Uncompetitive Transit

In general, government at all level should be encouraging a mode shift away from cars and toward trains, using legacy lines for regional service outside urban areas. Here is a canonical example of such a proposal, unfortunately completely unofficial, in Medford, Oregon. A key point is that transit needs to provide a competitive trip time, and connect people to where they want to go, or else there’s no point in running it.

Sometimes, it’s impossible given present infrastructure. One example of this, routinely mooted on California High-Speed Rail Blog, is a system connecting to Gilroy and feeding high-speed rail. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume that the current FRA regulations and US rail practices have been completely gutted and replaced with Swiss or Japanese practice, and, more speculatively, that the legacy line can be made passenger-primary, despite Union Pacific ownership. The system would connect Gilroy, Santa Cruz, Salinas, and Monterey, using a now-abandoned right-of-way to get to downtown Monterey and legacy lines elsewhere.

The result can be seen on this map. There would be timed transfers at Castroville and Watsonville (running one-seat rides everywhere at acceptable frequency would require too many trains), and several additional intermediate stops, such as Marina, Seaside, Capitola, and Aromas. In terms of pure railroad operations, it could be a well-run system. Unfortunately, it could not be a successful one: the largest and densest city on the line, Salinas, is connected to the others in a very roundabout way. Salinas-Gilroy is 60 kilometers by rail and only 45 by road. Frequent curves would make it impossible to maintain a high average speed. Even a 55-minute trip time, allowing two trainsets to provide hourly service, would be ambitious, though possible with a wide stop spacing and good rolling stock; in contrast, driving takes 37 minutes according to Google Maps.

Monterey-Gilroy and Santa Cruz-Gilroy would be a little more competitive – they’re 50 and 54 minutes by car respectively. However, the markets are much smaller, especially in the case of Santa Cruz, where to get to any regional destination other than Gilroy, it’s faster to drive to San Jose. In addition, Santa Cruz-Gilroy is the hardest pair to get on a reliable clockface schedule: it’s 65 km, and the segment west of Watsonville is 34 with many curves, some of radius going down to about 220 meters, restricting speed even under optimistic performance assumptions to 75 km/h.

Since the congestion level in this part of California is not very high, cars could always beat the train, and for many trips so could buses. Therefore normal origin-and-destination travel would not produce much ridership on such a system. The worse trip time would be tolerable to some high-speed rail travelers if the transfer to high-speed rail were well-configured; however, high-speed travel alone does not generate enough ridership to justify an entirely new rail system, especially at an outlying station such as Gilroy. It would be the high-speed rail equivalent of an airport express.

There occasionally arise such cases, of lines that look good in principle but can’t be made competitive in practice. That is one example. A few more, not all seriously proposed by transit proponents: many international high-speed rail links in general, and some in particular, for example Minneapolis-Winnipeg (it would dominate the market, but the market is so small it’s not worth it). The only thing that can be done is spend scarce transit funding elsewhere. There are enough regional and intercity lines that could work well and no shortage of local transit supporters, some with political clout, who want them. Urban lines, which routinely get the short end of the stick in California in favor of low-performing outward extensions, would clamor for some of the money required to get a Santa Cruz-Monterey-Salinas-Gilroy system up to acceptable performance standards.

42 comments

  1. Caelestor

    Excellent post. Rail transit (mainly subways in the city and commuter rail connecting the suburbs to downtown) should be built when taking a car is too slow and too stress-inducing otherwise. Usually, congestion is correlated to high population density.

  2. mulad

    Heh, I’ve just been staring at lines to Winnipeg over the last few days, mostly because the airport in Thief River Falls has become a whipping-boy after Delta revealed they average a load factor of 12% on 34-seat Beech 340 turboprops out of there. The city used to be a stop on the Soo Line/Canadian Pacific “Winnipeger”, which ended service in 1967. There isn’t even any bus service across the border anymore — Jefferson Lines cut their route between Grand Forks and Winnipeg in October last year.

    Mn/DOT has a line to Winnipeg marked as a route to implement sometime after 2030, but that would be after several other lines came into service elsewhere. They’d practically do better to redirect the train to Warroad and the Lake of the Woods — someone would just have to figure out what to do with everyone’s fishing equipment…

  3. Justin H

    Nice work, Alon. This is very helpful.

    That said, the argument you make relies on a number of assumptions:
    1) Everyone has a car, all the time, which they can leave sitting in a Gilroy parking lot for as long as they’re out of town, and this will still be the case in the future.

    2) People’s main concern is to arrive a few minutes faster, rather than having the convenience of riding on a train.
    [For most people in most situations, time is a less important factor than convenience.

    3) Finding parking in Gilroy will be easy and inexpensive.
    [No doubt parking will be hard to come by in the future Gilroy, as it should be. Why drive from Monterey Bay to Gilroy just to have to hunt around for parking, and then foot it to hsr, when you could just catch your local train, read/work while you ride, and walk across the platform to HSR?]

    4) There is no possibility of modifying the legacy line to reduce the travel time.

    5) The current level of potential ridership will also hold in the future.
    [A rail link to HSR would generate long-term TOD in the MB region, completely transforming today’s ridership picture.]

    6) Traffic jams between Monterey Bay and Gilroy are not a problem, and still won’t be even after Gilroy becomes the HSR access point for this region (but lacks a rail link to MB).

    7) The funding for this rail development would all have to come from the state.
    [If it were supported by a combination of state and regional/local funds, then the zero-sum/competing priorities argument would not hold. Matching funds from local/regional entities, in any significant proportion, would give the state adequate incentive to invest in MB rail. If the MB system showed enough promise to earn the support of local taxpayers (or private investment), the fact that some line somewhere else in the state could be more successful would be immaterial.]

    8) “[A]n outlying station such as Gilroy” is somehow a less useful place to enter or exit HSR than other places.
    [Gilroy will actually be one of the very best places to catch HSR, being right in the middle of the system. For people traveling to or from the Monterey Bay area, it offers much reduced trip times in all three directions of the HSR system. I’m not quite sure what you meant by “high-speed travel alone does not generate enough ridership to justify an entirely new rail system, especially at an outlying station such as Gilroy.” If Gilroy were not an “outlying station” but one’s actual destination, then one would not be transferring to HSR there. The point of going to Gilroy from Monterey Bay is to get elsewhere in the state via HSR. The viability of the line does not depend on the population of Gilroy; it depends on the number of people traveling to or from the MB region. As another contributor pointed out on chsrblog, “It is estimated that 4 million people visit Monterey each year. The city’s population increases to nearly 70,000 during tourist seasons.” If there were a rail link in place, there were be large numbers of visitors by rail from the San Joaquin Valley, via HSR and Gilroy Station. Monterey Bay via Gilroy is the most convenient access to the seacoast for them, and HSR would surely encourage many more of them to make the trip, provided a good Gilroy-MB link.]

    Though I question the above assumptions, I do appreciate your very helpful post on this topic, especially the map.

    • Alon Levy

      Universal car ownership, easy parking, and easy traffic are the current reality in the area in question, especially Gilroy. In general, a hallmark of good regional rail is that it can appeal to people who own a car, offering them speed and convenience. The exception in the area is Salinas, which is working-class and majority-renter, but that’s the city where the rail link would be the least useful because of the alignment. The remaining cities are very rich and chic, and expecting them to permit significant densification is about as realistic as expecting the same of Menlo Park and Atherton. Given their politics it’s reasonable to expect a concerted effort to make their downtowns more walkable, but people would still arrive at these downtowns by car, parking in garages or in lots behind buildings.

      As I said, a time-uncompetitive transit line can win on convenience, e.g. connecting to HSR. The problem is that such trips aren’t very common in the area. Look at the ridership projection for Gilroy: even in the completely unrealistic case that everyone in Monterey and Santa Cruz who wishes to take HSR takes the train to Gilroy, it’s not enough ridership to sustain a line (again, look at the complete failure of airport-oriented transit). And for anything else, there’s no extra convenience. Gilroy is outlying in the sense that it’s a minor station, to be skipped by most trains; it’s different from actually urban locations, such as Transbay or LA Union Station, serving which is much more than a glorified airport shuttle.

      My trip time assumptions already involve a fair amount of curve straightening. With the present alignment, it’s infeasible to expect the implied trip times. Gilroy-Monterey in under an hour – and bear in mind driving takes 50 minutes – would require squeezing an average speed of about 80 km/h from a regional branch line; that can’t be done without fixing a lot of curves. To top this all off, the terrain is mountainous, so some curves are just unfixable. Monterey-Gilroy in less than an hour may be impossible, and certainly is without a large investment into curve modification, and instead Monterey might have to be content with a 24-minute connection to Castroville with a timed transfer, which would imply about a 70-minute trip to Gilroy.

      The only real way out of this conundrum is to build greenfield regional lines along the highways. A 101 route would skip Watsonville, but offer good service from Salinas to Gilroy: the curves are gentler, and due to longer straight segments between curves and no freight traffic, superelevation could be high. The problem: it’s expensive in general to construct a greenfield line, and especially expensive when it’s along a highway with 5.6% ruling gradient on some stretches. The travel market between Salinas and Gilroy isn’t big enough to be worth it. Even Salinas-Watsonville-Santa Cruz doesn’t and never will have the ridership to sustain a greenfield line.

      • Justin H

        I appreciate the thoughtful reply, and the important clarification about the curve-straightening. As I mentioned in response to another contributor, I think the main difference in our approach is accepting current reality versus trying to transform it. The conservative in me says go with you and Richard; ie, don’t try to reengineer CA’s present urban development pattern, just accept it. The reason I say no, we can do better, is that the alternative is not just a pipe-dream, it’s actually current reality in most other developed countries. To people who have not lived in these places, it’s hard to explain how truly extreme CA’s pattern of urban development is. It’s not sustainable. This is why the true conservative, cautious position is to transform this pattern — not to accept it.

        Your posts imply that Salinas would have to provide the bulk of ridership for an MB-Gilroy line, and you suggest that the Monterey passengers might have to transfer at Castroville to the train coming from Salinas. Actually, it would make more sense for it to be the other way around, with Monterey-Gilroy as the main line (passengers from Salinas transfer once, passengers from Santa Cruz transfer once). The combined population of the Monterey section (including people who could get to your correctly located Monterey station by bus) approaches that of Salinas. Moreover, the number of people from outside the area traveling to Monterey is far greater than the number going to Salinas. The Monterey peninsula (aquarium, golf, 17-mile drive, Carmel, Pacific Grove, Asilomar conference center, etc.) draws large numbers of visitors from all over Northern and Central California. Discussions on the viability of an MB-Gilroy system should pay more attention to non-resident ridership, and should not assume that Salinas is the main source of passengers.

        It’s important to our discussion that many trips on the line would be leisure/recreation-oriented, because this affects the importance of time competitiveness vs. convenience/comfort. Keep in mind that this line would provide access to the seacoast for several million people connected by HSR (not just people from the Central Valley, but also people from the South Bay). This also affects the question of whether the locals would support the MB-Gilroy line: in addition to providing them the convenience of rail access to HSR, this line would also give their tourism/recreation/business facilities access to customers from all over California. Are the people of MB just hoping to seal themselves off in peaceful solitude from the rest of the state? I really don’t think so. A huge part of their economy is based on tourism and recreation. If I own a golf course around Monterey, I’m thinking, “Hmmm…39 minutes from Fresno to Gilroy on HSR. How am I going to get those people from Gilroy to here?”

        You said that an MB-Gilroy line would offer “no extra convenience” besides the connection to HSR. I concur that the HSR connection would be the primary benefit, but a few moments’ thought suggests others:
        * Working-class people in Salinas commuting to jobs in Santa Cruz county (who’s going to wash the laundry and mow the lawn?)
        * People from a growing Gilroy who want to get to the coast
        * Santa Cruz-Monterey
        * Watsonville to any of the other places

        • Alon Levy

          But the alternative really is a pipedream. Low-ridership regional lines are never transformative. If you look at success stories of TOD, you’ll see they all came from lines that had a good reason to have high ridership initially, or that were accompanied by other policy shifts that raised ridership. Calgary enacted downtown parking restrictions to boost light rail ridership, and it’s this high-ridership system that generated TOD. Vancouver already had a big downtown, and also upzoned the land around the Expo Line. Portland engaged in some upzoning, and also restricted the availability of new sprawl with its urban growth boundary. The Tsukuba Express, peddled by JITI as a success story of TOD, connected people to major employment centers in Tokyo and acted as a relief line to the overcrowded Joban Line, creating enough of a ridership base to use for the subsequent TOD.

          In other words, it’s reasonable to expect a positive feedback loop between high ridership and TOD if and only if major policy shifts happen in local government. I want these shifts just as much as you and Robert Cruickshank. But they’re unlikely to happen: Monterey, Seaside, Santa Cruz, and the other coastal cities are as full of undertaxed Prop 13 beneficiaries as Atherton and the other centers of Peninsula NIMBYism, and are loathe to permit any smart growth. Let them abolish their parking minimums, minimum lot sizes, and other density restrictions before they get a train that wouldn’t work without additional TOD.

          The notion that buses don’t lead to TOD isn’t by itself obvious. Jarrett at Human Transit notes that well-run bus systems do generate some TOD, possibly even at the same rate as rail of equal service levels. He brings as evidence real estate ads in Minneapolis that say the location is close to the frequent bus network, which he shows is the main step cities should take to brand their bus system better. Although usually regional rail can have much higher service levels than regional buses, in the case of Salinas the opposite is true, since 101 takes a much more direct route.

          Of the four markets you mention, well, some are decent, some not. Salinas-Santa Cruz is the main one, and to be frank should be investigated completely independently of Gilroy. However, it’s still curvy, and uncompetitive with driving north of Watsonville. Monterey-Santa Cruz is marginal, both in terms of market size and in terms of competitiveness with driving. As for a growing Gilroy, well, any rules that make TOD happen are also going to make those this sprawlburb stop growing, except perhaps for high-income HSR commuters living in condos within easy driving distance of the HSR station.

      • Nathanael

        Have you figured in the effect of Monterey as a *destination* rather than a *source*? That’s sure how I think of it.

        • Alon Levy

          Partially. The problems with treating Monterey as a destination:

          1. The legacy ROW doesn’t serve the destination very well. It hits downtown and the areas between downtown and Seaside. The areas north, west, and south of downtown would be a bus transfer away, and if people have to ride a bus, they might as well ride one all the way from Gilroy.

          2. Where do Monterey vacationers come from? If it’s Southern California, then HSR-Pacheco would be competitive with driving up 101 (and HSR-Altamont through San Jose with a bus connection very marginally so). But people from Southern California already have Santa Barbara. And if it’s the Bay Area, then the distance to Monterey is below the range at which HSR is competitive with driving.

          3. HSR could change the pattern of where people go for vacation. More people would visit Anaheim and, using future LA transit expansions, Santa Monica and Long Beach; this would be at the expense of unserved area. Not knowing much about Northern vacation spots I’m not going to comment on whether this would make Monterey more attractive or less attractive. Gun to head I’d guess less attractive – people could get to Marin County faster, using a bus connection from Transbay – but I’m not qualified here.

    • Richard Mlynarik

      Even ignoring non-car-free reality (which is normal when special pleading for basket case rail projects is being made), a bus — yes, that’s right, a horrible, diesel-chugging, rail-free, track-less, quick-hide-the-children, only-poor-people-ride-them antichrist bus — is going to beat any train in this market. (Likewise Santa Cruz-San Jose, which Alon didn’t mention but could have, notwithstanding the abandoned and non-resurrectable former rail line between those locations.)

      Not everybody has a car! Take the bus.
      Parking won’t always be plentiful in Gilroy! WTF? Anyway, take the bus.
      People just LOOOOOOVE taking glacial slow trains on magical mystery tours and don’t care if they have to allow extra hours, because train are awesome! In the real world, people take the bus.

      Just because you one imagine running trains doesn’t always mean it makes any sense to do so.

      • Justin H

        Richard, I think the main difference in our approaches, other than degree of civility and self-restraint, is that your approach to rail is based on the pattern of urban development that we have now, while mine is aimed at transforming it. From the point of view of present conditions, you’re right, it would make more economic sense to run buses than an MB-Gilroy rail line. I have nothing against riding the bus – do it all the time. But bus lines are never going to catalyze TOD in this area. You imply that “special pleaders” for rail have a track fetish; what we actually have is an intense dislike of sprawl, dull and inconvenient semi-urban environments, and lost green spaces. A network of buses from MB to Gilroy would never concentrate population the way a rail line would. Rebuilding our urban environments thru connections to the HSR trunk line is the one opportunity Californians have to break out of our shell. The goal of putting our sprawl pattern behind us is worthy of long-term investment.

        I took a look at your website a couple days ago. Allow me to give you some advice: if you want to come across as a reasonable person, hold back on the flaming rhetoric. You obviously have a lot of useful information and insights to contribute, but your self-indulgent mud-slinging makes you come across as an unreasonable person. It’s a nice trick to disguise mud-slinging as an objective observation (“…which is normal when special pleading for basket case rail projects is being made”), but the audience you really want to aim for are the people who see thru that. In their eyes, such tricks only discredit you. The next few times you write a blog post or comment, see if you can resist the temptation to replace a real argument with empty rhetoric. Where you would have called someone a name or tossed firecrackers at their argument with phrases like “basket case” and “special pleading,” try instead to provide actual information or reasoning on why their argument is not sound. If you can’t, then hold off until you can. Your arguments will be more persuasive.

        About the bus from Santa Cruz to San Jose, this only affects trips in one of the three directions on the HSR “Y”, and only for those in Santa Cruz, not further down MB.

      • Nathanael

        For the market of people visiting Monterey? You must be kidding. A train will be competitive with a car — a bus will be a nonstarter.

  4. Joseph E

    I agree that buses will be the best option for Santa Cruz and Salinas for the forseeable future. While we could build a new rail alignment or spend a great deal to straighten the old one, it wouldn’t be a good way to spend transportation dollars. California would be much better off with light rail or BART on Geary in SF and Telegraph in Berkeley/Oakland, or a subway/El along south Vermont in Los Angeles, or double-tracking on several of the Metrolink lines.

    In a future where we continue to subsidize transportation in semi-rural areas (as is currently done with rural highway widenings), it might be politically possible to get a train to Monterey. But it doesn’t make it a great idea.

    • Justin H

      See assumption #7, and the information in another comment regarding economic incentives for local investment MB-Gilroy rail connection (search “Keep in mind”).

  5. Justin H

    Alon, there’s no reply link on your reply to a reply to a reply to a comment, so allow me to add my last comment here.

    I think we both have valid points, and our discussion is helping focus our thinking on what the bottlenecks are, such as the “major policy shifts in local government” you mentioned. My reason for commenting on various transit blogs is to help us break out of our shell in the way we think about what transit can be like in our part of the world. These efforts will have been amply rewarded if I can encourage people to think about how to make the kinds of policy shifts that you mentioned, so that the status quo in things like local policy is not some irreversible, insurmountable barrier. This kind of constructive discussion will help us sharpen our thinking about the best way to get beyond the limitations of the current system. I wish you much continued success with this blog.

  6. EngineerScotty

    I find it interesting that you lead with praise for the proposal someone did for a rail line in the Rogue Valley, and then criticize possible rail lines in the Monterey Bay area to connect to HSR at Gilroy. This proposal, while interesting, is a giant non-starter.

    The distance between Ashland and Medford is only ten miles (Central Point is a sufficiently small town that it doesn’t merit a rail line unless its on the way to somewhere else–while continuing on to Grants Pass might be a useful possibility, the tracks west of Central Point do not take a direct path), and the population in the travel shed is about 100k. The line is faster than the local bus service (20 minutes for Ashland-Medford rather than 35); however there is no limited-stop bus service to compare it to (driving also takes about 20 minutes, city center to city center). Basically, this line looks like WES (similar distance and stopping pattern); but in an area that is far less populated, with low-quality connecting transit, with little in the way of transit-friendly land use–oh, and it’s in a part of the state full of teabaggers. (Ashland is a rather progressive town, but its the tail and not the dog in this region). I can think of half a dozen or more corridors in Oregon where an interurban passenger rail line would be more viable than here.

    Compared to this, the Monterey Bay proposals are far more promising.

    • Alon Levy

      You’re right that apples to apples, the Monterey Bay is a far more promising region for transit. The main difference is that the Rogue Valley line is straight and direct and the lines available in Monterey Bay aren’t.

      The proposal was written in 2005, well before the Tea Party, even before Michelle Bachmann came out with her proclamation about how liberals want people to live in tenements and take light rail to their government jobs. It wasn’t political then. Of course nowadays it would be politically impossible.

      • EngineerScotty

        It was political then. It wasn’t anywhere near as in-your-face–elected officials, generally, wouldn’t be so blunt and offensive; but it was there, behind the scenes, and on talk radio. “Public transit” has been a dogwhistle which means socialism and scary black people and hedonistic urban culture and they’re-coming-for-your-land for about as long as I’ve been paying attention to the issue, which is nearly two decades.

        But the campaign and election of Obama has brought a WHOLE lot of shit to the forefront.

      • Danny

        Scotty, you really need to lighten up about the threat of extreme conservatives. This last election was a (temporary) win for them, but in reality they rarely dominate public discourse. It is rare for an elected official with an (R) tacked on their name to go on a crusade against public transit…if anything, their preferences are marginal in nature: a little less transit, a little more roads. That isn’t nearly the level of animosity that you claim. In fact, it sounds eerily familiar to the way that extreme talk-radio conservatives talk about the threat of liberals. Tin foil hat territory.

      • Nathanael

        Danny, just you watch. I realize people detest the extremist right-wingers as soon as they notice them, but there are a LOT more of them in elected office than you think… and it’s people like you who *ASS*ume that the Republicans you’re electing *AREN’T* extremists who lead us to results like Scott Walker.

        They’ve been running a largely successful campaign to take take over the Republican Party by stealth.

      • EngineerScotty

        To clarify a bit–for quite a while, the attitudes described above were things the political class wouldn’t touch openly. 2010 saw a significant shift with openly-transit-hostile politicians running and winning office on anti-transit campaigns, in Canada as well as the US. The election of Obama certainly changed quite a few things on the reactionary right, however–and many formerly-sensible conservatives now find themselves having to deal with the cultural phobias of their constituents.

        Joseph, rail within the Rogue Valley (the Ashland-Central Point corridor) is something which is tractable, though I doubt there’s the demand for it at the present time–as noted above, the service would be similar in size to Portland’s WES, but in a far less populated travel shed, and WES is widely regarded as a boondoggle. Between Medford and Eugene is a nonstarter for passenger service, simply because the rails pass through the mountains and follow a very winding route; a bus on I-5 would have no problem outperforming the train over this stretch–even if the rails were improved, geography simply works against efficient rail service in this corridor.

    • Joseph E

      I meant to say something about this as well. From a personal standpoint, I would benefit hugely from the restoration of passenger service to the Rogue Valley (Grants Pass, Medford and Ashland, Oregon), because my parents live there and I’m moving to Portland. Now I will have to choose between an expensive and not particularly fast plane flight, a long drive, or a long bus ride to visit them. HSR to Eugene and modern trains from Eugene to Ashland (or all the way to Sacramento, CA) would be great for me and my friends.

      I also had the experience of traveling from Ashland to Phoenix (near Medford) via bus or bike, every day for the month of January. We lived a month there without a car. You better believe I would love to see a fast light rail system between those cities.

      However, at current USA construction prices, transportation investments in the Rogue Valley don’t make sense. I-5 thru there is never crowded (despite what some locals think) and the buses only run every 30 minutes, stopping at 6:30 pm on weekdays (!!!), so there is plenty of room to improve the bus system before adding capacity with trains. Oregon estimated that upgraded tracks and electrification from Eugene to Ashland would cost about $2 billion, the same as regional HSR from Portland to Eugene (A much better option), and would get rather low ridership. I think their estimate is way too high for an existing single-track line, but who knows what it would really cost.

      The light-rail transit system for the Rogue Valley mainly makes sense as an additional benefit of building higher-speed train service between Eugene and Sacramento, to allow overnight train service from California to the Pacific Northwest, once California HSR is finished and the Cascades route from Portland to Eugene is high speed. In that context, you might as well add a few station platforms and a run a light rail train every 30 minutes, since there would be plenty of room on the tracks during the day.

      Notice that I said the Rogue Valley doesn’t need transportation investments. The crazy thing is that Oregon has plans to spend several $100 million on a new freeway to White City (Pop 6000!), and to widen I-5 between Medford and Ashland to deal with nonexistent traffic. They already spent $100 million on rebuilding 2 or 3 interchanges on the freeway in Medford, without even widening the road! Now that is crazy. In Germany, they could have built a whole light rail line for the Valley for that cost.

  7. rafael

    a) IIRC, all TAMC is actually proposing is that Caltrain extend its route beyond Gilroy to Salinas for a handful of trains during rush hour. Apparently, 101 south of Gilroy actually does get congested at times and would be difficult to widen, i.e. that would cost an arm and a leg. Also, TAMC is looking for a direct connection to San Jose and SF, they’re not really interested in Gilroy all that much – from their point of view, it just happens to be a station along the existing rail line. Caltrain’s priorities are electrification, PTC and dealing with CHSRA (as little as possible😉, so service out to Salinas is low on its priorities list.

    b) The legacy rail line from Watsonville to Davenport is no longer active because the cement plant there went out of business decades ago. Now, there would likely be massive resistance to reviving it from NIMBYs in Aptos and elsewhere. There was some idle talk of a brand-new light rail line in the Hwy 1 corridor a while ago but that’s about it.

    c) It was the City of San José that insisted on frequent HSR service at SJ Diridon, partly to boost urban development in its vicinity. From the future HSR operator’s point of view, i.e. the one CHSRA is most concerned with, a main line through Pacheco Pass is the least painful way of satisfying that constraint. Consequently, CHSRA decided to to bill Gilroy as a ridership aggregator for Hollister, Salinas, Monterey and Watsonville (and points in-between, perhaps Santa Cruz as well). It never much cared exactly how HSR passengers from this semi-rural area would actually travel to and from Gilroy. If the HSR station there ends up east of 101, any passenger trains that do run on the UPRR through downtown will offer a very poor connection.

    • Jon

      According to Wikipedia the cement plant went out of business in January 2010, not ‘decades ago’.

      There is a ‘rail trail’ plan already in progress for construction of a cycle path along the Santa Cruz branch line whilst retaining the ability to run passenger trains at a future date, if so required. IMHO this would be best suited for DMU/tram train style service in the greater Santa Cruz area (Natural Bridges – Rio Del Mar)

      Also, for your amusement- surprise surprise, the Tea Party aren’t in favor of passenger rail for Santa Cruz!

      The Sovietization of transport continues apace right here in our Region, and with the concurrence and support of local elected representatives, who apparently have adopted the Marxist-Leninist-Stalinist philosophy. They are blind to the lessons of history.

  8. ant6n

    So there are successes of reactivated short regional lines in Germany, where the costs of reactivation are kept low by doing the minimal work on the infrastructure, and using small, cheap DMUs. Note that basically all of these lines are much much slower than driving, and tend to be viewed as life line services – which are made reasonably successful by having convenient schedules, hourly, clockface – and having timed connections to larger hubs, thus connecting small regions to everywhere else using rail. That is, you can do your complete trip by rail, don’t need a car, and only the last leg of the journey is painfully slow.

    Now your argument seems to go both ways: On the one hand you say these trains on existing infrastructure would be too slow, so one would have to invest a lot into curve-straightening. And then you say that the result is still too slow, but the infrastructure investment too large, not worth it, and it should’ve gone somewhere else.

    I believe the conclusion is to try to keep the total investment to a bare minimum, and accept (short regional) rail lines that are slower than cars. Sure, they won’t have much traffic, but it doesn’t matter so much because of the small investment. I.e. it should be small enough so that the region, the benefiting cities, can pay for most of capital costs.

    Especially in California, with its upcoming HSR system, small regional connectors should become ubiquitous and normal. They’re slow but it means that every city is connected to the network.

    • Andre Lot

      Comparing rail reopenings in the European plains is not usually helpful (disclaimer: I currently live in Netherlands). Most of those regional lines that are revived are the ones that were build in logical routes back in the day, in areas that didn’t experience anything like the explosive growth of California, or the whole American Southwest, West Coast and Florida. So the alignments still make sense in relate of the places they connect, because they were the first infrastructure built before growth reached in first place.

      More important than that, though, are facts concerning public money expenditures and budget processes. German Länder (federated states) have to provide comprehensive public transportation as a public service of more-or-less universal reach in urban areas, more or less Americans would expect – for instance – snow removal or trash collection. That doesn’t mean all places getting the same service, but all places getting some service – the controversy about the levels of service are then left to the political arena.

      The processes by which German states operate transit is contracting whole subsets of services with providers (a process that left many regional services out of DB into competitors). Operation (not capital projects) are not financed in the piecemeal approach we see in US, with different transit agencies using ballots to put up specific penny taxes here and there and individual bonds to pay for projects and operations.

      It is like California (or, to make justice for size, a Bay Area State) were responsible to provide local transit service for all its cities, and then funded them via state budget, with discussion on fares being taken into consideration in designing the system but not necessarily constraining it.

      In such situation, the government would put some inefficient service in disused lines not because it will be extremely (or any) popular, but for political considerations of an electorate that has such expectations. The opening of new rail lines usually mean reduced expenses on frequent buses, as the German public has a tolerance for less frequent service if it is rail.

      Meanwhile, for a plethora of reasons, transit is not seen as an essential service in US, nor could most US areas afford transit in European level with US tax and budget realities.

      • ant6n

        You’re right, of course.

        But I was just trying to make the point that part of the solution is to try to keep everything is reasonably cheap as possible, even if it’s not very speed competitive with cars – and try to get some competitiveness through other means (i.e. clockface schedule, reliability, timed connections, comfort).

        The idea is to exactly develop this sense that public transit is a basic service – like garbage collection – that you mention. That all cities should be connected to the network.

        • Alon Levy

          Ant6n, the reason high investment is required is that the present state of the tracks makes it impossible to have a decent clockface schedule without having too many trains. Salinas-Gilroy in under an hour is hard, and Salinas-Santa Cruz in under an hour is even harder. If such travel times can’t be met, then more trains are required, raising costs too much. Meeting such a demanding schedule requires a passenger-primary track orientation, and therefore nontrivial investment even under European rules and cost structures.

      • ant6n

        But you’re again making the assumption that you need to go under an hour. You can create a decent clockface schedule with a 90 minute trip, and 3 trainsets rather than two – we’re talking about DMUs that are essentially buses, anyway. The investment and operating one extra DMU is much lower than the track improvements you propose.

        You also seem to make the assumption that there are no intermediate stops. But that might not be the best approach. This is a tourist area, with beaches, with the train going right along the beach. It should have plenty of intermediate stops along the beaches, so that people can directly get to their hotels or whatever – and then can use the train during their vacation to get to town etc. It could act a bit like public transit – and thusly used by locals as well.

        This, btw, exists in Germany in a very similar way. It’s called the Usedomer Bäder Bahn (“Usedom Pensinsula coastal resort train”?). Network: http://www.ubb-online.com/de/liniennetz.html, schedule: http://www.ubb-online.com/de/documents/Fahrplan_Sommer_2011_09.05.11-09.10.11.pdf. You see that it’s a spur starting at Züssow, going to the border of Poland, with many intermediate stops. The total distance is just below 60Km. And you see that once the train hits the beach, it stops at all the resort villages. This would be very similar to the Gilroy-Santa Cruz line. The schedule shows that the whole trek takes 90 minutes – and they use 30minute clockface schedules in the summer. And from Züsow, there’s a timed hourly connection to a direct regional train to Berlin. Tickets are a tad bit expensive, but there are good group rates, and monthly passes are relatively cheap (=> tourists gotta pay, locals not so much).

        This would be an enabler of car-less short-term beach vacations out of San Francisco. While at the same time providing some public transit along the beach towns. You think there’s no market for that?

        Extra notes:
        – the Gilroy-Watsonville should be approximately half an hour, without an intermediate stop, for a timed connection between three trains there (both Cruz-Gilroy trains, and the spur train South).
        – Rather than requiring a 2nd connection at Castroville to get to Salinas, it might make sense to have the train going down the spur and backing up, for a 24km detour on a straight segment (15-20min?), giving 64km for the total Watsonville-Salinas-Monterey train. Just going down the spur means you don’t have to create clockface interchanges at Castroville.
        – Trains should be integrated with local buses, in terms of tickets and schedules.

    • Andre Lot

      That would be a very totalitarian approach. Indeed, I’ve read your blog, I just don’t comment on it because of your extremist instances against the car.

      Anyway, more important than one’s opinion on “anti-car warriors” is the discussion of the inherently modal inefficiencies of different transportation solutions and think how different investments can create better solutions on a comprehensive scale.

      Let’s for one moment forget the name “car” and think of an hypothetical transportation that:
      – has virtually zero set-up time, 24/7/365 availability and, thus, a theoretical infinite frequency and nil waiting time
      – is easily re-routrable and provides point-to-point, one-seat trips
      – has extremely high flexibility in terms of reach and way design
      – requires not much workforce to operate, and is mostly immune, on the short term to any union action, strike etc.

      If one offered such a system without calling it “car”, it would attract a lot of attention of pundits, politicians and bloggers. It was the car technical transportation design features that made it a success – blaming it all on a lobby conspiracy is naive.

      I’m not saying there aren’t problems when you have everyone trying to use single-occupied cars to commute to work in heavily populated areas at the same time – this is more than evident. However, it bothers – and ultimately, it has angered me – to see transit planners assuming that car use is presumed negative. On the blogsphere, pundits and activists’ World, it sometimes get worse, because it is assumed that a good transportation system is one that is car-free.

      In the situation described in this post, and for the whole CAHSR project as a whole, it is much sensible to conceive a system where you drive to gigantic park-and-ride stations (which would also feature rental cars for people travelling there, like airports) as a mean to reach communities that are spread out and scattered around low-density developments.

      As much as high-speed rail is a more sensible and cost-effective way to travel between SFO and LA (if the system is completed) than flying, driving from outer locations to parking lots is more sensible than spending billions on low-ride, poorly performing railways.

      Finally, to suggest, as you imply and often reason on your blog, that it is “good” to make car infrastructure “worse” as to push people into slower transit is like to propose a lower, mandatory cruise altitude for planes flying from SFO to LAX as to get them travelling slower and spending much more fuel, just to make the train more competitive.

      I’m sorry for the long post, but I think that transit advocacy will go nowhere but to achieve clusters of pedestrianized streets and small improvements if its advocates refuses to conceive a significant role for the private car (likewise the current strategy of catering only for cars will not achieve long-term congestion relief).

      • Andre Lot

        I don’t know how the positioning of comments work here. I was referring to Cap’n Transit as an extreme anti-car blog, the Pedestrian Observartions is a good resource IMO as are Human Transit and The Transportation Policy

  9. joe

    Alon;
    I just don’t get it. Have you been here?

    The traffic is congested every decent summer weekend on 101/156 and HW 17. 4 million people a year visit the city of Monterey. Buses work for off-peak hours and they run but the buses don’t guarantee a connection to the three Caltrain rides north. Rail would be more reliable.

    Safety: The 101 road between Salinas and Aromas is nicknamed Blood Alley due to the fact driveways exit and enter onto 101, roads and sharp blind turns. This highway would need massive reworking to accommodate population growth.

    WTF: There is massive latent demand to live in Monterey Bay and work a decent job. Rail connecting to San Jose via the central coast would alter the types of families that live and work in the Bay. I drove this route for 2 years Seaside to Mountain View and it’s murder – very hard driving.

    • Alon Levy

      I have, but it was eight years ago, and we went down Route 1, not 101.

      If there’s enough congestion on 101 that a train taking an hour could beat traffic from Salinas to Gilroy, then it’s worth investigating (and then the problem would be dealing with UP and the FRA). Otherwise, forget about it. Car + HSR, or bus + HSR, would beat regional rail + HSR, providing the connection to the Bay Area proper.

      • Nathanael

        Last I checked, there is enough congestion. And Monterey would most certainly treat the train as a tourist attractor.

        I actually don’t see a clear justification for the Santa Cruz branch, but Monterey-Gilroy is likely to be locally fundable, and fairly attractive under those circumstances.

      • Robert Cruickshank

        Yes, there absolutely is enough congestion. The route from Gilroy to Monterey and vice-versa sees long traffic delays on the weekends. There’s simply too many vehicles and too few lanes to meet the demand. It can take as much as two hours to drive from Monterey to Gilroy on a Sunday afternoon.

        Others such as Justin H have done a good job explaining the arguments for this link. The key is to serve tourists going to Monterey. The proposed station at Custom House Plaza, smack in the middle of Monterey, is well located in terms of proximity to hotels and key destinations, with Cannery Row and the Aquarium being a short walk away. Other destinations on the Peninsula can be served by bus, taxi, or rental car.

        As to travelers, most people coming to Monterey are either from the Bay Area or Fresno. Both would be well-served by a rail link to the Gilroy HSR station. Given the traffic, a rail link would be competitive with driving and offer significant advantages over sitting behind a wheel in traffic. A rail link would be, I believe, significantly faster for people coming to Monterey from Fresno.

    • Joseph E

      If 101 is congested, a cheaper option that straightening out and rebuilding the rail line would be to turn two lanes of 101 to carpool/bus only, at least at rush hour or busy weekends. An equally effective and cheaper (actually profitable) solution would be to add a market-based toll to the highway. That will encourage people to ride the buses to HSR in Gilroy, and keep the freeway free-flowing so those buses don’t get stuck.

      The failure of the United States to put a fair price on roads is the biggest problem with intercity trains and especially local transit.

      • anonymouse

        The stretch of 101 in question narrows down to 4 lanes (2 in each direction) just south of Gilroy, and isn’t even a freeway for much of the distance: it has crossings and driveways, though no traffic lights and the major junctions are grade-separated. The road from 101 to Castroville is only two lanes, and likewise for CA-1 north of the split from 156. Carpool lanes are a non-starter unless the highway is widened. And 101 does get fairly congested at times. The railroad is less direct, but the necessarily curvy mountainous parts are actually fairly short. For reference, the southbound Coast Starlight covers the section between San Jose and Salinas in 1:41, which implies a travel time just under an hour from Gilroy to Salinas. And of course there’s also the fact that people won’t be going to Gilroy (or LA via HSR) nearly as much as they’ll be going to San Jose and possibly SF and Oakland.

  10. Anonymous

    There’s been some on and off talk of restoring the train which was operated by Southern Pacific, the “Del Monte” from San Francisco to Monterey, possibly as an extension of the Capitol Corridor from San Jose or as a continuation of the Salinas Caltrain extension. Also some discussion of Caltrain running seasonal trains to Santa Cruz. As far as Monterey is concerned, it seems to me that a restored Del Monte in some form would be more feasible than a rail link from Castroville. Even then it doesn’t solve the problem of getting passengers to places like Cannery Row and Carmel without a bus transfer.
    As for traffic, it’s pretty bad on 101. Highway 1 isn’t great either but probably not enough on its own to justify a rail link.

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