Comments on HSR Thru Riverside   August 31st, 2010

Comments Compiled from a RailPAC Member

We were recently contacted by a Professional Engineer who has, until recently, done a small amount of work on the CAHSR project.  This is a summary of his report.  Apparently the concept designs he cites are in the public domain (e.g. used in public outreach meetings) however the conclusions he offers (and are shared by RailPAC) are decidedly not the CAHSRA “message”.

The CAHSRA choice to place the “Riverside” station out in Moreno Valley because it is easier to do is exactly the type of useless work that the consultants are doing for CAHSRA.  They are designing the highest possible level of technical achievement for HSR as a “parlor game”.  It is almost completely divorced from the realities of finance, popular support, transportation need, or constructability.  One wonders if the consultants intentionally designs things so radical that they know they will never be built and therefore their wisdom will never be tested.

Their approach to Los Angeles station design was equally absurd.  They apparently followed a trail of simple yes-no questions:

Is LA a thru or an intermediate station?    It is an intermediate station as trains will go on to Anaheim and San Diego.

This means that the design consultants must our standard design for an intermediate station.

The standard design for an intermediate station has two straight thru tracks (isolated by sound walls) for220 MPH non-stopping trains and high speed turnouts 9000 feet before and after the station so that stopping trains can diverge at 120 MPH then slow for the platform.  Exactly like Lyon airport station and well suited for true intermediate stations that will be by-passed by express trains.  It is 20,000 feet (4 miles long).

The local consulting firm tried to persuade the CHSRA lead engineering firm managers that LA would never have non-stopping trains and was told “you don’t know that”.    They forced the local firm to design LA to the standard for intermediate stations.

Senior engineers of the local firm tried to argue that it was almost twice as long as the runways at LAX, and that they were only asking for trouble to fit something of that size into downtown LA.

After spending some weeks of billable hours making drawings of this concept to prove it was impossible, the CAHSRA and its lead engineering design firm eventually compromised on what is being presented now: a set of 45 MPH approach tracks and all tracks have platform access.

In reviewing preliminary designs for the Anaheim to LA corridor, one finds CAHSRA design criteria that are so extravagant that one experienced Professional Engineer recused himself from any further work on the project.  He said that it is a waste of investor’s funds to build to these standards that it defies the engineering profession’s obligation to be a responsible custodian of the public’s investment funds.  In trying to force a HSR line into the LOSSAN corridor it has become very expensive (estimates range from $4 to $8 billion for this 30-mile segment of what is to be a 400-mile line for $40 billion).

One example of extravagant design is to limit grades to 1.25% for reasons of “comfort”, resulting in overpass structures that are over twice as long as they need to be (compared to using the 3% grades on the Redondo Jct. flyover).

The second example is to limit lateral acceleration in curves to much less than used by Metrolink and BNSF.  This would result in the HSR trains going around the curves at Norwalk, Fullerton, and Los Nietos at slower speeds than Surfliner and Metrolink trains on the conventional tracks.

Planning, building, and paying for a “HSR” line to Anaheim that is only important as a through ride south of LA may have almost no real value.  This line will work as well at 75 MPH as at 125 MPH to get people from Anaheim to LA so they can continue in the same train to Fresno or San Jose.  And at 75 MPH the taxpayers have saved billions of dollars and still have a one-seat ride.

One of RailPAC’s most serious concerns is the CAHSRA approach is not incremental.  There is almost no public utility until $40b or more has been spent.  The competing forms of transportation have much smaller investment increments.  Lanes can be added and interchanges expanded for highways in relatively small projects.  Runways and terminals can be expanded to increase air capacity in stages as traffic increases. In a more financially constrained approach, rail transportation can be incrementally expanded, and this is exactly what California has done to date.  However the incremental (and modest) approach is hard to explain to our leaders, who have been to Europe, have seen presentations by Siemens and Ahlstrom and want to leap into the future.  To date the planning for HSR has assumed that at least $40 billion is available, which it is not.  Perhaps the best planning would be to design the best system that $5, $10, or $15 billion can buy as those amounts might be raised within a few years.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, August 31st, 2010 at 4:26 PM and is filed under Commentary, Issues.