Monthly Archives

October 2010


HSR: Fantasy versus Reality

Editorial by Noel T. Braymer

The main obstacle to High Speed Rail service in California is not rich NIMBY homeowners or the Union Pacific Railroad. The main obstacle is the consultants being paid by the California High Speed Rail Authority to plan and design the service.
There is broad popular support for better passenger rail service in California. But in too many cases the proposals coming from the consultants for the CAHSRA are reckless in terms of economic reality and the needs of local communities. A key advantage of improved rail service is it can use existing rights of way and carry large numbers of people using very little space. The construction of high speed rail only trackage has the added advantage that it can be built at lower costs than conventional rail. This is because high speed passenger only trackage can be built with higher grades and  more super elevation to allow higher speeds around curves than is practical for freight trains. Yet the planning for HSR shows little of these advantages and seems to be going out of its way to build the most expensive project possible where they could be saving the most.
In the San Francisco Bay Area proposals called for expansion of the existing Caltrain right of way for wider ROW around the HSR tracks. This despite speeds expected at no more than 120 miles per hour not the 220 mph planned in open country. With 88% of the Caltrain right of way at least 80 feet wide this is more than enough for a 4 track railroad. It gets weirder when the plan for HSR in Santa Clara calls for the construction of 5 miles of 60 foot high viaduct over an existing 4 track segment of Caltrain ROW which is 100 feet wide and already grade separated. In Fresno there are plans again for a 60 foot high viaduct 12 miles long through most of Fresno and elevated over city streets. This viaduct is proposed to be 60 feet wide to allow non-stop trains to run past Fresno at 220 mph. The planners want the trackage to be as straight as possible in the middle of town to allow fast trains to bypass downtown. In Bakersfield the citizens of that city are given the choice of a HSR station 500 feet away from the existing Amtrak station or HSR platforms near the existing station but with a 60 foot elevated viaduct built right next to the downtown high school, which will tear out one of the school buildings. But no choice is being given to having HSR platforms close to the Amtrak station which avoids the high school despite the two alignments crossing each other.
On the RailPAC website at there is a post of comments by an engineer with a long history of working on rail projects. His experiences working with the consulting firms working for CAHSRA was very discouraging. He points out the original planning for HSR in Los Angeles called for a 4 mile long straight track in the heart of downtown Los Angeles in order for trains to bypass Los Angeles at 220 mph through the downtown Los Angeles HSR station. Four miles is twice as long as a typical runway at a large airport. The prospect of any trains bypassing the largest station on the California HSR system is highly unlikely. In Europe when trains do bypass a large city they often build the bypass outside of town where construction costs are lower. Our engineer also comments that the CAHSRA consultants assume grades no higher than 1.25 % for “passenger comfort” for elevated structures. But building at 1.25 % requires double the amount of elevated structure than building at 3% which is common for many rail viaducts; in Germany grades as high as 4 % have been used on high speed track segments.
It is because of the strong push back by local groups and government that rational changes have been made to the flawed plans of the CAHSRA consultants. The width of ROW being planned on the Peninsula HSR alignment is being reduced. Between Los Angeles and Anaheim local pressure created a rational alignment alternative which puts HSR at grade level inside LAUS and for the sharing of tracks between Amtrak Surfliner, Metrolink and HSR which greatly reduces construction costs and creates the long needed run through tracks at Union Station. But shouldn’t these issues been planned for and reasonable alternatives presented by the consultants in the first place? Why are the proposals so expensive where construction should be cheaper, yet the consultants try to nickel and dime where people are most impacted? Why do the local people have to do the consultant’s job? Maybe it is because it creates more billable hours for the consultants?

More Shovel Ready Stimulus Please

Opinion by Noel T. Braymer

With mid-term elections coming up the administration is now talking about spending 50 billion dollars for transportation projects in the long delayed transportation bill. The amount of new money going for infrastructure pales compared to the trillions of dollars of deferred maintenance we have in this country. Given the need for new construction and jobs the ironic thing is how much of the money for infrastructure from the current stimulus funding has yet to be spent.
California has been promised 2.25 billion for High Speed Rail. But it will be well into 2012 before we will see any construction from that money. We are starting to see some projects being aided by Federal Stimulus funding. This includes the recent start of construction for the Transbay Transportation Center in San Francisco. The Colton Crossing will also get some stimulus funding but it will be about a year before construction hits its peak. Last year Caltrans said they had 377 million dollars in rail projects that were “shovel ready” and could be started within 90 days of funding.  Out of the stimulus funding Caltrans Rail Division got 94 million out of 1.1 billion  requested.

In the most current State Rail Plan for 2007-08 to 2017-18 the projected capital projects for improvements to the State Supported Passenger services is just over 4 billion dollars. Under expected available funding under a constrained budget, the baseline funding in this period is 700 million. This is to pay for long awaited improvements for the Capitol Corridor, San Joaquins, Surfliner and future Coast Daylight service. Just on the Surfliner route between Los Angeles and San Diego this includes 1.6 billion dollars for improvements up to 2018. This is far from the final word. LOSSAN has issued a study of projects just for San Diego County as part of the proposed I-5 freeway rebuilding between San Diego and Oceanside which local officials are also proposing rail improvements. A 110 mile an hour railroad with tunnels under Del Mar and University Towne Centre has a final price tag of 2.9 billion dollars just in San Diego County.

Not all is bleak. One example: the state is applying under the TIGER II program for 54.3 million dollars toward the Southern California Rail Passenger Positive Train Control Program, a 314.8 million dollar project which has mostly State and local funding. It would install PTC signaling on rail lines owned by Metrolink and San Diego counties. PTC has to be installed by 2015. But this project does more than install PTC. It also includes other signal upgrades around LAUS and at grade crossing which will raise speeds up to 79 miles per hours between Moorpark and Los Angeles. It will also include track and tie replacements with concrete ties in many places. Several stations will get improved platforms and safer pedestrian access to station platforms. This TIGER II grant if it goes ahead will close the funding gap to get this project started. Let’s see that it does.

Amtrak #5, the California Zephyr, finally arrives at the Reno, NV station platform.
Tracking Rail News

Tracking Rail News: October 2010

A UP freight train delays the arrival of Amtrak #5 in the Reno trench.

Comments by Russ Jackson
Photos by Bob Snow and Russ Jackson

. . . On Time Performance. With the fiscal year ending in a few days, we will hold off the big numbers until the yearly data is available. September has been a fairly routine month, once the flooding in Iowa subsided. The California Zephyr continued to have a few delay problems there, but OTP for 5 and 6 at Denver was good up through the date of this somewhat early writing, September 16. We looked for what might be the effect of the ordered slow running of the Southwest Chief through western Kansas into Raton Pass that was mentioned here last month. The answer is very little. For example, on the #3 that departed 37 minutes late from Chicago on September 11, its latest departure time enroute was 52 minutes at LaPlata, MO. That train was “on time” out of Hutchison, KS, and “on time” out of Lamy, NM, ending up 13 minutes late out of Fullerton and 45 minutes EARLY into Los Angeles Union Station. RailPAC VP South, James Smith, confirms that the rough riding on that now speed reduced segment can be very disturbing to a sleeping passenger. Continue Reading

(L-R) John Hollenhorst (Publsisher, Mass Transit Magazine), Fred Jandt (Editor, Mass Transit Magazine), Art Lloyd (RailPAC), Isabelle Bonniot de Fleurac (Alstom), Rick Harnish (Tour Director), Bruce Jenkins (RailPAC)

RailPAC Takes HSR Tour of France

(L-R) John Hollenhorst (Publsisher, Mass Transit Magazine), Fred Jandt (Editor, Mass Transit Magazine), Art Lloyd (RailPAC), Isabelle Bonniot de Fleurac (Alstom), Rick Harnish (Tour Director), Bruce Jenkins (RailPAC)

By Bruce Jenkins, RailPAC Director

RailPAC Vice President North Art Lloyd and Director Bruce Jenkins joined a High Speed Rail Tour of France on September 13 thru 18th. The Tour was superbly guided by Rick Harnish, Executive Director of MidWestern High Speed Rail Association, who is also on the board of NARP. The tour was under the auspices of “The Society of International Railway Travelers”, Louisville, Ky. Eleanor Hardy Pres. The tour was five jam packed days of riding subways, trolleys, trams, funicular and Hi Speed Rail. We went to France with the opinion that the U.S. is a third world country in passenger rail transit, but this tour changed that opinion to forth world country in rail passenger transit!

Continue Reading

Commentary, Issues

LA City Council Rail Resolution Passes Unanimously

This morning a RailPAC resolution supporting the construction of double track between Van Nuys and Chatsworth and the building of a second platform at Van Nuys station was passed unanimously by the City Council meeting at Van Nuys.
Paul Dyson, RailPAC president, spoke in favor of the motion, which was proposed by Council members Tom LaBonge and Greig Smith.

Combined with letters and resolutions from the Cities of Burbank and Glendale, the Burbank Glendale Pasadena Airport Authority, Metrolink and the LACMTA, RailPAC hopes this resolution will help persuade the Federal Railroad administration to approve a grant under the HSIPR legislation to fund preliminary engineering and environmental work for the project.  The LACMTA has the matching funds available.

Click here to view the resolution