 5-8 years and they put an exit BAILY AVE in the middle of Coyote Valley.

    That expansion hurt Caltrain ridership.

    happily, it’s now congesting with regularity and train ridership is increasing,

    Rob Dawg Reply:

    … That expansion was well beyond demand…

    The corridor that in the 70s earned the nickname “Blood Alley.”


    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Nearly every freeway expansion is sold as a “safety improvement”. Caltrans can never be too careful!
    “Merging lanes” added to 101 in San Mateo County are all about safety.

    You don’t like like the blood of innocent children on your hands, do you?

    JOE Reply:

    In this instance you’re wrong. I guess it’s to far from SF.

    Monterey Highway in the PDF above is part of the El Camino Real. Like Mission in SF. It’s not the two lane HW 101. That two lane was less safe than now. They added a concrete divider since the expansion.

    Monterey road carried the freeway traffic and was dangerous as I was told by my now late neighbor. All 101 traffic barreled down Monterey road and down Gilroy’s main street prior to Freeway 101 as you know it now – trucks and all.

    Monterey Road is still there and underused but the blood alley moniker has since referred to the section of 101 past Gilroy into Monterey County Prunedale that is not freeway and has left turns and driveways.

    That section is being fixed – you can see the construction now.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    “Safety benefits” = “when they built the freeways in the 1950s and early 60s, per-VMT fatal accident rates didn’t change, while overall fatality skyrocketed because of added driving.”

    joe Reply:

    I’ve always wondered why we have medical research given we all die eventually.
    We just shift the cause from one disease or ailment to another.

    Anyway …Has anyone here driven in Montana, Northern ID or Eastern Washington? I have for a decade doing field work and rugby and whatever.

    In CA driving is a video game and out there it is damn serious shit you had better be paying attention on state roads up there. CA has much safer roads, better engineer roads,better materials, better marked roads and better patrolled roads. It’s the improvements which made Richard cry out in sacrasm that makes driving safer in CA.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    …except for the part where age-adjusted death rates crashed when modern medicine became a thing.

    Derek Reply:

    The scientist in me asks if CA has examples of overbuilt roads.

    Probably 99% of the roads in CA are so wide that the marginal cost of widening them further is greater than the marginal revenue from widening them.

    joe Reply:

    Probably – I mean if you want to say so.

    I can’t tell, being trained scientifically. I don’t understand underlying methods: How you measure the transportation system, analyze and make these overwhelming solid determinations.

    One can try an analog experiment. Do we have areas in CA with narrow roads that do well economically? Roads are expensive so that’s a tremendous cost savings for the county in construction and maintenace so they should be prospering.

    Derek Reply:

    Yes, traffic congestion is a sign of prosperity.

    joe Reply:

    Well that’s a 100% non-sequiter.

    Derek Reply:

    Narrow roads–those with the fewest lanes carrying the most cars–have the most traffic congestion.

    Traffic congestion is a sign of prosperity.

    Therefore, areas with narrow roads do well economically.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    People who are wealthier tend to live in wealthier areas.

    People who live in wealthier areas of the US tend to vote Democratic.

    Therefore, wealthier Americans tend to vote Democratic.

    Spot the error.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    California doesn’t have any areas with narrow roads. However, if you go to Lower Manhattan, or Downtown Boston, or inner London, or Amsterdam, or Tokyo, you’ll see narrow roads and prosperity. In Tokyo, the narrowness of the roads is what allows neighborhoods to have both high density and single-family houses.

    jonathan Reply:

    Revenue? Marginal revenue from widening roads? To whom, exactly?

    Derek Reply:

    Roads bring gas taxes and user fee revenue to the city, county, and state governments that build them.

    Joey Reply:

    They cost much more, both in capital costs and ongoing maintenance, than they bring in in taxes. Plenty of arguments have been given in favor of building roads but tax revenue is not one of them.

    Derek Reply:


  10. Rob Dawg
    Dec 18th, 2013 at 10:55

    24,000 households drop 10 VMT/day or 350,000 passenger miles daily.
    Expo Line provides 24,000 daily 7 mile trips. 270,000 passenger miles daily.
    Walk/bike also increased.
    I don’t think the study captured what really happened. I will look closer when there is more time but this kind of effect is far outsized what could reasonably be expected. If they had found little or no effect I’d be equally skeptical.

  11. synonymouse
    Dec 18th, 2013 at 12:36


    That’s some heavy looking rail. Looks higher than 115lb. What’s the weight on it?

    swing hanger Reply:

    Maybe it’s “off the shelf” rail intended mainly for freight RR’s, but cheaper than ordering lighter, custom built track

    Eric M Reply:

    It’s the same “heavy looking rail” you complained looked wimpy that SMART is laying. 115lb rail.

    Jon Reply:

    The choices made for projects that we like are awesome, but those same choices are terrible for projects that we don’t like!

    synonymouse Reply:

    @ Eric M

    Sure looks heavier than that. Put a tape on it and if it is 7-5/16″ high, apparently, it is 136lb.

    synonymouse Reply:


  12. Jeff Carter
    Dec 18th, 2013 at 14:48

    If you build it they will come…

    Sure they will come, it has to be built in a timely and efficient manner and the route has to be sensible.

    The problems are that HSR, as currently planned, is too political, poor routing, overpriced, etc…

    HSR should not be to satisfy political egos.

    HSR should not be to create gargantuan profits to consultants, engineers, contractors, etc.

    HSR systems have been efficiently built and work well outside of the USA. We are not reinventing the wheel.

    The routing and the costs are highly criticized, so what is the most practical and economic route?

    Who would be best to determine the most useful and efficient route? State lawmakers? Transit/rail advocates? A potential builder/operator?

    I have asked before but never got a real answer to the question:

    How much should HSR cost and how long will it take to build if it were built by someone that knows how to build such things (France, Germany, and Japan)?

    It shouldn’t take 20+ years to build HSR in California…

    It shouldn’t take 5-6 years to electrify 50 miles of (operating) double track (Caltrain). How long would it take in the real world and not the USA way of highly paid consultants, engineers, contractors?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It took 3 or 4 to do New Haven to Boston and it cost a reasonable amount considering the budget also included new signals and some upgrades along with the wires.

    agb5 Reply:

    You want route that is practical and economic and useful and efficient! make your mind up, which is it?
    I suspect a computer model decides the optimum route based on all known facts.

    Building HSR is mostly just classic civil engineering; road bridges, tunnels, viaducts etc, the French certainly know how to build road bridges, but they have no special savoir-faire.

    Clem Reply:

    “Mostly just” classic civil engineering? That’s exactly what’s wrong in California, the civil engineers are firmly and totally in charge. They decide where to build (hey this looks like a good challenge!) and how much (as much as possible until the taxpayer cries uncle!). The train on top is just an afterthought.

    jonathan Reply:


    It’s not “civil engineering”that’s at fault, per se. New Zealand has lots of civil engineers, and they work from the same materials-strength texts as US civil (and structural) engineers.

    one big difference is that in New Zealand (and Australia), the city, “county”, regional and central government have their own engineering staff in-house. (The New Zealand government built all its own hydro dams, via the Ministry of Works).

    There seems to be a very different story in California, where actual engineering competence excludes you from _any_ position in the public side of the local transportation-industrial complex.
    Possibly because the budgets don’t allow for engineering competence. And if the reports here, that Bob Doty was the most techniucally-clued person at Caltrain in his sojourn there, perhaps part of the problem is that hiring anyone ocmpetent would show up … the current staff.

    What would be your hiring criteria, to hire someone to head a multi-billion-dollar engineering project to modernize Caltrain. More to the point, who sets those criteria? Who appoints the Board members who approve such decisions?

    The exact same questions apply to CHSRA. There, the answers are clearer, if no less gloomy.

    Clem Reply:

    Yup. This is a uniquely American trait: fear and loathing of technocrats, and of government in general. Perhaps the resulting outcomes are par for the course, and we should not hope for cheap or efficient HSR. Just pay up and pipe down.

    joe Reply:

    I see a system that services three counties that don’t cooperate very well.

    For christ sake look at the vitriol thrown at San Jose by the area’s residents that share this service. We’re the Bay Area Balkans.

    American Technocrats give us the ACA, Clipper cards and FastTrack and private public partnership that always suck extra money out of wallet. Labor gets a pay cut and executives a bit more. That’s government as a business in today’s America.

    So the technocrat solution is to bypass the CV and run a lean mean system that services the monied interests at the coasts. SPURs for the rest.

    Joey Reply:

    How exactly did technocrats give us ACA, Clipper, and FasTrack? The only parts of the process I see are the politicians who call for these solutions and the private contractors who implement them.

    And which technocrats want to bypass the Central Valley? I’ve heard that in one SNCF proposal and nowhere else (except Synonymouse). Altamont and Tejon, sure, but those have nothing to do with the Central Valley.

    joe Reply:

    What’s a techno-crat? If you think a technocrat cannot be a politician then I can see the problem you’re having.

    We have a techno-crat President. He’s the guy that botched the ACA website rollout. My view is it’s a label chosen by individuals who want to involve the private sector.

    And yes you have it 100% correct on what the outcome is…techno-crat solutions involve private sector and the transfer of money tot he contractor/business.

    Joey Reply:

    The politicians in charge have no clue about they things they’re asking for. They design the requirements either by gut feeling or by what the contractors tell them is right (the same people who will later profit off of added costs).

    Clem Reply:

    Re: Caltrain vs. the real world… Look no further than Auckland, New Zealand, where a rail network about the same size as Caltrain is being electrified, re-signaled with ERTMS (a more advanced form of what is known in the US as positive train control), modernized with a fleet of new EMUs and station upgrades, including level boarding, all for a small fraction of what these items are estimated to cost here. The other difference: they’re nearly finished, and we’re still thinking about hiring consultants to study the implementation details.

    The November issue of Rail Journal had all the numbers (miles, vehicles, dollars, etc.). Read it and weep.

    jonathan Reply:

    ahem. As the resident Kiwi, I have to note that the NZ dollar has been hovering around US $0.80 for the last four years or so. Even if you add 25% to the Ak costs, they’re still far below US costs. And the difference is far, far too big to be attributable to “unions”, or “workers comp insurance”, or lawyers’ fees.

    And I, for one, got done weeping about the outrageous costs, and technically indefensible decisions (like CBOSS) years ago. Clem, this is very very old news; surely it’s not news to you?

    Oh, there’s one more difference; NZ uses 1067mm gauge throughout. Even so, they got a good deal from CAF. And the NIMTL has had its loading gauge increased to where BR Mk.2 coaches can run just fine, thank you [1,2]but not (IIRC) to UIC “B”.

    [1] Private excursion BR Mk.2 coaches on bogies taken from guard’s vans, withdrawn after the change from triple-manning to double-manning (NZR now has single-manned goods trains).

    [2] BR Mk.2 coaches on new-ish Japanese-built bogies, from a batch of 70-odd which KiwiRail bought from BR. These coaches are in consists with locos at each end, in, uh, the Hutt line, as neither coaches nor the Japanese-built, ex-Otira-tunnel locos are fitted for push/pull or MU operation. Again, IIRC)

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Auckland also probably won’t double in population soon.

    jonathan Reply:

    Neither will the rest of New Zealand. But that has nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with Clem’s point or mine.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    You obviously have not lived here long enough. Population growth in America is political currency. Unlike Aotearoa, transportation is about speculation and the future. It’s about the fact that New Zealand actually wants to maximize exports and participate in the real economy. Americans only care about economic rent seeking and bubbles.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    New Zealand had higher population growth last decade than the US: 13.4%, vs. 9.7%. New Zealand has much more immigration than the US, with 23% of the population foreign-born vs. about 13% in the US.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    And neither will the Peninsula.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    The fight isn’t about the Peninsula; it’s about Santa Clara County and the four million people who will soon call it home.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    at 6% annual growth it reaches 3 million in 2100 and 4 million in 2150.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Don’t take my word for it. Ask the Bay Delta Conservation Plan which water district is funneling money to the Peripheral Canal campaign. Noah Cross is alive and well in Silicon Valley.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Define a “few years” I come come up with 140 to get to 4 million if it grows as fast as it did between 2000 and 2010. Well a bit faster. It’s not going to grow that fast for the next 140 years. If for any other reason the population of the state, country and world will slow in the next 140 years.

    joe Reply:

    Caltrain service area will certainly grow an Aukland in population.

    Joey Reply:

    And yet they’ll have better service. How does that work?

    joe Reply:

    I ride between Gilroy to Palo Alto and previously from SF to MtView.

    I don’t know the Aukland system. What do you like about it?

    Joey Reply:

    Auckland, New Zealand, where a rail network about the same size as Caltrain is being electrified, re-signaled with ERTMS (a more advanced form of what is known in the US as positive train control), modernized with a fleet of new EMUs and station upgrades, including level boarding, all for a small fraction of what these items are estimated to cost here. The other difference: they’re nearly finished, and we’re still thinking about hiring consultants to study the implementation details.

    Leroy W. Demery, Jr. Reply:

    “Caltrain vs. the real world”

    Or, more correctly, “self-appointed pundits versus the ‘real world.'”

    About the only thing that Transdev Auckland and Caltrain have in common is system length – roughly 75 km in each case (excluding lines not planned for electrification).

    In 1980, the (very) neglected Auckland suburban services carried very roughly 1 million passengers, or less. In 1983, the SF – SJ commute services carried 4.8 million passengers. (The 1980 figure was probably not significantly less.)

    Auckland has experienced spectacular gains in suburban rail traffic, which climbed from 2.3 million at 2000 to 9.1 million at 2010.

    During the same interval, Caltrain traffic fell from 8.7 million at 2000 to 6.6 million at 2004 (blame that on the “dot-com bust”), then climbed back to 10.6 million at 2010. This, by the way, is “greater” than the “peak traffic” levels for which I have documentation: 9.5 million at 1944, and 9.2 million at 1952.

    The problem, for planners (and pundits) is that the Caltrain line gets much more intensive use than the Auckland system does. The average travel distance per boarding is about 10 km in Auckland – and about 45 km on Caltrain.

    Whatever your “urban politics” might be, the fact remains that (roughly) four times the passenger traffic density on “System C” (with respect to “System A”) implies that (roughly) four times as many passengers travel over each km of system length. That, in turn, requires “more” vehicle-km per year – and infrastructure suited for this load, implied levels of wear and tear, and so forth.

    (“Significantly more” veh-km per year, but probably not “four times more” unless the scheduling and operating departments are totally lacking in esprit.)

    An interesting statistic – which I’ve seen published in French and German (but not in English) – is “ton-km / axle-km / km of system length.” If you have to ask what this might pertain to, even today …

    (Oh, did I mention: the source documents published by “dem ferreners” date back more than 100 years.)

    jonathan Reply:

    None of which has any bearing on the cost of installing signalling per route-km. Or the cost of installing world-standard 25kV overhead catenary, , per route-km. You might, just might, have a small point about the costs of substations and transformers per route-km, but you’d have to make a better analysis of the average terminus-to-terminus run lengths. Yes, Caltrain riders go longer, on average, than Auckland riders; but the trips take longer too.

    So just what do you any of your points have to do, with the specific issues Clem raised? I can’t see a darn thing. Though I freely confess I’m much more familiar with the Wellington suburban system, pre-Maitangi EMUs. (Oh, for the days of _Rails_.)

    Eric Reply:

    You have this backwards. Caltrain has higher usage, which means it should be easier to fund and justify improvements, not harder.

    joe Reply:

    Caltrain has multiple fundings sources, none of which are dedicated to the service.
    It also has the added disadvantage of not operating in the largest single city centric metropolitan area in the nation, but a system servicing THREE poorly coordinated counties and two large cities.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    An interesting statistic – which I’ve seen published in French and German (but not in English) – is “ton-km / axle-km / km of system length.” If you have to ask what this might pertain to, even today

    Your ideas are intriguing to me and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter.

  13. Reality Check
    Dec 18th, 2013 at 17:33

    Fresno soil drilling prepares for high-speed rail construction

    Geologists began drilling holes and collecting soil samples Tuesday in downtown Fresno in preparation for the first stages of construction on California’s proposed high-speed train project.

    The first soil borings by Earth Mechanics Inc. took place along H Street, under the Stanislaus Street overpass that spans H Street, the Union Pacific Railroad tracks and G Street. It’s the first of more than two dozen locations between the northeast edge of Madera and the south end of Fresno where the company will test the subsurface soil conditions.


    While that engineering work continues, the rail authority is trying to acquire the right of way it needs before construction can begin. As of last week, the agency reported that it had closed escrow on only five of the 380 parcels it needs between Avenue 17, northeast of Madera, to American Avenue at the south edge of Fresno.

  14. Leroy W. Demery, Jr.
    Dec 19th, 2013 at 09:45

    “… some cities in Germany are saying that subways they built in the 60s and 70s are coming due for major structural repairs approaching the magnitude of the initial construction and they’re having to go over the books very hard to decide whether or not they can afford keep them open.”

    This type of talk is no more serious than similar “venting” that took place in New York City a few decades ago.

    It is a well-known fact that, in general, rail systems depreciate at about 3 percent per year. Thus, for every $billion you spend on construction, you get to spend – on average – about $30 million per year to keep the system in good working order. Engineers know this – but some politicians don’t want to hear about it. That’s just as true in Germany as it is elsewhere (e.g. here).

    In New York, some politicians blanched at the high estimated cost of putting the subway system into “good working order” and talked of closing several lines (i.e. the No. 6 to Pelham Bay Park). This was well documented at the time. If you want documentation today, then you’ll have to research this the old-fashioned way unless you want to pay for the New York Times archive.

  15. Reality Check
    Dec 19th, 2013 at 14:21

    MTC sets 4-decade transit spending strategy focused on Muni, BART, AC Transit:

    Bay Area sets transit spending targets

    Regional transportation officials approved a spending strategy Wednesday that will concentrate the bulk of spending on public transportation for the next four decades on the Bay Area’s largest systems: Muni, BART, AC Transit and, to a lesser degree, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority.

    After 2-1/2 hours of debate, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission approved a framework that dedicates about $10 billion in expected local, state and federal transit revenues through 2040. The strategy follows the blueprint outlined in the recently adopted Plan Bay Area, which links transportation and land-use planning.

    About $3.2 billion of that money is to come from California’s cap-and-trade revenues. At this point, those revenues are projections, but they are expected to be shared with metropolitan transportation organizations. Cap-and-trade money must be spent on projects linked to reducing greenhouse gas reductions.


    Santa Clara County representatives objected to not being included as one of the “core” operators eligible for the bulk of capacity improvement funding. But in a compromise, the commission agreed to contribute toward the purchase of new BART cars the Santa Clara VTA needs to fund as part of its BART extension, which is under construction.

  16. joe
    Dec 19th, 2013 at 16:50

    Five teams of contracting companies are vying to be deemed qualified to bid for a contract worth between $1.5 billion and $2 billion to design and build a 60-mile stretch of California’s high-speed rail project south of Fresno.
    …The project includes the railbed and related structures such as bridges, tunnels, road overpasses and relocating utilities.
    Tutor Perini/Zachry/Parsons
    California Rail Builders, a joint venture comprised of Ferrovial Agroman U.S. Corp. and Granite Construction. Ferrovial is an American subsidiary of Ferrovial S.A., a Spanish company, while Granite Construction is a California company headquartered in Watsonville.

    Dragados/Flatiron/Shimmick, a consortium that includes Dragados USA Inc., a subsidiary of Grupo ACS and Dragados S.A. of Spain; Flatiron West Inc. of San Marcos; and Shimmick Construction Co. of Oakland.

    Golden State Rail Partnership, comprised of OHL USA Inc., a subsidiary of Spain’s Obrascón Huarte Lain S.A., and Samsung E&C America Inc., a U.S. subsidiary of South Korea’s Samsung Group.

    Skanska-Ames Joint Venture, a team that includes Skanska USA Civil West California District Inc., a subsidiary of Sweden’s Skanska, and Minnesota-based Ames Construction Inc.


    synonymouse Reply:

    “In addition, public opinion polls indicate that most Californians would prefer to re-vote on the rail project after cost estimates rose from about $33 billion when Prop. 1A was passed in 2008 to $68.4 billion in the authority’s 2012 business plan.”

    Where are they going to score the funds for the ongoing and significant subsidy of nowhere to nowhere? Commute ops on boondocks stilts bleeding losses. Picture BART’s farflung extensions sans SF. And Amalgamated order compensation packages courtesy of machine meddling.

    How about an elected CHSRA Board of Directors ala BART because it works so well?

  17. D. P. Lubic
    Dec 19th, 2013 at 17:25

    An interesting perspective on fast vs. “slow” trains.


    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    I love the way he cherry picks his data. Does he work for a think tank?

    Reality Check Reply:

    Dunno, but he is right and he isn’t by far the first to point out that Europe’s HSR obsession is crowding out and killing off a lot of cheaper and reasonably-fast sub-HSR trains and travel options.

    A lot of the cheaper and overnight intercity trains that I used to ride in the 70s and 80s and 90s are gone.

    Was just in Stuttgart a week ago and priced out a spur-of-the-moment day trip from to Bonn to visit an uncle … it turned out the trip was either a cost-prohibitive last-minute-fares ICE-only or travel-time-prohibitive (due to numerous transfers each way using a series of shorter-distance regional expresses, each which was also slower due to making more stops). So the upshot was that I just didn’t take the trip.

    Before Germany became so ICE-über-alles obsessed, I’d have made the trip using any number of reasonably priced fast D (Schnellzug), IC (InterCity) and EC (EuroCity) trains to choose from. On these, just as the article author wrote, their lower fares were distance-based and so remained the same right up until the moment of departure.

    StevieB Reply:

    It seems the railroads are not running half filled trains that allow last minute travel. While inconvenient for you it is more a more efficient use of resources for the railroad.

    jonathan Reply:

    Nonsense. HSR trains run about two-thirds full. What the operators (_NOT_ railroads) are doing, is applying airline-style price gouging, er, yield maximization, er, yield management. I guess that’s what happens when the boss wants to maximize profits, so the government-owned operator can be sold, and the bosses get a huge jump in remuneration.

    TGV (Lyon) averages about 80% fulll, ICE averages about 50% full. Yes, those are averages; peak-time is going to be much higher. IIRC, D-Zugs averaged less than half full; not sure if that applies to IC and later EuroCity too.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    The DB is still distance-based with the base fares. However, thre are tons of promotional offers, such as SparPreis, SuperSparPreis, variou flavors of Bahncard etc.. These promotional offers are, however, limited per connection, and in many cases, you limit yourself to a specific train.

    The actual price difference between ICE and IC/EC is not that big; maybe 5 Euro or so, based on the non-promotional regular fare.

    Also note that to some extent due to EU regulations, long-distance (ICE/EC/IC) services have to be self-sustaining, whereas regional services (RE/R/S-Bahn) have to be ordered and paid for by the Länder. That lead to some very interesting promotional offers on Länder level, such as the Ländertickets which are day passes valid within the according Land. And it gets even more interesting if you are travelling together, as under certain circumstances, up to 5 people can share the same ticket.

    About that article, to me, the author seems to be stuck in the 1960/70, with the operation patterns of that era. But now, we are 50 years later, and things have changed, for sure. It is also interesting that, with a few exceptions, the picture shown in the article are from that era (the only not being from that era are the two from Switzerland, showing EC services; but one shows a tilting train which may count as high speed, and the other one shows the substitution of a ETR 470 Pendolino over a line where there is no high speed (yet… it will be in 2016). So, the article is rather polemic.

    What is true, however, is that there are not many night trains anymore. But that is not only because of the high speed trains, but more because of the difficulties to make them profitable, and the lack of interest of certain operating companies, in particular FS (or whatever the name of the intercity operation in Italy), Renfe, SNCF (to some extent), etc., in the night train business. It is a very specialized operation, with rather low usage of the rolling stock and staff, but with high access charges.

    Resident Reply:

    Also note that to some extent due to EU regulations, long-distance (ICE/EC/IC) services have to be self-sustaining,

    what does this mean?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    It means EU regulations forbid subsidies for intercity trains.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    If they were able to fill them at lower prices and lower speeds and make money doing it why aren’t they still doing it?

    EJ Reply:

    It’s interesting but I don’t see a lot of relevance to the US situation (with the possible exception of the NEC). In Europe HSR replaces existing trains which are in most cases, already reasonably fast and efficient – in the US the baseline is so laughably inefficient that a clean slate makes more sense.

    Eric Reply:

    He’d be more convincing if his criticisms didn’t contradict each other.

    For example
    There are fewer travel options now – VS – HSR induces travel demand which is bad for the environment

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Those criticisms (his versions of them, not your paraphrases) don’t contradict necessarily each other.

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