Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Recent comments from Richard Tolmach

This is from our good friend, Richard Tolmach. I consider it required reading for anyone with any concerns about high-speed train on the Peninsula and in California. It is a description not so much of the intended train, but the people behind these intentions.

Some of my colleagues have expressed their reservations about all this persistent bad news. Sorry. All I can say, yet again, that this is not a game. These are real, serious people, intent on shoving this project down our throats, regardless of costs or impact on us and our communities. I can't sugar coat this and neither will Tolmach. And, by the way, feel free to blame the messenger. That's what the pro-rail bloggers all do.



Published Tuesday, October 13, 2009, by California Rail News

European high-speed trains don't invade neighborhoods

HSRA's distorted ideas on rail improvements don't resemble Europe's high-speed

rail at all

* Europe targets rail investment to high-speed bypasses

* France builds 5 miles for the cost of 1 California mile

* HSRA's real model: 1960's drive for elevated urban freeways

By Richard F. Tolmach

California cities expecting fast trains to revive their downtowns may get the

opposite, with plans for 217 mph operation through at least 12 cities revealed

by California's High-Speed Rail Authority (HSRA). The politically volatile plan

was unveiled at a workshop in Sacramento August 6.

Project Manager Tony Daniels, the Authority's lead Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB)

employee, showed a train performance table with 217 mph speeds through Morgan

Hill, Gilroy, Chowchilla, Madera, Fresno, Hanford, Corcoran, Shafter, Wasco,

Bakersfield, Lancaster and Palmdale, and indicated it was the basis for the 2

hour 40 minute San Francisco-Los Angeles schedule.

217 mph trains produce 95 to 100 dB impacts almost as loud as noise at the end

of a runway, one reason why European and Japanese railroads avoid operation

above 165 mph within cities of any size. Even 125 mph rail operation is a major

source of blight. Cities with any environmental sense do not consent to become

Thunder Alley, but affected cities are largely unaware of noise impacts,

because HSRA failed to disclose them in the Program EIR process.

Environmental concerns about the project were originally limited to a swath of

the Peninsula where HSRA announced after the November 2008 vote its plans to

demolish and reconstruct on an elevated structure or berm a 40-mile swath of

Caltrain tracks. This would destroy two decades of station improvements at all

intermediate stops, remove thousands of mature trees through upper income

neighborhoods, and install a permanent source of urban blight.

HSRA arrogance invades East LA

HSRA has recently broadened concerns about environmental issues to about 20

other cities via its August 6 speed disclosure and similar heavy-handed tactics

in Southern California. Since July, HSRA has unveiled a new route through

residential areas between Anaheim and Los Angeles without advance notice or

specific details. It also tried to pressure cities to respond by an arbitrary

August 31 deadline.

"None of these plans have been engineered enough for us to articulate about it,"

Steve Forster, director of public works for La Mirada was quoted in the Whittier

Daily News. "Will there be two, three or four new tracks installed? Will they be

at grade or 80 feet in the air?" La Mirada officials indicated they thought the

line should be adjacent to the Santa Ana (I-5) Freeway instead of BNSF tracks in

order to be further away from residents.

Santa Fe Springs City Manager Fred Latham echoed the sentiment, indicating the

train "will go through a lot of residential neighborhoods." Latham said, "The

cities aren't willing to compromise their interest or abandon them to the

fast-track process."

Behind the scenes, HSRA staff has reportedly told Fullerton and Norwalk city

officials that both cities will lose their existing Metrolink stations, and that

they will have to decide which city will get one new replacement stop, a

coercive and destructive position counter to the interests of both cities.

City officials indicate they may put together a joint powers authority to

negotiate with the rail authority, or may use the existing JPA formed to work on

the I-5 widening. Corridor residents have long experience with bad public works

projects, and impacts of I-5 and BNSF trains on the corridor are already severe.

The heavily Hispanic neighborhoods look like they may become the next flash

point in the high-speed battle. This is needless, because BNSF triple-tracking

is capable of producing sufficient rail capacity.

No credible plan for completion

Goldman Sachs' report at the September 3 HSRA meeting revealed there is no

credible plan to stretch $7.5 billion of remaining funding to cover the 500-mile

SF-Anaheim starter line via private sector involvement. The shortfall is at very

least $32 billion, and may be as much as $80 billion. In such straits, HSRA does

not have capital to waste on goldplating existing urban lines with elevated

structures, the sort of project where $1 billion won't stretch to 10 miles of


Financial reality dictates that first priority is to close California's two

major track gaps: Peninsula to Modesto and Bakersfield to Santa Clarita. Closing

these gaps would create productive regional service as a first stage and enable

private capital to define an affordable Central Valley high-speed link. Only by

focusing on cost-effectiveness and allowing private capital a role can

California complete this project.

HSRA's stated priority instead is to replicate existing tracks at a much higher

capital cost, and fill no track gaps at all. HSRA wants to spend $9 billion

(half in Federal ARRA funds) for four projects to goldplate facilities from SF

to San Jose, Merced to Fresno, Fresno to Bakersfield, and Los Angeles to

Anaheim. Redundant overbuilt facilities on these segments have no economic value

to California. The Merced to Fresno line is California's own "bridge to

nowhere," with no BNSF rail connection on either end and no traffic. These lines

would not produce substantial increases in passengers, and provide no practical

benefit. Worst of all, the same gaps in California's rail network would persist,

and most of the bond money would be gone.

Consider how frugally the Europeans use capital. In 2007, $5 billion built 186

miles of 200 mph tracks in France, about half the distance from the Bay Area to

Los Angeles. The new TGV-Est pointedly avoids every urbanized area along the

way, and has only three stops along its spine: two exurban park-and-rides and a

station with future tram service on Reims' southern fringe. TGV-Est acts as a

high-speed link between conventional tracks. It allows direct trains from Paris

to Metz, Luxembourg, Strasbourg, Frankfurt and Stuttgart, cutting travel time

by up to two hours.

HSRA plans to spend $4 billion to obtain just 28 miles, by condemning land,

demolishing houses, and trashing neighborhoods from Los Angeles to Anaheim. The

line would attain an average speed of only 75 mph, saving about 15 minutes over

Amtrak service. Private capital would never consider such a project because

adequate capacity already exists, and the minor time-savings in the Anaheim

market don't justify a multi-billion-dollar expenditure.

California's HSR project wastes its capital on political pork. If California

were to adopt the French policy of prioritizing investment to rural track

segments that can save hours of travel time, our network might cost $15 to $20

billion, instead of the $45 to $80 billion now projected.

HSR redefined as blight rail

Caltrain's 47-mile San Francisco-San Jose track has top speeds of 79 mph, and

serves cities on the corridor very well. Turning it into a quadruple-track

elevated railroad is a wet dream for the Authority, but a nightmare for

residents. Trains would have to be shut down for years while a demolition and

construction project removes tracks and trees from a swath of the Peninsula and

mile by mile erects elevated structures. Once reopened, there would be 300

trains daily, in place of the current 100 Caltrain trips.

Why did Europe stop building elevated trains by about the 1930's? The same

reason California stopped building elevated freeways in the 1970's. The model of

going into a community, condemning a right-of-way, and building a noisy,

blight-producing facility through its heart is dead. No European railway has

dared to do this for years, and even most state highway departments now agree

that elevated facilities through neighborhoods are destructive.

I challenge anyone who reads this to provide us a single instance of a 40-mile

elevated railroad built since the 1960's through any European urban area.

Quadruple-tracking and elevating Caltrain is not only a bad plan, it has nothing

to do with modern rail, let alone high-speed rail.

Europe's high-speed railroads are cost effective because they are on the ground.

They bypass most intermediate cities instead of blasting through them. They use

timed connections or trains that divide, instead of trying to connect every city

with a single line. California's project should adopt European methods, not

build outmoded elevated railroads.

Wasteful detours for developers

The excuse for all those expensive elevated structures in cities is that trains

have to run so fast. Higher speeds are only required because Authority officials

gerrymandered the Bay Area–Los Angeles route, making it nearly 100 miles longer

than highway mileage. The extra miles made it impossible to meet the 2 hour 40

minute run time without raising speeds all the way up the line.

Both the Los Banos detour and the Mojave detour also add unnecessary grades and

difficult mountain terrain. The grade from Tehachapi to Bakersfield apparently

forces a 140 mph safety speed limit for an unbroken 3600 foot descent, which

Tony Daniels candidly calls "no mean feat for a high-speed train."

The obvious question is why trains should run via Tehachapi's tough gradients,

with tunnels totaling over 13 miles. Shorter tunnels parallel to the California

water project would save about 2000 feet of rise and fall, plus over 20 miles of

track and train operating expense. One interpretation of Daniels' statement is

that he is calling Tehachapi the Achilles' heel of the project. This idea is

underscored by the grade's long impact on train speeds shown on the chart below,

and its effect on project costs.

217 mph speeds, grades, and extra miles also undermine claims that HSR saves

energy compared to driving. The California project is likely to increase, not

reduce, energy waste and greenhouse gases because its route is 20 percent longer

than highways and 217 mph trains consume more energy per passenger mile that

conventional trains or autos do.

HSRA's high-speed plan wastes scarce funds to gold plate 80 miles of urban

track, wastes mileage on detours for developers, and ignores modern European

design practice. It eliminates participation of private capital in project risk,

creating a funding gap instead of a buildable project. It is time for California

leaders to give the project to competent rail engineers who have implemented

high-speed rail. It is time to pull the plug on the out-of-control Authority.

217 mph IN CITIES?

Parsons Brinckerhoff's Tony Daniels reveals 217 mph HSRA operational plan with

chart; Rod Diridon pretends table is a theoretical demonstration

By Richard F. Tolmach

On August 6, HSRA Board Member Rod Diridon and Chair Curt Pringle collaborated

to try to deny the reality of the Parsons Brinckerhoff charts and timetables

presented by Tony Daniels showing how the 2 hour, 40 minute run time could be

achieved on the circuitous route only by running at 217 mph speeds through 12

California cities.

Diridon: "I think that we have to stress that these are demonstration diagrams

for our own experience. They're not proposed speed limits or operational

characteristics because we haven't done the studies to determine how we're going

to operate the trains yet. So they're just demonstrations to try to give us some


Daniels had just finished a five minute talk detailing the studies the Authority

had done to determine required operating speeds, and asked the board if they had

any questions.

"The point," said Diridon, "is that I wouldn't want someone to say, `oh, it's

going to go 200 mph through Morgan Hill.' Well, that's not the case. And we want

to make sure that ... everybody knows that these are examples. They're not

actual situations, they're not proposed situations."

Daniels gently tried to tell Diridon the speeds were real: "It's against the

best information we have. The traction motor curves are real. The alignment is

the best alignment we have to date. We will continue to evaluate those, you're

correct, as we move forward. But we've used this, and you'll see in the next

couple slides, as the basis upon which we've drawn a very detailed timetable and

operational plan from which we got the ridership. Okay?"

HSRA Chair Curt Pringle weighed in on Diridon's side, to try to protect HSRA

from charges it has predetermined its plan before project EIRs are complete:

"Okay, we understand that this is a maximum speed defined by physical conditions

but not an operational plan. You're just suggesting that this is what things to

consider in terms of what could physically occur but it's not the operational

plan of the system. Got it."

Daniels' jaw visibly dropped at the willful misinterpretation, but he still

continued to try to explain: "It's likely to be. It's close. You'll see when we

go to the timetable and then the operational plan ... it is close--"

Pringle interrupted him at this point, clearly perturbed at his refusal to

endorse Diridon's cover story: "--could you just proceed with your presentation

as you've prepared it. Thank you."

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