SFO, A missed opportunity for HSR



In an effort to cut costs the CHSRA has predominantly chosen routes along existing ROWs. This generally lowers construction costs, decreases the chances of construction delays, reduces the probability of going over budget, and is (usually) less controversial than other route options. Nevertheless, there are cases where this is taken too far – where the plans should be improved – even if there are additional costs. The SFO airport connection is a prime example.

In the coming days and weeks this site will develop a special segment discussing the HSR-to-airport connection issue at SFO. We will explain why luggage transfers, plane-to-train bookings, and airline ticket check-ins are not feasible at the planned Millbrae-SFO HSR Station, and how having HSR stop at Millbrae proposes other problems. Additionally, we will examine how going into SFO will cut travel times and may reduce costs in the long-run. Then, we will propose a tentative plan.


Stay tuned.


Also

Take a look at this article over the at the Transport Politic. It discusses France’s debacle with the same problem.

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9 Responses to “HSR @ SFO: a missed opportunity for HSR”


  1. 1 Adirondacker April 24, 2009 at 4:11 pm

    If I’m looking at it right, your proposed HSR station is at the far end of terminal two. Great if you are going to the far end of terminal two. Not so great if you are going someplace else. Long Long walk to the on airport people mover. It would make much more sense to leave HSR on the Caltrain ROW and extend the people mover to the HSR station. Whether that’s a new station just outside the airport or at Millbrae.

    • 2 switchingmodes April 25, 2009 at 1:26 pm

      This puts the trains just as close as any planes (you could walk between terminals) and creates the space for a modern terminal with modern amenities. It allows for luggage transfers and integrated ticket booking systems with sites like Orbits. Not many people will use separate bookings and transfer their luggage, especially not business passengers who account for most air traffic – no, these people will continue to drive to SFO. Also, HSR is a redundant service at Millbrae, people could just transfer trains at Diridon or the TBT (and maybe Redwood City or Palo Alto) to get to Millbrae; and Millbrae is already linked to SFO via BART. This plan offers something better and something different. How many times does HSR have to link with Caltrain? It only has one opportunity to link with SFO and that should be done right.

      • 3 Adirondacker April 27, 2009 at 11:44 pm

        … if you can walk between terminals why did they spend all that money on Airtrain? Why didn’t they plop the BART station where you are proposing a HSR station?

        This puts the trains just as close as any planes

        Inside secured areas? I’m sure the TSA and the airlines are gonna love that.

        It allows for luggage transfers

        Is HSR going to have checked bags?

        integrated ticket booking systems with sites like Orbits.

        All they have to do is make HSR another “airline” and code share with airlines. Or the same way they let you book rental cars, hotels. Where the station is doesn’t have much to do with booking your trip.

        these people will continue to drive to SFO

        They aren’t hoping to get the local market. They are hoping to get the market between SFO and places like Fresno. Airline gets you from Fresno to SFO in an hour and seven minutes. HSR is proposing to do it in an hour and nine minutes.

        transfer their luggage, especially not business passengers who account for most air traffic – no, these people will continue to drive to SFO.

        The parking lots are not at the gates. If you park your car you are in for a longer walk than the one from Airtrain.

        How many times does HSR have to link with Caltrain?

        I don’t know. How many times does Acela have to link with Amtrak regional trains and NJ Transit? Or regionals and Metro North? Or with regional trains and SEPTA? Or regionals and MBTA. Or with regional trains and MARC?

        It only has one opportunity to link with SFO and that should be done right.

        Yes at an intermodal station where people from Colma can transfer from BART to Caltrain, HSR or an airline. Where people from South San Francisco can transfer from Caltrain to BART, HSR or an airline. Where people from Fresno can transfer to BART or Caltrain or an airline. I suspect the airporter buses from places like Santa Rosa will be stopping at the HSR station too.

      • 4 switchingmodes April 28, 2009 at 7:49 am

        … if you can walk between terminals why did they spend all that money on Airtrain? Why didn’t they plop the BART station where you are proposing a HSR station?

        This puts the trains just as close as any planes

        There is already an AirTrain stop at Terminal 2. No need to expand the AirTrain system if Terminal 2 is used. That they didn’t build the BART station at Terminal 2 was partially a mistake because not having trains that pass through the airport on their way to Millbrae has been operationally troublesome for BART and requires an extra transfer for Caltrain riders. However, in the BART to SFO case it would have been logistically very difficult to build the station at Terminal 2. Furthermore, at they time they were building the International Terminal which allowed for BART to be integrated into the design. HSR at Terminal Two makes sense because IT IS MORE DIRECT – IT CUTS TRAVEL TIME BETWEEN SF AND LA AND AVOIDS CORNERS THAT WOULD REQUIRE HSR TO SLOW TO AS LOW AS 70MPH. It’s also convenient that you can walk between planes and trains. And besides, Terminal 2 isn’t being used. It would be an amazing spot for a world-class HSR station.

        Inside secured areas? I’m sure the TSA and the airlines are gonna love that.

        Terminal 2 does not have to be a secured area. Passengers could either exit to non-secured areas AND/OR secured areas. If, upon exiting, security check-in areas were available this would help free the crammed spaces for security check-in at the older terminals.

        It allows for luggage transfers

        Is HSR going to have checked bags?

        Yes. Even many regular Amtrak trains do and it is internationally standard practice to offer this service. There are also a few HSR to Airport links that offer baggage transfer service with layovers as short as 45 min. Offering checked baggage is essentially a requirement because disabled people or people who just pack too much baggage can’t handle their own baggage easily and quickly… without checked baggage there is potential for delay.

        integrated ticket booking systems with sites like Orbits.

        All they have to do is make HSR another “airline” and code share with airlines. Or the same way they let you book rental cars, hotels. Where the station is doesn’t have much to do with booking your trip.

        Can’t be done. Those three digit codes are only issued in cases were the train terminal is physically connected to the terminal… there has to be a way to walk between gates, and a way to transfer luggage for the same airport code to be issued. AirTrains (or similar systems) can be offered, but they can’t be mandatory. Thus, BART and/or the AirTrain to Millbrae would count as an extra transfer. I believe this has to do with delays and disabled passengers – you would have to build a dedicated walkway and allow “golf carts” to whisk delayed/handicap passengers between Millbrae and SFO which is obviously not feasible.

        For booking sites, explaining this MAY be possible, but it lowers the convenience and thus value of HSR for transfer passengers. Many people who fly demand maximum convenience and thus airlines will continue to offer short haul flights that duplicate HSR routes to feed passengers to their longer distance – and more profitable – flights.

        these people will continue to drive to SFO

        They aren’t hoping to get the local market. They are hoping to get the market between SFO and places like Fresno. Airline gets you from Fresno to SFO in an hour and seven minutes. HSR is proposing to do it in an hour and nine minutes.

        They’re hoping for as much as they can get. Bringing HSR to SFO would attract riders from SF to LA and everywhere in between. There are many destinations around the world, such as in Asia, that you can’t get to from LAX: you have to fly to SFO first anyways. Additionally, the Fresno area has poor air connections. Personally, I know of many people who drive from Sacramento to SFO to catch a flight. We should try and cut down on that. HSR going to Millbrae might attract some of this market, but not enough. There is also potential for the local market: if people can check-in their baggage and chec-in for their flight at the TBT or Diridon, I think many people will.

        transfer their luggage, especially not business passengers who account for most air traffic – no, these people will continue to drive to SFO.

        The parking lots are not at the gates. If you park your car you are in for a longer walk than the one from Airtrain.

        Not true. First of all AirTrain goes to the parking lots and the parking lots allow you to park relatively near your gate. Second of all, many people get dropped off because it so convenient and often because parking is so expensive. That means there are many automobile trips that go to the airport TWICE just for one flight. We should try and cut down on that. HSR in SFO can.

        How many times does HSR have to link with Caltrain?

        I don’t know. How many times does Acela have to link with Amtrak regional trains and NJ Transit? Or regionals and Metro North? Or with regional trains and SEPTA? Or regionals and MBTA. Or with regional trains and MARC?

        You miss the point here: linking with HSR with Caltrain at Millbrae doesn’t offer much. It’s redundant. On the other hand, linking HSR to SFO DOES offer something different in the Bay Area – it is a new service that will be used to expand the HSR market. Caltrain at Millbrae may disperse the market between those two modes, but it has little ability to expand it. If BART did not go to SFO you might have a point, but it does. Caltrain can be reached at two or three other points at HSR stops (and Millbrae via BART).

        It only has one opportunity to link with SFO and that should be done right.

        Yes at an intermodal station where people from Colma can transfer from BART to Caltrain, HSR or an airline. Where people from South San Francisco can transfer from Caltrain to BART, HSR or an airline. Where people from Fresno can transfer to BART or Caltrain or an airline. I suspect the airporter buses from places like Santa Rosa will be stopping at the HSR station too.

        This goes back to the point above: people from all these places can transfer between HSR and these other modes at other locations. Someone from Fresno for example can transfer at Diridon in San Jose (and possibly Palo Alto or Redwood City). Someone from South San Francisco can get to either the airport or Millbrae just about as easily. In fact, for local passenger SFO might be easier because of its’ excellent freeway ramps that connect to highway 101. With HSR in SFO these ramps would be used HSR just as they can be used for air travel. It would be great if the Marin Airporter (for example) stopped at HSR stations, but that requires an extra stop and traveling on surface roads in Millbrae. Why not centralize non-regional travel at the airport so airporter service don’t have to complicate their existing service?

        If you have any more question, let me know. Thanks – your enthusiasm on this subject is appreciated!

  2. 5 Jarrett at HumanTransit April 30, 2009 at 4:56 am

    I don’t want to crush your enthusiasm, but rapid transit at airports is mainly about serving employees, not passengers. They’re popular projects because lots of people can imagine riding the once or twice a year, but the reliable daily patronage comes from airport-area employees. BART’s SFO extension has done poorly in part because it wasn’t relevant to many airport employee commutes, and isn’t particularly useful for reaching non-terminal employment destinations.

    HSR’s target market almost completely excludes commuters; the ticket prices will be much too high for daily use by all but the most affluent riders, just as they are on TGV or Eurostar.

    So you will have to justify this underground station entirely with air passengers making fairly long trips. Who exactly will take the HSR to SFO to catch a flight? Not many people from within the Bay Area; HSR intentionally doesn’t stop enough to efficiently gather people from that distance, and they’ll have a range of taxi, shuttle, and transit options.

    Will people from Southern California take HSR to SFO to fly somewhere? Not likely when most of the same range of flights is available from their airports.

    So are these people from Fresno and Bakersfield? That makes some sense, but if the air market continues to grow, they’ll also see growth in their own direct services to other hub airports for a lot of their domestic air travel. Fresno already has nonstop flights to Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Denver, for example, and you can get to much of North America via one of those airports.

    Remember too that when you load airport infrastructure costs onto air ticket prices (as would have to happen in some form to fund your station) you scare discount airlines away. SFO will probably always be a relatively expensive airport anyway, so a CHEAP ticket from Fresno to almost anywhere else in North America will probably via Las Vegas or Denver or Phoenix, not SFO.

    No question: someone traveling from Fresno or Bakersfield to somewhere overseas will definitely find HSR to SFO attractive. Are you sure there are enough of those people, EVERY day, on EVERY train, to justify such an expensive station?

    Honestly, I can’t see why SFO would be interested. Airtrain to Millbrae is not a bad option given the marginal size of the market.

    • 6 switchingmodes April 30, 2009 at 10:05 am

      Will people from Southern California take HSR to SFO to fly somewhere? Not likely when most of the same range of flights is available from their airports

      If HSR went into the airport in the way I suggested, I do not think those same range of flights would be offered. Airlines often lose money on those flights but keep them just to feed their higher profit long-distant flights. Thus, while this plan may result in even higher premium ticket fares at SFO, it would be because of flying out of SFO would be more profitable: an airline wouldn’t have to use up so much gate space for LA/SAC/SD to SFO feeder flights.

      Who exactly will take the HSR to SFO to catch a flight? Not many people from within the Bay Area; HSR intentionally doesn’t stop enough to efficiently gather people from that distance, and they’ll have a range of taxi, shuttle, and transit options.

      HSR will definitely stop in San Francisco, and San Jose. These are large markets. If people can book a ticket from these locations, check their baggage from these locations, and check in to their flight from these locations, many people will choose this option rather than taking the longer drive, especially if it right in their face on Orbitz for only $25 or so. And while SF and SJ are big markets, in the future HSR may cross the Bay to Oakland, or there may be a Dumbarton rail connection to East Bay.

      HSR’s target market almost completely excludes commuters; the ticket prices will be much too high for daily use by all but the most affluent riders, just as they are on TGV or Eurostar.

      I think you are correct that BART is mainly for workers, but HSR is different service – it’s not an alternative to the car, it’s a better option, it appeals to affluent commuters. When something is better people will make the switch. Millbrae is just not convenient enough to be better than driving to the airport.

      So are these people from Fresno and Bakersfield? That makes some sense, but if the air market continues to grow, they’ll also see growth in their own direct services to other hub airports for a lot of their domestic air travel. Fresno already has nonstop flights to Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Denver, for example, and you can get to much of North America via one of those airports.

      Yes, there will be passengers from Fresno and Bakersfield, but also places like Sacramento as well. Will there be tens of thousands these passengers a day? – no, probably not. But SFO has far more flight options then the airports you just mentioned and would be more convenient than taking a connecting to flight to one of these other airports (if HSR goes into the airport), so people will use the HSR service. I don’t have the data, yet, but I believe many people drive long distances, sometimes 100 miles for more to get to SFO, this plan would cut down on that.

      BUT is it financially viable?
      Lets see:
      1.) Lets say that the HSR station allows a $1+ premium to be commanded on each ticket through SFO because the airlines are happy not to have to offer some connecting flights to places in LA/SD/SAC and lets just say that most of the $1 (or exactly $1) ends up in the hands of the SFO airport in the form of higher gate fees, so they receive $1 extra per passenger at SFO. Almost 40 million people flew through SFO last year, and with some flights replaced by larger long-haul flights, lets say that SFO now handles a firm 40 million passengers a year over the long-run and thus they receive $40 million per year in extra gate fees.

      2.) Lets say that just 4-5% of the passengers that use the airport now arrive via the HSR line that goes right into the airport. That’s about 5,000 passengers a day. Now lets say that each of these passengers, in the price of their ticket, pays a $5 ‘gate fee’ to use this station. So SFO commands just over $9 million per year in extra ‘gate fees’.

      3.) Now, lets say that there is extra capacity on the HSR system being built. (This isn’t Japan, so that’s likely). Now, lets just say that only half of the 5,000 more passengers a day using the HSR station are only using it because of the EXTRA convenience of it being inside the airport (2500 passengers). So, and lets say that after the booking fees, gate fees, etc HSR earns $20 per passenger. This amounts to apx. $18 million dollars per year. NOW – I know a lot of people will say, what if there isn’t extra capacity? Well then, you sell ALL tickets at higher prices – demand is higher so you can do this, and that nets this money just the same.

      4.) Now lets say that those 2500 people who are now taking HSR to the airport would have driven if they didn’t take HSR to the airport. And let’s just throw out a figure, let’s say that it costs just over $5 in wear and tear on our roads and carbon emitted into the environment by driving. That amounts to $5 million dollars per year.

      5.) Now let’s say that if Millbrae was used as a HSR stop BART opens a shuttle line between Millbrae and SFO, but that it loses money and costs BART just over $5 per rider because a whole train is used for this service. There are 2500 riders, and BART is losing $5 million per year by operating this service.

      6.) Now lets say that just 50 million people (which is lower than what is expected via the CHSRA) take the trip between SF and anywhere south of SFO each year on HSR and that each of these passengers save 3-minutes because the SFO route is more direct and avoids some slow corners. Now let’s say that a person’s time who is taking HSR is worth $20 per hour on average. Any time that a person saves on the trip is transferred to higher ticket prices. This amounts to exactly $1 extra per passenger, or $50 million per year.

      That is a net benefit of $127 million per year. If we amortize that at 5% over 100 years that is $2.5 billion in present value (assuming my math is right). That should be enough to cover the additional costs of the station inside SFO as opposed to Millbrae – which, keep in mind, would not be free either.
      YES – there are a lot of assumptions here, but I think this back of the envelope calculation is fairly reasonable. GOING INTO SFO IS A BETTER IDEA

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