In a Blow to the Bullet Train, California Might Change Its Color

LA Times pens another silly tale about California High-Speed Rail. Also, what batteries?!

This new dark red paint scheme could replace the CAHSRA Authority's original yellow and blue concept. Image: Wikimedia
This new dark red paint scheme could replace the CAHSRA Authority's original yellow and blue concept. Image: Wikimedia

Key California lawmakers have devised a plan to shift California’s high-speed rail plans from a blue and yellow paint scheme, once favored by Central Valley Democrats, to dark red–a strategy that could crush the dreams of high-speed rail purists.

Assembly Democrats see greater public value in a red train, which might be more eye catching. The proposal has been taken more seriously in recent weeks, and supporters think it will meet the tricky legal requirements of the high-speed rail project.

“I like the concept,” said Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon (D-Lakewood). “Any project that doesn’t look really pretty doesn’t make much sense.”

This earlier rendering depicts a blue and yellow train. Image: CAHSRA
This earlier rendering depicts a blue and yellow train. Image: CAHSRA

Obviously, the headline and first few paragraphs you’ve just read aren’t true.

We’re just mocking the L.A. Times’s Ralph Vartabedian–using his own language template that turns any story on California HSR, no matter how banal, into more evidence of its demise. Tuesday was the latest: this time he decided that because politicians are trying to bring more money for and construction of HSR into their own districts, it means the project is (once again) gasping for breath.

Politicians have been trying to get more money for their districts since Roman times. Yes, Southern California politicians are again trying to prioritize more construction to Southern California (shocking!). It’s worth a mention perhaps, but it’s hardly a “blow” and definitely not dream crushing. Actually, it’s kind of quaint.

And we wouldn’t care about Vartabedian’s schlock reporting, because in our conversations “with more than a dozen elected officials, legislative staffers, rail industry executives, bullet train insiders and others,” Streetsblog has heard, over and over again, that he is just a hack that nobody takes seriously anymore.

However, as usual, he also managed to pass along some technical misinformation: “Supporters note that Europe now operates battery-powered trains, eliminating the need for overhead wires that freight railroads don’t want installed on their tracks,” he writes. It’s unclear why this point is brought up in his article, but maybe it’s a justification for taking money earmarked for stringing electrified wire over the Central Valley segment of HSR and diverting it to commuter trains in Northern and Southern California?

Except there won’t be any freight trains on the Central Valley segment, so that part’s not relevant. Besides, while some American freight railroads have at times expressed reluctance to have overhead wire over their tracks, it wouldn’t be a make-or-break issue anyway (see pic below):

If a freight operator doesn't want the electrification, they can just ignore it. Photo: Wikimedia Commons
If a freight operator doesn’t want the electrification, they can just ignore it. Here’s a freight train running on diesel power under electric wire in Maryland. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Also, battery trains? He makes it sound as if you just buy a Tesla train locomotive and charge it up and get going. There is no such thing. Trains are much, much heavier and have a different dynamic than cars. That said, freight and passenger train manufacturers and railroads are looking at hybrid battery systems–in the case of freight, battery locomotives could be used to expand the efficiency of existing diesel-electrics.

There are also new trains being tried out that still have overhead power systems, but can run on batteries to get across segments of non-electrified tracks (but not at high speeds). This is a way to cut corners or add efficiencies on overhead wire electrification, not get rid of it.

Getting back to the main point though, we’re not that concerned with whether or not the HSR project is spending more right now in the Central Valley or on connections from L.A. to S.F., any more than we care about the color scheme. Streetsblog supports HSR and other sensible train projects in and between Northern and Southern California, in whatever order they get built. And we’ll continue to call out the L.A. Times on its nonsensical, misframed reporting on California’s rail modernization project.

  • crazyvag

    Battery train will have better emissions, but will lack the acceleration of possible by drawing large amounts of current from overhead.

  • Roan Kattouw

    Pretty sure all the high-speed trains in Europe are still running on overhead wire…

  • Patrick Jackson

    Incedentally, they should change the color fwiw.

  • jltulock

    Your screed is nonsensical. True about battery technology that is all. You make claims you claim the reporter made then mock him for your interpretations that you made up. I have built railroads around the world. When I returned and retired this project became funded and it is being run by the worst in our industry. Several of us who care about railroad systems have been working behind the scenes to get these people off the project for a decade now. We knew the budget was off by a factor of four to five when the ballot was passed. The LA Times reporter is reporting fact on the economic limits of the project and is factual about most of his reporting. We are finally seeing the fruits of our labor as outlined in Thursday Mercury News editorial that is accurate. There is now hope of use of the funds for the betterment of some needed rail projects. Although this all could have been done for billions less if not for the greed and incompetence of those running this project over the last eleven years. They should be prosecuted for what they have done but they will not be. The good news is some competence is now in place with some rail professionals now involved in some aspects of the project. Some money is being shifted to less wasteful projects that will do some good for California passenger rail infrastructure. Your organization is very naive. You are the last vestige of a dying ideology of blindly cheer leading for this project. The time has come to support improvements that will help passenger rail infrastructure. You will never see high speed rail in California of the likes you have been promised. I have built railroads around the world and I know railroad economics and politics. Do not be the last fool.

  • Dwimby

    Calif dimms are brain dead.

  • crazyvag

    I think you’re mingling management of the project with the need. No one called for abandoning Bay Bridge project when budget exploded. Providing low carbon travel options is just as needed, and this comes with so many benefits.

    With connection between Gilroy and Central Valley and Bakersfield to Palmdale, we also open up market to Vegas (via Virgin Trains) that currently has 50+ daily flights from bay area. or about 1.5 million passengers a year.

    The problem has always been lack of money, especially from the federal government. Consider the Illinois HSR project between St. Louis and Chicago where 60%+ came from the federal government vs about 15% for California system.

  • crazyvag

    I like the color patterns for Virgin Trains in Florida. Please hire the same designers.

  • Ming

    This proposed plan seems a little weird. California had a $20+ billion dollar surplus this year, and the legislators feel the need to raid the Central Valley for $4bn in infrastructure funds? Plus, the projects that they want to spend the money on are still several years away from being able to break ground. If they wanted money for rail projects elsewhere in the state, the legislators could have just assigned it from the surplus dollars. And the whole point of starting in the Central Valley was to shake out all the incompetence from the high speed rail authority before having them work on the real stuff, but the incompetence only started falling out a few months ago, so it’s still too early to stop shaking and have them move to the big cities.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    Battery high-speed train is nonsense. A TGV draws 10-20MW just running over level ground at top speed. You’d need the batteries of 1000 Tesla cars to get anywhere, and if you had those aboard you would not be able to go up hills.

    By the way this is also why electric aviation is nonsense. Wide-body airliner uses over 80MW to fly.

  • Bradley Fried

    in Japan as well. Recently JR has tested a new train with a battery backup feature that would allow the train to proceed to the next station under its own power in event of a power failure, but this is not the primary power source for the train. https://english.kyodonews.net/news/2019/07/5d9ebb4f514d-jr-central-unveils-1st-battery-powered-bullet-train.html

  • Cobalt Boxcar

    FWIW, The latest CAHSR videos show a silver train with orange or greenish yellow stripe.

    https://mobile.twitter.com/CaHSRA/status/1157411855653986304

    https://mobile.twitter.com/CaHSRA/status/1156317212044492800

  • Roan Kattouw

    According to the article, the train only goes 30 km/h (~20 mph) on battery power, and that’s with the A/C turned off and the lights dimmed. That definitely sounds like a backup, not a primary.

  • spijim

    If much of the ballooned cost is in getting from Merced to San Jose and from Bakersfield to LA, and we’re going to be shifting all of these funds around to other projects, wouldn’t it make the line more viable in the short-term to build the Merced-Sacramento section?

    It seems like a Sacramento – Bakersfield line would be a much bigger boost to the Central Valley, would draw a lot more passengers and would have direct connections to Bay Area commuter services (ACE & Capitol Corridor trains).

  • Osman Hossain

    Amtrak

  • Osman Hossain

    California High Speed Rail is coming.

  • Osman Hossain

    When is the California High Speed Rail coming in what year?

  • jltulock

    Our team has estimated that at the current rate and with increased project risk in acquiring property and construction in urban zones, the entire LA to San Francisco segment could be completed with full electrification and trains running by 2090 with in a consistently favorable political and funding climate. That is in order to make the full trip in under three hours not some watered down version.

  • Roger R.

    2029… But it’ll all depend on politics. Curbed did a good breakdown. https://sf.curbed.com/2017/9/19/16331308/high-speed-rail-california

  • kevd

    of course, chicago – st. louis isn’t true HSR, but just higher speed.

  • Claude

    Since we’re making up numbers, I’ll see your $140 billion and raise you $60 billion. Let’s call it an even $200 billion by 2175, with only 3 trillionaires riding each day.
    Meanwhile, in reality, I know the “defenders of fiscal responsibility” are fighting to delay the project and drive up costs as much as possible, but the project is still continuing.
    If the Republicans start doing what the people voted on rather than trying to be the overlords who command the voters, I’d say we can still make it by 2030 and under $100 billion; but time equals inflation, so we need to take the project seriously.

  • Claude

    I care about the color scheme. That blue and yellow paint job is ugly as sin.
    I line the white with accent stripes that they’ve been using in their videos lately. I hope they go with that.

  • crazyvag

    The speed isn’t my focus but rather the funding sources and percent that federal money contributed to the project.

  • kevd

    Perhaps the funding breakdown that way because the goals were so much more limited in Illinois, and the total cost so, so much lower?

  • BigNoel

    Funny how the news stories about the coming death of California High Rail since 2010 seem to always happen when the right wing need a distraction when they are in trouble?

  • QuestionQue

    Your proposed Sacramento-Bakersfield line would need to be built without Prop A bonds as they can only be spent on the segment to Sacramento if it does not delay construction between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

  • James

    Your photo shows a freight train riding alongside residential power lines. That is not a good example of your point. In this country and all over the world freight trains ride beneath catenary. It shouldn’t be too hard to find photos of freight locomotives beneath overhead lines in New England. I’ve seen this with my own eyes. Even trains with double stacked shipping containers.

  • Roger R.

    That’s the Northeast Corridor in the photo. And that’s old-school catenary over the train.
    https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:NS_Daytime_Freight_on_the_Corridor_(6456921797).jpg

  • spijim

    Hasn’t much of the recent discussion been about diverting funds to SF and LA local projects that would, presumably, “delay construction” of HSR between LA and SF?

  • claudiagold

    We need to do whatever it takes to build true high speed rail across America. It should be the #1 priority. I will only vote for pro-HSR politicians.

  • claudiagold

    Amtrak goes along the coast and takes around 12 hours from SF to LA. That’s why we need direct and dedicated high speed rail lines.

  • QuestionQue

    Diverting funds to local projects would also be without Prop A bonds. The proposals are plays by politicians to local constituents and are very unlikely to pass a vote by the full legislature. They were enthusiastically reported by the L.A. Times’s Ralph Vartabedian who is always looking to diminish California High-Speed Rail prospects.

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