The California HSR Bombshell, Redux

California Governor Gavin Newsom spoke his piece, and California HSR is most likely dead. His state of the state speech tried to have it both ways, and his chief of staff insisted that no, he had not just canceled the HSR project, but his language suggests he’s not going to invest any more money or political capital in going beyond the Central Valley. Lisa Schweitzer put it best when she talked about his sense of priorities.

I actually don’t want to talk about the costs of the project; an article about this topic will appear in the Bay City Beacon any day now, and I will update this post with a link when it does. Rather, I want to talk about alignments. For those of you who’ve been reading me since the start, this means reopening some topics that involved tens of thousands of comments’ worth of flamewars on California HSR Blog.

What they should be building

As before, red denotes HSR with top speed of 350 km/h outside the built-up areas of the largest cities, and blue denotes legacy lines with through-service. I ask that people not overinterpret pixel-level alignments. The blue alignment in Southern California is the legacy route taken by Amtrak, the one in the Bay Area is a legacy line from Fremont to San Jose that some area transit advocates want a Caltrain extension on (and if it’s unavailable then it can be deleted with a forced transfer to BART), the one in the far north of the state is the freight line up to Redding.

The mid-2000s environmental impact study claims that Los Angeles-San Francisco via Altamont Pass would take 2:36 nonstop. The Tejon route I’m drawing is 12 minutes faster, so in theory this is 2:24. But three express stops in the middle, even in lower-speed territory right near Los Angeles and San Francisco, lead to somewhat longer trip times, as do various design compromises already made to reduce costs. My expectation is that the alignment drawn is about 2:45 on LA-SF and somewhat less on LA-Sacramento, on the order of 2:15 nonstop.

Why Tejon and not the Tehachapis

There are two ways to get between Los Angeles and Bakersfield. The first is the alignment taken by the I-5, called the Grapevine or Tejon Pass. The second is to detour far to the east via Palmdale and Tehachapi Pass. The alignment I drew is Tejon, that chosen by the HSR Authority is the Tehachapis.

Clem Tillier made a presentation about why Tejon is far superior. It is shorter, reducing trip times by about 12 minutes. It is less expensive, since the shorter length of the route as well as the reduced tunneling requirement means fewer civil structures are required; Clem’s presentation cites a figure of $5 billion, but with recent overruns I’ve heard a figure closer to $7 billion.

The exact cost of either alignment depends on standards. Unlike Northeastern passenger rail efforts, which are based on bad American design standards that recommend very shallow grades, ideally no more than 1.5-2%, California HSR uses a generic European standard of up to 3.5%, the same as in France. However, 3.5% is a conservative value, designed around TGVs, which almost uniquely in the HSR world have separate power cars. Distributed traction, that is EMUs, has higher initial acceleration and can climb steeper grades. One German HSR line goes up to 4%, and only the EMU ICE 3 train is allowed to use it, not the ICE 1 and 2, which have power cars like the TGVs. Even 5% is achievable far from stations and slow zones, which would reduce tunneling requirements even further.

In the mid-2000s, it was thought that the Tehachapi alignment could be done with less tunneling than Tejon. Only one 3.5% alignment through Tejon was available without crossing a fault line underground, so Tehachapi seemed safer. But upon further engineering, it became clear more tunneling was needed through Soledad Canyon between Los Angeles and Palmdale, while the Tejon alignment remained solid. The HSR Authority resisted the calls to shift to Tejon, and even sandbagged Tejon in its study, for two reasons:

1. Los Angeles County officials favored the Tehachapi route in order to develop Palmdale around the HSR station.

2. A private real estate company called Tejon Ranch planned to build greenfield development near the Tejon HSR route called Tejon Mountain Village, and opposed HSR construction on its property.

As Clem notes, the market capitalization of Tejon Ranch is about an order of magnitude less than the Tehachapi-Tejon cost difference. As for the county’s plans for Palmdale, spending $5 billion on enabling more sprawl in Antelope Valley is probably not the state’s highest priority, even if an HSR station for (optimistically) a few thousand daily travelers in a region of 400,000 exists to greenwash it.

Why follow the coast to San Diego

Two years ago I wrote an article for the Voice of San Diego recommending electrifying the Los Angeles-San Diego Amtrak line and running trains there faster, doing the trip in about 2 hours, or aspirationally 1:45. Amtrak’s current trip time is 2:48-2:58 depending on time of day.

The alignment proposed by the HSR Authority instead detours through the Inland Empire. The good thing about it is that as a greenfield full-speed route it can actually do the trip faster than the legacy coast line could – the plan in the 2000s was to do it in 1:18, an average speed of about 190 km/h, on account of frequent curves limiting trains to about 250 km/h. Unfortunately, greenfield construction would have to be postponed to phase 2 of HSR, after Los Angeles-San Francisco was complete, due to costs. Further design and engineering revealed that the route would have to be almost entirely on viaducts, raising costs.

If I remember correctly, the estimated cost of the HSR Authority’s proposed alignment to San Diego was $10 billion in the early 2010s, about $40 million per kilometer (and so far Central Valley costs have been higher). Even excluding the Los Angeles-Riverside segment, which is useful for HSR to Phoenix, this is around $7 billion for cutting half an hour out of trips from Los Angeles and points north to San Diego. Is it worth it? Probably not.

What is more interesting is the possibility of using the Inland Empire detour to give San Diego faster trips to Phoenix and Las Vegas. San Diego-Riverside directly would be around 45 minutes, whereas via Los Angeles it would be around 2:20.

However, the same question about the half hour’s worth of saving on the high-speed route can equally be asked about connecting San Diego to Las Vegas and Phoenix. These are three not especially large, not especially strong-centered cities. The only really strong center generating intercity travel there is the Las Vegas Strip, and there San Diego is decidedly a second-order origin compared with Los Angeles; the same is even true of San Francisco, which could save about 40 minutes to Las Vegas going via Palmdale and Victorville, or 55 minutes via Mojave and Barstow.

Ultimately, the non-arboreal origin of money means that the $7 billion extra cost of connecting Riverside to San Diego is just too high for the travel time benefits it could lead to. There are better uses of $7 billion for improving connectivity to San Diego, including local rail (such as a light rail tunnel between city center and Hillcrest, branching out to Mid-City and Kearny Mesa) and a small amount of extra money on incrementally upgrading the coast line.

Why Altamont is better than Pacheco

I’m leaving the most heated issue to last: the route between the Central Valley and the Bay Area. I am not exaggerating when I am saying tens of thousands of comments have been written in flamewars on California HSR Blog over its ten years of existence; my post about political vs. technical activists treated this flamewar as almost a proxy for which side one was on.

The route I drew is Altamont Pass. It carries I-580 from Tracy to Livermore, continuing onward to Pleasanton and Fremont. It’s a low pass and trains can go over the pass above-ground, and would only need to tunnel further west in order to reach Fremont and then cross the Bay to Redwood City. Many variations are possible, and the one studied in the mid-2000s was not the optimal one: the technical activist group TRANSDEF, which opposes Pacheco, hired French consultancy SETEC to look at it and found a somewhat cheaper and easier-to-construct Altamont alignment than the official plan. The biggest challenge, tunneling under the Bay between Fremont and Redwood City, is parallel to a recently-built water tunnel in which there were no geotechnical surprises. Second-hand sources told me at the beginning of this decade that such a rail tunnel could be built for $1 billion.

Pacheco Pass is far to the south of Altamont. The route over that pass diverges from the Central Valley spine in Chowchilla, just south of Merced, and heads due west toward Gilroy, thence up an alignment parallel to the freight line or US 101 to San Jose. The complexity there is that the pass itself requires tunneling as the terrain there is somewhat more rugged than around Altamont.

As far as connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco goes, the two alignments are equivalent. The old environmental impact reports stated a nonstop trip time of 2:36 via Altamont and 2:38 via Pacheco; Pacheco is somewhat more direct but involves somewhat more medium-speed running in suburbia, so it cancels out. The early route compromises, namely the Central Valley route, affected Altamont more than Pacheco, but subsequent compromises in the Bay Area are the opposite; nonetheless, the difference remains small. However, Pacheco is superior for service between Los Angeles and San Jose, where it is about 10 minutes faster, while Altamont is superior for service between the Bay Area and Sacramento, where it is around an hour faster and requires less additional construction to reach Sacramento.

As with the Tehachapis, the Authority sandbagged the alignment it did not want. San Jose-based HSR Authority board member Rod Diridon wanted Pacheco for the more direct route to Los Angeles, perhaps realizing that if costs ran over or the promised federal and private funding did not materialize, all three of which would indeed happen, the spur to San Jose was the easiest thing to cut, leaving the city with a BART transfer to Fremont. Consequently, the Authority put its finger on the study’s scale: it multiplied the frequency effect on passenger demand by a factor of six, to be able to argue that splitting trains between two Bay Area destinations would reduce ridership; it conducted public hearings in NIMBY suburbs near Altamont but not in ones near Pacheco; and early on it even planned to build San Francisco-San Jose as its first segment, upgrading Caltrain in the meantime.

And as with the Tehachapis, the chosen route turned out to be worse than imagined. Subsequent business plans revealed more tunneling was needed. The route through San Jose itself was compromised with curvy viaducts, and the need to blend regional and intercity traffic on the Caltrain route forced further slowdowns in intercity train speed, from a promised 30 minutes between San Francisco and San Jose to about 45. The most recent business plan even gave up on high speed between Gilroy and San Jose and suggested running on the freight mainline in the initial operating stage, at additional cost and time given Union Pacific’s hostility to passenger rail.

What is salvageable?

The HSR Authority has made blunders, perhaps intentionally and perhaps not, that complicate any future project attempting to rescue the idea of HSR. In both Los Angeles and the Bay Area, delicate timetabling is needed to blend regional and intercity rail. Heavy freight traffic interferes with this scheduling, especially as Union Pacific demands unelectrified track, generous freight slots, and gentle grades for its weak diesel locomotives, frustrating any attempt to build grade-separations cheaply by using 3-4% grades. Caltrain’s trackage rights agreement with UP contained a guillotine clause permitting it to kick freight off the line if it changed in favor of an incompatible use, originally intended to permit BART to take over the tracks; Caltrain gave up this right. UP is not making a profit on the line, where it runs a handful of freight trains per day, but the industrial users insisted on freight rail service.

Likewise, the Central Valley segment has some route compromises baked in, although these merely raise costs rather than introducing forced slowdowns or scheduling complications. A future project between Merced, the northern limit of current construction, and Sacramento, could just spend more time early on negotiating land acquisitions with the farmers.

It is in a way fortunate that in its incompetence, the HSR Authority left the most important rail link in the state – Los Angeles-Bakersfield – for last. With no construction on the Tehachapi route, the state will be free to build Tejon in the future. It will probably need to buy out Tejon Mountain Village or add some more tunneling, but the cost will still be low compared with that of the Palmdale detour.

Ultimately, the benefits of HSR increase over time as cities increase in size, economic activity, and economic connectivity. The Shinkansen express trains ran hourly in 1965; today, they run six times per hour off-peak and ten at the peak. Going back even earlier, passenger traffic on the London Underground at the beginning of the 20th century was not impressive by today’s standards. The fact that national rail traffic plummeted in most developed countries due to the arrival of mass motorization should not distract from the fact that overall travel volumes are up with economic growth, and thus, in a growing area, the case for intercity rail investment steadily strengthens over time.

Chickenshit governors like Newsom, Andrew Cuomo, and Charlie Baker are not an immutable fact of life. They are replaced after a few terms, and from time to time they are replaced by more proactive leaders, ones who prefer managing big-ticket public projects successfully to canceling them or scaling them back on the grounds that they are not competent enough to see them through.

118 comments

  1. walkableprinceton

    “Chickenshit governors like Newsom, Andrew Cuomo, and Charlie Baker are not an immutable fact of life.” “Chickenshit”, huh? Remind me who exactly are the governors who have built loads of high-speed rail? Bof. I will posit that no state governor has built high-speed rail because high-speed rail is expensive, especially in a market where nobody has previously built high-speed rail. And nobody likes expensive stuff. It’s too bad that California can’t build this, but if it’s not military hardware, the US often finds it hard to justify large public expenditures.

    • Alon Levy

      Okay, first of all, “especially in a market where nobody has previously built high-speed rail” is kind of a strange line, since the cheapest HSR line built in Europe is the LGV Sud-Est, which cost even less than the Spanish HSR lines.

      Second, it doesn’t have to be HSR. You have interesting plans like Lamont’s 30-30-30 (whether he can implement it is a separate question!), just not when the state is run by an extremely risk-averse leader like Christie, Baker, Cuomo, or apparently Newsom.

    • Ross Bleakney

      What is chickenshit is how they respond to projects. As Alon wrote in the next sentence, all of these governors are afraid to build anything, for fear of cost overruns. Of course these sorts of projects are expensive, but California, for example, is willing to spend the money, as long as they feel it is being spent wisely. There is nothing being done by the governor that suggests that is what they are doing. There are plenty of governors who would take a much more dramatic, hands on approach. They would start firing people, calling for independent audits and a lot more transparency. The price tag still might be very high, but at least people wouldn’t assume they are being ripped off. Ultimately, it could be built using that approach, but only if their is real leadership.

  2. Henry Mason

    “Everything CAHSR was doing was wrong, but Newsom was chickenshit for not sticking to the plan anyway.”

      • Michael James

        He could have changed the plan. He could have managed the project better, he just didn’t care.

        That’s more or less what he, or his office retrospectively, said. But I guess you believe it was just political ass covering. Certainly it is NIMTOO with respect to trying to limit the amount of his budget that gets spent on it.
        But then why would he continue building the Merced to Bakersfield segment which has to be just about the most useless bit in the entire route, plus the central valley types hate it so no political advantage there (though in usual hypocrisy they’ll no doubt complain if it got cancelled). In the past I have said that the US just has to get one HSR line built so that Americans can experience it, and not just the minority who travel internationally, and the politics would transform, or at least be a lot less toxic. But this line will be useless in PR terms, in fact given its cost and then its likely utter failure in terms of ridership etc if it ever opens … as i is too far from either LA or SF to use.

        Seems there’s still a glimmer of hope in that he might be genuinely interested in grappling with its costs.
        Ok, maybe I just can’t come to terms with such a … well let me quote:

        Brad Plumer, the New York Times climate journalist, echoed that theme, while invoking the California project’s tortured history: “An understandable decision given what a clusterfuck that project had become but man, the U.S. is really, really bad at building passenger rail.”

        The reason it depresses me is that our idiot Australian politicians and public will doubtless take their cue from California: if it is too difficult for them, it is ridiculous for us to bother trying.

  3. Eric

    What do you think of moving the Las Vegas line to form a T junction just north of Palm Springs, obviating the Cajon Pass crossing, and making Phoenix-Las Vegas trips more competitive?

    • Jacob Manaker

      Ad “obviating the Cajon Pass crossing”: A wye by Palm Springs still requires crossing the mountains; you’re just using SR-62 for a RoW instead of extant rail corridors.

      Ad “making Phoenix-Las Vegas trips more competitive”: I’m not Alon, but you might have a point here. My ballpark calculations give a time saving of 25min (20%) for such a trip.

      • Eric

        Near Palm Springs, the mountain crossing is much shorter, with much less of an elevation difference.

  4. Henry

    Is there any reason why going to San Francisco is preferable to Oakland? It seems like Oakland would be easier to get to.

    • Alon Levy

      San Francisco is the economic center of the Bay Area and Oakland is a glorified suburb. Would you terminate Northeast Corridor trains from Washington in Jersey City instead of in New York?

      • Max Wyss

        Good comparison. In both cases, the transfer would occur on an already overcrowded urban transit route.

      • cosmicwonderful

        Is it though? Not that long ago I saw a study showing San Jose’s economy eclipsed San Francisco’s. Since then more tech has moved to the city, but the true economic center of the bay area couldn’t be further north than Menlo Park.

        Certainly SF is the *cultural* center. But it’s claim to economic (or population) center is much muddier.

        • Ross Bleakney

          From a population density standpoint, it isn’t even close. San Fransisco is by far the most densely populated area in the Bay Area. From an employment density standpoint, it gets more complicated. San Fransisco dwarfs all regions except Silicon Valley. But Silicon Valley does not have a strong center. It’s employment peaks are spread out over several miles, making a single destination challenging (Palo Alto is on par with Cupertino as well as the places in San Jose proper). The proposed map addresses this, by serving a couple of those places along the way, before getting to San Fransisco.

          • cosmicwonderful

            San Jose has the absolute numbers; SF has the density. Look past their borders to the wider area, and San Jose is much closer to the people and jobs and growth of Cupertino, Palo Alto, Fremont, Santa Clara, etc; SF is close to little of comparable significance (other than Oakland across the bay).

            At a minimum, San Jose is approximately as good a choice as SF, in terms of people and jobs. That should be our baseline before considering geography, station capacity, etc; or political factors. Pre-deciding it has to reach SF seems to me just as silly as pre-deciding it has to go through Palmdale.

          • Alon Levy

            San Francisco has 70% more jobs than San Jose (642,000 vs. 374,000 per LEHD), much more job centralization near where the train station would be, and maybe an order of magnitude more inbound travelers from other regions.

          • Ross Bleakney

            “San Jose has the absolute numbers; SF has the density.” Density is what is important. Otherwise, Kansas would have a subway. Just look at a census map (here is my favorite: https://arcg.is/08qnD1). Notice that San Fransisco has several census blocks of over 100,000 people per square mile. Fifteen by my count — all right next to each other. Now slide over to San Jose. Do they have any high density areas? Nope. Not a single one. Not in Cupertino, Santa Clara, Sunny Vale, Fremont, or any of the dozen or so communities that make up the area. What about the second level — areas where there are 25,000 to 100,000 people per square mile. San Fransisco is still better than San Jose or anyplace close to it. You can’t find a block of five or ten anywhere in the region while San Fransisco has blocks of fifty or more (too many to count). These aren’t scattered around, like in San Jose, but in square regions. Oakland/Berkeley is more impressive — has a more densely populated area — than San Jose. The only reason the area you are talking about has a lot of people is because it is huge. So is Kansas.

      • Alex

        If the North River Tunnels didn’t already exist and would need to be built at the current Gateway price tag, then yes.

        • adirondacker12800

          The alternative to spending a lot of money to get to Manhattan by railroad is spending a lot of money to build road at a much higher price. There’s no place for road traffic to go in Manhattan. Rail is the cheaper option.

          • Alex

            I’m assuming PATH and Holland/Lincoln tunnels still exist (very roughly analogous to BART + SF Bay Bridge), just not the North River Tunnels.

          • adirondacker12800

            There are people already using the existing tunnels. Unless you want people to do this between midnight and dawn. They could nap on the bus until 8. as it cruises around because there isn’t any place for it to park. The other alternative is to bend the time space continuum so two buses can occupy the same space in the tunnel at the same time and the same bay in the Port Authority Bus Terminal. I suspect if you could do that you wouldn’t really need the bus.

          • adirondacker12800

            They do, you want to hike from 12th Avenue or should you transfer to a bus? That gets stuck in traffic.

      • Martin

        Geographically, Oakland makes sense, but here’s what Oakland has going against it:
        1) SF has 2 stations (Transbay with 6 platform tracks and 4th & king with 12 platform tracks). Oakland has Jack London Square with 2 tracks and Emeryville with 2 tracks.
        2) SF corridor is electrified in HSR compatible way. Oakland tracks are not electrified
        3) SF corridor is triple-tracked at station approach and quad-tracked for passing just south of SF. Oakland is double-tracked, but has single track segments south of the city
        4) Caltrain has project plans to grade-separate the RoW from SF to at least 10 miles south. Oakland has little grade-separation, and worse, trains run down middle of the street at 25mph where cars go.
        5) SF’s Transbay station is connected to 6 light rail lines, BART, and countless of bus lines – some that go to Marin, Napa, Sonoma and Alameda. Oakland doesn’t have a RoW near a BART station, so all connectivity would be by buses. RoW is not even near a business district, so getting to the station will be very hard.

        Addressing 1-4 would cost a lot of money, but even if you had all the extra money, you gotta remember that the track is owned by freight railroads and in use by freight trains. Cooperation will be hard given the high volume of freight trains coming from Port of Oakland.

        • Henry

          1, 2, 4, and 5 were not givens when Prop 1A passed. They’re the bed that California has made for itself today, but not necessarily what should’ve happened from the outset.

          • Martin

            #1 was finalized in 2004 – http://tjpa.org/uploads/2009/11/FEIR-3rd-Addendum.pdf
            #2 Caltrain electrification planning started in 1990’s, but even the early 1980’s proposals called for 25kV AC
            #4 is debatable, but it’s been a goal of slowly adding grade separations throughout the corridor
            #5 was true once #1 was finalized.

      • Ross Bleakney

        I wouldn’t call Oakland a glorified suburb. It is clearly part of the urban core, with significant employment and population density. But it is still dwarfed by San Fransisco proper. A good analogy is Brooklyn versus Manhattan. Would you run a high speed rail line to Brooklyn? Probably not. It is nowhere near the employment center of the city, and while Brooklyn has more high population density neighborhoods than all but a handful of cities, it is still not as densely populated as Manhattan. There would have to be a major price difference between serving one versus the other to go to Oakland versus San Fransisco just as there would for choosing Brooklyn over Manhattan.

        • adirondacker12800

          There are more people in Brooklyn. Who want to do things like go to Boston or Philadelphia. No reason why, someday far far in the future, there couldn’t be a Boston-DC train toddling through once or twice an hour. Wall Street is the country’s third or fourth largest business district, depending on who is counting what, it would be along the way.
          It’s Midtown Manhattan, Chicago’s Loop, Wall Street or Washington D.C. depending on who is counting what, which implies Wall Street is a larger business destination than anything in California. Or Texas. Very round numbers there are as many people in Brooklyn as there are in metro Denver, Baltimore, St. Louis, Charlotte, Orlando. And there are as many people in Queens as there are in metro PIttburgh. How much will it cost to burrow tunnels and build viaducts from Youngstown Ohio to Harrisburg PA so Pittsburgh gets HSR? A few miles of very expensive tunnel from Flatbush Avenue to the New Jersey Turnpike looks real good.

      • Steve

        That depends.
        1) If you had to go through Jersey City to get to New York and
        2) If Jersey City had good transit connections to New York and the rest of the metro area and
        3) Terminating in New York would be cost prohibitive then yes, you would probably terminate in Jersey City

        All of these conditions do apply to Oakland

        1) if your route is coming from the east and you want to get to San Francisco then you would probably go through Oakland
        2) Oakland is the BART hub city with lines running from Oakland to San Francisco, northern San Mateo, Alameda, Contra Costa and soon Santa Clara counties so you have fairly easy transit access to most of the urbanized Bay Area
        3) An underwater tunnel to San Francisco would cost multiple billions of dollars

        If your line is coming from the south it’s a whole different story…

        • adirondacker12800

          Not going through Hudson County New Jersey would put you in the Bronx or Brooklyn. The B&O gave that a whirl, go to St. George in Staten Island and get on a ferry. It didn’t work out very well. There is lovely terminal in Hoboken with four tracks of access to the rest of the world. PATH runs 24 hours a day to and from it. Other people are already using it.

  5. Dan

    Why was it going to take 10+ years to complete it? The Spanish line took 5; could they have conceivably got it done by 2025?

      • Michael James

        I also find it disquieting that a single California-born and based company could fund this out of 50% of its cash horde kept in various overseas tax havens. No matter what they do, the horde keeps growing and yet they don’t seem to have anything useful to do with it (other than presumably engage in various toxic unproductive things such as ForEx trading and hedge-funding etc. and eventually–via sharebuybacks etc–enrich a small number of the already excessively rich while paying the absolute least tax possible). Apple made $48.5bn net profit in 2017 and its cash reserves grew to $285 billion.
        Now of course one doesn’t expect a private company to build a state railway, but there is just something so perverse going on here …

  6. Max Wyss

    So, do you mean that Mr. Newsom is such a small light that he does not even make it into “Bull” league?

    (sorry couldn’t resist…)

  7. Max Wyss

    We have (at least) two dimensions in this affair: a project-related one, and a purely political one. But even the project-related one will have a political aspect. As this is a transportation-oriented blog, let’s deal with the purely political aspect elsewhere.

    The advantage of this break is indeed to think over the general route planning, and attempt to stick to the subject matter (the nice German term “versachlichen” comes to my mind).

    A first question to (re-) answer is, what is the main purpose of the HSL? For me, the answer is that it should connect (economic) centers where it can be time- and money-competitive with air (that would also fit into the “GND” buzzword). This gives the highest importance to SF – LA. The distance is OK, getting 25% of market share should be no big deal; more should easily be possible. So, the route should be optimized for this link.

    Second level would be connecting the Central Valley (up to Sacramento) with the main centers. Under these premises, the Altamont route does indeed provide advantages, because we have a Y-shaped configuration, and for that, the long stem (aka spine) should be as long as possible.

    On the LA end, the routing is a bit less obvious, although in order to serve the primary objective the Tejon route is preferrable.

    Now, there is some politics coming into the game… This break should also be used to improve the politico-economic environment (yeah, I seem to love this term…). The purpose of this is to shorten the time before actual construction begins. This would be the easiest and most efficient way to catch up with the delays produced by this break. What does this mean, for example?

    One thing would be reducing the iterations with “impact” and other “studies” to 1. A study is created, put up for consultation, and revised once. Period. There may be a need for a mediation process, fine. But not rounds of rounds of rounds of lawsuits. Another thing would be creating an instrument similar to the French “Déclaration d’Utilité Publique”. This is a piece of legislation which allows to shorten the land procurement procedure for infrastructure projects. It strengthens the Eminent Domain procedure (which does not mean at all that it is unfair to the landowners). This might maybe dealing with that “Tejon Ranch” company and many other NIMBYs quite a bit easier. A third thing would be to build up the competence in the agency, thus eliminating the money hole named “consultants”.

  8. Max Wyss

    A little bit of technical nitpicking…

    The 3.5% grades of the PSE line (that’s Paris – Lyon) are relatively short, as the landscape where they are used are mainly rolling hills. They may involve changes of altitude of maybe 100 to 150 meters.

    The 4% grades of the Frankfurt – Köln line are similar. The main reason for banning the ICE1 and ICE2 sets is that there is not enough power to limp away when one power car (aka locomotive) breaks down, and the train comes to stop in a 4% grade.

    With the CAHSR, the steep grades are a bit different, because we have to deal with a change of altitude in the 700 m range. That leads to much longer grades, with no counter grade (to slow down or to get momentum). This considerably increases the demands on the braking capabilities of the trains. It is feasible, for sure, but has to be taken into account. It is, however, not for sure whether 350 km/h operation is safe downgrade. This will have to be a design consideration, grade (and therefore line length) vs safe speed.

    • Alon Levy

      It is definitely not safe, and Clem notes this in his presentation. Trains would have to slow down to 250-300 km/h. This actually makes construction easier, since it allows compromises on curve radius…

      • Roger Senserrich

        Hmmm. The Madrid-Barcelona HSR goes from 1,200 m elevation to sea level, has long, long grades and little trouble doing 300. Alcolea del Pinar is close to 800 meters above Zaragoza. It is doable. Spain is hillier than California.

  9. David Edmondson

    Newsom may be gambling that he can spend political capital on housing, social services, and non-HSR climate change measures more effectively if he doesn’t push hard on CAHSR. My hope is that the housing aspect is easier than expected, and the breather this gives us is enough to force the system to realign to Altamont and Tejon.

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  11. cosmicwonderful

    “…San Diego to Las Vegas and Phoenix. These are three not especially large, not especially strong-centered cities.” San Diego and Phoenix are eighth- and fifth-most-populous in the U.S., despite their lack of centers. They’re bigger than any other city mentioned here other than Los Angeles, right? Or am I looking at the less relevant measure of city/metro/etc for rail purposes?

    • Alon Levy

      Yeah, I’m talking about metro areas, discounted by how much stuff they have within easy distance of the train station. The strength of the center matters. In a city like Paris or New York a very large share of plausible destinations and even origins is close to the train station, whereas in the American Sunbelt the CBD share of regional employment is low and often there are major edge cities quite far from any plausible station, e.g. Kearny Mesa. In California it doesn’t matter that much because at the end of the day LA is so huge the lines coming out of it are okay either way, but in Texas, city pairs that would be slam dunks if they had the job distribution of New York become marginal, like Dallas-OKC-Tulsa and Houston-NOLA.

        • Neil Shea

          Exactly – PHX with metro 4.5m pop has just one very busy airport (with some long haul traffic that could xfer to HSR). HSR could better cover the region with say 2 stops, plus gain pax from metro Tucson (and Palm Springs visitors).

          San Diego has just 1 fairly busy airport and again could better cover the region with 2 HSR stops.

          • Alon Levy

            Okay, but the largest center in San Diego outside Downtown is Kearny Mesa, which isn’t anywhere near a rail line, and isn’t by itself worth stringing aerials over the I-15.

      • cosmicwonderful

        Makes sense, but by that standard why go to the Central Valley at all? If San Diego and Phoenix are considered relatively small and spread out, nothing in the CV should even merit consideration.

        • Jacob Manaker

          Because it’s on the way!

          (CAHSR is fundamentally about connecting SF and LA. Running through the Central Valley requires tough engineering [i.e., Altamont and Tejon], but running along the coast is worse.)

  12. EJ

    The biggest bang for the buck here, once Caltrain electrification is done, is upgrading and electrifying the Surf Line (I know Alon’s a fan of this too). The current poky service is Amtrak’s busiest outside of the Northeast Corridor, it bypasses some apocalyptically bad traffic, and a lot of the line is already fairly flat and straight.

  13. Steve

    While I hate to drag politics into this discussion one of the items Newsom discussed in his address was idea of modifying the CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act). While I’m sure the reason he wants to do so isn’t related to CAHSR (it’s more likely related to housing), a modified CEQA would have prevented (and in the future would prevent) many of the lawsuits that delayed the construction of the initial line.

    On another note, the Midwest High Speed Rail Association has an interesting take on the CAHSR “pause”:

    https://www.midwesthsr.org/unified-service-california'shigh-speed-rail-solution

    • Alon Levy

      Your link doesn’t work; do you mean https://www.midwesthsr.org/yes-lets-get-real-california-high-speed-rail?

      If so, then I think the article is really incorrect.

      1. Bako-Merced does nothing to demonstrate HSR viability. It is not a commercially viable segment, and says nothing about whether HSR connecting big cities to medium-size cities is commercially viable in the US. It might demonstrate that hey, high-speed trains can run at 350 km/h and not crash, but that’s demonstrated every day in China, and the laws of physics aren’t different there.

      2. The most important segment of California HSR is not the Central Valley. It’s the mountain crossings, esp. the southern one. Without a fast way to get between Bakersfield and LA, the entire project is silly.

        • Alon Levy

          Okay, this is less bad than the link I found, but still misses a couple important things:

          – ALVIA loses money, unlike the AVE.
          – Diesels have high operating costs, and TGVs and ICEs benefit from having access to an electrified mainline network to reach.
          – The early mixed service still had pretty high average speed. The pre-TGV express trains in France averaged around 100 km/h from Paris to Lyon, and the first segment of the LGV Sud-Est to open covered two thirds of the way, bypassing Dijon. In contrast, the San Joaquin takes 3 hours from Merced to Oakland, averaging 80 km/h.
          – The most important connection within the state, LA-Bakersfield, has no passenger rail service at all. There’s a reason a few of us have been harping on that as the first priority.

          • Steve

            True, but Bakersfield to Merced isn’t going to make any money either. But what it does do is 1) connects the true HSR to the Bay Area with a one seat ride and 2) provide an excellent example of the differences between HSR and standard passenger rail.

            There are already plans being made to upgrade the ACE line via the Valley Rail project by 2022. Imagine riding on a “dual power” train from San Jose to Bakersfield. From San Jose to Merced you might get to 100-110 KPH. You stop at Merced. connect to the overhead and then you accelerate to 275 KPH for the rest of the trip. And the reverse on the trip back to San Jose; very fast to Merced and then not so fast to San Jose.. I would imagine (hope at least) once people actually experience the difference that pressure would build to expand the HSR line(s). And the HSR trains could run from Bakersfield to Sacramento on the San Joaquin route and give the same “comparison” there as well.

            And yes, the connection to LA is extremely important but it sounds like Newsom is planning on concentrating on the “valley to valley” route for now.

          • Alon Levy

            That would showcase the difference, provided the end-to-end trip time were short enough to attract large numbers of riders. This was true of Paris-Lyon in 1981-2, but I don’t think it would be true of SF-Fresno or SF-Bako, not with the somewhat circuitous route, the Oakland terminus, and the low speed north of Merced. It probably is true of Sacramento-Fresno and Sac-Bako, but Sacramento isn’t exactly a giant metropolis.

          • adirondacker12800

            Neither is Lyon. I haven’t delved into how the French define metro areas.

          • Steve

            I’m not sure how much of a difference it makes but ACE doesn’t go to Oakland, it goes to San Jose. And anything that runs anyplace north of Merced is going to be slow (especially compared to HSR), which is kind of the point in a way.

            Again, yes, a connection to LA is important but no matter how much you and I might want it for at least the next four (and possibly eight) years it isn’t going to happen. Newsom has already said it’s not going to happen in the near to mid future and that’s the world we have to live in. We need to have what is going to be built as useful as possible. At least a “unified” system as described in the MWHSR post will get a one seat rail connection from the Bay Area to the HSR line Newsom has said is going to be built. Will it attract large numbers of riders? Not at first but the ridership would build. Especially if it could be made into a one seat ride. From what I’ve read the initial HSR lines just about everywhere in the world didn’t have a lot of riders at first. But that will change. We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good (not good enough, but good).

        • Michael James

          Steve, 2019/02/15 – 00:21
          At least a “unified” system as described in the MWHSR post will get a one seat rail connection from the Bay Area to the HSR line Newsom has said is going to be built. Will it attract large numbers of riders? Not at first but the ridership would build. Especially if it could be made into a one seat ride. From what I’ve read the initial HSR lines just about everywhere in the world didn’t have a lot of riders at first. But that will change. We can’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good (not good enough, but good).

          Alas, Alon is correct. It needs a real HSR to knock American’s off their feet, metaphorically speaking. Not some ancient Amtrak-style slow service, especially in the crucial stage from the centre of the major cities. Quite apart from that, a unified line to nowhere won’t attract enough riders to make a difference to the political atmosphere or the pool of HSR enthusiasts. Indeed, it could well have the exact opposite effect with a “we paid x billions for this?” The hybrid nature of the ride will simply highlight the pathetic nature of most of the line. Don’t forget that at 300+ km/hr the ride is beautifully smooth with movement barely noticeable except by looking out the window, and it is a big contrast with the slow speeds that involve the usual rock-and-roll most Americans associate with regular train travel. This reminds me of when Eurostar began operations and the segment London-Waterloo to Dover was a slow train until the TGV emerged on French land and pressed your back into the seat as it accelerated to true HSR speed; it was like this for 12 long years as Thatcher and Thatcherites blocked the funding of a proper HS line (to St-Pancras). (When I think about it, it was emblematic of the UK and the political dysfunction and lack of will that led to Brexit.)

          The comparison with the initial Paris-Lyon line is not appropriate. The entire ride was very smooth because the bits that weren’t HSR were to ICE standards, ie. 125 km/h.
          Also, this line didn’t “build ridership slowly” but was a spectacular success from the first day. Partly because it got so much advance publicity as Europe’s first HSR, and this included much scepticism–that the extra cost was not worth it over ICE, a common perception that turned out to be wrong, as judged by the travelling public. Of course it continued to build ridership but even to a public that was accustomed to good ICE service, it was something special, especially to those in Lyon who got a fancy brand new station in the heart of the city; ie. don’t underestimate the theatrics or the truth behind Daniel Burnham’s “make no small plans ..”. Yes, you need a bit of Elon Musk fairy dust, but you also must deliver on the hype.

          So, it is not a question of the perfect but the fickleness of the travelling public. Well, actually not really fickle but correct. IMO there is absolutely no point building an unambitious but still expensive rail line that simply doesn’t fulfil any need or the original promise of HSR. Where would NASA be if they only got halfway to the moon or never landed and just did an orbit and came back?

          • Oreg

            Just to clarify: ICE? As this is about France and only 125 km/h it cannot mean InterCity Express. What do you mean?

          • Steve

            Here is my problem with many of the responses to my post. First, I want to clarify that I SUPPORT HSR from LA to SF. In an ideal world Newsom would have supported building the full line. But people have to accept that that isn’t going to happen. Newsom isn’t going to change his mind, not after his public pronunciation in his SOTS speech. The State Legislature isn’t going to override Newsom. The US Congress isn’t going suddenly send California HSR money. Trump DEFINITELY isn’t going to do so (unless maybe CA renames it the Trump Train). All of the “we need this” and “we have to have that” statements aren’t going to change these facts. We have to accept reality and work to try and make CAHSR the best project it can be using what we have. Is a “united” system a good idea? I don’t know, I’m not an engineer but it sounds promising, especially since CA has promised $500 million to the Valley Rail project. I would hope that would be enough to improve the ACE line enough to make it a semi-decent route until it connects with CAHSR. Or improve the San Joaquin line from Merced to Sacramento for the same reason.

            Michael James said:

            “This reminds me of when Eurostar began operations and the segment London-Waterloo to Dover was a slow train until the TGV emerged on French land and pressed your back into the seat as it accelerated to true HSR speed; it was like this for 12 long years”.

            So for twelve years they ran a “unified” system in Britain until the political pressure to improve the line pushed them to upgrade it to HSR because people were able to experience the difference between the “slow train” and the “pressed your back into your seat” HSR. That’s what’s going to have to happen in California. It needs to be made as easy as possible to get from the Bay Area to the Central Valley HSR, preferably with a one seat ride. Will a lot of people ride it at first? No, but as time goes on more and more people will ride it and pressure will build to improve the connections to HSR.

        • Michael James

          Steve, 2019/02/15 – 09:18
          Will a lot of people ride it at first? No, but as time goes on more and more people will ride it and pressure will build to improve the connections to HSR.

          Eurostar was connecting the two biggest cities in the EU. But a hybrid HSR from SF to the valley doesn’t go anywhere where a lot of people want to go. So no comparison; the only comparison would be if one end didn’t connect to Paris or London at all.

          • Steve

            I never said the two routes were comparable, just that the experience would be similar if some sort of hybrid system were put into place. A somewhat slow train (110 KPH) until you reach the HSR and then you’re travelling at 275 KPH. A great way, in my opinion, to generate pressure to expand the HSR.

            Newsom has said that the Central Valley HSR is going to be completed. So then, what is your solution to help drive passengers to it?

      • Michael James

        Those central valley types may ultimately come to use HSR, but not for travel between Bako-Merced or any other central valley destinations. Instead they will use it to get to SF or LA/SD.
        Once upon a long, long time ago in my backpacking days (about 40 years this year actually, groan that makes me feel old) I miraculously got a hitch on a small passenger plane (a four seater, the co-pilot seat was empty and the pilot offered it to me! I had only met him a few hours earlier in SF…) from SFX to Fresno where I happened to be heading for Xmas. It was a day shopping trip for Xmas for a convivial rich central-valley guy and his wife, and they didn’t mind if the pilot used the free seat. Given the time to get to SFX from SF, even by limo as these rich ranchers did, then all the palaver with takeoff then the same thing at the other end, I am sure they would have done that trip in half the time by HSR. I was scheduled to do the trip by Greyhound which was maybe a 5+ hour trip.

        • Alon Levy

          That would require a train between Bakersfield and Los Angeles… California is not France, there are no legacy express trains averaging 100-120 km/h there connecting the important cities to the capital.

          • Michael James

            Sorry, must have poorly phrased it. I meant that they might use a HSR when/if it went all the way to SF or LA from the central valley. Obviously not this little bit of “HSR to nowhere”.

            Anyway it seems Newsom may be more interested in political cover than actually cancelling the whole thing. This section is not cancelled because it is actually under construction. Maybe he is trying to provoke the Feds into more seriously funding it, perhaps with targeted funding for the really difficult bits (those tunnels and city-approach bits). Maybe post-Trump (not that far away?) or in bartering with some heavy duty Californians on the trillion dollar infrastructure “plan”, not only Pelosi (member for the Republic of San Francisco) but also Feinstein and Adam Schiff (a possible public transit geek as I previously pointed out …).

  14. James Sinclair

    Alon, as someone who has been writing about CAHSR for over 10 years now, I believe you first paragraph is entirely wrong. Literally nothing changed.

    I am going to do a blog article about it, but theres a Twitter thread with my thoughts, where I have a back and forth with one of the AP writers who went with the “cancelled” headline.

    • James Sinclair

      I suck at twitter. This is the better link.

    • Alon Levy

      I’m not basing my analysis on the AP but on the transcript. He’s defending Bako-Merced as an IOS, which the HSRA never did.

      • JJJ

        The concept of an IOS has been around since the 2008 bond. It is also reiterated in the business plan and the audits conducted. The fact that the San Joaquin is getting high platform trains on a low-platform line, with zero plans to comply with ADA is pretty clear confirmation that theyre going to run on the HSR tracks.

  15. IAN! Mitchell

    “What is more interesting is the possibility of using the Inland Empire detour to give San Diego faster trips to Phoenix and Las Vegas”

    Question- Would San Diego-Phoenix/Vegas actually go via downtown Los Angeles? Seems more viable to take the 91 line from Anaheim/Fullerton to Riverside, thence east over the banning pass.

    As for Vegas/Phoenix alignments, I’m for having the fork farther east, east of the coachella valley, (Midland, Vidal Junction, Bluewater, there are a few possible Californian cities between them to link in- none of them great) because it makes Phoenix-Vegas travel more viable (plus- only one mountain pass in CA to traverse)

    Given that they’re the two largest cities in the US without an interstate highway running between them, I think that’s an important travel market to serve. They’re high and dry (more than usual) without cheap air travel.

    It also has every LA/SD train to Phoenix or Vegas stop in Palm Springs, plus whatever California city is between the two on the line (I recommend somewhere with some sort of legal exception to fuel population growth, e.g. no state income tax, no zoning law, legal gambling, no open container laws, car-free urban design- something to make it worth having a stop there).

    As far as the bay area- why a under-bay crossing rather than dumbarton bridge HSR crossing?

    • IAN! Mitchell

      Hopefully these haven’t been done to death in the CAHSR flamewars I haven’t read. 🙂

  16. Martin

    One area that’s not appreciated enough is the power of NIMBY that makes technical challenges seem trivial. If you were to calculate the number and severity of NIMBY lawsuits attracted by connecting to Caltrain at Redwood City via Altamont or to San Jose via Pacheco, you’d quickly pick the route via Pacheco route.

    Consider that NIMBY from two towns – Menlo Park & Atherton – single-handidly managed to delay construction by about 3 years. Now consider the protests from Livermore, Pleasanton, Altamont, Fremont, East Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and we might not have been able to unlock the funds for even Central Valley.

    • midflinx

      The beauty of the SETEC alignment is Pleasanton gets bypassed completely, and Livermore is skirted almost completely. Fremont gets a cut-and-cover tunnel and probably a BART-HSR station at Irvington. Now Fremont residents have quick connections to the peninsula, SF, and LA.

  17. Adam

    I myself got badly hit by the initial reporting on Newsom’s State of the State, the article I linked the other day was updated (after I linked it) with more quotes beyond the initially quoted line of (paraphrasing) “there is no path to LA/SF” that was mis-interpreted all around the world to state that Newsom was killing the project.

    So now Newsom is doing damage control

    The interesting thing here is that he recommits to a “Valley to Valley” HSR rail route, which means that this pause/reset is mainly about cutting southern california out of the entire project, and once SoCal is off the table, they can reorient resources to successfully connect the San Joaquin Valley to Silicon Valley. Which means that Altamont is never gonna be used unless the train becomes Amtrak 2.0 and uses the Altamont Corridor express route:

    “At the same time, we can anchor the future by concurrently doing the environmental work to get it Valley to Valley and ultimately make a case, once it’s completed here in 2027, for the private sector and the federal government to get it down to Los Angeles.”

    When asked if the project was simply going to be “Amtrak 2.0,” Newsom said a train was more than just conveyance. It would create economic stimulus and lead to a rebranding for the Valley.

    If Valley to Valley high-speed rail somehow does not work out, Newsom said, there will be existing infrastructure to connect the line through the Altamont Corridor Express.

    In terms of cutting So Cal out, it seems unsurprising as the promised rail improvements HSR bond funding was supposed to invest in So Cal have been completely bankrupt: only one contract has been made for improved metrolink service, the rosecrans grade separation on the route to Anaheim, and nothing has been done for the antelope valley line metrolink corridor. (Interminable first phase of environmental review for AV metrolink is due this spring)

    Additionally, the latest supremely idiotic designs to the Los Angeles union station run through tracks re-design all now exclude any HSR tracks at union station at all, even though the money to redesign union station mostly comes from HSR bonds to create HSR platforms! Earlier designs all included HSR tracks and platforms, but now HSR is out and the local politicians are excited about using elevated terminal platforms and a super-elevated circle passenger causeway–with glass dome–that will look really impressive for politicians at ribbon cutting ceremonies (and in movies and on TV) but will make life hell for every rail passenger forced to march a circle circumference distance to make any transfer.

    And the latest HSR designs for Palmdale to Burbank show that the 65 meter wide passenger rail right of way on San Fernando blvd for the antelope valley metrolink line–that HSR is going use–is mostly going to be wasted by HSR. HSR will opt to trench on this location, so that they are able to turn south onto Hollywood Way and build a multi billion dollar station cavern closer to the Burbank Airport terminals, and then turn southeast again to rejoin the Ventura County line metrolink for 2.5 km and will then merge back with the Antelope Valley Line metrolink. This little dog leg to slightly improve the Burbank station location, appears on the maps for the latest Palmdale to Burbank designs, but has not been really publicized, and this diversion is probably a scoping change worth at least 10 billion in overages and 10 years in additional construction, and don’t forget, the current plan is for Burbank being the “temporary” terminus of HSR, with all HSR passengers all expected to Transfer to Diesel metrolink and amtrak trains to get to union station, with actual HSR service to Union station probably being in 2050 or beyond (BEFORE Newsom’s “pause”).

    Politically, I strongly doubt that Tejon will ever be used. The first reason is that Ameicans in general are scared of the San Andreas fault crossing, and I don’t think there is a good HSR answer to do that at grade in Tejon. The second reason is that all across california, north and south, are politicians and former politicians, and various businesses and consultants who are all deeply invested in real estate speculation in palmdale and lancaster based around HSR using Tehachapi. They’re never going to let their billions in guaranteed profit turn into a guaranteed loss, so they will do whatever it takes to make sure Tejon is never used, they’ve got too much money to make by increasing sprawl in the Antelope valley. On the other hand, Newsom just said “fuck you” to all those, I’m sure Dianne Feinstein’s husband probably is on the hook to lose a couple hundred million because of Newsom cutting off the HSR at Bakersfield, so the Feinstein’s in particular will not be happy at losing out on hundreds of millions in profits they expected to get and will be joining their fellow politicians to make sure Bakersfield is not the southern terminus.

    The main roadblock to Tejon that will be created is that these invested politicians are going to successfully demand a nonstop 40 mile tunnel from Bakersfield to cross via Tejon, and they’ll use that mega tunnel to maximize costs and re-divert the route to the Tehachape pass. And as the next paragraph shows, there has been an enormous amount of development and highway infrastructure in the Tejon pass corridor since the seven year old Tillier PDF was made (linked in your original post).

    Additionally, Tejon Ranch just finally won approvals in 2018 to start building, so three years from now, there are going to be new suburbs in the middle of the Tejon HSR track. and in 2017, Newhall Ranch won approvals to start building and are right this minute building a new suburb in the middle of the Tejon HSR route. That makes Tillier’s studies very out of date. As for Santa Clarita, in the seven years since he wrote that, Interstate 5 has been expanded with truck lanes and car pool lanes as a phase 1 expansion, and phase 2 is a 13 mile expansion of the car pool and Truck lanes further north on Interstate 5 and is breaking ground next year, whatever space Tillier thought it was possible to put an HSR rail track through on his proposed hybrid Interstate 5 corridor is already gone.

    And this is a reminder of what CAHSR looks like now (since most of the official photographs downplay the scale of what they are building), they are not really building an at grade-cheap-as-can-be, they are building viaducts.

    photo credit to Eric Woomer of the Visalia Times Delta https://www.visaliatimesdelta.com/story/news/2019/02/12/california-governor-abandons-high-speed-rail-project-but-not-here/2850229002/

    • Max Wyss

      It is pretty standard practice when building new rail lines (as well as roads) that the bridges/overpasses are built first. If you look at the pictures you get, there is essentially always some main traffic artery (aka road or rail line) underneath.

  18. Steven H

    If Gavin only wants to take some time to rethink the bookends, but not cancel the project itself, then this was a poor way to communicate that. Among other things, it’s legally risky: Judges love to rule against rail projects after plans change. Some poor Authority attorney is going to have to explain to a judge in the next NIMBY civil suit that ridership estimates don’t have to be redone because Gavin didn’t really mean it when he said that there was “no path” to SF-LA HSR.

    Just ask the Purple Line folks in Maryland about Judge Leon. In that case, nothing about the project had changed at all, but WMATA’s ridership numbers were down because of intensive (and temporary) track work, so… nope, those ridership numbers for 2040 can’t possibly be correct, Judge says, before slipping off to his golf cub in Chevy Chase (which happens to straddle the future Purple Line).

  19. Dennis

    Good post. I have a few questions. Could they still run a “ higher speed rail line on the coast? Would they have to some kind construction?

    • Alon Levy

      They could, but the benefits aren’t enormous. The places on the way – Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Monterey – are pretty small. There’s also nontrivial freight traffic, as I understand it, which limits the ability of passenger trains to run faster.

      • EJ

        It’s not a particularly important freight line anymore, but you would have to double track large portions of it to allow passenger trains to meet and to overtake freights. You also have the problem of a slow mountainous section between SLO and the Salinas Valley. Also, Monterey isn’t really on the way, but Salinas and Gilroy are, both of which are growing in response to housing price pressure in the Bay Area.

  20. Adam

    “Second-hand sources told me at the beginning of this decade that such a rail tunnel could be built for $1 billion.”

    if they could build a pair of rail tunnels for a billion dollars under the bay, that would be something.

    For comparison, at the beginning of the decade, Metro in Los Angeles officially used a cost estimate of $341.55 million per km to build a pair of 9 km rail tunnels under the Sepulveda mountains (only for the per km cost of tunnels, no stations included in that price).

    how do you figure that a minimum 12 km pair of tunnels under the bay could be built for one billion when in state, mountain tunnels are estimated at 4 times that price?

    • Alon Levy

      It’s not 12 km, it’s shorter, maybe 5 km? The point of Dumbarton is that it’s a narrower and shallower part of the Bay than where SF and Oakland are. Moreover, a water tunnel has just been built there, so the geotechnical engineering has already been done and less budget contingency is required.

        • EJ

          This argument is something of a red herring.
          1) Pacheco is much more environmentally sensitive than already heavily developed Altamont, and has already faced opposition on that basis.
          2) The Altamont alignment proposed by SETEC (not the one CAHSR studied) made use of already impacted corridors such as power line easements, which would substantially reduce the grounds for NIMBY opposition.

      • Adam

        “Moreover, a water tunnel has just been built there, so the geotechnical engineering has already been done and less budget contingency is required”

        That makes no sense at all, no contractor anywhere in the world would ever accept geotechnical engineering from an adjacent project, they will absolutely do their own studies because they can bill for their own studies no less than 1.5x the amount the engineering of aforementioned adjacent project cost.

        Reusing knowledge is just a way to not make as much money, and that is not happening from anyone who builds anything.

        Saying they could just reuse the data is leaving hundreds of millions of dollars on the table, money that was free for the contractor to take.

        Never going to happen unless there is a statutory law requiring it.

  21. Reedman Bassoon

    San Jose is the obvious hub of Northern California rail. It has ACE, Caltrain, and Capitol Corridor already. It will get BART (really). The downtown Diridon station has Light Rail too. The HSR problem is to get all those railroad tracks to play nice in a near-unified terminal (with Google planning a major campus next door, and Adobe already there). P.S. San Jose is the largest city in Northern California, the 10th largest city in the US — bigger than San Francisco, Denver, or Boston.

    • cosmicwonderful

      I know this is long-battled point, and I’m new to the conversation, but Reedman’s comment seems uncontroversially true.

      If the point of Alon’s post is to dispassionately state what CA HSR should be — economically, geographically, technically, but NOT politically — then it’s more important to get to San Jose than San Francisco. San Jose is where the people and the jobs are, and it’s where we expect the people and the jobs to grow most. If you only get to one Bay Area city, it should be San Jose.

      Of course, we should get to more than one Bay Area city if possible. Getting to SF is a 1A priority. Oakland is maybe a 2. But Oakland is on the way from San Jose to Sacramento, so maybe that bumps Oakland up the list. LA through the CV (along 5 or not) to San Jose to Oakland to Sacramento.

      SF to LA via Bart > Oakland > HSR would still be only two seats with a Bart-HSR connection (a no brainer), and for a plurality of San Franciscans it would still be easier to get to than SFO.

      • Joseph Brant

        Downtown San Jose has only a fraction of the jobs or economic significance as downtown San Francisco. Moreover, San Jose has a larger population, but only by having a much greater surface area. if it had the same density as SF it would have over 3 million people.

    • Eric

      Oakland is more of a hub than San Jose. Oakland is the center of the BART system, with rapid transit access in 5 directions already. Currently San Jose has rapid transit access in zero directions. BART extension and Caltrain modernization will make that 2 directions, but that’s still much less than 5. Both Oakland and San Jose have the Capital Corridor. San Jose has ACE and the light rail, but these both have negligible ridership.

  22. Martin

    You underestimate the power of the dark side. When NIMBY protest adding even a 3rd or 4th track next to EXISTING tracks on the RoW that already is wide enough to support it, you’re naive to think that new track can put built where there currently isn’t any along with all the noise, train horns, etc.

    Yes, land there might be more “environmentally sensitive”, but that’s really just a different term for putting tracks where there currently aren’t any.

    It’s also worth pointing out that it was NIMBY in Menlo Park that delayed construction by about 3 years over running HSR trains on the existing Caltrain RoW that sees 90+ trains per day. How do you think these same people will react when you propose adding trains to tracks that haven’t seen ANY traffic in decades.

    Lastly, the difference between Pacheco and Altamont isn’t that great, and we have the benefits of serving both San Jose and SF with a single train.

    • Alon Levy

      NIMBYs indeed protest, but they failed in their lawsuits against the project, and the only thing they succeeded in doing was get the HSRA to spend scarce money in the Central Valley first instead of in the Bay Area. Plans for Pacheco continued over the objections of Silicon Valley NIMBYs as well as over those of good government advocates.

      And serving San Francisco and San Jose on a single train is a double-edged sword. Yes, it means more frequency. But it also means more congestion in the Transbay Terminal throat. Splitting service between San Francisco and San Jose is not a bad idea given how difficult it is to schedule more than about 4 HSR tph up the Caltrain corridor. Frequency matters, but on a train that takes nearly 3 hours, the effect of a train every 15 minutes vs. 30 is not that big.

      • adirondacker12800

        It’s would never get built to San Jose. They would be getting on BART. Or Caltrain. And changing trains.

      • Sascha Claus

        What exactly would prevent you from running a 15min interval to SJ, with every 2nd train continuing to SF and the other terminating in SJ? Apart from the result looking strange.

        • Alon Levy

          Nothing, but the frequency to SF would be the same under either Altamont or Pacheco as a result (4 tph to SF should be fine, it’s going to 6+ that’s a problem), so Pacheco only provides higher frequency to SJ, which is not the primary destination in the Bay Area.

      • Martin

        NIMBY response is proportional to amount of new work needed with extra spicy anytime eminent domain gets invoked.

        Given lack of an existing RoW between Tracy in Central Valley and Silicon Valley, you’re going to clobber to death, even if you do extensive tunneling. The existing UP corridor is heavily used, so you’re not gonna get access to it, and even then, it’s curvy with tons of single-track. Maybe I’m just pessimistic.

        Between Fremont and SJ, there are 3 corridors, 1 is needed by BART, and you might get UP to give up the other. However, both are single tracked, so again, expect friction trying to double-track it.

      • IAN! Mitchell

        Why are underwater tunnels usually discussed for HSR under an altamont alignment, rather than a new dumbarton rail bridge?

  23. orulz

    The only defensible reason for the Tehachapi route is so that the Vegas route could branch off in Mojave, allowing reasonable journeys to Vegas from both LA *and* SF. This was never the plan of record for Vegas in the first place but if saner heads prevailed it might be worth a look. Might not be worth it in the end, but who knows.

    Is there anything to say the blowouts affecting Tehachapi wouldn’t plague Tejon as well?

    • Martin

      As the HSR blog says, the decision between Tehachappi and Tejon is NIMBY. An extra year of lawsuits can easily erase any cost savings.

      While NIMBY made the decision between Altamont and Pacheco an easy win for Pacheco, the link to Vegas does sway the pendulum towards Tehachappi.

      • Eric

        Tejon allows for an at grade connection to Las Vegas, following highway 138. It would be about 15 minutes slower from LA, but actually faster from the Central Valley and northern California.

    • adam

      “Is there anything to say the blowouts affecting Tehachapi wouldn’t plague Tejon as well?”

      Of course they would, the Clem Tiller analysis of the costs of using the San Gabrial/Tehachapi route is based on using the same canyon The Antelope Valley Metrolink line uses. Last year, the routes for the San Gabriel portion showed that the geology, curves radius, existing development and plausible construction staging areas of that canyon route were going to result in a 23 mile tunnel, not forty miles of at grade or viaducted HSR on the canyon floor.

      the Fast and cheap at grade HSR route following the general idea of the Antelope valley metrolink track that crayoning rail enthusiasts had long thought possible simply didn’t spec out.

      (we don’t yet know how bad the Tehachapi route to the High Desert will be, but I’d expect at least a 10 mile long tunnel).

      So that cost escalation of the San Gabriel Route being mostly tunnel instead of mostly at grade makes the cost difference with Tejon even greater right?

      wrong.

      The engineering decisions that resulted in HSR deciding on a 23 mile tunnel for the San Gabriels are applicable to Tejon as well. And that probably means that a Tejon routing is probably looking at a 40-50 mile long tunnel, including tunneling through the San Andreas Fault. And that would probably mean excavating down to the tunnel where it crosses the fault in order to build out a sort of floating structure around it, as metro did for crossing the hollywood fault with the red line subway: probably a thirty billion project just for that structure.

      But the High Desert portion in between the San Gabriel tunnels and the Tehachapi tunnels are no picnic either, and the High Desert portion is shaping up to be entirely an own goal on the part of CAHSR.

      One of the biggest obstacles CAHSR has faced with farmland acquisitions on the current San Joaquin valley route is that almost all their acquisitions are diagonal, rather than following the current land/road grid, which also maximizes square footage of the right of way they have to purchase from each individual plot, and also creates greater losses for the owners of the two triangle pieces of land (given all their capital investment in irrigation and heavy farm equipment is based on planting, irrigating, harvesting, square plots, they lose a lot more cultivation from diagonal takings. and those greater losses have resulted in a much angrier property owners and higher prices to deal with the losses. A big self inflicted wound on CAHSR’s part.

      so for the High Desert portion of CAHSR, the authority is of course planning on doing the same thing of maximizing property acquisition costs, Rather than follow an unbroken forty kilometers of straight-as-an-arrow rail corridor (with only seven-eight grade road crossing of the rail corridor over forty kilometers) all the way from Lancaster to Mojave, the rail authority is planning on exiting the the rail corridor as soon as they leave Lancaster to go–diagonally for forty kilometers–through hundreds and hundreds of properties, the exact same failed diagonal strategy that has led to a ten-year long and counting property acquisition program in the San Joaquin.

      So why not build an extra 14 kilometers of rail by going to Mojave and making a 90 degree turn instead of diagonally? Costs, I presume, but that isn’t factoring in the added time, delays, lawsuits, and additional expenses incurred by the diagonal strategy. and the statutory requirement of 2 hours 40 minutes LA-SF, so an extra 14 kilometers of track is an extra 3 minutes the rail authority probably cannot risk adding.

      If we were to factor in the actual costs of the diagonal strategy, the diagonal route is probably going to cost ten times the cost of the longer route. For almost entirely at grade rail through mostly undeveloped Desert and unproductive farmland.

      • Adam

        correction to above, the selected route for the San Gabriels from Palmdale to Burbank involves 24 miles of total tunnels, including one 13 mile long tunnel reach. My memory was apparently conflating the two numbers.

        It’s known as the Refined State Route 14 option and it is
        38 miles long

        24 miles of tunnels in five sections

        5 miles
        3 miles
        1/2 mile
        1 mile
        13 miles
        Easiest and fastest to construct

        Most simultaneous construction locations

        Lowest construction risk regarding geologic conditions, particularly of the mountain rock conditions.

        Most reliable lowest risk of unexpected conditions or circumstance that could increase the timeline or costs

        Fewest traffic and air quality construction impacts

        Least amount of tunnel spoils.

        Shortest tunnel under the National forest and monument

        Lowest risk of impacting surface or groundwater

        Avoids key archeological and tribal resources

        Uses former mining area for construction staging for the long tunnel and then they reconstruct the staging area to a natural pre mining state: leaving it better than they found it

        The Draft EIR will be in early 2020
        Final EIR in early 2021 leading to NEPA record of decision

        but since Newsom killed off this stage, they’ll just stop after the FEIR, rather than beginning construction on that seven-nine year duration 13 mile tunnel reach. (which is why this EIR was scheduled before Tehachapi or Pacheco, it’s got presumably the longest reach to bore, not that it matters now that Newsom killed it).

        • Martin

          I think EIRs will continue for Tehachapi based on what I read. It would be nice if some of the slow trickle of Cap & Trade funds could start on the tunnels.

          • Adam

            Yes Tehachapi isn’t changing and the environmental reviews for it are continuing, I believe Tehachapi is the last environmental review scheduled for release, the Merced wye is the next one, iirc.
            and remember, Palmdale is legally required due to the language of the ballot measure, so newsom’s reorientation is not going to cause any route changes to Tejon or Altamont, no matter what rail crayonists draw.

            And it would be great if some cap and trade money could start that 13 mile tunnel reach, since its likely to take 9 years of 60 hours per week of tunneling. How much would it take to fund two exurban tbms per year, 250 million?

            Labor costs for 80 crew on two machines should top out at about $112,000 per day, figure the contractor will pay itself a skim of at least $113,000 a day, and materials costs and other costs and project management at $75,000 per day and it’s probably $300,000 per day to operate the tbms.

            That’s only $78 million per year and should be within the realm of cap and trades funds, and includes a generous $113,000 a day in pure graft skim to the contractor, but even at $78 million a year the contractor is likely to extract further rent and charge $156,000,000 per year in consultant expenses, which makes the whole cost of tunneling this exurban reach at $225,000,000 per year and with cap and trade being limited to $250 million per year, simply working on this tunnel would use up virtually the entire supply, which we can’t do.

          • Alon Levy

            remember, Palmdale is legally required due to the language of the ballot measure

            No, it actually isn’t. The language is “Bakersfield to Palmdale to Los Angeles,” but at the same time another listed corridor is “Modesto to Stockton to San Jose via the Altamont corridor,” where every Altamont alternative studied has a wye between the three cities listed and thus no single train serving all three. So it’s legal to put a wye between LA, Bakersfield, and Palmdale, and it’s also legal to omit the Palmdale leg.

          • adirondacker12800

            But they aren’t funding studies for Altamont or Tejon or dirigibles to the top of the Transamerica Building. How many decades would changing their minds now, delay things?
            ARC was scheduled to be completed this year, how’s canceling that going?

          • Alon Levy

            Hey, California HSR was scheduled to be completed from LA to SF this year too, and even the segments for which they do have funding aren’t open yet.

          • adirondacker12800

            They are going to open them. They aren’t gonna have three more circle jerks about which option is “better”. Whining about how they aren’t meeting the optimistic original schedule doesn’t answer the question about how many decades changing their minds would delay things. Instead of hoping for 2033 would it be 2047 or 2060?

  24. Neil Shea

    I agree that Newsom wants to get some HSR finished but wants to reset expectations and not be saddled with the impossible expectations he’s inherited. That means disconnecting LA for now, paying them off in other ways (e.g. Sepulveda Pass rail).

    Thought question – if Pelosi finds $2.5B in the next few years and California matches it – maybe adding private $$ for operational rights – and construction is already on track for the 170 mile Merced-Bakersfield, where do you leverage those funds?

    * Electrifying ACE from Merced to San Jose?
    * HSR tracks into Stockton & Tracy?
    * Temp Xfer at Pleasanton BART?
    * Pacheco Pass crossing?

    Since Tech is by far the state’s biggest industry – dwarfing Entertainment, Agriculture or anything in SF – and since California’s golden goose is dying from the housing prices/ salary imbalance for all non-professional workers, my take is service to multiple locations in Silicon Valley is the imperative both for partial week commuting and to support satellite campuses in lower cost areas.

      • Neil Shea

        Not expecting a large amount of private funding, but perhaps $3-5B could be found if there was another $5B of state and federal funding, based on something hypothetical from a Dem-led Congress within the next 5 years perhaps. What’s different is that there will be the 170 mile spine of the state which is presumably then connected to the bay area in some fashion.

        So the question again is where money should be invested incrementally next, and relatedly, for $10B what is the most effective and politically realistic way to create some functional Valley to Valley connection.

        • Adam

          The next $10 billion is almost 100% going to connect valley to valley more specifically to get from the east-west terminus at SR152 and Carlucci Rd (building out both legs of the wye per the separate Merced Wye Environmental Review is almost certainly what Newsom meant when he included Merced as his stated terminus), to Gilroy.

          http://www.hsr.ca.gov/docs/newsroom/maps/San_Jose_to_Merced.pdf

          That is to say, that the next $10 Billion is going to go to Pachecho.

          The preferrred alternative of the road 11 route will already travel 12.5 km west from highway 99, and the area likely to be included in this merced wye construction package will be bounded by the supplemental environmental review, which is an additional 30 km westward.

          So overlooked is that by Newsom stating he is building to Merced (meaning building out the Merced Wye) is that the HSR will have the funds to build out 42.5 km westward from highway 99, following SR152.

          That leaves a 80-90 km gap for the next 10 billion to get from Carlucci Road to Gilroy, inclusive of going north around Los Banos and The Reservoir, roughly returning to SR152 through the approximately 30 km of that right of way, but probably involving several tunnel reaches, with the longest being between 10-20 km in length. Then, of course, entering Gilroy from the South.

          Remember, Gilroy–like Palmdale–is written into the language of the ballot measure as a requirement for a HSR stop, it would be illegal to not go to either of them.

  25. adirondacker12800

    It would come after the revelations that makes the scales fall from their eyes, the Sins Of Pacheco is exposed and the Virtues of Tejon promulgated. And that 1200 millimeter platforms are Evil.

    • Alon Levy

      Hey, Clem and I are big fans of 1,250 mm platforms; Richard is the one who favors 550 mm with bilevels, because what’s literally any >250 km/h trainset other than the TGV Duplex and the Talgos.

  26. Andrew

    I think the Governor may be flipping over the board in order to make it possible to reconsider the routing from scratch. So this may in fact be a blessing in disguise.

    I’ve always thought the system should start with an economically viable, commuter-based, and (relatively) easily built segment from the Central Valley via Stockton & Pittsburg/Antioch to Oakland Harbor (adding a BART station where the rail lines meet BART). This route would follow existing tracks and have almost no tunneling, except for a short segment west of Martinez Amtrak to allow a straight shot toward Pinole. This would put Stockton within 20-25 mins of Oakland Harbor, from which commuters could reach the SF Financial District in just 5 minutes on any one of the 4 existing transbay BART lines (faster than from SF’s own railway station!). The line would also intersect with BART at Richmond and Antioch/Pittsburg).

    * The segment I would start with (Fresno-Modesto-Stockton-Pittsburg/Antioch-Martinez-Oakland Harbor) is within the red section on this map I made some years ago: https://bit.ly/2EedraM. As an IOS, I would start with just Oakland Harbor-Stockton.

    * The tunnel west of Martinez (shown in black on the map) could simultaneously serve the Capitol Corridor trains. In fact, Amtrakkers could just transfer at Martinez to HSR to speed their trip.

    * In addition to Stockton, this line would draw SF commuters from Contra Costa communities, Benicia (via bus to Martinez), Fairfield/Vacaville (transfer at Martinez), Manteca, and Modesto. Even Modesto would be less than 1 hour from Downtown SF, including the BART transfer. Even if the line just reached Stockton, it would be commutable from Lodi and some San Joaquin Valley communities by transferring at Stockton.

    * This route would line up nicely with the southern crossing rail tunnel they’re talking about (see map).

    * Requires building an Oakland Harbor infill BART station, as shown in the map.

    * Relatively easy to build: Flat as a pancake and follows ancient train routes. NIMBY revolts would be less severe on the Eastshore than in the Peninsula, because El Cerrito, Albany, and Berkeley are relatively sheltered from the railway. NIMBYs in Pinole/Hercules and Brentwood could be bribed with a non-express stop in their area.

    * Start with an inexpensive and profitable segment like Oakland Harbor-Stockton, then let the system pay for its own expansion.

    * Among the takeaways I want to convey are the idea of using Oakland Harbor as a reasonable proxy for Downtown SF, saving the project by jettisoning the Caltrain corridor millstone, and the value of Stockton as a CAHSR hub and commuting source (300K+ population, walkable downtown, and no good connection to the Bay Area!)

    * It sucks that they spent the first money in the no man’s land between Fresno and Bakersfield. It’s hard to salvage that section without building out the whole system. If that had been spent on making progress toward connecting Stockton and Oakland, we would be somewhere right now.

  27. les

    With Altamont there are so many issues to overcome. Not only the NIMBY and Freight issues but Prop 1 issues as well.

    SETEC would be nice for Fremont but you still need to turn the corner to get to SJ. I’m not sure how much over 130 minutes this would be but I’m sure it will be over. Another thing is the 1 seat ride requirement. LA trains would have to alternate between SJ and SF. This is less than ideal; not an issue with Pacheco.

    If you want a stop in Oakland-Berkley area you would have to pickup the tab for ACE on steroids from Tracy to Dublin (replace the BART segment with ACE) and hope they get the 2nd Tube built. Start planning two lines!

    Time for a Prop 1A re-vote about now.

    Prop 1A
    (1) San Francisco-Los Angeles Union Station: two hours, 40 minutes
    (4) San Jose-Los Angeles: two hours, 10 minutes.

    (f) For each corridor described in subdivision (b), passengers shall have the capability of traveling from any station on that corridor to any other station on that corridor without being required to change trains.

    • Alon Levy

      The 2:40 LA-SF time is completely impossible under Pacheco-Tehachapi as currently designed with all the route compromises that have been done. The worst compromises have been on the Peninsula, but there are also compromises in the Central Valley. Moreover, the one-seat ride requirement is entirely pro forma under Pacheco given that in practice it’s not commercially feasible to run direct trains from San Francisco to Sacramento via Merced. It’s still possible to hit that time or even better via the fastest possible route, Transbay-Altamont-Tejon, and potentially under Dumbarton-Altamont-Tejon, but not under Tehachapi.

  28. les

    Regarding Tejon, the authority should build a separate line (Metro express) that runs from Oxnard, Santa Clarita, Palmdale, Victorville and Barstow. Then let Virgin/Brightline rent the line so it can connect with Las Vegas and CASHR can make some money. Scratch Tehachapi to save the 12 minutes to SF. Prop 1 says 2:40 to SF and it also says a none subsidized system. This would make everybody happy.

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