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Rail agency, Caltrain eye 'four-track' train line
Original post made
on Mar 27, 2009
A proposed agreement between the agency overseeing Caltrain and the one responsible for building the new high-speed rail line has Palo Alto officials worried that the controversial project is moving too fast and in the wrong direction.
Read the full story here Web Link
posted Friday, March 27, 2009, 4:52 PM
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Posted by Andrew Bogan
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 28, 2009 at 5:37 pm
"If you can, somehow, overcome the laws of physics and pencil it for us, please let us know."
I am reasonably well versed in the laws of physics, my PhD is in biophysics.
You wrote, "electric trains are NOT more energy efficient than automobiles".
As you know, this is debatable and depends a lot on the assumptions and on what you mean by "efficient". While you have your pencil out, explain to me how HSR is less energy efficient than air transport, since we all know that is the relevant alternative for tens of millions of trips per year between the Bay Area and LA. There is a reason that CHSRA calls the HSR "Fly California" and not "Drive California". The sharpness of your pencil will not help if you insist on making the wrong comparisons. Furthermore there are many relevant pollutants besides carbon dioxide, and where those get produced does matter a lot for air quality. Are you really arguing that building another major freeway system the size of Interstate 5 or US 101 is a better idea to handle California's growing future transit needs than HSR? I'd love to see the NIMBY reaction to that project.
"Sprawl will definitely increase around those hub stations in the Central Valley. It is a simple equation that people will make: It currently takes me two hours to commute into the Bay Area from Manteca...hmmm, I could live in Fresno, in the outer suburbs, drive 20 minutes to the hub, and still get to work in two hours. However one wants to think about it, sprawl will occur around the hubs."
Sorry, but your own example does not work. In the above example one person is removed from Manteca and one is added to the Fresno suburbs. Where is the sprawl? Population growth is the problem for sprawl, HSR helps to control sprawl and accommodate travel needs for a growing population. Every HSR station will be essentially required to have transit oriented development constructed around it. This is the definition of reducing sprawl in planning and urban development: clustering people into denser (i.e less sprawling) communities around transit hubs. The data on this is pretty clear from both European and Asian HSR networks, please go read the studies.
"All public transit trains are subsidized in this country."
False. The Acela train in the Northeast has been profitable in several operating years. Note that of Amtrak's subsidy laden mess, the most profitable line is the highest speed one. Coincidence?
"It is up to the proponents of HSR to disprove this assertion."
"HSR has a very short life history."
If you call since the 1960s when the first shinkansen opened from Tokyo to Osaka a short life history, then I'm not sure what modern transportation mode has a long life history. Hybrid cars have a lot shorter life history than that by far, but the one my wife drives seems to work well, it too was made in Japan.
"It has yet to face a major disruption (major earthquakes, floods taking out bridges, terrorism, accidents, etc.)."
You do not have to agree with me, but spreading blatantly false information is pretty unusual for someone calling himself "Engineer". The seismic environments in Japan and Taiwan are as active as in California, or more so. A major earthquake derailed a Joetsu Shinkansen train in Niigata Prefecture on 23 October 2004. Not one passenger was killed, nor has one ever been killed in an accident in Japan's decades-long HSR history. Compare that to car passenger deaths on 101 or 280, or in Oakland during the Loma Prieta quake. One reference on earthquake safety for Japanese HSR train sets is at:
"HSR will divide the cities that it travels through."
Yes, just like Caltrain already does, except traffic flow will be improved by removing all of the at grade crossings, which are a major rush-hour nuisance all along the Peninsula, except where grade separated crossings were built long ago, like at the Oregon Expressway and San Antonio.
"A hub station in Palo Alto would absolutely increase local traffic, be it taxi cabs or private cars. People need to get to and from the hub, and they will not be walking there."
It seems reasonable to me that a Palo Alto HSR station *could* increase traffic, but it is not certain that it *would*, since many factors are involved. Let's wait for a proper traffic study before claiming to know the answer to this open question. One current plan would put a parking structure for HSR (and thus Caltrain, too, on El Camino Real, which has much more traffic capacity than Alma. Even if a HSR Station did lead to more cars in and out of the Station, traffic flows could still be improved by the grade separations of crossings and moving traffic off Alma and out of Downtown Palo Alto onto El camino Real. Nobody really cares much about the number of cars driving on a road, they care about waiting in traffic.
Also, the reduction of regional traffic through Palo Alto on 101 and 280 is much more important in many ways (like your favorite carbon dioxide emissions) than the possibility of some additional local trips. If the Station design is done correctly, a lot of passengers on HSR will arrive at Palo Alto on Caltrain and transfer to the express HSR. Remember, Palo Alto already has the second highest ridership of any station on Caltrain (after SF), which is precisely why it is a candidate location for the mid-Peninsula HSR station.
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Posted by Andrew Bogan
a resident of Evergreen Park
on Mar 28, 2009 at 6:26 pm
@Point of View
"But Japan and Taiwan are very different scenarios for HSR because they already have successful mass transit infrastructure that HSR extends and leverages."
Your point is well taken and we should all also be advocating for improved transit networks at the major terminal stations. 1/10 of the California Prop 1A bonds are already dedicated to improving "feeder transit" and cannot be used directly by HSR.
This is an important point about mass transit infrastructure, but let us not forget that the San Francisco Transbay terminus that is planned for HSR at Mission and First will connect to Caltrain, BART, SF MUNI light rail, SF MUNI buses, AC Transit, and Greyhound at the very least. It is also a pleasant walk to the SF Ferry Building from there. Not exactly a "no transit" scenario. I agree that Tokyo is higher density and has a better subway than SF, but many other shinkansen stations in Japan (like Kyoto and many smaller cities) have considerably less transit connectivity than is planned for SF and LA. Also, the subway system in Taipei is not all that extensive: technically six "lines", but basically it is just a cross with two north-south and one east-west. I have ridden it several times. It is not much different from the LA Subway, light rail, and commuter line networks actually.
LA: Web Link
Taipei: Web Link;
"To comment about HSR finances, using Taiwan and Japan as examples to show that an HSR in California will be profitable, despite clear math showing the contrary, is misleading."
Not sure which "clear math" you were referring to, but if they do the project with a design-build-transfer PPP structure, it has a pretty good chance of operating profitably. Japan and Taiwan are not the only examples of successful HSR operators. French National Railways (SNCF), a public sector government-owned company, operates their HSR (the TGV) profitably as well. The 'California is not Japan or Taiwan' argument does not really hold up, since HSR is working well and being operated profitably nearly everywhere it has been built (Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan, France, Germany, Spain, etc). Obviously California is not Taiwan. Nor is Spain very similar to Japan, but HSR is working beautifully in both countries.
"California does not have a surplus; it doesn't have the money for this project. It doesn't have successful mass transit to leverage, and it doesn't have the ability to create such transit."
I just don't subscribe to the "No we can't" philosophy that has become popular lately in America. Japan has one of the highest debt to GDP ratios of any developed nation. No surplus there, but they still operate HSR trains profitably with private companies on government owned tracks and it is a great way to travel. California already approved issuing $10 billion in bonds for HSR and last week, the State showed that demand for California bonds has finally returned to the muni bond markets, despite our state's lousy credit rating. Lots of the funding for this will be federal and if the PPP plans go forward, a lot will also be from private investors. Even the Chunnel/Eurostar debacle (and no we are not tunneling under any channels here) has been successfully restructured and attracted private investors with great success in recent years (including Goldman Sachs's infrastructure fund, I believe).
As for successful mass transit, I agree that SF MUNI and BART are not as good as the Tokyo Metro or the Seoul Subway (I have lived and worked in all three cities), but it's better than most American city transit networks and as good as some in mid-sized cities in Asia (Kyoto just built a subway a few years ago). As for California's population density, it is similar in the urban centers that HSR will serve with stations to the European and Asian comparisons that I have made. HSR does not require Seoul or Tokyo sized urban centers to work well. Look at Lyon, Barcelona, or Brussels if you do not like Asian comparisons.
Imagine if someone in Korea or Japan a few decades back had said, we don't want airports and freeways, they only work in America. Proven infrastructure tends to work well in a variety of countries and cultures, HSR is no different.