17.1.18

A FALSE ANALOGY.

Madison's Ann Althouse counts her blessings.  Apparently, the cost over-runs on California's bullet train continue to increase, and she compares that, favorably, with the expenses Wisconsin avoided with the cancellation of the extension of Hiawatha service to Madison.

Sorry, that comparison is inaccurate.  Wisconsin's proposed service was an incremental extension of an existing corridor to provide additional connectivity to a line that has been experiencing increased ridership and additional frequencies.  But Passenger Rail advocates in Wisconsin failed to make the case for that expanded connectivity and convenience, letting the nay-sayers characterize the project as something for the benefit of Madison rent-seekers, or something.

Restoring 110 mph speeds between Chicago and Watertown and speeding up service over historical timing from Watertown to Madison is a very different proposition from building a new railroad ab initio in a corridor currently being served by one slow cross-country trains and two or three regional trains that get no closer to Los Angeles than to Bakersfield.  California's error is in building the first section of their high-speed line alongside the Bakersfield route in relatively open country.
Yes, additional frequencies on the existing regional routes (Amtrak and the city-specific commuter services), making better connections between the Los Angeles and San Diego regional trains, and filling in some of the gaps in the rail network (connect Bakersfield to Los Angeles and Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo) are likely to be more productive at less cost than a San Francisco to Los Angeles Neubaustrecke that, like its German and Japanese counterparts, will have to be tunnelled through difficult terrain.
Or, if you must build a section of railroad, perhaps the place to begin is with a Bakersfield to Glenview line constructed to Shinkansen or Neubaustrecke standards, but commencing operation with conventional diesel trains authorized 125 to 140 mph on the new trackage, and conforming to existing speed restrictions on the existing San Joaquin routing north of Bakersfield and Metrolink trackage into Los Angeles.  That is, get passengers used to more frequent and more dependable through trains, then start adding the capacity and upgrading the lines as demand appears.  Bear in mind, dear reader, that Japan began with the standard gauge New Tokaido Line when they ran out of capacity on an already busy electrified Cape gauge line.  Bear also in mind that the Hiawatha service was, early in the 1980s, three or four trains a day, with consists of two or three coaches.

That California's Department of Transportation currently is adding capacity with neutered Jersey Arrow coaches suggests the potential for incremental improvements, perhaps in fifteen or twenty years leading to a full-on Neubaustrecke linking Los Angeles with San Francisco.  Unfortunately, it's probably too late to mothball the San Joaquin Valley construction and commence that connection of Glenview with Bakersfield.

4 comments:

MSS said...

Glenview? I thought I knew my California place names, but I am not sure what this refers to.

Dave Tufte said...

Ha ha. Perhaps that's the point. I've never heard of it either, and I'm not looking it up right now. Instead, I speculate that when we say the train is going from nowhere to nowhere, that it's actually going somewhere named Glenview, but that's so obscure that it's tantamount to nowhere.

Stephen Karlson said...

Sorry, that's my North Shore Line thinking. GlenDALE, near Burbank. Although there's a tantalizing short cut using a branch line as far as Saugus, then chopping directly through the ridges to Bakersfield. The Japanese have enough experience with volcanic rock and faults that this is not completely crazy.

There's a Metrolink service called "Antelope Valley Line" goes to a place called Lancaster. Might make sense to cut through the mountains to Bakersfield from there. That's how the French and the Germans do their fast trains, provide the cutoffs and bring the trains into the metro areas on existing tracks.

MSS said...

Ah, Glendale.

The Antelope Valley Line bypasses the Grapevine, well east of the very steep I-5 corridor. And that is pretty much precisely the official pan: follow the Metrolink corridor to Palmdale and Lancaster, then cut through the general area of Tehachapi towards Bakersfield. I suspect they've been talking to the Germans and Japanese.