Today’s the Last Day to Kickstart an HSR Board Game

Oct 8th, 2014 | Posted by

Alfred Twu, who created the fantastic US high speed rail map that went viral last year, has now created a new board game based on that map. It’s available on Kickstarter and the window to fund the game closes tonight at midnight.

Twu has raised money well past his initial goal, so he will be able to produce an initial run of the game. But there are some good pieces of swag available to those who pledge today, especially at the higher levels.

The game concept resembles, in a very basic sense, the highly successful Ticket to Ride board game, although this is focused on building a modern, national HSR network in the United States. As much as I enjoy playing Ticket to Ride, it is a game whose imagery is rooted in the past, the world of the robber barons of a century ago. The High Speed Rail Game is a cultural reminder that rail is a modern thing, and that the modern US needs a national HSR network. The game can potentially inspire people to think about what such a national network would look like.

While this blog focuses mostly on politics and policy, the fine grained details of how the HSR system will work and where it will go, most major decisions in this country are made not on facts but on values, especially cultural values. Prop 1A passed in 2008 in part thanks to strong support from younger Californians who understand that rail is an important part of a better future. The widespread attention Twu’s map received shows the importance of imagination. A board game like this can help fuel a deeper cultural bond with the idea of HSR – even if it is primarily about play.

I made my pledge, and look forward to getting the game later this year!

Caltrain and CHSRA To Work Together for Level Boarding

Oct 7th, 2014 | Posted by

Good news on the Peninsula, where Caltrain and the California High Speed Rail Authority plan to work together for level boarding on the shared platforms:

Officials representing Caltrain and the California High-Speed Rail Authority recently announced that they’ll work closely together over the next several months to on a joint specification for train cars. The cars will allow both systems to board trains from high-level, shared platforms at the future SF Transbay Transit Center, Millbrae, and San Jose stations. The announcement was made last Monday at a meeting hosted by transit advocacy group Friends of Caltrain in Mountain View.

“Level boarding,” so called because passengers will be able to walk directly from platforms onto trains without any steps, maximizes passenger capacity by speeding up boarding. It’s crucial that these three stations have platforms that work for both Caltrain and CAHSR, to maximize flexibility and to reduce redundancy.

But not everyone is convinced they are going to get it right:

And yet someone at the CHSRA didn’t get that memo. In a spec published just yesterday, the HSR trains are to have a floor height of 1295 mm (51 inches). This spec will serve as the basis for a train procurement process that has now begun.

1295mm is incompatible with Caltrain requirements. It really makes no sense — other than being compatible with the NEC. Why are they trying to maintain backwards compatibility with a rail line thousands of miles away?

Caltrain is up first in placing its train orders, which puts the onus on them to cooperate. Caltrain currently has floor levels 25 inches above the rail, but as the HSR Peer Review Group noted, the global HSR standard is 50 inches.

Caltrain could order trains with 50 inch floor levels, but their platforms are at 25 inches – which makes sense given that’s where their current vehicles are. So someone would have to pay to raise Caltrain’s platforms.

And that’s where the plan for level boarding runs into some trouble. Let’s hope it gets resolved before orders are submitted.

A Tour of California’s First New HSR Station

Oct 5th, 2014 | Posted by

The Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center – better known as ARTIC is nearly complete. This will be the first new station built that will serve high speed rail in California, eventually (San José Diridon and Los Angeles Union Station are already in existence, of course). And it’s grabbing some well deserved attention as workers put the finishing touches on it.

ARTIC under construction

Last week Alissa Walker at Gizmodo got a close-up of ARTIC – and its “futuristic new roof”:

The station’s design has to work extra hard, pulling together many forms of transit under one roof: local and regional buses, Metrolink and Amtrak trains, and a heavily used bikeway and bike parking. Not to mention the increased pedestrian capacity needed for games and special events. Then, sometime in the next two decades, the station will add high-speed rail alignment, which will be laid just to the south of the existing regular-speed tracks….

In a way, the quilted plastic roof almost feels like a very direct shoutout to the crystal palace train depots of 19th century Europe or the lost, lamented Penn Station in New York City. It’s bridging the traditional idea of train travel with an earth-shattering new paradigm for the state. And it’s doing it with beautiful innovation that demands people’s attention.

The article is mostly about the roof, but it includes numerous photos that show ARTIC come to life, what this visionary new station actually looks like in the real world rather than on an artist’s easel. And I think it looks fantastic.

ARTIC is designed to resemble the famous blimp hangars at the old Tustin marine base, which I remember well from having grown up there. The design creates a spacious but protected feel, a train station as a local landmark and, hopefully, an important destination.

When it opens later this year on December 13, ARTIC will primarily be serving Pacific Surfliners, Metrolink, and OCTA buses. On the drawing board is the Anaheim Rapid Connection, a streetcar that would go from ARTIC westward along Katella to Disneyland, potentially as soon as 2018. It’d be a useful link that will help make ARTIC a significant regional hub even before HSR eventually arrives.

I’ll be in Southern California this December and I plan to stop in at ARTIC and take a look around.

CHSRA Seeks Builders for Trains

Oct 2nd, 2014 | Posted by

With the plan to jointly seek trainsets with Amtrak now abandoned, the California High Speed Rail Authority is moving ahead with its own search for manufacturers of trainsets:

The Authority is looking for information from high-speed rail manufacturers regarding possible trainset procurements and how the manufacturers propose complying with Buy America and Buy California provisions. The Authority’s initial procurement is expected to be for a base order with options for production of up to 95 trainsets. California’s high-speed rail system calls for sustained speeds over 200 miles per hour. The trainsets will have a minimum of 450 seats and be able to get passengers from Los Angeles to San Francisco in less than three hours.

Tim Sheehan at the Fresno Bee has a bit more detail:

How much will the trains cost? Until manufacturers submit formal bids, that will remain a mystery. No American companies currently build high-speed trains, because there are no high-speed rail lines in the U.S. But international experience shows that they likely won’t be cheap.

In 2011, consultants to the U.S. government reported that high-speed trains built for European systems ranged in price from $30 million to $70 million each. In 2012, the California rail agency anticipated that it would cost about $871 million to buy enough trains to commence paid-passenger service on its “initial operating segment” through the San Joaquin Valley and into the Los Angeles Basin — a figure that would come to about $43.5 million per train.

While no U.S. firms now build bullet trains, any international firm will have to comply with strict “Buy America” laws which require the trains and nearly all of their components to be manufactured here. Among the key multinational players in the high-speed rail industry now are Germany’s Siemens; France’s Alstom; Canada’s Bombardier; Spain’s Talgo; Italy’s AnsaldoBreda; Japan’s Hitachi and Nippon Sharyo, and Korea’s Hyundai Rotem. Chinese train builders have also declared their intention to compete for California’s contract once the rail authority begins seeking bids. Thursday’s request to manufacturers also asks them to detail how they would comply not only with Buy America laws, but also with the state’s “Buy California” provisions.

My guess is that Siemens is probably in a strong position here, especially with its existing Sacramento facility, but Alstom has a plant on Mare Island, and others could set something up without a whole lot of trouble.

I’m sure folks in the comments will weigh in with their suggestions as to which trainsets make the most sense for California. I’m agnostic. I just want to ride!