Monthly Archives

February 2012

Commentary

Take Trains Via The Coast. It can pay for itself.

Commentary by Robert F. Mac Donald, RailPAC Member, Oakland

The media have been playing up the rise in the price gasoline to the summer time high of about $ 5.00 per gallon. For the past several months, the media, and the rail advocate editors, have stressed the potential death of the California High Speed Rail project. The California High Speed Rail scheme has died for several reasons: one, the first idea was to tie the San Francisco Airport to the Los Angeles Airport; second, the nineteenth century idea that San Francisco is the destination of choice, rather than the nine county Bay Area in the north; third, the undeveloped plan of how to get from Bakersfield, over the Tehachapi Mountains and their San Andreas Fault to Lancaster or beyond; and fourth, the two long stretches of much reduced speed that was never presented to the public!

A review of the current Timetable of AMTRAK’s Starlight, and S. P.’s Coast Daylight Timetable of April 29, 1956, shows that the Daylight made its journey between San Jose’s train station to Santa Barbara in six hours and twenty-three minutes (6:23). That is one hour and forty minutes faster than today’s Starlight for the same 323.8 miles!

In the past 55 years, the SP and the UP railroads have up-graded most the rail on the Coast Line to 136 # welded rail, and has added CTC signal systems between San Jose and Salinas, and San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara. Since about 2003, this line has had thousands of new ties installed.

It should be noted that here in the Bay Area, four passenger rail lines meet the Coast Line at the San Jose AMTRAK Depot. They are the Capitol Corridor, CALTRAIN, ACE, and VTA. While VTA is local electric line in Silicon Valley, the Capitol Corridor serves the East Bay, North Bay, and Sacramento; ACE serves the Livermore Valley, Tracy, and Stockton; and CALTRAIN serves the West Bay to San Francisco.

What is true about rail connections at San Jose, CA are true at LA Union Station, at the southern end of the Coast Line corridor! Commuter lines go north, east, south, and somewhat west from this depot and transfer point.

Why is so much more time needed now (2012) than was needed 60 years ago to run trains between San Jose and Santa Barbara, even with better track and signals? Is it the radio dispatching system, or is it lack of track maintenance?

Who is to blame for the reduced passenger train speeds on the Coast Line? Is it the Union Pacific management? Is it CALTRANS and its Division of Rail? Is the California Public Utilities Commission? Is it the California State Legislature? Or is it the Federal Government’s Department of Transportation, Surface Transportation Board or it’s FRA?

Those who need to fly, will continue to do so! Those people that don’t want to pay $5.00 per gallon of gasoline for the 750 mile round trip (about 25 to 42 gallons depending on the vehicle), will ride the train! At $5.00 per gallon, the cost of gasoline alone ranges from $ 125 to $ 210 per round trip. AMTRAK currently quotes fares on the Coast Starlight between San Jose and Los Angeles at $ 54.00 to 105.00, one way, depending on date of reservation before travel. Currently, AMTRAK fares between San Jose and Santa Barbara, CA, are $ 44.00/ $ 86.00, one way!

Remember, that the IRS will allow you to take about $ 0.65 per mile deduction on your taxes in 2011, if your vehicle is used for business! That can be your cost for any vehicle trip; gasoline is usually out-of-pocket!

As the price of operating one’s vehicle soars, it is time to get the Coast Line between San Jose and Los Angeles up to 1950’s Morning Daylight operating schedule, or better. It is time to bring two Surfliner schedules, each way daily, from San Luis Obispo to San Jose, CA. (Call them Morning and Evening Daylights if you wish.) It is time to get Grants to assist the Union Pacific RR upgrade the signal system, add CTC and PTC, upgrade or add sidings, and make 5 to 8 passenger friendly line changes! It is time to have the CALIFORNIA ZEPHYR turn south at Oakland, CA and run as the night train from Oakland to Los Angeles on a pre-AMTRAK LARK schedule!

Interesting, if the Capitol Corridor JPB can run 32 trains a day with Union Pacific’s Roseville /Oakland freights and 10 other passenger trains, someone can operate six (6) more daily passenger trains on the Coast Line now. The Southern Pacific did it more than 90 years ago!

“Next time take the train.” It may pay you!

Commentary

An engine died in Kansas. So what else is new?

Comments by Russ Jackson, RailPAC

Southwest Chief train #3 that departed Chicago on February 20, 2012, arrived in Fullerton 8 hours 10 minutes late, and because of the end-of-run padding it arrived at Los Angeles Union Station 6 hours 58 minutes late. The reason? A locomotive engine died in Kansas, and when all was done that could be done it had to operate at freight speeds west of Albuquerque. On the same day, Sunset Limited train #1 was over 7 hours late into Los Angeles because of a bridge problem back in Louisiana. These are examples of continuing Amtrak problems for its long-distance trains, some Amtrak’s fault, some not.

Death of a locomotive. On Wednesday, February 15, Pacific Surfliner 763, the first northbound train out of San Diego with through service to Santa Barbara, spent 2 1/2 hours stranded near Los Angeles because the engine died. This train, which carries many business travelers, had several mechanical problems that month. Passengers waited while an Amtrak crew arrived by truck but could not fix the problem, then saw train 599 and 567 go by before a rescue locomotive arrived. An explanation from an Amtrak official indicated that they “could have done better and we often do.” It was “a day to forget but lessons were learned.”

How are we going to preserve passenger rail as an accepted mode of travel if the trains that are supposed to run, don’t or can’t? Yes, I know incidents like those above are few and trains run close to on time most of the time. Recently this writer, as you know an avowed supporter of passenger rail for many, many years, published two articles highly critical of Amtrak and the gloomy future for the western long-distance trains. “Amtrak to the West: Forget the future!” is more than a prediction. Question: Is what we are seeing happening recently 1) any different from the past, or 2) making us more hopeful? Well, here goes.

We all know Amtrak’s fleet is aging. Aging like many of its riders, and certainly like most of its rail advocates, this writer definitely included, and while our personal aging may be inevitable so is the life of rail equipment. Extending the age of the current Amtrak fleet of long-distance cars and locomotives depends not on doctors but the work of the maintenance department and the administration that guides that function which has declared that all they want to do for the western trains is maintain and/or rebuild what they have and will not attempt to buy new cars. Amtrak is in a panic to cut costs these days, and maintenance is often the first target. In the western part of the U.S. that means thousands of miles of hard usage with only one full service maintenance base, at 8th Street in Los Angeles. We understand only one daily work shift currently does locomotive maintenance there. The maintenance base in Oakland is used only for turning the California Zephyr, and for maintaining the Amtrak California fleet for the Capitol Corridor and San Joaquins. Out on the rails if a maintenance problem occurs the “host” railroad can help, and Amtrak has technical people available in places like San Antonio, New Orleans, Denver, and Seattle, but if a part is required to fix a problem it must be shipped in. More maintenance bases are not the answer, better maintenance and inspection and crew awareness prior to letting a train depart its originating station and while it is en-route is. The attitude at the top at Amtrak must set the standard high for this function of the company nationwide!

The latest Amtrak “Delay Minutes Performance Report” available at this point is for November, 2011. We will use the California Zephyr as our example. The Zephyr was first on the list of total delay minutes with 25,322 or 6.5% of the total for the long-distance route delays that month. Of that, 4,903 minutes were caused by Amtrak: “Passenger holds, Engine failures, and other crew related or other causes.” That figure is bad enough, but “Host railroad delays” accounted for the other minutes in the categories of “Freight train interference, Slow Orders, Passenger train interference, and all else.” While the vast majority of those delays are “host railroad” related, what do the on-board passengers see?: trains standing still, and many times for long periods without the passengers being told the reason. On January 17, 2012, Amtrak reported that for Intercity service, 15% of the 184 P42 locomotives were out of service for maintenance or other reasons. But, in the West that day out of the fleet of 21 F59PH, 13 were required, but only 12 were available; of the 17 “California” locomotives, 15 were required and only 10 were available. Another maintenance neglect for the West.

It is what the riders see. Another recent prime example of the direct effect poor maintenance can have on travelers, especially those new to rail travel, happened on train #5, the California Zephyr, to a couple from Indianapolis who booked a deluxe bedroom from Chicago to Sacramento. That couple’s story went nationwide, because travel writer Chris Elliott wrote of their problems and it was published in newspapers everywhere. First, they had problems with the door latches on the bathroom in their bedroom which resulted in them being moved to another available bedroom. Good move by the attendant, until the new room carpet was found to be soaked from a spilled drink. The towels put on the floor did not help; they went on to complain of the decrepit, unclean condition of the room, and decided to get off the train in Salt Lake City and fly to Sacramento, filing for a partial refund which was finally granted. Now, some long-suffering rail advocates would probably ride it out, as this writer and spouse did on our trip on train #2 a year ago departing Los Angeles when a similar situation of a soaked floor could not be resolved by the attendant, a mechanic at El Paso, or a mechanic at San Antonio. Towels were placed on the floor, but were not helpful. How did these cars get out of the Amtrak maintenance base in these conditions? On another trip a rail advocate colleague saw the car attendant’s log book of maintenance problems and the attendant complained that he had reported problems over and over that were not dealt with.

On January 29, 2012, there was a problem with a car that had to be set off train #5 at Hastings, Nebraska due to a fire because a bag of linen which was set against a hot heater grate ignited. That is not a maintenance problem, right? No, it was a careless act on board. But, the problem cascaded when it took six hours to get the train and its 100 plus passengers on its way including setting out the car, then having the operating crew’s hours of service die and a replacement crew having to come from Denver to Holdredge, NB. Unfortunate circumstances, but just like airline passengers being stuck on a plane that is not allowed to take off, not very conducive to passenger morale or return business particularly by first time travelers.

On February 6, 2012, the Union Pacific had a freight derailment near Del Rio, Texas, which tied up train #1, the Sunset Limited. When it reached the derailment site, it was required to back up to San Antonio where buses were provided to passengers for the rest of their journey, or, they were told if they wanted to stay on the train they could ride when the situation was cleared and 30 hearty souls agreed to do so (probably fellow rail advocates). That trainset arrived in Los Angeles 35 hours and 27 minutes late, which included an additional delay with a work crew on the UP line at Shawmut, Arizona. Chances are those 30 were thrilled with the experience and will ride again, but after riding a bus how many of those other folks will come back? This writer had a similar experience years ago when #2, actually a Thru-Texas Eagle #22 which did not travel east of San Antonio but continued north to Chicago, came upon a UP freight derailment near Maricopa, Arizona, which delayed us 14 hours.

And the beat goes on. Day after day, train after train, some problem can occur that will cause passengers and crews grief. On Time Performance is certainly a factor in passengers choosing to ride Amtrak trains, but it is only one factor and each rider decides which factor or factors will determine whether a repeat trip will take place. For all the long-distance trains as of the end of January, 2012, trains were “on time” 74% of the time for the fiscal year starting last October 1. In FY 2010 for the Sunset Limited, 69.9% of the trains arrived within 30 minutes of their scheduled time, and 88.9% within 120 minutes. Rail advocates know all the problems and like us usually choose to keep coming back. But, how much business does Amtrak lose due to problems of on time reliability, cleanliness, safety, crew responsiveness, and/or neglected maintenance? We don’t know for sure, but we will keep riding them as long as they are there for us to do so. How long will that be?

Editorials

How to Please Almost Everyone on California High Speed Rail

Opinion by Noel T. Braymer

The opposition of the California High Speed Rail Project is largely to the cost of the project and the amount of private land being considered for condemnation to build it. These problems were created by language in Prop 1A which calls for service between Los Angeles and San Francisco in 2 hours and 40 minutes or less. This is less than the current running time for most Amtrak service between Los Angeles and San Diego. To meet this goal Trains would have to travel in the San Joaquin Valley at speeds up to 220 miles per hour. This would be for only 1 express train an hour with one intermediate stop. To attain such running times would require smoothing out curves and building short-cuts on new rights of way in the heart of the San Joaquin Valley. Creating  new rights of way is what is driving up much of the cost of this project and upsetting property owners who would lose their land if the project were built as proposed.

There is a right of way which the State already owns which by-passes the cities in the San Joaquin Valley where it would be much cheaper to build such a High Speed Rail raceway: the I-5 Freeway in the San Joaquin Valley. With only one intermediate stop you could fly through the Valley on this raceway. Using Bakersfield as the intermediate station would give connections to the rest of the Valley on an express train to and from Los Angeles. This would give you a high speed express right of way which would be much cheaper to build, avoid large condemnation of land and still meet the requirements of the Prop 1A. It is also the last thing that should get built.

What can be done quickly which would avoid local opposition is to upgrade most of the existing railroad for higher speeds with some new relocated stations. Many of the existing trains stations could still be served with local service along with with additional faster express trains. Passenger Rail Service with Federal Rail Administration approved upgrades can run as fast as 125 miles per hour even without full grade separation. Higher speeds would be possible with grade separation and improvements. It wouldn’t be as fast as the 220 mile per hour raceway needed to get express trains to San Francisco to LA in 2 hours 40 minutes, but it wouldn’t need to be that fast. To get much value out of speeds over 200 miles per hour you can’t stop very often. You can see this every day at stop lights where the slow pokes catch up at traffic lights with the street racers. Tearing up the San Joaquin Valley to serve a few trains that skip most of the Valley at great expense doesn’t make sense. Building on improving what we already have does.

We need to build a State Wide Rail Passenger Service, not a LA to San Francisco Bullet Train. That starts by accelerating rail passenger service improvements across the State which would connect with the spine service in the San Joaquin Valley. The key to all of this is a fast connection between Bakersfield and Los Angeles to get a decent rail passenger connection from Southern California to the San Joaquin Valley and the Bay Area. The retiring CEO of the California High Speed Rail Authority, Roelof van Ark has said that rail operators are only interested in investing and running passenger service in California after such a connection is built. Lack of such a connection is the biggest bottleneck in providing decent State Wide Rail Passenger service.

Only after we have good, fast local service between San Francisco, the San Joaquin Valley and Southern California should we think about a new express raceway on I-5 and worrying about competing with the airlines between Southern California and the Bay Area by rail. First work at giving people alternatives to crowded freeways and increasingly expensive gasoline.

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for February 13, 2012

Inland Empire News – Feb 9,2012 SACRAMENTO – Governor Brown and US Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood are reaffirming their support for building High-Speed Rail in California. LaHood said he’s traveled throughout the state “and found a strong base of support, from workers who will ..

February 13, 2012

The above copy of this enewletter is on a PDF file and  you will not be able to click on to the links in blue. If you would like an emailed copy of this enewsletter or to subscribe to it email nbraymer@railpac.org

Issues, Reports

Amtrak California gets to the Coachella Valley

RailPAC Report by Russ Jackson, Robert Manning, and from the Amtrak.com timetable. Photo by Robert Manning.
In its revised schedule dated December 5, 2011, Amtrak California quietly added a new train-bus service finally recognizing the importance of travel from Palm Springs, Indio, and the Coachella Valley to/from Los Angeles. Until then the only Amtrak service was the tri-weekly Sunset Limited long-distance train, and connecting buses to/from the San Joaquin trains. These new buses do not go to the Palm Springs train station, but go to the downtown Airport station and other cities enroute.

On Friday, February 10, RailPAC’s Coachella Valley-based Director, Bob Manning called this writer from the Sightseer Lounge of that afternoon’s Sunset Limted, saying he had ridden the morning bus from Palm Springs Airport station to Fullerton and the train into Los Angeles, but was returning home on the long-distance train that afternoon. He said there were only a handfull of folks on the morning bus, but Amtrak officials had told him the bus service was already breaking even. That, without a hint of publicity that either of us had seen. While RailPAC and Valley folks would rather have train service, this is a good beginning!

Retired RailPAC Executive Director, Richard Silver says, “I rode it the first day and twice since. Drivers tell me ridership is between 15-17 per day. One reported a day with 27. By far the busiest stop is Palm Springs airport. So busy infact that Amtrak should add a ticket machine there. Remember the San Joaquin Buses stop there (and Indio, La Quinta & Palm Desert) also.”

Trainweb’s Steve Grande is disappointed that the new buses are not timed so someone can spend a day in the desert communities or at the casino where the buses now stop in Cabazon. The bus schedules are timed for riders coming from the Valley stops into Los Angeles.

This writer notes that the buses stop at Fullerton for a train transfer, so it can include riding on the Pacific Surfliner to/from Oceanside and San Diego, also. A check of the Amtrak.com timetable shows that routing is possible, opening a very large matrix of transportation choices.

With this new service, and the requirement that any Amtrak California bus ticket must connect to a train, there are now two daily bus round trips. Below the photo is the Monday-Friday schedule. Weekend schedules are slightly different. Adult one-way fare from Palm Springs is $18 from Palm Springs, $20 from Indio, and $27 from Oceanside.

Palm Springs Amtrak station for the Sunset Limited, but not for the Thruway buses

Eastbound
Train 572 Departs Los Angeles Union Station at 11:10 AM, arrives Fullerton 11:39.
Bus 4968 Departs Fullerton at 11:50 AM, arrives Palm Springs Airport at 1:50 PM

Train 784 Departs Los Angeles at 5:10 PM, arrives Fullerton 5:39.
Bus 4984 Departs Fullerton at 6:20 PM, arrives PS 8:15, Indio at 9:15

Westbound

Bus 4969 Departs Indio at 8:05 AM, Palm Springs at 9:00, Ar Ful 11:21 AM
Train 769 Departs Fullerton at 11:33 AM, arrives Los Angeles at 12:10 PM

Bus 4985 Departs Palm Springs at 3:10 PM, arrives Fullerton at 5:25
Train 785 Departs Fullerton at 6:16 PM, arrives Los Angeles at 6:55 PM

Note: Only one bus goes to/from Indio

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for February 6, 2012

The only leg of the San Joaquin Valley HSR starter line that seems close to construction is by Fresno. The deadline for starting construction is this Summer! The lack of political consensus in most of the Valley will likely delay or prevent construction in the foreseeable future. There are several projects long in the planning stage on the Peninsula and in Southern California which have cleared all environmental studies and are only waiting for funding. Governor Brown seems to be very aware of this from recent interviews he gave over a week ago NB.

February 6, 2012

The above copy of this enewletter is on a PDF file and  you will not be able to click on to the links in blue. If you would like an emailed copy of this enewsletter or to subscribe to it email nbraymer@railpac.org

 

 

 

 

eNewsletter

eNewsletter for January 30, 2012

San Joaquin Valley Rail Committee takes stand on Closing the HSR Gap at January 26 Meeting ; Passes Resolution Supporting Closure of the Southern Gap.    The top priority for rail passenger service in California is direct service between Bakersfield and Los Angeles. Hopefully other government bodies will join the SJVRC with similar statements.  NB

January 30, 2012

The above copy of this enewletter is on a PDF file and  you will not be able to click on to the links in blue. If you would like an emailed copy of this enewsletter or to subscribe to it email nbraymer@railpac.org

2012CalHSRCommentaryR2A. Chart
Commentary, Issues

Comparing The Benefits Of The First $7 Billion Investment In California High Speed Rail—Bakersfield North vs. Bakersfield South

Commentary by Ralph James, RailPAC Member, Blue Canyon CA

This commentary is a follow-up to this writer’s original commentary entitled “Is California High Speed Rail on Track for Successful Implementation?”, published in spring 2010 illustrating the futility of spending early HSR dollars in the Central Valley as compared to other sections of the ultimate HSR route.

In the intervening two years the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) has made clear its intention to construct the first section of high speed right-of-way in the Central Valley between the vicinity of Fresno and Bakersfield, “Bakersfield North” in this discussion. “Bakersfield South” in this discussion is construction via Tehachapi Pass between the existing Amtrak station in Bakersfield and the existing Metrolink station in Lancaster. It is not the purpose of this commentary to debate the merits of routing HSR via Lancaster/Palmdale or the I-5 corridor; that is an independent issue. Travel times via the I-5 corridor would be about a half hour less than those detailed herein if that option were considered.

General Assumptions

Construction costs for all options would be of approximately equal magnitude for budgeting purposes, in the vicinity of $6 -7 Billion.
No electrification or purchase of electric-powered equipment would be included. Right-of-way would initially serve conventional Amtrak California trains. Maximum speed of conventional trains on high speed right-of-way would be limited to 110 mph based on the capabilities of existing equipment. Maximum speed of conventional trains on the steepest portions of high speed right-of-way is estimated at 80 mph with diesel power. The actual speed possible could vary significantly based on actual train length, train weight and specific locomotives assigned.

Maximum speed on unimproved portions of San Joaquin and Metrolink routes would be increased from 79 to 90 mph with Positive Train Control (PTC) where possible without major realignment. San Joaquin schedules of four Bay Area and two Sacramento round trips per day would be unchanged for the start of revenue service over newly constructed HSR segments.

For “Bakersfield South”, thru-running of San Joaquin schedules to San Diego (four of six round trips are time-appropriate) and thru-running of Surfliner schedules to the San Joaquin Merced crew base (one round trip is time-appropriate) is assumed to fully integrate the corridors. Additional conventional equipment would be required for “Bakersfield South” to permit extension of San Joaquin schedules from Bakersfield to Los Angeles and San Diego.

These assumptions, taken as a group, are intended to reasonably approximate conditions that would exist in 7-10 years when the initial segment of HSR right-of-way would be opened for revenue service. Minor deviations from these assumptions can add or subtract minutes here and there but do not alter the conclusions to be reached.

Discussion of Bakersfield North

For purposes of this comparison, construction of HSR infrastructure is assumed to begin at a point approximately 15 miles north of Fresno on the BNSF/Amtrak corridor, swing westward to the Union Pacific corridor along Highway 99 through Fresno, return to a route roughly parallel to the BNSF corridor to the Hanford area and on to Bakersfield for a total distance of approximately 125 miles. These particulars are derived from public information including the CHSRA website, and are subject to variations.

Travel times north of Bakersfield are based on a simplified model that travel on the existing route would be at a track speed of 90 mph except where limited by existing restrictions through the cities of Fresno and Hanford, the Laton curves and the approach to the Bakersfield station. All intermediate stops would be maintained, and an average of 5 minutes elapsed time would be added for each stop to allow for deceleration, station dwell and acceleration back to track speed.

Travel over the proposed HSR route on this section would be at a track speed of 110 mph with no intermediate restrictions. All intermediate stops would be maintained and an average of 6 minutes elapsed time would be added for each stop based on longer deceleration and acceleration times required from the higher track speed. The simplified model includes Merced crew change allowance and intermediate recovery time approximating that used in current schedules.

Construction costs per mile in the Valley should be lower than in other proposed sections of HSR due to relatively long distances between dense population centers and lack of mountainous terrain. A significant portion of this cost advantage, however, is lost due to the many miles of elevated structures that are proposed in the most recent CHSRA business plan.

Discussion of Bakersfield South

For purposes of this comparison, construction of HSR infrastructure is assumed to begin at or near the current Bakersfield Amtrak station, with appropriate modifications to the existing track structure to accommodate through running and avoid conflict with BNSF freight movements. As described on the CHSRA website, the route would roughly follow SR58 from Bakersfield to Mojave, then roughly follow SR14 to Lancaster, a distance of approximately 77 miles, where it would join the current end of Metrolink track to Palmdale and Los Angeles.

Approximately one third of the distance between Bakersfield and Lancaster is through difficult mountainous territory. Construction over this portion would be fully compatible with HSR standards but would include only single-bore tunnels to save initial construction costs on one of the most expensive components of HSR. Without overhead electrification, all bores could easily accommodate bi-level California Cars, but it is this writer’s opinion that tunneling should be adequately sized to permit eventual operation of bi-level HSR equipment (or electrified conventional equipment) for maximum flexibility and capacity improvements over the long run. Depending on specific design details, major bridges could also be initially constructed as single-track structures where cost savings could justify the temporarily reduced operational flexibility. Adequate passing sidings and/or double track are assumed in other areas to maintain schedule reliability.

Travel times calculated for Bakersfield/Lancaster are based on a simplified model similar to “Bakersfield North”, but with a limitation of 80 mph applied on the steepest portion of the route with diesel locomotives. With this consideration, actual speeds are assumed to be 110 mph only between Bakersfield and the start of serious grades east of Edison and between Tehachapi and Lancaster. A single intermediate station stop is assumed at Tehachapi and is allowed 6 minutes and the station stop at Lancaster/Palmdale is allowed 5 minutes.

Travel times calculated for Lancaster/Los Angeles are based on a track speed of 90 mph, but recognizing the significant speed restrictions in place through Soledad Canyon, Santa Clarita and the summit tunnel near Newhall. Three intermediate station stops are assumed in the vicinity of Santa Clarita, Sylmar and Glendale/Burbank with an allowance of 5 minutes each. Also assumed are additional passing sidings and double track on the Metrolink route to maintain schedules with significantly increased traffic.

Construction costs per mile in the mountainous sections south of Bakersfield will be higher than in the Valley, but with an incremental approach, substantial costs can be deferred until increased traffic levels can justify the additional investment required to double-track the entire route.

Note 1: Case 1 baseline from 2011 published timetables. Transfer times average both directions from all schedules with thru connections. Maximum track speed 79 MPH with standing restrictions for curves.

Note 2: Case 2 based on assumed implementation of mandated PTC on conventional San Joaquin route. Maximum track speed 90 MPH with standing restrictions for curves (no realignments from 2011 baseline).

Note 3: Case 3 assumes Case 2 upgrade to 90 MPH track speed on conventional portion of route with no curve realignments. *Assumes transition to HSR alignment north of Fresno per published construction plan and train speed limited to 110 MPH by equipment design.

Note 4: Case 4 assumes Case 2 upgrade to 90 MPH track speed on conventional San Joaquin route with no curve realignments. Five minutes of end-point recovery time removed at Bakersfield for thru-running. Assumes transition to HSR alignment south of Bakersfield connecting with existing Metrolink track at Lancaster. Assumes capability of 110 MPH operation but actual speeds on steepest portions limited to approximately 80 MPH by power requirements with diesel locomotives. Assumes minor upgrades to Metrolink track, 90 mph where feasible and only 3 stops to reduce travel time from 2011 Metrolink schedules.

Note 5: Stockton times reflect rail travel 4 of 6 trips Oakland, 2 of 6 trips Sacramento. Other trips bus bridge.

As can be seen from the accompanying time comparison tabulation, nothing approaching “High Speed Rail” travel times between Northern and Southern California can be achieved from the initial HSR construction segment, regardless of the route or location chosen. Using the most likely scenario of 90 mph track speed under PTC on the San Joaquin and Metrolink corridors, $7 Billion spent north of Bakersfield buys about a half hour of time savings on a trip from Northern California to Southern California and still requires a 2 1/2 hour bus ride and one or two transfers. The same investment made south of Bakersfield via Lancaster does not materially change the travel time to downtown Los Angeles, but the bus ride and transfers are eliminated thus saving about an hour to points south to San Diego.

Several conclusions can be drawn from the above numbers. First, some travel time reduction will be gained from the first HSR construction wherever it is, but the roughly one hour maximum savings from an all day trip of 8 to 11 hours by itself is not going to attract any significant ridership. Second, the assumptions made to calculate travel times (not just maximum line speed) such as the specific route selected, coordination of connections, thru running at Los Angeles and the improvements made to existing routes can also have a very significant effect on travel times, plus or minus from the mid-range assumptions made herein. Third, there is much room for improvement on the Pacific Surfliner corridor where 90 mph track speed is already available, but end-to-end speed averages only about 47 mph.

Justifying the Investment

If a very modest reduction in travel time cannot justify the $7 Billion cost (which it obviously cannot), what then would bring some sanity to this level of expenditure of public funds? The only justifications available are greatly increased convenience and opening a large market for rail travel where none presently exists. Construction in the Central Valley clearly cannot increase convenience when a “California High Speed Rail” trip requires a 2 1/2 hour bus ride to reach Los Angeles and a long walk and long second transfer to reach points south to San Diego. There are no new markets created beyond those that exist today. In fact, if HSR construction bypasses some of the smaller stops of Corcoran, Wasco or Madera as has been speculated in some reports, there will be a decrease in convenience and market.

Construction between Bakersfield and Metrolink, whether via Lancaster/Palmdale or the I-5 corridor, immediately produces tangible benefits that meet both justifications. Convenience is drastically improved by offering for the first time a single-seat ride between Sacramento or the Bay Area and San Diego. Also for the first time in nearly half a century direct rail service will link the San Joaquin Valley to the Los Angeles basin. For the first time ever, this rail service will be auto-competitive and will open a large market that has never existed for the rail traveler.

Conclusion

For HSR to be successful and be supported by the public, each incremental investment must produce an incremental return of commensurate value. Even if by some magic the entire HSR system were to be in place overnight it would take years or decades to develop the ridership needed to fully support it. Thus it is critical that each segment be designed and paced to capture the most incremental ridership and build public support on a steadily increasing customer base. A stranded asset of the magnitude envisioned by building first in the Central Valley will not attract commensurate ridership and might well be cause to discredit the concept of HSR for decades to come.

If transportation value is the desired goal for the first segment of HSR construction, decisions must be based on engineering rather than political evaluations, convenience to the traveling public rather than convenience to politicians or operating entities, value for public dollar rather than windfall for organized labor and immediate usefulness of the completed segment rather than future usefulness only if many more Billions are spent.

It is becoming more and more evident that the dominant considerations driving the current CHSRA planning concern political districts (construction jobs in high unemployment areas of the Valley), timing based on national politics (start building before the November 2012 elections or lose federal funding), turf-building between operating entities (Amtrak not committed to using Valley HSR if built, no coordinated operational planning with Metrolink or Pacific Surfliner) and the familiar line that it is necessary to spend extra Billions now for potential 220 mph running through metropolitan areas to ensure some arbitrary end point timing in the indefinite future. If the concept of High Speed Rail in California is to remain alive, planning must return to engineering-based decisions, funding must not be held hostage to political timetables, decisions must keep public convenience and financial constraint at the forefront, all potential operating entities must work together without turf-building and the highest importance must be assigned to the immediate benefits obtained. Initial investment must build a necessary segment of the ultimate plan, but must be viewed as if no additional funding were available for the second or additional phases—which is exactly a best-case scenario of today’s reality.

Construction of HSR is not a question of Democrats vs. Republicans, Liberals vs. Conservatives or District A vs. District B. It is a question of common sense vs. politics-as-usual of any stripe. If common sense cannot prevail it is, unfortunately, time to back off until it does.