11 February 2014

Draft Business Plan Impressions

The high-speed rail draft 2014 Business Plan is out, with some interesting implications for the peninsula corridor.

Example service plan, from the 2014
draft business plan supporting documents
New Emphasis on Regional Markets

The ridership model has been (somewhat) updated, although much more is supposed to come, and it's clear that there is now more emphasis on serving local markets.  This theoretically places the high-speed rail system in direct competition with Caltrain.

An example service plan, buried in the supporting documents, is shown at right.  The majority of early-morning trains are local commuter milk runs, including 4 trains per hour serving peninsula stops as well as 4 trains per hour from Palmdale to Los Angeles.

That's all well and good for starting up service in the morning, but one wonders how these customers are catered to during the evening rush (especially to Palmdale) when these commuter milk runs will have to co-mingle with long-distance express trains long before the midnight shut-down, unlike in the early morning when the milk runs coincide with the 6 AM startup.  Here on the peninsula, the speed differential between HSR and Caltrain will be far less, so this problem isn't as acute.

Realistic Peninsula Corridor Trip Times

The trip times embedded in the business plan and the underlying ridership calculations now appear consistent with what can be achieved in a Caltrain - HSR blended service pattern on the peninsula corridor.  These trip times are significantly longer than the 30-minute theoretical SF to SJ minimum that could be achieved under ideal conditions as demanded by the HSR bond measure.  While this shortfall is sure to be the subject of further litigation, it should not detract from the far more egregious loss of trip time due to poor routing choices in the southern part of the state.

The trip between San Francisco Transbay and San Jose is conservatively timetabled at 47 to 49 minutes including a two-minute stop in Millbrae, which is consistent with Caltrain's analysis of blended Caltrain / HSR operations assuming a maximum speed limit of 79 mph for all trains (the same as today).  This isn't too far off from today's Baby Bullet timetable, which includes three more stops than assumed for HSR and therefore takes an additional 9 minutes.

Unrealistically Low Peninsula Fares

The fare model used to estimate ridership and revenue within the SF Bay region is based on an extremely simplistic MTC model that sets the fare to $14.97 plus $0.1283 per mile (in 2013 dollars).  This results in one-way fares of $22 from SF to SJ or $22 from Gilroy to Redwood City.  Such intra-regional trips displace higher yielding long-distance trips, since each seat sold for SF-SJ is a seat that cannot be sold for SF-Los Angeles.  Under any realistic scenario, the HSR operator will manage yields and set a fare structure that discourages low-yield, short-distance trips.  Look no further than the Northeast Corridor for an illustrative example: for a trip from Stamford, CT to New York City (roughly similar in time and distance as SF to SJ), a seat on Amtrak's high-speed Acela Express typically costs well over $100 one way vs. $14.50 on Metro North commuter rail.

Using these ridiculously low fares, the ridership and revenue model for the year 2040 predicts 2.5 million annual HSR riders within the SF to Gilroy corridor, worth $51 million / year in revenue.  That's approximately one-sixth of Caltrain's ridership today, but about two-thirds of the fare revenue.  The model essentially predicts that HSR will poach a large portion of Caltrain's highest-yielding passengers.  Caltrain need not fear for their revenue, however, since the simplistic MTC fare model that underlies this result is not likely to be used by a real-world, for-profit HSR operator.

To Redwood City or Not to Redwood City

Most of the business plan assumes only three peninsula corridor stops for HSR: San Jose, Millbrae and San Francisco Transbay.  The ridership and revenue memorandum, however, includes Redwood City in a fare table.  Furthermore, some of the peninsula trip times in the service planning memorandum are timetabled at 49 minutes (see example service plan, page 8, making sure to account for arrival vs. departure times), which is consistent with an additional stop at Redwood City.  The 33-minute trip time indicated between SJ and Millbrae is very conservative and could easily be timetabled at 29 minutes (departure to arrival) with a 79 mph speed limit and including two minutes of timetable padding.  The extra stop in Redwood City would bring it up to 33 minutes.  Coincidence?


  1. If CAHSR wanted to focus on regional markets, there should be renewed attention towards Altamont (though right now, the priority should be to make sure HSR is routed over Tejon to avoid unnecessarily adding 12 minutes to total ttrip time).

    1. Curious and total silence from Cruickshank and the other cheerleaders at cahsrblog.com after years of pooh-poohing the use of HS for regional travel.

      Just like their equally curious and equally self-contradictory silence when the CHSRA Altamont "overlay" that they'd believed in was smothered under a pillow last year.

      HSR is only for long distance travel! Except ... no it isn't!
      Don't worry; the East Bay will be served by Altamont! Except ... no it won't be!
      HSR and Caltrain/Metrolink can't share the same tracks or it won't be HSR. Except ... yes they must, but with separate HSR stations!

      A foolish consistency being the hobgoblin of something or other.

  2. Caltrain's core business in AM reverse is SF/MB --> PA/MV. HSR isn't touching that. SJ station could use more ridership, so maybe HSR will help that. Caltrain will probably exist the Gilroy business and leave it to Capitol Corridor.

    How big does the price difference have to be to discourage commuter's from using HSR for SF <--> SJ commute? Caltrain charges $9 each way or $232/month (about $10.50 per day). I don't see HSR offering such a bargain since base fare already appears to be about twice the cost. But maybe there is a market for someone to pay $464/month to travel in style.

    1. It is exactly what I thought: I don't see many people paying twice as much for the travel just to save 15 minutes...

    2. Next time I'm in Providence, I'll try counting how many people ride Amtrak to Boston. My recollection is that few do. The tradeoff is that it's $15 on the cheaper Regionals vs. $10 on the MBTA, takes about 45-55 minutes vs. 1:10, and sometimes interpolates the MBTA's 2-hour midday frequency. (Just guessing that if a judge ordered the Big Dig closed until the state made good on its mitigation obligations, the frequency would get better.) As an anecdote, once the MBTA fare went up to $10 I started taking whichever train's schedule fit better, but before then, when the fare was $7.75, I exclusively took the MBTA.

    3. Pretty sure I see a fair number of people riding between Boston and Providence only.

      The Regionals usually make the trip in about 35-40 minutes, even though the schedule says longer.

  3. Just need to balance the numbers that get off at San Jose with those that get on- simple with trial and error on pricing. They'd certainly be a market for 4 fast comfortable trains an hour, over using Caltrain.

    1. Except the HS trains won't be significantly faster than Caltrain. Caltrain and PB and CHSRA promise bad service, forever!

      And there's no reason the HS should be significantly more comfortable. Unless Caltrain Buys American and CHSRA doesn't.

      The choice is between a slow Caltrain limited making a random set of stops and an equally slow HS train making a smaller set of Security Theater Hobbled stops at different platforms at nearby by separate train stations.

      This isn't ever going to be Central Europe with intra-regional and inter-regional and inter-city trains inter-lined and (fully or partially) fare-integrated. This is going to be two separate, unequal, inconvenient, and, above all, slow parallel disjoint systems.

      In the end, the (100% imaginary consultant-invented) intra-regional HS passengers would be paying several times as much for the privilege using separate platforms and getting X-rayed and having to present a government issues ID and being required to travel in one assigned seat on exactly one pre-booked train. The market for that, especially over 50 miles, at slower-than-freeway average speed, is zero.

    2. Yet intercity, intra regional and local customers all share the same platforms and don't get X-rayed etc. other places in the US. Is it that people east of the Sierra Nevada are worth less than Californians? Or is California extra special some other way?

    3. I don't know what eastern region you are referring to. The one's I've been to, the passengers are to arrive 30 minutes before departure, and are made to stand around in a giant waiting hall, before lining up single-file to have their tickets inspected.

    4. Adirondacker12800: outstanding typing. Numerous words spelled correctly, conventional orthography, native speaker level grammar, individual clauses and sentences not nonsensical when taken in isolation. Well done!

      Relevance of "people east of the Sierra Nevada" to California HSR and set in concrete California HSR infrastructure and operating plans? Exactly the same as the relevance of your typing to Austria's or Taiwan's or North Korea's mainline rail systems.

      Good job with the typing, though.

    5. @ Drunk Engineer: “I don't know what eastern region you are referring to. The one's I've been to, the passengers are to arrive 30 minutes before departure, and are made to stand around in a giant waiting hall, before lining up single-file to have their tickets inspected.”

      Sounds like Caltrain in San Francisco…

      I don’t normally use Caltrain out of SF (4th & Townsend) but when I do, they line people up and inspect tickets of everybody getting on the train. Sometimes they don’t open the door/gate until 5-10 minutes prior to train departure, even though the train is sitting there for an hour…

      To me, this defeats the purpose of proof-of-payment, which I thought was supposed to be *random* fare inspections.

      Some of these conductors are quite arrogant about it, like they are on some kind of power trip.

      My past experience of seeing Caltrain making use of this procedure was after a night SF Giants game, supposedly to weed out the most rowdy/intoxicated baseball fans.

    6. There will not be any paper tickets in 20 years when CHSR is finished, all tickets will be electronic apps on cell phones, or some other device not invented yet. They will be checked wirelessly without stoping like Fastrack is done now for cars at the bridge toll booths. Violaters will have there picture taken by security cameras, there face will be compared to a facial recognition database, they will be tracked by security camera, and there picture and ID will be sent to the smartphones of the ticket enforcement officers and high speed rail police. E-ticket buyers will access the system effortlesly but violators will be caught every time.

    7. "Violaters will have there picture taken"? So complicated! Why single them out?

      Far easier to track every single humanoid -- for security AND convenience! --, and automatically debit associated bank accounts and/or Alert The Authorities.

      No cell phone apps, not "E-Tickets", no muss, no falling through the cracks.

      And, best of all, no scofflaws riding one station beyond the zone printed on their paper tickets! A pressing social problem, efficiently addressed.

      What could possibly go wrong?

      I do like the idea of "high speed rail police", though. I'm going right to work now on designing the fabulous uniforms.

  4. "Each seat sold for SF-SJ is a seat cannot be sold for SF-Los Angeles"

    What if the SF-SJ passenger doesn't need a seat? Over in Japan they sell the ticket fare separately from the seat reservation, to allow flexibility of serving both short and long distance passengers on the same train.

  5. How many people will want SF-SJ super-express? Depends on how successful San Jose is at developing the Diridon station area, connecting it with downtown, and making the place less car-dependent. If they are successful, they could pull jobs and population south and create a much larger market for SF-SJ super-express.

  6. For that matter, Millbrae is considering some good-sized TOD at Millbrae. Millbrae isn't a compelling destination now but could conceivably be more so by 2029+

  7. "developing the Diridon station area"
    "good-sized TOD at Millbrae"

    Mmmmmmm ..... Kool-Aid .....

  8. I've noticed that when people talk about TOD in the Peninsula/South Bay, it seems like they are so overly optimistic as to be deluded.

    1. The combination of high housing costs and a rapidly growing number of professional level jobs in Silicon Valley makes the SF Peninsula a prime candidate for transit oriented development (TOD); possibbly the best in the nation. I suspect that Google would prefer to expand their office space next to a Caltrain/CHSR Station rather than increase the scope of their expensive employee commuter van service; especially if Caltrain rebuilt their line along the present Central Expressway right-of-way near several major Silicon Valley Employers through Sunnyvale and Santa Clara combined with direct access to SJC and SFO Airports. Electrified automatically operated Caltrain runs (No paid employee needed on every train.) would enable a frequent economically provided service with most trains skipping half the stops enabling double the average speed for most passengers traveling over 20 miles. A TCRP Traveler Response to Transit Speed and Frequency Improvements study indicates discretionary commuters, as is surely the case for Silicon Valley professionals who nearly always own an automobile and have plenty of free parking at Silicon Valley employers, tend to be very responsive to transit quality improvements. The proportion of reverse commuters, about 40% at present, would likely rise significantly. The combiation of flexible work hours and a high reverse commute proportion, at least tripple the present ridership due to higher speeds and frequency, variable train lengths and driverless operation should give Caltrain a shot at operating without a public subsidy. (Except for capital costs.) Note: Vancouver's Sky Train claims to pay for daily operations from fares alone.