HS2 Becomes Bargaining Chip in UK Elections

Mar 22nd, 2015 | Posted by

The UK general election is just over a month away, and already the bargaining is beginning. Polls suggest that Labour could win a plurality of seats, though an outright majority is unlikely.

One reason why it’s unlikely is that Labour’s vote in Scotland has collapsed. Labour’s support of austerity policies, while not as extreme as that of the governing Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition, has been enough to drive Labour’s traditional voters into the arms of the Scottish National Party. The SNP is likely to win the vast majority of Scotland’s seats in the UK parliament – and would hold the balance of power. Labour cannot form a government without SNP support.

That’s where high speed rail comes in.

The HS2 project would bring true high speed rail from London to the middle and north of England – and eventually to Scotland. Labour originally proposed the project, and the coalition government has backed it as well. In opposition, Labour’s support has become softer. The Shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, has repeatedly criticized the project but has stopped short of saying Labour would oppose it outright.

Which brings us back to the politics of forming a government. As SNP support would be required for Labour to pass a budget, they’re setting out their terms of support – and they include HS2:

Alex Salmond has suggested the Scottish National party could demand that work on the UK’s new high-speed rail link, HS2, starts in Scotland as a price for backing a minority Labour government….

“So I propose an amendment to [that] budget,” the former first minister said. “Let’s say instead of this very, very slow train coming up from London, I think we should start it from Edinburgh/Glasgow to Newcastle and I put that down as a budget amendment. It would have substantial support from the north of England and other parties and would carry the House of Commons. What does Mr Balls do then?”

So that’s a different spin on HS2 – it’d be like building from SF southward, whereas the current plan is the equivalent of building from LA northward. But it’s still a way to ensure that Scotland gets a piece of high speed rail – and ironically enough, it would link Scotland and England closer together, something that the independence-minded SNP usually doesn’t want.

We will see what happens on election day in May, and in the days afterward. But this is a good sign that HSR in Britain has a strong future – and that the SNP continues to be the party of progressive ideas in the UK.

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  1. Clem
    Mar 22nd, 2015 at 20:21

    I thought the current plan was to build from Fresno until the money runs out at the first mountain crossing?

    Tokkyu40 Reply:

    The current plan is to connect Fresno to Burbank.
    The antis want to make it as expensive as possible, delay any actual construction as long as they can and try to engineer the most expensive collapse imaginable to punish the voters for disagreeing with them.
    This attempt to waste the greatest possible amount of money is listed under “fiscal responsibility.”
    Who says politics doesn’t have a sense of humor?

    Elizabeth Alexis Reply:

    Are you sure about that?


    Tokkyu40 Reply:

    That’s the initial plan. Fresno to Burbank gives a continuous rail connection that allows access from LA to San Francisco for the initial service.
    Once the first trains start running they can back-fill the grade separations and new rails that will allow full speed over much of the line, then begin expanding to the Inland Empire and San Diego.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    That’s the initial plan. Fresno to Burbank gives a continuous rail connection that allows access from LA to San Francisco for the initial service.

    Only for hobos who hitch rides on freight trains on the Tehachapi Loop.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    Stranded investments.

    Good money after bad.

    Too large to fail.

    The oldest tricks in the PBQD-Bechtel-Tutor book.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Or Warren Buffet’s freight trains carrying oil or coal to Oakland…natch.

    synonymouse Reply:

    PB’s designs would be difficult to repurpose to freight. Class ones would not need wire, tunnels too long for diesel, copious aerials with possible weight restrictions, double track.

    More plant to maintain, more exposure to liability, and more to pay property tax on.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    I agree that the majority of planned HSR track in the Central Valley is way too much work for BNSF. But notice I was responding to Alon’s comment about Techachapi.

    It is not outside the realm of possibility that the Administration opposes the tunnels because Buffett wants dual utility with freight where BNSF lacks access (I.e. Palmdale and Tehachapi) while not giving much thought to the sections in the Valley where HSR would free BNSF from serving Amtrak California.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Yeah, sorry, I missed the response to the comment.

    synonymouse Reply:

    For dual utility with freight PB would have to reduce the planned gradients. Does not seem in the cards.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    I’m aware of that too, but honestly, the gradients are reason #1, #2, and #4 that a tunnel or tunnels might win out to bridge the gap between LA and the Central Valley.

    #3 is of course because PB used the same strategy for BART, putting in a tube instead of a bridge for the Bay.

    synonymouse Reply:

    But putatively PB wants 3.5% in the Tehachapis.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    ….until they revise their plans for Tehahchapi to a series of short tunnels…

    synonymouse Reply:

    AFAIK I never heard of any major tunneling approach at Tehachapi. It is a much longer route and there are likely some seismic surprises thereabouts. Think 1952 and we do not know how that area fared in 1857.

    Tunnels at Tejon on the other hand really do solve the routing issue.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Besides tunnels make it harder to factor in copious high desert commute stations.

    Roland Reply:

    Three Senators on the way to Japan: http://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article16137002.html

    Edward Reply:

    I must say, Tokkyu40, that that was a masterly crafted chain that you just yanked. Please proceed with the cage rattling.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Is that a 125 degree curve north of Burbank?

    Clem Reply:

    The antis want to make it as expensive as possible

    Interesting. They’re not the only ones making it as expensive as possible.

    wdobner Reply:

    Only if we ignore the geotechnical and environmental concerns of creating a 400 foot cut in Newhall Pass, tunnelling through cuts and fills along I-5, and across property Kern County has strictly ruled out for a high speed rail alignment. Insert those realities and the CHSRA’s “sandbagged” analysis looks far more realistic than your overly optimistic assertion.

  2. Andrew L-A
    Mar 22nd, 2015 at 21:12

    My understanding is part of the goal of HS2 is to free up capacity on the existing tracks for additional commuter operation, as London continues to take over the entire economic life of the country. Starting from the north would make that feature extremely difficult.

    Jerry Reply:

    Is there a Central Valley somewhere along the proposed route??

  3. Alon Levy
    Mar 22nd, 2015 at 21:43

    Starting from Scotland and going south does not help Scotland any more than starting from London and going north. The travel time reduction from Scotland to London is the same, and it’s travel to London Scots care about, not travel to deindustrialized mining and textile towns in the North.

    It doesn’t even help Scotland politically. If a Labour-SNP coalition commits money to the full London-Scotland line, then it doesn’t matter to Scotland where it starts. If it only commits money to a segment, then a future government could decide to stop committing additional funds – and a Glasgow-Newcastle white elephant is much likelier to make a future government decide this than a busy London-Birmingham line.

    My guess is that the SNP knows this and is just posturing for a full HS2 project to Glasgow and Edinburgh.

    Now the polls need to be right. Fucking British economy, improving just before the election.

    Alex Reply:

    The Tories might come out as the first party, but forming a coalition or a minority government might be very difficult for them. They’ll likely loose at least 20 seats and the Lib-Dems are falling. The Labour might be the only party able to find the necessary backing for a minority governement or a coalition, with the SNP. In 2010 the Lib-Dems could have gone with either the Tories or the Labour. The SNP is sure as hell not going to back the Tories.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Starting it in Scotland means it gets to the outskirts of London and the train can’t get to London because of the congestion.

    EJ Reply:

    IIRC Labour, or at least some elements within the party, had proposed using what’s left of the Great Central Main line, currently an underutilized commuter railroad, to approach London.

    Jon Reply:

    The SNP are (correctly) unhappy with the decision to truncate the original London – Glasgow/Edinburgh HSR proposal to a London – Midlands proposal, with HSR trains using conventional tracks to get to the north of England and Scotland. Their goal is full HSR all the way, and this is why they are demanding that the section that had been downgraded to “blended” rail be built first.

    Interesting how the opposite dynamic is in place compared to California – over here, politicians demand blended rail because of community impacts, rather than demanding full HSR due to the economic benefits. (I’ll shortly be voting in Glasgow Central, via post.)

    EJ Reply:

    So is Salmond suggesting to divert the bulk of Glasgow-London rail traffic to the East Coast Main Line? Seems like that’s what a fast connection between Glasgow and Newcastle gets you, at least initially.

  4. Eric
    Mar 23rd, 2015 at 05:54

    This is exactly like starting CAHSR in the Central Valley. Build a lot of useless track miles using the currently available money, then people will be willing to pay more money to finish the system.

  5. Ted Judah
    Mar 23rd, 2015 at 07:39

    Robert’ just frustrated that the SNP and Alex Salmond are making England’s most progressive politician, Ed Balls, look like just another neoliberal.

    I know this isn’t a popular theory here, but I think the British and the U.S. can’t really pick one size fits all on HSR because on the Continent, the imperial countries use HSR as a sort of steel yoke to reinforce the capital being the largest city, etc.

    But the areas outside the Empire prefer less consolidation of power, so they elect to have a blended structure for high speed rail. The UK is essentially an Imperial nation built over an Anglo Saxon one. Thus, it’s hard to expect anything gets built on the British Isles that exceeds even what we have on the Northeast Corridor. As someone else hinted, London doesn’t want the drain of another 40 million souls when it already has high speed access to the Continent, including Brussels.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Actually, it’s about ethics in railroad game journalism.

    Michael Noda Reply:

    _1830_ and its successors are great introductions to old-school stock manipulation and corporate pilfering, masquerading as a railroad game. i.e., we don’t need your stinking ethics.

    Eric Reply:


    Ted Judah Reply:

    ….is exactly the reason Britain has a low bar to clear.

    Jerry Reply:

    Ted J. Good comment. Good theory.

  6. minsfo
    Mar 23rd, 2015 at 08:57

    Wow. The 400-mile trip is currently faster and cheaper by train, with hourly departures. And it is still a political issue with folks clamoring for better service. The 400-mile trip currently takes 4.5 hours. I would trade our current 12.5 hour, once-daily trip from Emmeryville to LA Union Station (380 miles) any day. Or the once-daily trip from Emmeryville to Truckee (200 miles and 5.5 hours). We are so hopelessly behind.

  7. Tom West
    Mar 23rd, 2015 at 09:17

    “instead of this very, very slow train coming up from London”
    London-Edinburgh/Glasgow is under 4.5 hours – hardly “very slow”

    EJ Reply:

    That’s an average of less than 100 mph; pretty slow compared to European HSR, at least between major cities like London and Glasgow.

    Eric Reply:

    It’s faster than American HSR (Acela) though.

    IKB Reply:

    Well, I guess that sums up the debate; EJ’s “pretty slow compared to European HSR” v Eric’s “It’s faster than American HSR (Acela) though”. Both of course factually correct, but only in the context of these facts. The UK isn’t China or France, and 4 hr is acknowledged to be the magic number between flying and taking the train. Does the train need to be faster?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Four hours isn’t actually a magic number. It’s roughly the point where trains and planes split 50/50. But 3 hours gives even higher rail ridership – a mode share of about 70/30.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It’s shifting from 3 hours to 4, 4 and half. Airports ain’t the jet-set frolic they used to be.

    Elizabeth Alexis Reply:


    IKB Reply:

    Nice graph, and I’m sure it’s based on something factual. Translating it correctly to another scenario, whether HS2 or CAHSR, is a little harder, hence the following disclaimer in the 2014 Business Plan:

    Ridership and Revenue Adjustments to Account for “Ramp up”
    Our ridership and revenue forecasts assume a mature high speed rail system,
    where potential passengers are fully aware of the system. In reality, it usually
    takes some years for a new system to achieve this mature state. The financial
    California High-Speed Rail 2014 Business Plan
    Ridership and Revenue Forecasting—Technical Memorandum
    Cambridge Systematics, Inc. 1-3
    plan for the CHSR system should reduce ridership and revenue in the early years
    of each phase to account for the “ramp up” of ridership and revenue over time.

    The information and results presented in this memorandum are estimates and
    projections that involve subjective judgments, and may differ materially from the
    actual future ridership and revenue. This memorandum is not intended nor
    shall it be construed to constitute a guarantee, promise, or representation of any
    particular outcome(s) or result(s). Further, the material presented in this
    memorandum is provided for solely purposes of the Authority’s business
    planning and should not be used for any other purpose

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    There’s only 5 million people in all of Scotland.

    Eric Reply:

    Not too much less than the Bay Area (which is much harder to build to, with all the mountains).

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Scotland leveled all of it’s mountains? Isn’t that gonna kill off the tourist trade?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The mountains from Glasgow and Edinburgh south aren’t as problematic – that’s why that region is called the Lowlands. More importantly, there’s no equivalent of the Bay.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The trains between San Francisco and Los Angeles won’t be crossing the bay.

    Reality Check Reply:

    Unless some future trains use Dumbarton or a new non-BART rail bay crossing to access SF.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Things done in the future don’t affect current challenges or costs.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    No, but the presence of the Bay constrains the alignments. Altamont is a much easier mountain crossing than Pacheco; the hard part with Altamont is the Bay crossing. So either you cross the Bay, or you cross a more difficult mountain pass to avoid the Bay.

    Reality Check Reply:

    It goes beyond that:

    * you either dramatically increase or reduce system route miles
    * you either dramatically increase or reduce SF/Peninsula – Sacramento travel times
    * you either slightly reduce or increase SJ – Central Valley/LA travel times

    I vote for Dumbarton/Altamont, slightly increasing SJ – Central Valley/LA travel times in exchange for the easier mountain pass crossing with bay crossing in a far more populated and congested corridor while dramatically reducing system route miles and SF/Peninsula – Sacramento travel times and slightly decreasing SF/Peninsula – LA travel times.

    joe Reply:

    All settled on Pacheco.

    Conventional rail on Dumbarton infrastructure would be more cost effective than BART crossing and might find allies with Facebook google and other south / mid peninsula tech firms.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    So? That doesn’t affect whether or not the current alignment crosses the bay.
    Or that there are some serious hills in the north of England and southern Scotland.

    Reality Check Reply:

    Facebook expansions could spur Dumbarton Rail in Menlo Park

    Long-delayed efforts to restore train service on the Dumbarton Rail Corridor, which links the mid-Peninsula to the East Bay, could get a boost as Facebook looks to add housing and offices along the tracks in Menlo Park.

    This spring, the San Mateo County Transportation Authority will study how to bring service to a 4.5-mile segment of the Dumbarton tracks between the Redwood City Caltrain Station and Willow Road in Menlo Park, as recommended by the Dumbarton Policy Advisory Committee. Restoring service to that segment would not require the replacement of sections of the Dumbarton Rail Bridge or major track reconstructions. (Both would be needed to restore service on the full 20.5-mile Dumbarton corridor between the Redwood City Caltrain and Union City BART stations.)


    Neil Shea Reply:

    BART should give Dumbarton Rail back its lunch money!

    jimsf Reply:

    Bart should use the dumbarton crossing.

    joe Reply:


    Too far south for SF interests. Dumbarton crossing is border of San Mateo and Santa Clara county.

    Running BART across the bridge north to Milbrae would require ROW. CARRD would fight any attempt to go south to San Jose.

    EJ Reply:

    Most of the mountainous areas are north of the Glasgow-Edinburgh Central Belt. The southern uplands are nothing compared to the mountain crossings in California.

    EJ Reply:

    So what? That’s a lot of people, the majority of whom live in the Glasgow/Edinburgh central belt.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:


    The biggest one in Scotland is number ten on that list.

    EJ Reply:

    And Glasgow + Edinburgh comes in at 4 or 5 if you add them together. Now, I realize that goes a little beyond mindlessly quoting wikipedia, so it’s probably going to be hard for you to grasp.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Yes it’s just awful the way the Wikipedia authors used official government source documents to compile an easy to read chart. The two metro areas can’t come to 5 million because the government of Scotland estimates the population of all of Scotland was 5,327,700 in 2013.

    EJ Reply:

    And on this list Glasgow is 5th. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_urban_areas_in_the_United_Kingdom

    How can this be?!?!?! Could it be that mindlessly quoting government statistics without context or backround isn’t the most meaningful way to argue?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    And Edinburgh remains at 14th. That doesn’t change the population of the whole of Scotland. Or reduce congestion in and around London.

    EJ Reply:

    Not to mention if you add in Newcastle/Sunderland to this highly questionable list (Edinburgh doesn’t include Fife? LOLWUT?), which Salmond named as the Southern end of this line, you’re bigger than Manchester.

    Steven H Reply:

    Yep, that’s probably true. But when you add London’s population to Manchester’s, then the Glasgow-Edinburgh-Newcastle-Sunderland population is no longer bigger than Manchester’s. Ditto Birmingham-London. Or just London. Running HSR between London and London will serve more people than Scotland-Newcastle.

    The bottom line, though, is that the current HS2 plan can benefit everyone traveling from London to Scotland, while still benefitting folks traveling to Birmingham to London, and Manchester/Liverpool to London. Ditto the north of Wales, Leeds, Newcastle, etc. It connects to Crossrail at Old Oak Common, and to Heathrow via Crossrail; it connects to HS1 at Kings Cross/St. Pancreas (with, I suppose, the somewhat remote possibilty of run-through service between HS1 and HS2). Starting HS2 in the north can’t do any of those things.

    Perhaps most importantly, it means starting everything over again nearly from scratch, allowing powerful NIMBYs between London and Birmingham time to regroup.

    Keith Saggers Reply:

    Old Oak Common Station


  8. Jerry
    Mar 23rd, 2015 at 12:47

    Another person died on BART tracks on Sunday near the Balboa Park station.

    Reality Check Reply:

    BART train kills person; Balboa Park station shut for 4 hours

  9. Keith Saggers
    Mar 23rd, 2015 at 14:24

    Guardian letters

    There are two main reasons why Scottish people will tell you they will vote nationalist, even when they don’t necessarily intend to. The first is traditional: nationalists were seen as patriotic and it was not done to criticise them. Second, the SNP has been in government for seven years, so exercise considerable power, and those who openly support them may find themselves favoured in various ways. Conversely, some residents of regions that are not supportive of them have reportedly suffered disadvantages. In the voting booth, however, the possible consequences of public declaration do not apply and people can vote as they wish. In the referendum, I estimated that this bias was worth about 5% for the anti-separatist vote, and my estimate turned out to be about right. If this still applies, it could mean that SNP candidates will have on average about 5% fewer votes than predicted, and would win many fewer seats than predicted. Thus, Labour could have an overall majority. Of course, the Tories may continue to encourage the separatists. It seems like stupidity and incompetence, but I’m beginning to wonder if it is in fact deliberate.
    James Milroy
    Deddington, Oxfordshire

  10. Reality Check
    Mar 23rd, 2015 at 14:57

    Is BART’s second bay crossing at a tipping point?

    Though the idea of a second BART tube has been discussed over the past 25 years, in just the past few months it has assumed a striking new momentum.


    The early, rough estimates for a second tube are in the range of $10 billion to $12 billion. Funding suggestions have revolved around using state cap-and-trade money, federal and state transportation funds, parking fees and vehicle license fees.


    joe Reply:

    Dumbarton crossing is 1/10 the cost.

    better to get caltrain electrified and expand service across dumbarton rather than a 10B tube.

    joe Reply:

    The southbay IT giants might be allies in this effort to bring more capacity to south peninsula.


    Jerry Reply:

    It’s not funny, but with all the planning for the new buildings (and all) the map in the referenced street blog shows it all under water according to the 2050 Sea Level Rise Projections.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    Well if CARRD keeps us all driving in cars then we can just drive to higher ground

    Eric Reply:

    Tell that to the Netherlands.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    The second Tube is all about unlocking Oakland’s dense land pattern. Biggest problem with Dumbarton is San Jose’s resistance to diverting ACE from downtown and Levi’s to San Mateo Couty and 4th and King.

    Reality Check Reply:

    How do you know this is the “biggest problem”? Has SJ said anything to this effect?

    Besides, Dumbarton Rail doesn’t necessarily mean SJ loses any ACE service it has now.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    The State has effectively realigned funding for Amtrak California using State General Fund. Any increase over the base comes from the counties’ own pockets.

    In addition with ACE being the managing agency for the combined Northern California Unified Services, you can put your money on spending to shift to routes that spur more development and revenue for the cities. San Jose, Oakland, and San Francisco all want better commuter service to new housing, and cash-starved counties like Stanislaus and its Congressman Mr. Denham are eager to play ball.

    datacruncher Reply:

    Don’t forget the developers. The developer of the 10,800 home River Islands development between Tracy and Manteca is pushing for an ACE station.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Did someone tip the developer off that ACE runs on the track that is on the opposite side of the I-5 as their land?

    On the other hand, as attractive as the website makes it look…that project is the scariest thing I have seen in a long time. The Delta is going to be a saline pond in a generation and these poor people are going to be dealing with toxins, bugs, and dust…and probably inadequate water supply.

    Reality Check Reply:

    From their “See Facts & Figures” popup:

    • Approximately 4,905 total acres
    • Approximately 4,284 homes to be built in Phase I; approximately 11,000 total residences
    • Equidistant from Sacramento, San Jose and San Francisco
    Served by the Altamont Commuter Express, with a station close by in Lathrop
    • Convenient to I-5, I-205, I-580 and Hwy 99

    datacruncher Reply:

    ACE is looking at a potential rerouting to serve River Islands.

    See the slides in this October presentation about ACEForward planning, they show a potential new route shifting north to River Islands.

    This blogger also had a recent long post about the possible shifting of ACE to the other side of I5.

    It may or may not happen but I’m sure River Islands and other developers will be pushing.

    Amanda in the South Bay Reply:

    Building diesel or electrified Caltrain over Dumbarton requires a new bridge. Is that any cheaper or less environmentally damaging than a tunnel?

    Joe Reply:

    I voted for funding to rehabilitate the existing bridge for commuter rail service.
    That money was moved to BART warm springs.

    I hope CARRD doesn’t hijack an opportunity to improve commuter rail to re-argue the alignment. That would be unfortunate.

    synonymouse Reply:

    MTC is holding all the CARRDS.

    Roland Reply:

    Neither: http://www.hochtief-construction.co.uk/tunnel_ctrl320.shtml ($250M 10 years ago)

  11. joe
    Mar 23rd, 2015 at 20:11

    As Oil Prices Fall, Air Fares Still Stay High

    Far from “hypercompetitive,” the airline industry is increasingly looking like an uncompetitive oligopoly.

    Zorro Reply:

    Agreed joe.

    joe Reply:

    A reminder that CARRD’s attack on the HSR ridership forecasts is all centered on cost of driving with 3+ people.

    That dynamic de facto means air fare’s within CA should drop to compete with gasoline prices.

    The LAX-SFO is one of the more heavily contested in the U.S. airline industry, with the Big 4 and Virgin America all operating at least a thousand seats each direction on weekdays. More than 3.5 million passengers traveled the route in the 12 months ended Oct. 31, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

    The leader is United Airlines with 13 flights and more than 1,900 seats each direction every day. Southwest Airlines has 10 flights and over 1,400 seats. Virgin America has nine flights and nearly 1,300 seats.

    American Airlines has nine flights and nearly 1,200 seats, with three of the nine operated as American Eagle by regional partner Mesa Air.


    But as CAARD writes, four people in a car can travel sooo much cheaper.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    HSR fans want more airline consolidation. The more that carriers can game route patterns and competiton for passengers, the more short-haul trips become uneconomical.

    Moreover, I don’t think there is a lot direct competition among HSR services, so it’s hard to imagine the Department of Justice liking that arrangement unless you can argue that other services are really your competition. (Comcast argues it is not a monopoly because even though it is the too-big cable company, you can get the same channels and Internet access from someone else.)

    joe Reply:

    “Oligopolies can result from various forms of collusion which reduce competition and lead to higher prices for consumers.” Collusion is the mechanism allowing airlines to raise prices.

    HSR has competition. The HSR system will be in competition with other travel modes including airlines. Airlines in CA between HSR city pairs will be in compassion with HSR.

    Market price distortion requires collusion or corporate power over the market – monopoly power. There must also be barriers to entry for new competitors and barriers to switching to a competitor (Comcast is full of shit).

    Tokkyu40 Reply:

    Airlines don’t need to game the routes. Short flights already consist of taking off at full throttle, nosing over and landing. It’s the aerial equivalent of drag racing between stop lights.
    With rising fuel costs, there’s no way they can make that profitable.

    Max Wyss Reply:

    And this is why several airlines have agreements with the HSR operators, such as for LYS – CDG or STR – FRA, or FRA … CGN, for example, where the first one has non-stop HSR service from airport to airport.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    What rising fuel costs ;)?

    Ted Judah Reply:

    What I mean by gaming is that there are usually at most two or three airlines flying between airports in the US regardless of distance. That is why despite almost forty years after deregulation, we have bigger fortress hubs and fewer carriers than ever (and why HSR’s time in one form or another has come).

    Keith Saggers Reply:


    Alon Levy Reply:

    By the way, note the timetable, offering 3:19 trip times, vs. 3:01 on SJ, I think with 2 intermediate stops (although I could be wrong and these could be nonstops). The MTR is running a non-tilting FLIRT; SJ is running a tilting loco-hauled train from the Jurassic Period. It’s an interesting race between a top-line non-tilting train and an ancient tilting train.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Also, of note, the existing SJ offering is hourly, between a metro area the size of Sacramento (with a subway with nearly three times the ridership of BART) and a metro area the size of Fresno (with a tramway network with about twice the ridership of MAX Light Rail).

    Danny Reply:

    HSR in fact is a substitute for the old regional airlines (which bit the dust even harder than passenger rail way back when): HSR’s cutoff point is 500 miles–while air routes’ profit cutoff point is ALSO 500 miles: in fact they complement each other quite nicely

    so we’d get the old rainbow of regionals back: the 40s-80s had Frontier, North Central, Central, Piedmont, Southern, Ozark in the air; the 20s and 30s would see Cascadians and Lone Stars and Heartlanders and Buckeyes replacing them on the ground

    so what the major airlines would compete on are hauls over 1,000 miles, especially the transcons, which are much juicier than the puddle-jumper routes paying bus-driver salaries

    Neil Shea Reply:

    But Real ‘Mericans ™ fly when we travel. We arrive 2 hours early, take off our shoes and belts and coats, take out all our lil toiletry bottles, and we pay for our luggage and for a seat with legroom, listen to Gershwin jingles, get points and we FLY!
    Just like Grampa did. Or er wait, I think he took the train. And he definitely didn’t buy any carbon offsets. But while waiting at the gate (or the ‘recomposure area’) maybe I can make friends with some other Real ‘Mericans like myself.

  12. jimsf
    Mar 24th, 2015 at 12:16

    by the way why does batrs next crossing have to be a tube? Why can’t it be a bridge? wouldn’t a rail bridge between alameda and mission bay be cheaper than a tube?

    J. Wong Reply:

    Does the geology support a bridge? Or does it increase cost to match a tube?

    adirondacker12800 Reply:


    Ted Judah Reply:

    The issue is political resistance from Southern Pacific. The Key system ran on the old Bay Bridge’s lower deck for years, but mysteriously the replacement span was designed only for cars.

    Thus, just as BART’s signature is the tube, they probably don’t want to confuse people if the also had a bridge crossing as well lest people want them to abandon the tube even though it’s already paid for.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Bridge/tunnel doesn’t seem to bother people in New York or Boston or subway/L in Chicago. They get on the train that runs near their house and gets them where they are going.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    This isn’t the East River we are talking about.

    The Loma Prieta earthquake cast doubt on the need for a double-deck bridge across the Bay. BART’s tube, meanwhile, survived with flying colors.

    The Cypress double-decker freeway collapsed…but BART’s Brutalist viaducts all survived….

    When you are talking about the half-mile wide East River in geologically dead New York, probably it wouldn’t matter…. but the five mile Bay crossing near one of the earth’s most active fault zones… I’ll stick with the Tube…

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    The people in Chicago are delightfully unconcerned about the East River. They make that really difficult decision about which train to take without worrying about it. And choose whether it’s going to be an underground line or an elevated one. People in Boston too.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Boston has no elevated trains anymore. New York and Philly still do, though.

    Miles Bader Reply:

    Wait, is the elevated red-line section over the river and then for a little bit downtown gone now…?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    No, but it never counted as an el, since it was just bridging the river. The line was called the Cambridge Tunnel and then the Cambridge-Dorchester Tunnel. The proper els were the Atlantic Avenue Elevated, which is gone, and the Washington Street Elevated, which was relocated to the cut used by the NEC while Washington Street itself got bustituted.

    It’s like how the subway in New York has always had that elevated segment in Manhattan Valley because of the steep grades up to Morningside Heights and Hamilton Heights, but that line was still called the subway and was contrasted with the els.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    It’s still a bridge versus a tunnel. And if you are in Cambridge and want to get to Boston you don’t even think of tunnel versus bridge.

    JB in pa Reply:

    Cambridge does not have oil tankers going by.

    jimsf Reply:

    I think the only issue with a bridge is the ship channel. The eastern side of the bay is relatively shallow and a bridge could be a causeway similar to the san mateo bridge half way across, but the part over the ship channel would have to be as high as the western span of the bay bridge.

    OF course you could also do a causeway half way out, then tunnel under the ship channel and into mission bay neighborhood.

    Long ago the was the southern crossing plan where the 280x in SF was suppose to continue across the bay. They could revive the southern crossing and have a freeway/rail combination

    that would allow through traffic not headed to sf, both by car and rain to cross and bypass dtsf to head to points south.

    Clem Reply:

    The eastern side of the bay is relatively shallow and a bridge could be a causeway

    No way! It’s gotta be iconic and cost more than $6 billion. You know nothing about the Bay Area ;-)

    synonymouse Reply:

    And chock full of design surprises to keep Chronicle exposes “hitting the presses” over the years, behind a paywall.

    JB in pa Reply:

    World class civil engineers at Cal and they still messed up the bolt materials.

    Travis D Reply:

    I’ve been working on combined rail project for some time. It would carry a freeway, BART, a light rail line and a conventional rail line (electrified) over the bay. The cost of construction would be divided up between multiple users and it would all tie in to a relocated Oakland airport terminal which would have a station for all the rail modes designed into it from the start.

    Jerry Reply:

    Travis D.
    Sounds like a good idea.

    Steven H Reply:

    Aren’t they planning to tear down the 280 north of 16th Street in the Mission Bay?

    EJ Reply:

    I don’t really see why a BART bridge would be cheaper than an immersed tube tunnel, particularly with modern seismic standards.

    Not to mention the lines approaching the tunnel will be underground, at least on the SF side – with a bridge you’d likely have to take some very valuable land for the tunnel portals.

    Reedman Reply:

    The first replacement bridge design from Caltrans after the Loma Prieta earthquake was a simple viaduct. Brown and Brown (then-mayors Willie and Jerry) barfed all over it, calling it a “freeway on stilts”. Hence, years of delays and billions of additional dollars were spent to implement an iconic bridge (FYI, The Bay Lights LEDs on the new bridge are being taken down to be reconditioned for permanent re-installation in time for Super Bowl 50).

    Jerry Reply:

    ALL of the MANY disputes regarding the bridge replacement can be found in the:
    Timeline of the SF-Oakland Bay Bridge Seismic Retrofit: Milestones in Decision Making, Financing, and Construction.
    Which is at:

    Hopefully, an equally excellent report can be done for the CA HSR.

    Elizabeth Alexis Reply:

    Here is a great graphic on Bay Bridge debacle


    There are some familiar names…

    Joe Reply:

    Lowest cost bidder.

    NPR 2011

    “The decision to outsource the fabrication of key sections of the Bay Bridge was made about five years ago, when a contractor offered alternate bids on the project, says Tony Anziano, a manager at the California Department of Transportation.

    “One proposing to do work domestically, one proposing to do the work internationally: There was a $400 million differential in that bid, and in that case it would have required the work to go international,” he says.”

    joe Reply:

    Great graphic but is it accurate?
    The link sez:

    Gov. Gray Davis:
    Forced an end to Bay Area
    squabbles and got work started in early
    2002, but then insisted that cars would cross
    the bridge in 2007. Davis pressured Caltrans
    to finish the bridge while he was in office.
    Ordered use of federal funds and a “Buy
    America” policy on steel, driving up the cost
    by hundreds of millions of dollars because
    few U.S. steel manifacturers could deliver
    the large volumes needed. The move was
    seen as payback for union support.

    Union boyz and US steel.

    So is this true?


    “The Bay Bridge: 100% foreign steel,” proclaim billboards along the freeways approaching the bridge (to be accurate, the suspension span of the bridge is only about 80 percent foreign steel according to the California Department of Transportation — CalTrans — and the entire eastern span, from Yerba Buena Island to Oakland, is about 20 percent foreign).

    So WTF does the graphic mean when it singles out Davis and Union when the steel is 80% non-US.
    Chinese pay steel workers $12 a hour.

    I call bullshit on that graphic.

    joe Reply:

    At the root of the problem are the Chinese-made deck sections that make up the suspension portion of the span. The 10 sections, each 90 feet wide and 120 feet long, were fabricated at a plant in Shanghai and initially fit together correctly when checked on the factory floor.

    When they were brought to the bridge construction site in early 2010 and suspended in the air, however, the sections no longer fit together the same way. Some were off by a quarter of an inch, nearly half the thickness of the steel plates being joined. http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/Caltrans-was-warned-Bay-Bridge-welds-could-crack-5398312.php

    Where is all this unionized US steel that drove up the price of the bay bridge?

    Jerry Reply:

    Will the NFL and/or Santa Clara help pay for the bridge’s LED lights in time for the Super Bowl?

    Marc Reply:

    Uh, one shouldn’t let reality get the way of snark, but the “Bay Lights” art installation is on the SF (“Willie Brown”) side of the Bay Bridge, and the refurbishment is being paid for by a private donation.

  13. Elizabeth Alexis
    Mar 24th, 2015 at 13:00

    There is a great new data site – one graph from there:



    StevieB Reply:

    The percentage of those riding transit in the Bay Area started very high compared to U.S. cities but has not stayed high as population increased. The greatest decline is in riders on the bus systems as train riders have increased. Vital Signs sums it up.

    Ridership is rising on the rails, but fewer passengers are boarding buses.
    BART and Caltrain ridership are at record highs – with healthy growth since 1991 for both operators (over 140 percent growth for Caltrain and nearly 50 percent growth for BART). While Caltrain’s growth follows implementation of the Baby Bullet express service in 2004, BART’s ridership has grown despite only limited expansion to its service hours over the same time period.

    It’s a different story for bus operators, however. Several major service providers posted record-low ridership numbers in 2012, and most show significant per-capita declines in ridership over the last two decades. AC Transit, VTA, SamTrans, and Golden Gate all posted per-capita ridership declines ranging between 20 and 40 percent over the past two decades. San Francisco Muni, which provides nearly half of all transit trips in the region, is in a similar (albeit less dire) situation with its bus services – even as light-rail ridership has increased.

    This follows the national trend of rail preference over bus. Conservative think tanks have promulgated the bus as ideal low cost transit but it is not the choice of those who have any alternative.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Actually it is a bit more involved than that, and Elizabeth knows from her day job what the real trend is:

    The Bay Area peaked in terms of standard of living and worker income in 1999. Fewer jobs tends to decrease transit usage by the type of worker most likely to take transit. Gentrification has offset things a tad in San Francisco, but for the most part the tech worker moving into the South Bay can afford a car. In the East Bay, the decline in union jobs has had a similar impact in the East Bay.

    Add in more teleworking, online sales, and retirements and you get what you see on the screen.

    Joe Reply:

    Well it is pretty simple. A Bay Area bus sits in traffic. As traffic worsens so does bus performance.

    Caltrain and BART are unaffected.

    Ted Judah Reply:

    Traffic really doesn’t affect the majority of people who are poor enough to rely on buses.

    joe Reply:

    You make no sense.

    maybe you should look at income in the valley before implying workers are too poor or job creation in the valley.

    EJ Reply:

    Well that’s the point isn’t it? People who are wealthy enough to have a choice aren’t going to take a bus that’s sitting and traffic and ends up taking far longer than a car. You give buses the means to bypass traffic and be at least kind of time competitive with cars, and then you’ll get a lot more “choice” riders.

    When I used to live in West LA, I’d drive to Union Station and park there to take the train, because even with traffic I could do the trip in 45 minutes (25 minutes without traffic), vs. the 704 bus which took 2 hours (not to mention the time spent walking to the bus stop and waiting for a bus that IIRC ran at no better than an hourly frequency during the weekends, and half hourly during the week). Even the express buses, which only ran at weekday peak times, took about an hour and 20 minutes. Now, build HOV lanes get that bus transit time down below an hour, and run more frequency, and the bus looks like more of an option. If I still lived there I’d likely use the Expo line, but not specifically because it’s light rail – if there were a bus with similar frequency and travel time I’d use it.

    Jerry Reply:

    Is there any reason why CalTrain isn’t included in the graph??

    Reality Check Reply:

    Another reason for per capita transit use decline could be that growth accommodating increased population (“capita”) has disproportionately been in areas not served by — or inconvenient to — transit.

    Think of it this way, if you take an existing area with a given level or per capita transit use and then you plop a few major subdivisions around the not-served by transit periphery … BOOM, your per capita transit use just dropped while actual ridership might have risen a little from the handful of the new residents that bother to drive in to a transit station and park and ride.

    joe Reply:

    or walk.
    or ride corporate buses to work in south bay.

    Reality Check Reply:

    Bay Area growth in areas not well served by transit pushing down per-capita transit use:
    Census: Bay Area leads state in population growth

    The biggest growth was in the East Bay, led by Alameda County, the fastest-growing county in the state. From April 2010 through last June, it has added more than 100,000 residents, according to census estimates.

    Neil Shea Reply:

    That article says Santa Clara County has higher absolute growth than Alameda Cty at 113k, which when added to San Mateo Cty is greater than the EBay.

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    Don’t forget Contra Costa County.

    Eric M Reply:

    Ironic Elizabeth Alexis didn’t use BART or Caltrain as those show increases in ridership. So typical.

    Here is what those two look like.


    joe Reply:

    Will they support BRT on El Camino. take a car lane and make it dedicated bus lane. The wealthy cities are balking.

  14. datacruncher
    Mar 24th, 2015 at 22:01

    Fresnans attend first planning meeting for bullet-train station
    By George Hostetter The Fresno Bee – March 24, 2015

    The first planning meeting for Fresno’s newest train station ran like clockwork.

    Now if construction of high-speed rail can somehow follow suit.

    About 60 people showed up Tuesday evening at fire department headquarters to pitch ideas, offer hopes and express worries for downtown’s proposed bullet-train station.

    Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2015/03/24/4445352_fresnans-attend-first-planning.html

    It looks like the station area planning process will be using this website:

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