Tracing Tracy Territory: A sneak peek at high-speed rail
by Sam Matthews / TP publisher emeritus
Jun 17, 2010 | 7167 views | 20 20 comments | 97 97 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Lynda and Brent Ives visited Japan and rode on the country's bullet train, which some say should be a model for California's proposed high-speed rail system. Courtesy of Brent Ives
Lynda and Brent Ives visited Japan and rode on the country's bullet train, which some say should be a model for California's proposed high-speed rail system. Courtesy of Brent Ives
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When Tracy Mayor Brent Ives visited Japan recently, he took a glimpse at what he hopes to be the future of high-speed rail in our area.

“It was a great trip,” he said. “If our high-speed system will look anything like they have in Japan, it will be wonderful.”

In addition to serving as Tracy’s mayor, Ives has been a member of the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission for 18 years. The fact that the rail commission has a role in developing high-speed rail in this region created added interest.

The visit the mayor and his wife, Lynda, took to Japan from May 8 through 14 gave the Ives a chance to ride on a high-speed train — called Shinkansen in Japanese — along the eastern coast of the main island of Honshu.

“We took the Shinkansen from Sendai to Tokyo, a 218-mile trip that took less than two hours,” Brent reported. “What I saw was a train that was fast, comfortable and safe.”

Brent, who had made a reservation with his Japan Railcard, said the bullet train took off from Sendai station on time — “right to the minute.” No Amtrak-like delays there.

Once under way, the Shinkansen gained speed steadily until it approached 150 mph. Maximum speed is 186 mph.

“We were going very fast, but you couldn’t notice it much at all inside the smooth-riding train,” Brent said. “Then, when an approaching train whizzed passed us in several seconds, you could get an idea of our speed.”

According to Brent, the electrically propelled Shinkansen traveled over dedicated tracks that rolled over flat farmland and through tunnels that minimized curves and grades.

“It was a comfortable ride. In fact, Lynda fell asleep while I was talking to a Japanese official,” he said. “And the car was packed — high-speed rail is very popular in Japan.”

The Japanese official was Masadhi Hiraish , deputy director of the Office of Global Strategy for Railway Development.

“He told me how the high-speed rail system was started in 1964 with an $80 million loan from the World Bank, coupled with Japanese funding,” Brent recounted.

The rail facilities are constructed by a government corporation and then leased to three private Japan Rail companies — JR West, JR Central and JR East. The government provides oversight and coordination.

The system now covers 1,352 miles, with another 725 miles planned or under construction, including a major extension to the northern island of Hokkaido, where Tracy’s sister city, Memuro, is located.

“Loans are continuing to be the major funding mechanism,” Brent said.

There were only two stops on the 218-mile trip. The Ives were told that at stations where feeder lines join the main high-speed lines, cars from the feeder train — of the same design as those on the main line — can be attached to the main-line train, so passengers can remain in their seats for the entire trip.

“This concept is important for us, since the rail commission is in charge of planning the line between Merced and Sacramento and also the feeder line that parallels the ACE route of today,” he said.

Brent acknowledges that Japan is a densely populated country of 127 million, so rail travel has traditionally been a larger factor in the country’s transportation mix than in the United States. Japan leads the world in annual rail-passenger miles.

“That doesn’t mean that high-speed rail can’t be successfully developed here,” he said. “We in California have a chance to be a leader.”

Passage of $9.5 billion bond issue in 2008, augmented by $2.5 billion in federal funds, has moved planning ahead for a project that could ultimately cost close to $100 billion.

The main San Francisco-to-Los Angeles route will take trains over the Pacheco Pass between Gilroy and Los Banos, but an extension from Merced north to Sacramento also is planned. From that extension, a feeder line will be established from north of Modesto along the route of the Altamont Commuter Express to San Jose. The route through the Altamont Pass will have to include several tunnels to permit speeds approaching 100 mph. ACE trains now average 35 to 40 mph over the Altamont Pass.

At Vasco Road east of Livermore, a common platform will allow passengers to switch between the high-speed rail and Bay Area Rapid Transit trains.

“The BART line in central Livermore will be tunneled a part of the way in central Livermore, where an underground station will be located,” Brent said.

And yes, the high-speed line could pass through central Tracy, although the route has not yet been determined. If the central Tracy location is selected, there is a possibility the tracks could be below-grade, allowing MacArthur Drive, Central Avenue and Tracy Boulevard to pass overhead without requiring expensive overpasses.

Brent said Japan is eager to be a major player in developing high-speed rail in California. The Japanese consulate in San Francisco has a specialist in this area on its staff. Of course, countries like Germany, Spain and China also have an eye on the California high-speed rail future.

While in Japan, the mayor and his wife visited Tracy’s sister city of Memuro. There they met up with Tracy teenagers visiting Memuro as part of the annual sister city youth exchange program.

“We were treated royally,” Brent reported. “And, oh yes, we paid for the entire trip ourselves.”

• Sam Matthews, Tracy Press publisher emeritus, can be reached at 830-4234 or by e-mail at shm@tracypress.com.
Comments
(20)
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UBS
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June 28, 2010
Willows - Glad you like learning online. The prezident is pushing high speed rail so it didn't actually cost us anything yet. This city already has passenger rail service. It is called ACE Rail. You can find out about it online at acerail.com. I think they just want to make the ACE Rail faster, which is good because you could leave Tracy, CA Linne Road ACE Rail Station and arrive at the Livermore, CA ACE Rail Station in under five minutes.

Willows
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June 24, 2010
Eesh, how much did this cost our town? Layoffs and all. This was a huge waste of money. They could have learned everything about this through e-mail and the internet. Sad.
Radasur
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June 23, 2010
fortheunderdog:

Good you are thinking but that would be incorrect. The high speed would go from Tracy to Livermore at 150 MPH. Currently it only goes 80 MPH. Amtrak train already costs more than Tracy's ACE train so if they charged a little more people would ride. ACE is also looking into being the leg for the high speed train so they would probably just increase their customer base which has done amazingly well over the years having the highest percent of riders.

Of course there are options but not having airport hassle is worth the faster, less expensive, train trip.
fortheunderdog
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June 23, 2010
I'm guessing that with all the stops the proposed high speed train will be making it really won't have a chance to get up to high speed.

ACE will still be operational....those who are riding that now will continue to ride it. Prices will surely be lower than those for the high speed train

AMTRAK will still be operational....I'm sure rider attendance will be greater for AMTRAK since the price to ride the high speed train will be much higher.

GREYHOUND will still be operational....for those who can't afford AMTRAK or the high speed rail.

UNITED AIRLINES, SOUTHWEST, DELTA, et al will still be available....and at probably the same price as the high speed and quicker.

So, in AverageBri's defense....once the newness of the high speed train wears off people will realize that the price to ride it is too high and those who continue to ride will be those who can afford it or they're on business and their company pays for it.

It will be a tourist attraction though but I refuse to believe that people visiting from, say New York, will use their vacation money to ride a high speed train. I can see them standing on overpasses with their cameras though.

So once the novelty of having a high speed train wears off, so will the ridership.

You have to remember that Japan uses their high speed train out of necessity.
Average_Jo
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June 22, 2010
averagebri: If you need to justify a project.

The reason that 80% of people in Japan use the train is because they have a train that can get you from point A to point B, faster than driving.

Heck. If you had a train that could get you to work faster than driving which one would you choose.

Let's see stuck in traffic or fast train.

No brianer.

You need to know that there was a time in America when 80% of the people rode horses and 10% drove a car. The other 10% walked.

Times change, bri.

Welcome to the future.
AverageBri
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June 22, 2010
Thank you, but my question was mostly rhetorical, and you missed my larger point. There is simply no way enough people will use the high speed trains to justify or recoup the cost. People would still choose ACE or BART over this because the price to ride on the high-speed train will have to be extraordinary high.

Also, for the Mayor to compare Japan's use, which is probably 80% or more of the population, with our use, which would likely be below 10% of the population, is an erroneous comparison to justify the project.
AlbannyE
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June 22, 2010
AverigeBri you asked who will ride?

One subset of people will be the same folks who already ride the existing train in Tracy. But a lot more of them. And these existing customers will commute to work faster if the State of CA spends the money to speed the train up.

Also the Great America and other students going to the Bay Area on the ACE Train every week now.

Does that answer your question?
TomBenigno
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June 22, 2010
Was this article hidden from view? Hum.
AverageBri
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June 22, 2010
When's the last time any politician paid for their own trip anywhere? The fact he felt it necessary to point out, tells me we paid for it.

As far as the train goes, this is another money sinkhole. Who's going to ride it? Definitely not enough people to make the cost worthwhile. You all are focused on the billions to build such a train line, but ignore the additional billions that will be needed to run and maintain the line once it is operational.

Just because Japan needs/uses high-speed trains doesn't mean people here would also use them.

But hey, what's another $50 billion or so? There are plenty of useful idiots in CA and in the US who feel they don't pay enough taxes yet (at 40% ), so I guess we'll have a shiny new train that goes really fast with only a handful of people riding on it. Nice.
Ornley_Gumfudgen
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June 22, 2010
fortheunderdog

I have ta disagree with ya in that I believe it's very newsworthy fer th Mayor ta look at Japan's bullet train, especially when thairs talk of buildin a high speed rail system in CA.

What? Ya would rather him do nothin an then complain if it bypassed Tracy all tagether? Sounds ta me yer just biased against th mayor an anythang he does, right or wrong.

Ya wrote, "High speed rail in Japan spans almost the entire length of that country. If/when construction begins on our version of high speed rail it will only connect No. Calif and So. Calif."

That may well be true but ya seem ta ferget that even though Japan's bullet train covers thair entire country, mostly anyway, th length of track they put on th ground totals up ta 1,352.04 miles.

California, measured from furthest point ta furthest point is 815.38 miles, roughly th same size as Japan with approximately 874.21 miles not countin th smaller islands whare th bullet train don't run anyway.

Ya gotta start somewhare sometime. Japan started thair bullet train over 40 years ago, we stayed with freeways an cars.

As I recall thair first run was only from Tokyo ta just south of Hiroshima some 450 miles an very close ta th distance from LA ta Sac with a spur ta SF which weighs in somewhares around 430 miles of track.

It's easy ta get off track in yer thankin when considerin other countries an not takin inta account of thair physical size an population bases.

While Japan is roughly th same size as California, thair are other differing factors that need ta be taken inta account.

One is that Japan's population is roughly 3.5 times larger than California's.

The other is that Japan is mostly mountainous with very little flat land while CA has a huge valley running most of the length of th state an construction costs on flat land are much lower than through th mountains.

In matters of high speed rail construction, size counts.

Despite th fact Japan is roughly th same size as CA an supports a population base roughly 3.5 times that of CA, their GNP is only about 2.4 times that of CA.

Given CA has a lot of flat ground fer a bullet train ta traverse, shorter distances than Japan ta traverse an a market economy a little less than half of Japan's, a bullet train in CA makes a lot of sense.

Other than th eastern seaboard, whare else in the US can ya do it? Texas perhaps, with a state economy close ta what California's is. An guess what? The Eastern Seaboard has their version in the mill along with Florida, Texas, Colorado and others.

I agree high speed rail should cover th nation but that's impossible ta do all at once an ya gotta start somewhares. Still, with th amount of other states currently workin on thair own high-speed rail projects, it would be a shame fer California ta sit by an not do anything along those lines.

Think how our current rail system was built out. It didn't happen all at once but in bits an pieces until th system was large enough ta embark on a transcontinental rail that connected th east coast ta th west coast.

An on th final note, unless I am mistaken th California high speed rail project is also usin $2.3 Billion in Federal money, meaning that all th states are gonna pay fer it in one faction or another.

Yep we need ta raise $9.5 billion in bonds per Prop 1A that passed in 2008 but eventually it will cover all of th US. It just might take 40 years or so ta do it is all.

Still, if ya don't start somewhare you'll never get it done.
fortheunderdog
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June 21, 2010
SpanningTree,

Thanks for thinking of me but you did not make me feel uncomfortable. I often try to keep my comments respectful and constructive too.

I respectfully do not feel a story about our mayor visiting Japan and riding a high speed rail is constructive journalism.

High speed rail in Japan spans almost the entire length of that country. If/when construction begins on our version of high speed rail it will only connect No. Calif and So. Calif.

Construction of this magnitude should involve all involved states participating in making high speed rail nationwide.
SpanningTree
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June 19, 2010
fortheunderdog,

I hope that I did not make you feel uncomfortable. Your feelings are your own. I try to keep my comments inline with being respectful and constructive. And that means sticking to facts not innuendos. I can only say that if you have an opportunity to try high speed rail. Don't knock it. And that I'm sure high speed rail should have an enormous impact on the region. Like it or not.
fortheunderdog
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June 19, 2010
SpanningTree,

Nope, never been on a high speed train but have ridden the Skunk Line thru the Gold Country. Probably the fastest I would feel comfortable on riding in a train.

I wasn't offended by what you said but thanks for understanding.

Actually, I have high praise for most everything Sam Matthews contributes. It's whenever there is a story, or photo, of Ives do I get a little "testy".
SpanningTree
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June 19, 2010
fortheunderdog,

I did not try to be sarcastic. I apologize if it appeared that way to you.

Have you tried high speed rail and would you like to share your high speed rail experience?
fortheunderdog
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June 19, 2010
Actually, anything dealing with Ives or a photo of the guy gives me my morning laugh.
fortheunderdog
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June 19, 2010
SpanningTree,

Are you serious or were you being sarcastic?

"one of the most influential articles written for the region"?

Either way, thanks for posting, it gave me my morning laugh.
SpanningTree
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June 19, 2010
Sam Matthews,

This piece will go down in history as one of the most influential articles ever written for the region.
Sneaky
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June 18, 2010
William,

that is a bit of a suspicious looking web address. I would sooner do a google search on "malware" and download the first thing I saw than go to the address you listed.

TomBenigno
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June 18, 2010
Concerned tax payers:

With economy in the toilet now these guys want to bring the bullet train to California. Who do you think Brent is lobbying for now?
williamhenaa
|
June 18, 2010
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