A memo released earlier this week by a California High-Speed Rail official indicates that trains can indeed travel from San Francisco to Los Angeles in the two hours and 40 minutes required under Proposition 1A but a local rail group questions those numbers considering an early analysis by Caltrain and the rail authority's own revised business plan.
The memo from Frank Vacca, the rail authority's chief program manager, also indicates that high-speed trains can travel from San Francisco to San Jose in just 30 minutes under the "blended" approach where Caltrain mostly shares the tracks with HSR within its current corridor.
But a Caltrain/California HSR Blended Operations Analysis released last March by Caltrain indicates the travel times to be between 37 minutes and 43 minutes from San Francisco to San Jose depending on the speed of the trains, either 79 mph or 110 mph.
The time difference might not seem like much but Rita Wespi, with Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design, said Vacca's assertions are not based on reality and that most reports indicate it will take at least three hours for the San Francisco to Los Angeles trip.
The extra 20 minutes could lead to a dramatic drop-off in ridership, Wespi said.
"They are using a bunch of assumptions simply under the best of conditions," Wespi said. "When we look at it, it shows they can't do it."
Vacca reviewed an analysis by PB America using the Berkeley Simulation software known as Rail Traffic Controller and concluded the blended approach could meet the Proposition 1A time requirements.
"Further improvements may be achievable through improved train performance, use of tilt technology, more aggressive alignments and higher maximum speeds," Vacca wrote in the memo.
The simulation is part of various periodic reviews to ensure that the rail authority's plan is feasible and in compliance with Proposition 1A, the authority's Deputy Director of Communications Rob Wilcox wrote the Daily Journal in an email yesterday.
"The simulation considered the proposed alignment and its characteristics as well as any other factors that would have an impact on travel time. Caltrain's own analysis has shown that it can provide high-speed rail an unimpeded pass," Wilcox wrote in the email.
While Caltrain may be able to provide and unimpeded pass for HSR, Wespi still questions how the Peninsula trip can be made in just 30 minutes.
"They seem to be relying on technology that may not exist yet," Wespi said about the conclusion the San Francisco to Los Angeles trip can be made in two hours and 40 minutes. The authority's own revised business plan released last year shows the trip cannot be made in less than three hours with the blended approach, Wespi said.
A Caltrain official, however, wrote in an email to the Daily Journal yesterday that last year's operations analysis is not an indication of the fastest time that a high-speed rail train can travel between San Francisco and San Jose."
Caltrain's analysis tested the operational feasibility of blending the two systems, including stops at Diridon and Millbrae, but does not assess how improvements like curve straightening, the downtown rail extension in San Francisco and other factors might impact travel time, Caltrain's Communications Manager Jayme Ackemann wrote the Daily Journal in an email.
"It is our understanding that some of the factors we included in our analysis differed from that done by CHSRA," Ackemann wrote in the email.
The simulation showing the trip can be made under Proposition 1A requirements is good news to Caltrain, however.
"We have been and continue to be committed to working with CHSRA to design a system that is fully compliant with Proposition 1A. It's encouraging that HSR is starting to assess what's needed to achieve this," Ackemann wrote in the email.
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