MNTRC Newsletter Vol. 21, Issue 2: Fall 2014

San Jose State University News

Preparing for high-speed rail

Karen E. Philbrick, PhD, Executive Director

As California prepares to build its high-speed rail (HSR) system, much of the future success of that system depends on its ability to effect “modal shift – that is, to entice passengers away from other transportation modes, such as air, bus and auto.

Artist rendering of proposed California high-speed rail engine

Study suggests HSR may entice the public to switch transportation modes.

MTI research associate Dr. Peter Haas reviewed existing scholarly research on HSR and modal shift, with an emphasis on the most recent findings. His study, Modal Shift and High-Speed Rail: A Review of the Current Literature, points to the conclusion that, under many circumstances, HSR presents a significant competitive challenge to other modes and often provides noteworthy advantages.

HSR can displace other modes

When HSR is the faster alternative—particularly with respect to total time from point of origin to final destination—it typically attracts a large, if not majority share of travelers on a given route. Lower total travel costs for HSR can increase this advantage. Evidence also points to the ability of HSR systems to displace use of automobiles.

These findings raise the question of what can be done to best prepare for the arrival of HSR. To that end, MTI research associate Dr. Anastasis Loukaitou-Sideris has been tasked with studying best practices of blended High Speed Rail (HSR) systems around the world to identify appropriate types of station infrastructure and services that will improve intermodal connectivity and offer optimal travel experience for California’s HSR passengers.

Blended approach requires careful planning

The integration of high-speed trains with existing intercity and commuter/regional rail systems in a blended system offers the advantages of higher connectivity as well as potentially lower capital costs and decreased adverse environmental and urban form impacts. 

However, a blended approach requires careful pre-planning to achieve a high degree of coordination in operations and passenger services. It also requires station infrastructure that accommodates smooth transitions between the different modes. While not much research exists on issues of intermodality in the context of HSR systems, a number of blended HSR systems exist and operate successfully around the world.

Study may offer insights for California HSR

Under the working title, Promoting Intermodal Connectivity at California’s High Speed Rail Stations, this in-process study seeks to identify and study successful examples of HSR blended systems from Spain and Germany, two countries with dense HSR networks operating on shared-use tracks. The purpose is to compare different models of blended systems and draw lessons from the ways they have addressed infrastructural, operational, and spatial challenges.

Additionally, the study will examine two major multi-modal transit stations in California—Transbay Terminal in San Francisco and Union Station in Los Angeles-- to understand their current capacities and operations and better appreciate how lessons from international contexts can be adjusted to California realities.


Mineta Summer Transportation Institute helps students move forward

Jack Aiello, STI Coordinator
STI students at San Jose City Hall

Students took career inspiration from transportation-related sites, such as the Intersolar Exhibit in San Francisco.

A class of 25 Summer Transportation Institute (STI) students learned that transportation careers can make a positive difference in the local environment. This year’s STI included classroom lectures as well as several field trips.

While in training, the high school students earned three college credits for an Introduction to Environmental Studies class from San Jose State University (SJSU). Most of them are from the under-represented populations in the East Side Union High School District. The results of their class work show that they are rising well to the challenge of college-level education.

Several transportation professionals met with the group, including pilots, innovators, and engineers. Some of these professionals are seeking to improve traffic congestion through technology, such as the Spartan Superway, an automated solar-powered podcar system created by SJSU students. Field trips helped the students to engage in several transportation modes, including walking tours, Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) light rail and buses, and private motor coaches. The students also engaged in hands-on activities and presentations.

For example, the walking tour of the LEED Platinum certified San Jose City Hall left the students visibly impressed as they viewed the city from the 18th floor mayor’s office. They also asked many questions of their docents as they stopped at the City Council Chambers. The information and field trips will help them decide on their future transportation careers.

Those field trips included the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) construction project in San Jose, the light rail project to the new Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, an all-day exploration into aviation careers at Reid Hillview Airport, and to the intersolar exhibits in San Francisco, which had special displays on the Spartan Superway, electric vehicle charging stations, and the 16th anniversary of the solar cell. The costs for most of these silicon-based solar cells have been dramatically reduced by manufacturing equipment produced here in Silicon Valley.

Students also visited the Google corporate campus to learn about the potential for driverless cars and about the many careers in computer sciences that relate to automated transportation. They also learned about California’s high-speed rail project and how it will affect future travel and the environment.

STI benefits these students not only by introducing them to a university campus, but also by helping them become familiar with transportation careers while they are still in high school. They discovered how mass transit systems are helping to solve traffic congestion, reduce greenhouse gases, and providing many excellent careers. They also were introduced to the ways in which local government impacts transportation.

For some students, this was their first introduction to a university and the first time they’d seriously participated in career-related training.