High-Speed Rail Unlocks Intermodal Potential

By John Addison. Intermodal solutions allow people to effectively navigate major cities such as New York, Washington D.C., Paris, Madrid, and Tokyo. Subway and light-rail are especially effective, but expensive to build. As cities grow, change, and morph, not every potential route can be served with subway and light-rail. Bus rapid transit is a cost effective way to duplicate some of the benefits of light-rail, at a fraction of the capital expenditure. Buses, taxis, car sharing, bicycling, and walking are all parts of the solution. For many, cars are their preferred way to get around, yet if all transportation were cars then cities would be frozen in gridlock.
High-speed rail integrates all these systems together and moves people from city to city at high-speed. When the distance is only a few hundred miles, high-speed rail coupled with city transit beats airplane and car every time.
Now an 800 mile high-speed rail network is being started in California. Because it depends on local and public-private partnership funding, as well as state and federal funding, it will be built in sections. First online are likely to be areas that are currently overwhelmed with passenger vehicles crawling on freeways that should be renamed “slowways.” Likely to be among the first in service are the Orange County – Los Angeles section and the San Jose – San Francisco section.
San Jose provides an example of current transportation problems as well as the future promise of high-speed rail integrated with intermodal solutions. Currently, during rush hour, cars crawl from all directions into San Jose, the self-proclaimed capital of Silicon Valley. Vehicles overload some of the nation’s busiest highways – 680, 880, 101, 280, 87, and 17.
Commuters to and from San Jose have a number of options. Many require multiple transit agencies and added time to reach their destination. Caltrain services cities from San Francisco to San Jose, at times taking only an hour, at other times being less frequent and taking much longer. Several transit agencies have special commuter shuttles including AC Transit and Santa Cruz Metro.
Major San Jose employers promote carpool and van pool commute programs. Shuttle buses run to the nearby airport. Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority’s (VTA) light-rail and buses effectively cover major parts of the city and connect to other systems. A variety of private bus, shuttle, car sharing, taxi, and other services all help. A network of bicycle trails and paths helps some enjoy their commute and stay in shape.
A central hub for VTA, Caltrain, and Amtrak is the Diridon Station in San Jose, named after Rod Diridon who provided leadership for the modern transportation system in the greater area as six-time chairperson of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors and Transit Board. He has also been chair of the American Public Transit Association; he is the Executive Director of the Mineta Transportation Institute and Chair Emeritus of the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CAHSR).
When I met with Rod Diridon last month he was optimistic about CAHSR breaking ground within two years, and carrying a high volume of riders on at least one segment within ten years. The reasons for success are compelling: high-speed rail is less expensive than freeway expansion, less expensive than airport expansion, secured voter approval during a severe recession, will create up to 400,000 new jobs, integrates all of California’s major transit systems, reduces petroleum use, and helps prevent increased climate change damage. Mr. Diridon feels that support is also strong, because each year of delay could add millions to the ultimate cost of the 800 mile system.
In ten years, the Diridon Station is likely to see high volumes of travelers as high-speed rail shuttles people to and from San Francisco in 30 minutes. The CAHSR system will share the corridor currently in place for Caltrain. The station will allow passengers to board Amtrak and continue on to places like Los Angeles and Sacramento. Eventually, the high-speed rail will continue to those destinations, as all right-of-way and not-in-my-backyard (NIMBY) issues are resolved.
In ten years, increased VTA light-rail traffic will flow through the system as San Jose continues to grow. VTA Transportation Planner Jason Tyree described how light-rail will be supplemented with advanced bus-rapid transit that will rapidly move people with modern features such as level boarding, automated fare handling, signal prioritization, and potentially dedicated lane sections. The 60-foot buses will be hybrid diesel.
People from the East Bay area may connect to the station via an extension to BART. Feeding off BART will be AC Transit’s ultramodern buses including its expanded fleet of hydrogen fuel cell buses.
The Diridon Station ten-years from now could well have zero-emission electric bus shuttles from the nearby airport or even a more advanced people-mover service. Preferred car parking at the station is likely to be for electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. San Jose, home to advanced vehicle and technology companies like Tesla, is committed to an extensive city-wide vehicle charging infrastructure.
Although many electric vehicles are criticized for only having less than 100 mile in range per battery charge, such range is good for several days when combined with effective public transportation systems. Another way to cover the last miles to and from home and work is the good old bicycle. Bicycle boarding will be permitted on high-speed rail and the other public transportation systems.
As cities are connected with high-speed rail, similar multimodal systems will also be connected in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Orange County, San Diego, Sacramento, and other major cities in this state of 40 million people; soon to be 50 million people.
The new high-speed rail and the light-rail transit systems use electricity not petroleum. Electric rail is many times more efficient than diesel engine drive systems. In ten years, by law 33 percent of the electricity will be from renewable sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal. In 20 years, especially with the benefit of California’s new cap-and-trade of greenhouse gases, renewable energy is likely to be less expensive than natural gas and nuclear, with coal already being phased out in California. In other words, the high growth part of California transportation is likely to be zero-emission providing significant relief in emissions and energy security.
Combining improved multimodal transportation with high-speed rail with renewable energy is bringing climate solutions just in time. California’s busy Highway 101, which stretches over 800 miles and which carries millions daily, will find major sections under water if the sea rises only 16 inches.
As leading delegates from 175 nations now meet to discuss climate solutions scientist agree that global warming is accelerating and the artic ice cap is disappearing.
The multimodal transportation that serves millions of Americans is experiencing record use and provides the foundation for a more promising future.

John Addison is the author of the new book – Save Gas, Save the Planet.

People-Oriented Development

By John Addison. Enlightened communities are in the transition from being car-centric to being people-centric. Homes, public transportation, and businesses that serve neighborhoods are designed in close proximity. A people-oriented development often has a rapid transit station at its center, or at least a bus stop that is frequently served. Nearest to the station are higher density apartments and condos. Streets are alive with people and convenient shops. A short walk from the station is less density and single family homes. Walking is the easiest way to get around.
While the sprawl of many cities forces long commutes, there are three United States cities where at least 30 percent of employment is within 3 miles of the central business district: New York, San Francisco, and Portland. In these cities, people find it easy to take light rail or buses between work and home. A surprising number walk. For those that drive, they save by traveling fewer miles.
As David Niebauer pointed out in his article about REDD, deforestation is a major contributor of GHG. Suburban sprawl leads to deforestation and to loss of land needed for agriculture.
In California, there is a strong interest in integrating transportation planning, regional development, and climate solution planning. Last week, 240 leaders of government, private industry, and non-profit leaders converged at CALSTART’s Target 2030 conference. Vehicles, fuels, and transportation planning were themes for many speakers and discussions.
Shelley Poticha, CEO of Reconnecting America, sited the statistic that if someone can walk to transit, they are 5 times more likely to use public transit and only drive half the miles of those who cannot walk to transit. Reconnecting America works with real estate developers and transit agencies to develop more housing within walking distance from transit, services, and shopping.
Mary Nichols, Chairwoman, California Air Resources Board, took center stage as a key executive in implementing California’s Climate Solutions law – one of the world’s most comprehensive approaches to reducing global warming. Some of the implementations are complex, such as the low carbon fuel standard. Other solutions are more straightforward. She observed that California could reduce its petroleum consumption by 5 percent if everyone walked an extra half-mile daily instead of covering the distance in a car.
Some cities with intelligent urban planning make it easy for people to live near work, friends, and fun. Portland has limited the boundaries of the city and invested in rapid transit. The results are impressive. The citizens of Portland save $2.6 billion per year, estimates economist Joe Cortright, Senior Fellow with The Brookings Institute.
Learning from the success of cities such as Portland, California passed a law (SB 375) requiring regions to develop integrated urban and transportation plans that reduce long commutes and reduce regional greenhouse gas emissions.
Michael McKeever, Executive Director, Sacramento Area Council of Governments, identified a major opportunity for Boomers who want smaller homes with more community services. Fifty percent of new California home sales could be for this target market.
Baby Boomers, specifically 78 million Americans born between 1946 and 1964, are starting to shift to work that requires less travel and provides more fulfillment. Some will retire in the next few years; most will reinvent how they live and earn money. Millions of these Boomers will accelerate the shift to new urbanization as they move from the suburbs to cities. Freed from the demands of needing individual cars for long daily commutes to work, they will discover that it is easier to live “car-light” or car free in a city.
New urban development could create millions of jobs in construction, public transportation, and infrastructure. Making it a reality is not easy. California is facing a $40 billion budget deficit, creating tough choices such as new gasoline or sales tax, or major cuts in education, health care, and emergency services. The 480 cities which need to plan for the future lack funds for comprehensive planning. More urban density requires infrastructure upgrades from sewer pipes to reliable electric grids.
City living is not for everyone. Many prefer to raise families in the suburbs with their dream homes inside gated communities and their jobs located miles away. In the suburbs, the environmentally conscious share rides in hybrid vehicles, work at home at least a day per week, and are clever about letting their fingers do the walking. Others enjoy rural living near communities oriented around farming, ranching, mountains, and water.
Sixty-five percent of Americans live in the top 100 metropolitan areas. In cities, millions find work and play convenient. Some estimate that two-thirds of the urban areas that will exist in 2030 do not exist today. This gives us an incredible opportunity to develop in a sustainable way with near-zero emission transportation.
As I interviewed countless people, gathering their stories and ideas for Save Gas, Save the Planet, urbanites delivered a consistent message – people living in cities burn less gas and cause less global warming than those living in suburbs and rural areas. In cities, trips to grocery stores, friends, and work are often done by walking. Light rail and bus service is predictable and fast in cities. In cities, everything is closer together.

Copyright © 2009 John Addison. This article includes excerpts from John’s new book – Save Gas, Save the Planet – to be published on March 25, 2009. John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report. Last year, John and his wife moved from suburbia to the city, living 2 blocks from public transportation, now John’s primary mode of travel.

California High-Speed Rail

By John Addison (Earth Day 2008). Fiona Ma was nervous about getting on a train that was about to set a world speed record. Just before Easter 2007 in the countryside outside Paris, she saw the people lining the green and flowered route. The French were flying flags, waving, and cheering. Less reassuring were those of faith who crossed themselves as the new train accelerated past 200 miles per hour. The people blurred into a collage of spring time colors. The train vibrated much as when a jet plane roars down the runway and starts to ascend. Fiona hoped that this train would not leave the tracks.

At three hundred miles per hour, the train was still on the tracks, accelerating. Out the window, only one image was distinct. A plane that was filming the historic event flew along side the train. Surrealistically, Fiona and the eleven other dignitaries could see what was filmed from the plane on a screen inside the train. Another LCD displayed their world record – 357 miles per hour on a train. Everyone cheered. The train slowed over the next few miles. Fiona took a deep breath, exhaled, and smiled; she took part in history.

These days, Fiona Ma, needs to find new courage every day. As California Majority Whip, she takes on the tough issues and is a force in making things better. For every important issue, there are vested interests on all sides whether it is better health care, better transportation, stopping global warming, or keeping California’s $1.7 trillion economy moving forward. Among her many responsibilities, Assemblywoman Ma chairs the Legislative High Speed Rail Caucus.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) believe they just may have the answer — an 800 mile statewide high-speed rail system that would serve more than 32 million passengers per year by 2020. Because the rail will be powered by electricity, and because of the efficiency of moving up to 1,200 people per train, CO2 emissions may be reduced by 12 billion pounds per year by 2020, and 18 billion pounds by 2030.

If you have ever been stuck in gridlock trying to get to work between Orange County and LA, or between San Jose and San Francisco, you will appreciate that the high-speed rail would add the equivalent of a 12-lane superhighway. Express high-speed trains will take one hour and fifteen minutes between San Diego and Los Angeles, and a little over two and one-half hours from San Francisco to Los Angeles.

CHSRA is upgrading their 2020 forecast to 68 million, from 32 million, and 94 to 117 million passengers by 2030. As Hall of Fame baseball great Yogi Berra observed, “It is difficult to forecast, especially about the future.” 2020 annual passengers will depend on California voters approving the November bond, matching funding, and regulatory approval. CHSRA forecasts are achievable. By comparison, Europe already provides 250 million annual rides, and Japan over 300 million.

High-speed rail systems, using the new grade-separated high speed lines planned for California have not had one fatality in 41 years. Neither automobiles nor airplanes can match the safety of high speed rail.

California high-speed rail addresses a number of goals. Our current highways cannot support the planned growth to 50 million people. Only the USA and China use more oil than California. If there are more price hikes, or if supply is disrupted by war or terrorism, where will California get its needed billions of gallons of gasoline, diesel and jet fuel? Draughts, likely caused by climate change, are already hurting California agriculture and industry. California is unlikely to meet its targeted reduction of greenhouse gases without high-speed rail. Especially damaging are the greenhouse gas emissions from short-haul air travel. The per passenger greenhouse gas emissions of flying from LA to SF are equivalent of each person driving solo in a large SUV. Carbon Calculator

Although California faces rush-hour gridlock without high-speed rail, a project with a starting price north of $33 billion is certain to face some opposition.

With HSR, it’s about money. Proposed is that Californians approve a bond of $10 billion for one-third of the cost. One-third would be matched by federal funds and one-third by private investment. Although some anticipate cost overruns, more are worried that the price of not acting will be much higher. Because California is implementing AB32, the high-speed rail may be able to sell carbon credits to help finance the project and operations.

Since high-speed rail will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 18 billion pounds per year, you would think that all environment groups would support the measure. While there has been some support, the Sierra Club opposed disrupting environmentally sensitive areas and areas of wildlife migration, specifically in the Los Banos area. Beyond some local opposition, however, the national Sierra Club strongly supports high-speed rail.

Southwest Airlines successfully sued and stopped high-speed rail in Texas in the 1990s. Texas is now staring at a $183 billion price for the Trans Texas Corridor as a 4,000-mile-long stretch of 10 auto lanes and six railroad tracks for high-speed freight and commuter trains. This is over twenty times higher than if they had not been stopped from implementing high-speed rail years ago. Opponents of high-speed rail carefully follow Mark Twain’s advice, “Never put off until tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow.”

Airlines may not oppose high-speed rail. Today, Southwest cannot get the expanded gates and routes in California due to lack of airport expansion everywhere from San Diego to Los Angeles to San Francisco. Some airlines may support high-speed rail as it will more easily bring people to SFO and be part of bringing passengers to other airports more quickly.

Most are optimistic that voters will approve a bond issue for high-speed rail. Voters are faced with record gasoline prices and concern about California’s economic future. More people are commuting longer distances as they are unable to sell their homes in today’s difficult real estate market.

The major concerns are addressed in new legislation proposed by Assemblywomen Cathleen Galgiani and Fiona Ma – AB 3034 “Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century.” The governor wanted more private funding of the rail. The new bill allows for private rail funding provided by law. The Sierra Club does not want a Los Banos station. The new bill provides: “Preserving wildlife corridors and mitigating impacts to wildlife movement, where feasible as determined by the authority…” Also the bill, “Prohibits a high-speed train station between Gilroy and Merced.”

On April 14, the legislative committee approved the bill with 10 voting yes and no one opposing. It is expected to get the approval of the full Assembly and Senate and the Governor. Read the Bill and Post your Comment

Even if voters approve the bond, high-speed rail will not move forward unless there are matching federal funds. Congressman Jim Costa believes that will happen. As he states in his op-ed: “Congress has begun to take action to help make the idea of high-speed rail in California a reality. Two bills I introduced, HR 4122 the American Investment in Safe, Reliable High Speed Rail Act and HR 4123, the High-Speed Rail Authority Development and Formation Act, will help bring federal dollars to California to invest in the proposed high-speed rail system. The Senate also passed S. 294, which will help high-speed rail development in America…. Overall, for every dollar invested in this system, we will see two dollars in return.” Capitol Weekly Article

Will Californians park their cars and ride the rails? Last year, LAMTA carried 64 million riders. In the Bay Area, BART carried 47 million riders. With gasoline prices rocketing, Amtrak ridership on the Capitol Corridor is up 16% this March over a year ago; on the San Joaquins it has jumped 27%. Although Californians will not exclusively ride rails and rapid transit, but they will ride more and drive less. In fact, high speed rail will integrate with public transportation. All 25 HSR stations will be multi-modal. For example, to get to Sacramento I currently take BART to Richmond, then get on Amtrak in the same station.

As a manager covering several states, I used to travel weekly on airplanes. Point-to-point always required at least four hours to get to the airport, get thru security, taxi in the runway, fly, taxi in the runway, then rent a car. In contrast, when taking a train from Washington D.C. to New York, I found that train travel was faster than airlines and better integrated with public transportation. With high-speed rail, airline travel to cover a few hundred miles would never be a personal option.

Travel between Washington D.C. and Boston is now even faster with speeds of up to 150 miles per hour on Amtrak’s Acela, the only high-speed rail in the United States. Now you can get from the nation’s capital to downtown Manhattan in less than three hours; an impossibility with airline travel and the fastest taxi driver in New York history. Over ten million passengers road this Northeast Corridor in 2007, making it the most popular train route in the U.S. Acela is now profitable.

In 12 years, 32 to 68 million passengers may be riding on an even faster system in California. The high-speed rail will keep California’s economy moving forward, with more jobs, more energy security and far less emissions.

Copyright (c) 2008 John Addison. This article may be reproduced if it preserves this copyright notice. John Addison publishes the Clean Fleet Report.