Monday, February 11, 2008

HSR Debate Heats Up

Last Wednesday the East Bay Express printed several letters:

Gerald Cauthen of Oakland writes to refute the myth that the Altamont route would be more expensive or slower than the Pacheco.

A Mr 295bus of Redwood City (used my actual name in the letter, just not going to reveal my "secret identity" here) argues that the CASHRA's choice of the Pacheco route over Altamont for political reasons shows that they cannot be trusted with this project.

Michael Mahoney of San Francisco writes to warn Central Valley communities that they will regret inviting HSR to serve their towns because it's noisy, but is mostly concerned with the sprawl that will come to the valley if HSR puts places like Bakersfield in "commuting distance" to big cities.

Art Lewellan of Portland, Oregon points out that the HSR project could be built much more cheaply if we accepted slightly slower travel times and used conventional diesel trains, at least at first. He points out that the real environmental benefits of rail travel is not emissions reduction as much as encouraging responsible growth and revitalization of city centers, which have languished in Central Valley towns for decades.

Steve Lowe of Oakland argues that $40 billion would be better spent on revitalizing and expanding regional transportation systems, like BART.

Martin Engel of Menlo Park writes at length with numerous criticisms of the HSR project (BATN notes Mr Engel has a trackside condo and has pursued a one-man jihad to preserve his personal space from any more trains running by). Some of his points are valid, but he rambles on long enough I'm just not going to bother recapping it...

It's good that this "sleeper project" is starting to get some attention.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

IIRC, the CASHRA felt that the Altamont Pass was going to be used for intensive commuter rail.

They also wanted a *separate* route for high-speed rail *not* shared with commuter rail.

They also didn't think they could manage a four-track high-speed right-of-way through the Altamont route.

Hence the decision to prefer the Pacheco Pass. A Pacheco Pass route could conceivably have very few if any stops and run very fast, while commuter service continued on the Altamont.

This is correct *long-term* thinking. The trouble is that they're thinking *too* long-term. California High-Speed Rail is never going to be built in one go, and even if it is, it's not going to reach full capacity in one go.

Success at high-speed rail in this country, so far, has been through incremental improvement. That's what got us the Porter-Kalamazoo improvements, the NEC improvements, the Keystone Corridor improvements, the Seattle-Portland improvements, and the pressure for electrified Caltrain.

Thinking incrementally CAHSRA should be focusing on building the crucial Bakersfield-LA link (which should be designed for high-speed from the start), and running trains (San Joaquins) over it, building popularity; then get higher-speed running through the Central Valley, onto an improved Altamont commuter line; etc.

Finally, decades later, they would build the Pacheco Pass "express bypass" route for the now-very-popular high-speed trains which are skipping all the Altamont Pass stops, but
are nevertheless slowed down by the massive Altamont Pass commuter traffic.

Incidentally, Michael Mahoney might like to know that Bakersfield is considered to be within commuting distance of LA -- *and has been for 20 years or more*. Horrifying commute, but lots of people make it, by car and bus, apparently.