Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Marketing Worked...Too Well?

No one I know thinks the Caltrain baby bullet is actually fast in terms of overall speed. Especially when compared to say a Shinkansen, TGV, or ICE train. But the marketing seems to have worked so well, some on the peninsula are asking, why do we need high speed rail if we've already got the Baby Bullet. The HSR Compatability Blog answers that question in full detail. The short answer, there is a reason it's only a baby.


Peter said...

that HSR blog post makes zero sense to me. it's been a while since i've read something twice, presumably something written in english, and still walked away having no idea what someone was attempting to convey.

c'est la vie.

BruceMcF said...

Mixing speed classes cuts track capacity and interrupts the regularity of the slower speed class. So running intercity HSR on the same pair of tracks as the "Baby Bullets" and locals will slow them down, and slowing them down will cost them patronage.

It may be that the technical detail that bogs down that core argument in the post is a defense against arguments like the mass of technical sounding mumbo jumbo in the "explosion and a cloud of red herring" of the first comment on the post.

Justin said...

Of course, since the corridor will be electrified, CalTrain can take advantage, and run 125-140 mph Baby Bullet trains.

Anonymous said...

try this, BART/MTC has a long history of passenger hostile design, massive overspending, corrupted contractor selection, which makes many of us furious at what we see happening. When I hear Kopp talk about cost containment, I remember that he got his start as an appointed BART director. It hasn't gotten better. He was the 'front' for the hugely dysfubctional airport extension. MTC is in the process of stealing $91million from the Dumbarton project to cover ever spiraling costs of the unnecessary Warm Springs extension Meanwhile the latest sabotage is the current attempt to cancel Caltrain/HSR to Transbay. That hobbling of HSR is a deathknell to any seriously useful service. Imagine if all Amtrak trains from DC terminated out somewhere in New Jersey. Well, there were such half a century ago and despite better on board service they lost out to the route we call the North East Corridor which arrives in the CBD.` Sadly, the voting sheep often don't grok the nuances of these ddebates so they are easily led to line up with really bad decisions. As we watch what meagre funding there is for rail transit being squandered on badly conceived projrcts it is difficult not to fume.

BruceMcF said...

Justin said... "Of course, since the corridor will be electrified, CalTrain can take advantage, and run 125-140 mph Baby Bullet trains."

That is really appealing ... in the context of a four track solution ... as a maximum speed of 125mph is the target for the design envelope for the express track. The locals, of course, would never have a chance to get up to that speed and stay there very long, and there is a continuing need for rail freight to take trucks off the road, so it makes sense for the locals to share the heavy rail line and the Caltrain expresses to share the express line with the HSR system.

An argument for a two-track solution is very hard to make in any direct, dispassionate way, so of someone wishes to make it, its not surprising that its accompanied (as already noted) by an explosion of red herring.

arcady said...

If I were running Caltrain... I'd bargain with HSRA the same way freight railroads do with Amtrak. What HSRA wants is trackage rights, and schedule slots. Well, right now, the schedule is full during the peak, so the only way HSRA is getting slots is if they pay for capacity improvements, and it's up to Caltrain to decide where those are needed. And if I were running things, I'd be working toward a four track line, with all four tracks belonging to Caltrain.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

How come you aren't running Caltrain Arcady? :)

Matt Fisher said...

"But the marketing seems to have worked so well, some on the peninsula are asking, why do we need high speed rail if we've already got the Baby Bullet."

Certainly not fast when compared to the TGV, or even the X 2000 tilting train in Sweden! (I've never been to Europe in my life, by the way, although I wish I had.) I've only been in Canada and the U.S.

The X 2000 train can operate on regular lines in Sweden for a speed of 180-200 km/h. Similarly, there's the Alfa Pendular in Portugal.

arcady said...

Or, you know, there's the plain old Amfleets pulled by the plain old AEM-7, which also manage 125 mph, operated by Amtrak in this very country. But that requires grade separation, track improvements, and electrification.

Stephen said...

Neither the post nor the comments over there made much sense.

The poster is confused about the nature of train service. What Cal Train calls its "baby bullet" is what other commuter train services call an "express." (I refer half-in-jest to the "Naperville Zephyrs" on The World's Greatest Commuter Railroad.)

By its nature, a commuter train is not going to scorch the rails. Cal Train's effort is creditable given what they have to work with, which is primarily a two-track railroad with some short stretches of three tracks. The "Baby Bullet" passes all-stop commuter trains on those short sections, at least one of which is at a local train stop. If they had more track, they'd be able to run more skip-stop trains.

Check out the Burlington Lines schedule at

You'll note all-stop trains that get overtaken by two Naperville Zephyrs and numerous other trains that make a few local stops and then get on the middle track behind a Naperville Zephyr. In the evening, you'll notice the local service being provided by a series of trains.

It's doable. But it is commuter rail, which is not the same thing as inter-city high speed rail.