Friday, May 22, 2009

California High Speed Rail?

Given my experience riding the TGV between Paris and Lyon back in 1997, I'd have to say that socialist countries are much more efficient at planning large-scale systems using standard state of the art equipment. Not sexy, but reliable, although the labor union does tend to shut things down with strikes. Which is why I find, once again, that local USofA democracy-based planning decisions result in trying to please the big special interests at the expense of effective system development. Need we say more about why the LA Metro Green Line doesn't make it to LAX? (Taxi and bus driver unions) Which we are now considering extending to the airport at a vast increase in cost for this "new phase". The effectiveness of high-speed rail in Spain - another socialist country - has even cut into local airline revenue.

We have some successes. BART in San Francisco works extremely well, interconnecting with busses and cable cars. However, it is a local regional transportation system. We do have some good ideas for local transit; a design competition for LA by Sci-Arc and the Architect's Newspaper produced some innovative approaches.

Now, with the funding on its way for California High Speed Rail, the plans for this TGV-style project are threatened with political decisions to create a fast, expensive train with but so many stops that it's as slow as BART until it hits the open rails in the central valley. What a waste.

In the picture below from the CHSR website (click to enlarge), I've marked the fairly obvious BART extension from Oakland via Pittsburg Bay Point to Sacramento's central light rail system. The Oakland line runs to SFO, which is a logical
place to start an actual high-speed rail train. Then, using only the blue route mapped out, it's 2.5 hours to LA from SFO. We can skip the central valley cities on the grey route lines (Stockton, Modesto, Merced) because they are not destinations that demand this kind of transit, and they're depopulating as we speak. Skip Visalia, and the remaining cities on the blue route are legitimately large cities with connecting airports and local transit feeders. Interesting discussion on the Palmdale stop is here, as an expansion of LAX service and a connector to Bakersfield.

The cities south of Los Angeles should develop a regional rail, not a TGV-type of transit infrastructure because that's not appropriate for those kinds of short runs.
Way too big and expensive. We need to take advantage of the light rail system that's already been started. The integrated transit system in Los Angeles is a legacy system that should be enhanced with streamlined infrastructure and extended to serve existing communities.

Updates on the HSR debate are linked here. An overview published in Infrastructurist is here.

My two centavos