How to do Texas HSR

I’m getting a lot of hits on a post I did awhile back arguing that High Speed Rail is pro-sprawl. So if a bunch of people are going to link here off of a HAIF discussion on HSR I might as well jot down all my views in one place. So, starting with Houston…

Use the SP site / Barbara Jordan PO site for the terminal.

This is so flipping obvious. For one, it’s essentially the same site as the current Amtrak service, so there’s continuity there. For another, it was originally built as a train station, so all of the roadway infrastructure necessary to support a train station is already in place. For a third, it’s within walking distance of a substantial portion of the CBD. The commuter rail plans drawn up by Metro and their consultants really like to look at L.A., which has a station some distance from the CBD with a forced subway/LRT transfer. But it’s much more refreshing to ditch the forced transfer and just walk directly to your destination. And the destinations around the SP / PO site aren’t just dense but they’re 24 hours. Far from just office, there’s already a critical mass of clubs, drinking establishments, and parks. The sort of ecosystem which urban design consultants imagine growing up around train stations already exists, so just dropping a train station into it is the definition of synergy.

The “North Intermodal Terminal” site is poo. Besides the forced LRT transfer, there’s not enough rail capacity in the design, and the site constraints would make expansion difficult. Moreover, the alternatives analysis in Metro’s EIS was heavily biased towards “redevelopment” in order for the NIT to come out on top. “Redevelopment” is an acceptable goal for a suburban rail station but when you’re building a hub and spoke network into a major city, the downtown station needs to be downtown.

A high speed rail network provides an opportunity to bypass all this questionable planning and start from square one, which should be the post office site. Oh and did someone mention it’s for sale? Seriously now.

290 is the exit route

It doesn’t really matter whether you’re building a “Texas Triangle” or a “Texas T-Bone” or whatever shape you desire, 290 is your corridor. IH-10 is way too built out, the Katy ROW long since subsumed by the freeway. 45/Hardy’s north/south alignment adds needless time for Houston-Austin and Houston-San Antonio trips. And the BNSF corridor from Garden Oaks out to Tomball just isn’t developed enough, not to mention it’s a skinny right-of-way that goes through tons of residential backyards. I’m seeing NIMBY suits.

But the 290/Hempstead corridor isn’t just perfectly-aligned to handle trips to Dallas and San Antonio with minimal delays, it’s also a near-continuous strip of low-rise industrial. That means you’re dealing with the CBREs and the Transwesterns instead of the Smiths and the Joneses. You can get through practically the entire acquisition process while only dealing with MBAs. Sure, there might be a suit or two over appraisals, but there’ll be none of the concern trolls who want to derail the project because it destroys the unique nature of their livable community, like the kids on the SF Peninsula who keep trying to kill California’s trains. No one’s heart aches that you might put a bullet train through an industrial park. It works.

Get out of San Antonio on IH-10, but resist the siren song of 130

I-10 is the natural route out of SA. It’s flat, it’s relatively undeveloped, and it’s damned straight. But SH 130 isn’t so great. The trouble is, the route between Seguin and Lockhart is a string of almost continuous 1 degree S-curves. That’s nice curvature for an 85mph cruise in a Suburban, but it’s massively inadequate for trains at 220 or even 150mph. There is little getting around the fact that HSR will need a brand new alignment roughly parallel to 130.

The good news is that HSR is skinny by Texan right-of-way standards. On flat ground, you really only need 100′ – same as a standard H-town arterial. And where rails cross active farm or ranchland, you can build overpasses that are little more than culverts. A couple MSE walls and a few beams to span 12 or 16 feet is all you need. Simple.

Have a three-way with the Metroplex

The only way to deal with Dallas-Fort Worth is two lines, one running directly into Dallas, one directly into Fort Worth. This wins from a travel time perspective, but gets tricky from a scheduling perspective, since you’re dividing trains into multiple termini. The trick, then, is to “close the loop” with a direct HSR link from Dallas to Fort Worth. Thus any train going to one city is going to the other, and vice versa, it just might take a bit longer. I don’t think the routing matters all that much. You can run it along the TRE for ease of acquisition, you could send it through Arlington or Grapevine, or you could go deep into multi-billion-megaproject territory and tunnel under DFW with a station at the terminal, a la CDG or Narita. As long as the trains can make the loop.

Avoid Downtown Austin

This will be seen as sacrilege by some, but think about it. There’s no conceivable way to run through trackage through Austin. You can’t elevate over 35 because 35 is already elevated over 35. You can’t run it up MoPac because MoPac is ROW-constrained on all sides by well-heeled neighborhoods. And this similar neighborhood impact stuff happens with every taking you could conceivably do. Moreover, there’s a lot of bleed-over between Austin and places like like Boulder, Colorado or Portland, Oregon with people who like ATX but wouldn’t dream of living in Houston or Cowtown. These people are persnickety and litigious. What I’m saying is, NIMBY shitstorm.

But Austin can’t be a stub terminal because it lies between all of the other major cities. You need Austin to be a through-stop for trains from SA to FTW or SA to HOU. Hence the alternatives analysis for Austin should be a couple routes stopping at ABIA and a couple stations along SH 130 or further out. For my money I’d put the station right at ABIA and then have a driverless metro (a la Skytrain) for frequent service between planes, trains, and Emo’s. The reason you do a driverless Metro and not conventional LRT is because conventional LRT always ends up with crappy late-night headways – if not from the get-go, in the first round of budget cuts – and Austin is a late-night town. Driverless avoids this, and you can run 6-8 minute headways even in the wee hours.

Tying it all together

Once you’ve decided how the trains are going to run in the cities, the next step is just drawing out some 20-minute curves through the cows. For me, I am agnostic here. There remain substantial questions such as how do you serve the substantial ridership base at Temple/Fort Hood, do you run tracks through Waco or College Station, etc. But I don’t really have an opinion on this. I think if you make the right choices about how to run it through the major cities, and if you set clear standards for how the system should run through the rest of the countryside (e.g., minimum curve radii and the like), then any system that results is a good one.

And the technology?

Shinkansen. And here’s why. Most of the off-the-shelf HSR trainsets out there are built to Euro spec, which means they’re in the range of 9’6″ to 9’8″ wide. This is narrower than the traditional US spec of 10’2.” Siemens has a variant of the ICE it sells which roughly parallels the US spec, and is cylindrical in shape, similar to an Amfleet car. But the 700 series Shinkansen is a slab, square-profiled, 11’1″ in width. Which is to say, it’s the biggest. Now, I’m big. If you’re reading this, and you’re in Texas, you’re probably big too. Not a dis – it’s just what happens when you have ready access to chicken fried everything and the best goddamned mexican food on the planet.

The 700 is so big, in fact, that in standard-spec it seats five across. Now of course, this will not do. Four-across seating is the order of the day. In Japan, this is the Green Car. Add some legroom and make it the Lone Star Car. In fact Judge Eckels signed up with a company that’s trying to do just that. And while it’s not exactly good policy to preselect a vendor, there are enough JR Group companies that they can each affiliate with a different set of firms and submit a different bid. LSHSR is hitched up with JR Tokai to sell the 700? Some other group can hook up with JR East and sell the E5. Hayabusa. Just write a spec for width or cross-sectional area that excludes all known ICE variants, and voila. Besides, Siemens already has a near-monopoly on US Light Rail Vehicle production. Let someone else sell the high-speed ones.

15 thoughts on “How to do Texas HSR”

  1. This is just academic, but I think the strongest route choices you have here are either the gold or the orange. The best would be a hybrid of the two.

    The gold is the most economical of the routes, because you’ll have to lay the least track and still get high ridership performance. (Conversely, the triangular routes.

    The orange hits all the right destinations. The area outside of Houston where the black line ends is Prairie View, right? It then goes to College Station. This is a good route, because it serves “small cities with big feet” — a term I coined for remote populations capable of producing very high per-capita ridership because of a stationary major activity center. In this case, you have two major universities.

    The orange, though, requires more track than is necessary because of its triangular orientation. Also, the triangle emphasizes point-to-point travel, which trades a high speed for low ridership. The t-bone alignment sacrifices some speed but the ridership gains offset the potential ridership loss from non-direct travel.

    Another economic modification: drop the Dallas and Fort Worth triangle. You lay too much track. The alternative: an arrowhead, where the train goes to DFW airport and branches there to Dallas and Fort Worth. (Dallas, by all indications, would be the stronger tent pole. You would have to double the cost of construction, split the trains in half when in operation, but Dallas would have greater than half of all boardings. It may get 2/3, 3/4 or even more as a station).

  2. HSR isn’t a subway. I think you need a single-seat ride between major activity centers to be competitive. Also, if you build the T-bone around a timed transfer at Temple, you’re basically screwing Houston. DFW-Austin-SA get a single seat ride whereas Houston cats have to transfer to go anywhere interesting. That’s crap.

    Likewise with the DFW arrowhead. It’s not just ridership, it’s operations. Suppose we build the T-bone and say, OK, midday train frequency is 3tph to Dallas and 1tph to FtW. In a given hour then that’s four trains I send from DFW to SA. So I need four trainsets and four crews. Now if there’s a direct link from Fort Worth to Dallas, I just extend one of those trains to FtW, which is maybe a half an hour including stops. So now I only need three trainsets, and three crews. Say 25% less train cost, 20% less crew cost.

    There are other factors. The Metroplex is such an amorphous blob that I think a lot of people from in between would gravitate towards a Fort Worth station precisely because it’d be less crowded. You get people from Arlington, Lewisville, Denton saying “hmmm, do I drive all the way into the D (and fight traffic all the way there), or do I make an easy cruise over to FtW.” That’s an easy decision if all trains serve all stops and the only variable is travel time. Tons of studies have shown that wait time is perceived as longer than travel time. Plus, the Feds like to pay for capital costs but they’re not so big on operating subsidies, so there’s an incentive for all agencies to go long on capital costs to save on operational costs.

  3. HSR isn’t a subway. I think you need a single-seat ride between major actvity centers to be competitive.

    Competitive with what? The only possible competition HSR has with speed and access is a plane. And you don’t want to mimic what the plane does on the ground because HSR will never match the speed.

    HSR has to do what a plane can never do. And that is, serve smaller access points. HSR’s economics come from the fact that the cost of an unsold seat is very low for a train, while they are very high for a plane. Smaller stations not only reduce the number of unsold seats, but they also help with seat turnover. That means the same seat can be sold multiple times, whereas the plane’s can only be sold once.

    Also, if you build the T-bone around a timed transfer at Temple, you’re basically screwing Houston.

    No, because Houston will be getting a one-seat ride to Dallas. That’s the most obvious market. You’ll divide trains between DFW/HOU and DFW/AUS-SAN. That leaves one combination unserved: HOU/AUS-SAN.

    Therefore, Temple will need to be planned as a hub station. (It would also be the logical place to keep the train barn and maintenance facility). It could be planned for the “fork tines” with four tracks and three platforms — designed primarily for one north and one south train to exchange passengers in the middle; or a three track/two platform configuration where all northbound trains arrive in the middle track, DAL/AUS-SAN will use the western track and DAL-HOU will use the eastern track.

    I do see a problem you are getting at. Why does a HOUAUS-SAN trip have to go all the way up to Temple and back? That’s far out of the way. If the forecasted traffic for HOUAUS-SAN is large enough, build a southern spur for a SANAUSPVWHOU chain.

    As for the DFW arrowhead vs. triangle issue, you have some alternatives available. You can do the Texas Eagle thing and decouple the trains at DFW. You’d just need a floating crewman to pilot the train between DFW and Fort Worth. Don’t worry about the cost; it’s usually a dog assignment that the greener operators will do. The experienced engineers will get the trunk and straight pay for the longer route.

    The other alternative is to create two lines with distinct Dallas and Fort Worth terminals and still have the DFW arrowhead junction. You could have FTW/HOU and DAL/AUS-SAN, cover everyone and still lay a lot less track.

  4. I’ve assumed the T-bone screws Houston based on the fact that every map I’ve seen shows the HOU-TPL leg extending past Temple and into Killeen/Ft Hood. The only practical way to operate such a network is with a clockwork transfer at Temple.

    “If the forecasted traffic for HOUAUS-SAN is large enough, build a southern spur for a SANAUSPVWHOU chain.”

    So now we’re back into triangles, the only difference is whether the northern merge/diverge is moved south to Temple as opposed to, say, north of Waco. I can see the argument for doing this, you’re trading HOU-DFW travel time for reduced track miles plus the addition of Temple as an intermediate stop. This question definitely counts under “I don’t really care about the rural alignment provided the cities are done right.”

    Your idea of running all Houston trains to FTW and all Austin trains to Dallas is an interesting one. But I think if you were to do that, the sensible thing would be to delete the DFW link entirely. Dallas and Fort Worth both have easy southern escape routes; Dallas along the Trinity River, FtW along the east side of 35W. But Arlington-Grand Prairie is a pretty solid thicket of houses, and SH360 is pretty tapped out right-of-way wise.

    Of course, you could build two branches to DAL and FTW and then extend one of them to the airport. But once you’ve done that, you might as well build the remaining 12 miles of track to create a complete loop. At which point you’re back to my “every train serves both cities” service pattern.

  5. For the section, “Use the SP site / Barbara Jordan PO site for the terminal”

    They already had something liked that but scrapped it. It was called the Houston Intermodal Transit Center. It wasn’t going to be the post office, but a new building on the next block near UH-D. You can Wikipedia it. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Houston_Intermodal_Transit_Center

    The T-bone sketches don’t seem practical. Converging in the middle of nowhere doesn’t seem beneficial as a more direct city-to-city triangular route. I liked the 4th one best.

    I’m not sure I agree with the NIMBYism you think might stop progress. Given enough money, people will sell out or the state can tackle the issue. Even on 290, there are residential areas like Fairfield being a major one and many businesses.

    You have some interesting ideas on HSR in Texas, though I’m somewhat dubious on whether your ideas can really work or if they’re practical enough.

  6. I’ve assumed the T-bone screws Houston based on the fact that every map I’ve seen shows the HOU-TPL leg extending past Temple and into Killeen/Ft Hood. The only practical way to operate such a network is with a clockwork transfer at Temple.

    First off, why would there be more than one stop in the Temple/Killeen/Fort Hood area? The area, relatively speaking, is tiny and basically gets put on the map as a great junction point for trains as well as the potential military ridership. The station should be in Temple, or a beet field station between the cities.

    The timed transfer is also the point of the multitrack (3 or 4) station there. It would make for easy transfers between trains. Ideally, you’d want all trains there at once so passengers can walk through the trains without needing a change in levels.

    So now we’re back into triangles

    In likelihood, no. One of the reasons of the evolution of the Texas plan from the original triangle to the current T-bone was for both economics and likely station pairs.

    Implicit in the change was that the Dallas end was going to be the primary driver of traffic. Also, perhaps the HOU/SAN pair was weaker than the other two tent pole segments.

    This requires further study to see if demand is strong for HOU/SAN. You’d have to see if it approaches demand for HOU/DAL or DAL/SAN. If it’s significantly less, then it’s uneconomical to build direct track. If it’s closer, then you could defer the addition of the direct track but design the system ahead of time to accommodate the track, and gauge the ridership on HOU/SAN going the long way around.

    Wyes would be built north of Austin and west of Prairie View. They could be put to use as lower-level train barns (storage/cleaning only) until they need to be repurposed.

    But I think if you were to do that, the sensible thing would be to delete the DFW link entirely.

    Big mistake to leave off DFW. Why?

    1. It’s the insurance policy station. In the event of cost overruns or engineering difficulties of getting the trains into what will be the locally preferred alternatives for Dallas and Fort Worth, their existing train stations in their downtowns, DFW would be the fallback plan.

    2. People are already going to DFW. You’ll get this a lot from opponents: HSR’s ridership depends on a rapid transit system’s catch area (~1 km radius) to make what’s essentially a plane trip. Well, people seemingly can find their way to an airport and manage to escape the 1 km radius at their destination. A DFW rail station is about co-location. Airports develop an ecosystem of hotels, taxis, shuttle vans and rental cars that can be accessed by rail passengers as well. There’s also a third reason for an intermodal station.

    3. Your connecting flight is a train. I explained the economics of train vs. plane seats. An airline may have a scenario where it serves more than one Texas market, but there’s an imbalance in the market where it is weaker. Another scenario is the hub and connecting flight trip. If these are evident in the Texas air market, HSR would serve as the gap filler. The airlines could switch high-cost short haul flights to train tickets and redeploy resources to stronger markets. It’s in the economic interest of the airlines to codeshare, because it’s a lower-cost alternative than access costs (more planes or gate slots) or engaging in fare wars. Also, HSR opens up other enhancements, such as offsite security inspection and a broader customer base. People in smaller towns could have access to flights by boarding the nearest HSR station, or even people in bigger cities may opt for DFW’s prices and selection. Austin residents, for instance, can get to more destinations, have more departure times available or get cheaper flights by going to Dallas.

  7. I get the insurance policy concept. Agree with it, actually.

    Here’s my question. Alignment 1 shoots south of Dallas along the Trinity. It runs through low-density, mixed-residential-and-industrial areas before swinging west in a broad arc and crossing over 35E north of Waxahatchie. The alignment is largely at-grade, with some overpasses for roadways and freight rail spurs.

    Alignment 2 starts in the middle of one of the biggest airports in the country. It tunnels south underneath existing taxiways, interchange ramps, maintenance facilities, parking facilities, and various other airport infrastructure. After this, it chooses one of two freeway corridors which are both built out to the limits of existing right-of-way. In all likelihood this requires a continuous elevated viaduct. At the south end, both highway right-of-ways end at a large lake which is surrounded by 4(f) properties.

    Which of these two alignments is more prone to overruns? Which is more prone to delays?

    No, the “insurance policy” is the closing of the loop between Dallas and Fort Worth. Ultimately AA is going to be supportive of a plane-train connection because it makes them more competetive with SWA. So you can leave it out of the initial build and have a reasonable degree of certainty it will eventually happen.

    How are there more likely to be cost overruns blasting through a bunch of low-density mixed-industrial neighborhoods south of Dallas, as opposed to hacksawing away at the dense thickets of master-planned community that comprise Arlington/Grand Prairie?

    And quikboy, the wiki article linked references the North Intermodal Terminal, which, for the record, I didn’t know was canceled. This is what happens when you move, I suppose. Good riddance, in any event. The NIT was 3/4 mile further from downtown than the PO, which is the difference between hoofing it and waiting to transfer. But I’ll stop arguing against something that doesn’t exist now.

  8. Which of these two alignments is more prone to overruns? Which is more prone to delays?

    Both. 🙂

    The only way to protect against cost overrun risk is not to build anything.

    There are cost overruns. Then there are cost overruns. Then, there are cost overruns.

    What’s the difference? The causes. One, and the one that decision-makers have control over, is scope creep. The two others happen beyond the realm of management: cost fluctuations of materials and labor, and site-specific challenges.

    The latter would be the most problematic in either a Dallas or a DFW approach. The DFW approach would be the more expensive and the more challenging; on the other hand, knowing this going in, more attention would be going in to preliminary engineering and surveying so that fewer surprises crop up. The Dallas approach would be cheaper and easier, but it’s not the approach you have to worry about. The hard part is the last few miles going in to Dallas, assuming Union Station is the preferred terminal.

    The ideal would be to give the Dallas area three terminals: Dallas, DFW and Fort Worth. You definitely want to put more money in your tent pole areas, but there may be a point where something’s got to give. If you were to rank the three areas in importance, Fort Worth would be No. 3 and would be the first to be cut.

    Ranking Dallas and DFW is tougher. Dallas Union Station has the CBD, largest population, and the largest population in proximity to Union Station (it’s the closest access point for most residents).

    DFW’s advantages include proximity to both Dallas and Fort Worth, as well as easy access for Denton and points north; it has travel infrastructure in place; it has the intermodal advantage in plane-train services.

    And while we’re on HSR stations in airports, I offer an amendment motion: Make Austin’s station at Austin Bergstrom Airport. From reading Mike Dahmus, I know that just getting right of way for light rail or even Sporkbus has proven to be an impossibility. So, Austin has an airport, its east side looks to be thinly developed, and Austin Bergstrom is spitting distance from downtown. It’s about a 15 minute drive from the Capitol to the airport, right?

    No, the “insurance policy” is the closing of the loop between Dallas and Fort Worth.

    A Dallas-Forth Worth loop is unnecessary. I feel like I’m going in circles talking about this. 🙂

    The loop is not going to be high-speed rail. Yes, you’ll be running Shinkansen and passengers would not have to get out of their seats. It’s just not going to be high-speed. Those tracks will be running through built-up areas, where HSR tends to go at slower cruising speeds.

    Plus, this is serving more of a local commuter rail need, which would benefit Dallas and Fort Worth but have no real need for the rest of the system. Few riders coming from south of Dallas/Fort Worth are going to want to ride the circle the long way round, and would prefer instead to limit themselves to trips that get them in and out of the cities quicker.

    Also, is this really a job for HSR, or can you accomplish a similar service by upgrading Trinity Railway Express to 120 mph and electrification?

  9. Yeah, “Avoid Downtown Austin” is one of my original bullet points.

    If you’re going to spend the money to upgrade TRE to electrified 125mph, running through service using HSR is a no-brainer. It’s essentially identical to the current “blended solution” which will run Caltrains and HSRs on the same tracks between SJ and SF, albeit with fewer stops.

    You say no one will ride around the long way? Dallas Union to T&P taking the long way via 114 and 121 is 45 miles. At an average speed of 100mph, that’s 25 minutes. Dallas Union to Barbara Jordan PO via Waco and BCS is 277 miles. Via ABIA, it’s 355 miles, or 78 miles longer. At an average speed of 135mph, that’s 35 minutes.

    So riders will tolerate an additional 35 minutes on all trains (the yellow option), but they won’t tolerate an additional 25 minutes on some trains (completing the loop)? Gotcha.

    On a separate note, if you’re going to electrify the TRE regardless, it might be more cost effective to just extend Terminalink to Centreport. Baggage transfer can be accomplished with a few Sprinter vans. I’m not sure this is my preferred alternative – I’m pretty attached to the idea of a station in the thick of things, a la CDG – but it’s something to consider.

  10. Now I’m getting what you’re proposing. If the TRE forms the backbone of a Metroplex HSR corridor, it makes sense. Would it be feasible instead to just claim the TRE route exclusively for HSR, with a diversion to be physically at DFW, and not worry about blending HSR and commuter rail? How important are the in-between stops? And isn’t DART still planning to build light rail all the way to DFW? In that case, the Dallas half stands to gain more than it loses once that line is built?

    There would be four stops, plus one special event platform at Victory: Fort Worth, DFW, Love Field and Dallas. Victory would be a simple platform that would only be used during events. It could be bypassed at other times.

    Initially you’d want all trains to go the long way round, via Fort Worth to Dallas. However, if the ridership at Dallas is so strong, like 2/3 of all origin-destination pairs involving it, then you can build a direct line to Dallas bypassing everything else. The station should be the tent pole, meaning all trains end there. If Dallas Union Station is a stub-end station, it would make a loop route extension costly.

    Now, what will be the proposed station site for San Antonio?

  11. My thought is you can actually run the loop as a continuous train, without a complete stopover. Southwest will run one plane from Boston to LAX, but it makes stops at BWI, HOU, and ABQ in between. Likewise you can have an HSR trainset that departs Houston at 7:30am, arrives in Dallas at 9:30am, leaves Fort Worth at 10:15, and arrives in San Antonio by noon, where the turning/cleaning ritual occurs.

    As an initial operating segment, routing all trains via Fort Worth seems fine. Certainly I think it would be easier to find the political will to construct a direct Dallas link later than vice versa.

    As for SA, I think you re-restore Sunset as a functional train station. If you’re coming in on I-10, the easiest possible routing would be to swing south on I-10 as far as Hackberry, then roll up north parallel to the existing tracks just east of I-37. But I’m not sure I’d take the easy route.

    Monterrey metro is twice the size of SA and two-thirds the size of what the census calls Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown. If you bring the trains in from the north, they end their run pointing south. And the demographics of the southern US suggest that, at some point, we’re going to have to adopt a less xenophobic immigration and border control policy.

    So I’d split the HSR off I-10 at about 410 and run it along the north side of Gembler, which is the same sort of light industrial mix that characterizes Hempstead. Then you run along the north side of the UP yards and turn south to Sunset.

    Sunset itself is a bit of a problem in that the station is designed around railhead-level boarding, where HSR requires high platforms. I’d move the tracks below grade, so the station opens onto a concourse which is above the platforms, a la Baltimore Penn. This also inverts the existing underpasses at Burnett, Montana, and the Alamodome, moving those streets back up to ground level.

  12. I think the original HAIF thread was a hijacked version of originally passenger rail running on FREIGHT lines. Trackage exists in some areas (like Paige, Texas) that could be easily be revitalized as passenger.

  13. There are potentially two issues with that approach.

    The first is that Houston is pretty vital in heavy industry and shipping. Areas which have seen industry decline in favor of the service sector – New Jersey, Washington State – end up with a surplus of little-used lines and abandoned grades. What we now call the NEC was once a home for hotshot freights as well as passenger consists; over time, the freights have been shunted to the tracks laid by lesser-financed Pennsy competitors. And both NJ and WA have disused lines lying in wait for commuter restoration (Lackawanna Cutoff, Spirit of Washington route). Houston, by contrast, has active and frequent movements on all its tracks.

    The second is that HSR running with PTC actually weighs less than slow-speed trains, because the advanced signaling negates the need to meet FRA crashworthiness requirements. Trains built for mixed-freight service can’t opt out of this, since your design collision is a bunch of tank cars full of sulfuric acid versus another passenger train. Hence the per-mile operating costs of slow-rail are *higher* than HSR. Slow-rail wins on capital costs if it’s unlikely the ridership will ever be justified, but in a corridor that can clearly support HSR, building slow-rail as an “interim” solution ends up costing a lot more.

  14. I read your comment on the California High Speed Rail blog and just wanted to comment on your (KHH) post there with this zen koan:

    http://www.thedailyzen.org/2011/12/zen-koan-maybe.html

    A farmer’s horse ran away. His neighbors gathered upon hearing the news and said sympathetically, “That’s such bad luck.”

    “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

    The horse returned on his own the next morning, and brought seven wild horses with it. “Look how many more horses you have now,” the neighbors exclaimed. “How lucky!”

    “Maybe,” the farmer replied.

    The next day, the farmer’s son attempted to ride one of the wild horses, was thrown, and broke his leg. “How awful,” the neighbors said. “It looks like your luck has turned for the worse again.”

    The farmer simply replied, “Maybe.”

    The following day, military officers came to town to conscript young men into the service. Seeing the son’s broken leg, they rejected him. The neighbors gathered round the farmer to tell him how fortunate he was.

    “Maybe,” said the farmer.

    I feel like the farmer in that I think high-speed rail is doomed even though the Senate vote will allow the bonds to be sold.

    Only 21 of California’s 40 senators voted for it. The project has gone from 52% support in 2008 to 70% opposition now. Seven in 10 Californians want to repeal the high-speed rail act of 2008, and the opposition cuts across all political, geographic and socioeconomic demographics. The trains no longer have a constituency.

    Remember, in California, we’re also very promiscuous with direct democracy. There is a petition being circulated to repeal high-speed rail, and with opposition being so universal, you could pretty much bank on enough signatures being gathered by the end of the month, if not the end of the week.

    Once it does go to a vote, it will end high-speed rail. Not only in California, but high-speed rail at its very conceptual level. It will fall into the same disrepute as eugenics, slavery and burning witches at the stake. It would be unconscionable to defend it.

  15. Another poster mentioned Monterrey as important, since it has 2/3rds as many people as DFW or Houston. Reynosa-Mcallen is on the way with 1.5 million. But don’t build it direct from San Antonio- Build it via Corpus Christi, Galveston, to Houston. While you’re building a southerly line, extend that out to Port Arthur or Beaumont to get to the Golden Triangle growth- maybe that’ll eventually be worth linking to New Orleans.

    Overall, you end up with a line that carries more people than any in Texas that doesn’t include DFW can.

    You might notice I like beaches and coasts- the fact is, once people have the choice to work in an established city and live by the ocean- they will.

    I reckon that any HSR link which allows people to do so without a total commute north of 90 minutes per day door to door, will be worth the while to build it- even if current populations wouldn’t appear to justify it.

    Galveston that’s over an hour in good traffic from Houston CBD has fewer people today than it did in 1930. Galveston that’s under a half hour from Houston CBD with someone else doing the driving?

    They’ll need to start building high-rises, and fast.

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