Spanish HSR Station & Tunnel Flood In Girona, Spain

Photo – Flooded High Speed Rail Station in Girona, Spain

By Richard F. Tolmach

Barcelona-Figueres AVE high-speed trains as well as all Spanish international TGV service was stopped for over a week, following heavy rain September 29 that flooded the Girona AVE station and blocked the six kilometer tunnel north of the station. About 15,000 riders were negatively affect- ed, and several hundred trains cancelled.

Renfe was initially forced to cancel all AVE (high speed) and AVANT (regional expresses) north of Barcelona, partly because the line was cut, partly because the entire local fleet was stranded in Figueres. By three days after the incident, water was drained from Girona AVE sta- tion and service was re-established to that point, using sets borrowed from Madrid. The fleet shortage and delays turning trains also somewhat disrupted and delayed Barcelona-Madrid AVE service.

The line north of Girona was more chal- lenging, because infrastructure operator ADIF had to clear 15 million gallons of water from the last mile of the tunnel, a process that lasted several more days. ADIF requested help from the army’s Emergency Military Unit (UME) which brought 84 sol- diers, 30 vehicles, a boat and an aircraft

to Girona. Its pumps were theoretically capable of moving 300,000 gallons an hour, but the distance between the closest access point and the water meant slower progress.

Conditions for travelers to Figueres and France were chaotic. Passengers were gen- erally redirected to conventional regional trains or bus shuttles, but without much warning. International passengers clogged both Girona and Perpignan stations, waiting for delayed buses to show up.

Between 2 and 4 inches of rain fell in the 24 hours preceding the tunnel problem. This certainly was not a 100-year storm, but set a record for more than decade, because the region has had low rainfall for years. Various streets and highways around Girona also flooded at the same time.

The Girona AVE station was particu- larly vulnerable to flooding because it was placed underground next to a watercourse. The conventional Renfe station above it, perched 20 feet above water level and with a modern viaduct connecting northward, was relatively unaffected.

The AVE station filled to platform level, approximating the appearance of a Venetian canal. The tunnel filled to 7 meters height, enough to submerge the catenary. Luckily, no trains were on the line at the time.

For three days, ADIF was silent on the cause of the flood, but then blamed the problem on city infrastructure. ADIF went so far as to claim that flooding of AVE through Girona acted to divert water from flooding city streets, which prevented “greater harm” to the city itself.

Girona Mayor Carles Puigdemont retort- ed, calling the ADIF statement “a shameful text that is an insult to public intelligence.”

Opening the line required overcoming many problems. The tunnels were filled with mud, which had to be cleaned with more water. Until the tunnels were dry, ADIF technicians couldn’t check damage caused to catenary or AVE’s electrical and signalling equipment.

Ironically, less than a week after the disaster, Girona hosted a summit of cit-
ies on high speed for which French par- ticipants had to arrive by bus. Girona Parliamentary representative Santi Vila believes that the AVE flood made the Rajoy administration “ridiculous in the eyes of the world.” In a speech before Parliament, he noted that Rajoy has made high speed rail its flagship project, and characterized the tunnel flood as a “collapse of a project of which [Rajoy] boasted until recently.”

Mayor Puigdemont not only criticized the AVE project for negligence, but for intrin- sic safety flaws in its design. He made
the point that many lives would had been in danger if the tunnel had flooded when trains were operating instead of overnight. The tunnel section below the river was one of the most expensive features of the line through Girona, but now seems to have become the Achilles heel of the project.

On October 10, the Girona City Council overwhelmingly passed a resolution stating that the event showed that the AVE line, although operating for 21 months through Girona, is clearly not completed and lacks essential safety provisions.

Officials characterized ADIF as having produced “totally unnecessary and unac- ceptable risk.” The text concludes by ask- ing ADIF to complete “immediately and urgently without further delay” remaining work especially in Central Park and in the neighborhood of Sant Narcís. It has been forwarded to the Minister for Public Works, Ana Pastor, the Ministry of Development and President of ADIF.

The resolution criticizes ADIF for resum- ing service without adequate security. Mayor Puigdemont was sent to Madrid to put ADIF on notice of the City’s concerns..

16th Century Dutch Invented Timed Transfers, Clock Headways

Photo – English Canal Boats (By Graham Horn)

NOT the Swiss.

From the September-November issue of TRAC’s California Rail News (

The Pursuit of Glory, Cambridge professor Tim Blanning’s 2007 study of baroque to modern Europe (Viking Press 2007, $39.95) provides revealing insight on timetable innovations and passenger amenities which predate railroads by over two centuries. Here are some choice excerpts:

“The Dutch economic historian Jan de Vries has reconstructed a journey under- taken in the mid-seventeenth century from Dunkirk, in … the Spanish Netherlands, to Amsterdam in the Dutch Republic.”

De Vries describes regular scheduled departures for most of the way. The barge pulled by four horses on the Bruges-Ghent canal, according to the contemporaneous British tourist Thomas Nugent was “the most remarkable boat of the kind in all of Europe; for it is a perfect tavern divided into several apartments, with a very good … [meal] at dinner of six or seven dishes, and all sorts of wine at moderate prices.”

Following a coach segment to Antwerp and two sailing segments onward toward Rotterdam, “on the following day he could once again benefit from fixed timetables. He took the 5 a.m. barge, the first departure of a scheduled service which left every hour on the hour for Delft, changed there for Leiden … finally reaching Amsterdam at 6:15 in the evening.” …

Blanning opines, “Once established, the idea that ‘time is money’ meant that coach or barge companies with an atti- tude of ‘we’ll start when I feel like it’ were doomed. Travelling by passenger-barge in the Dutch Republic in 1670, Sir William Temple wrote: ‘by this easie way of travelling, an industrious man loses no time from his business, for he writes and eats, or sleeps while he goes; whereas the time of laboring or industrious men is the greatest native commodity of any country.’”

Makes one wonder if there were any similar services in the Roman Empire, of which there is no record…

CHSRA CEO Morales Misses Point of TRAC Op-Ed

Instead of responding substantively to my piece in the Sacramento Bee on Monday, September 29th, California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) CEO Jeff Morales merely repeated his agency’s PR schtick. His article read like something written by CHSRA’s “Office of Communications” e.g., their PR flacks.

Reading between the lines, however, Mr. Morales’ article spoke volumes: by claiming “interest” in the HSR project by private companies and investors, he tacitly admitted that CHSRA actually has no commitments for private capital.

After some more verbal gesticulating including a specious claim that American Recovery & Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds can’t be moved to upgrading existing lines (a political choice by the Obama Administation, not a legal one), Morales failed to explain where CHSRA will get the $26 billion of public funds his plan calls for. This means that private investment is an utter pipe dream.

In short, if the courts are kind to CHSRA, they may manage to blow through $6 billion improving railroad service through downtown Fresno. After that, though, the current manifestation of HSR in California is dead in the water. CHSRA simply doesn’t have the money to build much more of its insanely expensive infrastructure, and has no idea where they will get any more money, public or private.

Another Claim: Private Sector Can’t Build High Speed Rail

In his recent response ( to TRAC’s opinion piece in the Sacramento Bee (see, blogger Robert Cruickshank claimed:

The idea that the private sector would pay for HSR tunnels from Bakersfield to LA is absurd. They are not going to pay billions to do so. It’s too big a lift, too much risk, for the private sector to pull off. I am skeptical of the claims made in Texas that HSR can be built without any public funds, but it’s more plausible there given that Texas has much less challenging geography than California – especially between Bakersfield and LA.

First of all, the private sector would NOT build long tunnels between Bakersfield and Los Angeles. Only a HSR plan apparently unconstrained by cost, and built by people with no experience in actual HSR construction and operations, would propose such a thing. Think of CHSRA…

Second, five years ago in 2009, SNCF America proposed a HSR system in California that could be constructed with a large percentage of private dollars. They also proposed similar, HSR networks in Texas, the Midwest and Florida. See

More details on SNCF’s California proposals and how they were covered up:

Blogger Robert Cruickshank Ignorant of TRAC’s Role In CA Rail Development

Photo – San Diego Trolley, which would not exist without the efforts of close TRAC collaborator State Senator Jim Mills, nor would the modern light rail transit renaissance starting in 1981.

Here is text of TRAC’s comments tonight on the California High Speed Rail Blog in response to criticism of our September 29th Sacramento Bee opinion article:

Robert said:
The TRAC plan is created by people who are way too caught up in small details and have lost sight of the bigger picture. Their ideas won’t go anywhere, of course. But it’s worth pointing out them why they’ve never been influential in Sacramento.

Robert, brush up on your California rail history. Rich Tolmach and TRAC, along with PCL were the sparkplugs behind the development and successful passage of Proposition 116 in 1990. Without the $2 billion in Prop 116 bond funds, the Capitol Corridor would simply not exist today at all, we’d still probably be stuck with only one or two San Joaquins, the Surfliners would probably be where they were 30-40 years ago (5-6 round trips per day, maybe), and a large number of transit projects would not have been built.

The same people, including Tolmach, who were involved with the Modern Transit Society (before creation of TRAC) successfully sold the concept of light rail in Sacramento, which opened in 1987. And without TRAC allies such as State Senator Jim Mills, the San Diego Trolley and the modern rebirth of light rail would never have occurred, or would have occurred much later than the 1980’s.

California’s High Speed Rail Controversy Resembles Debate Over Streetcars

Photo: A San Joaquin train at Bakersfield

On Monday, September 29th, the Sacramento Bee published an Op-Ed by TRAC (see pointing out that

California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA) Executive Director Jeff Morales admits that a high-speed rail line with a straight shot route from San Francisco to Los Angeles could conceivably have been accomplished privately. (

Continuing from our opinion piece,

He [Morales] noted dismissively that such a line “would have bypassed all those population centers” in the Central Valley, Antelope Valley and Gilroy. “All those population centers” however, when added together, constitute less than 10% of California’s population. So why would the CHSRA plan to build a route through these cities at enormous cost, if these locations don’t have that many potential passengers?

This resembles the ongoing argument over streetcars, e.g., “transportation vs. development.” For example, see

The CHSRA plan is designed to serve development potential in places like Gilroy, Los Banos (potentially), a string of Central Valley cities and the Antelope Valley. Unfortunately, the current HSR plan includes doglegs to these areas adding significantly to travel times, compared to the “straight shot route” advocated by TRAC via the Altamont Pass, I-5 corridor and Tejon Pass. CHSRA’s preferred routing makes it physically impossible to meet the HSR bond requirement for a 2 hour, 40 minute travel time between downtown San Francisco and downtown Los Angeles.

David Alpert in the Atlantic CityLab linked above says:

Matthew Yglesias wrote at Vox that streetcars aren’t worthwhile unless they have a dedicated lane. He called the streetcar on H Street in Washington, D.C. “the worst transit project in America.” Respected transit expert Jarrett Walker agrees, proclaiming that “streetcars mixed with private car traffic are overrated.”

And on this very website, Eric Jaffe pointed out that most of the newer U.S. streetcar systems, with a few exceptions, aren’t running frequently enough to meet the usual standards of good mass transit.

And Jarrett Walker points out the political limits of the Portland Streetcar (,

The streetcar has been extended up to the limits of usefulness for such a slow-by-design service (about 3.5 miles).  But there are no serious proposals for taking cars out of its lanes for enough distance to matter, nor is there much energy behind extensions.  Why?  

In Portland, support for streetcar spending has collapsed.  A recent Bureau of Transportation poll found that only 38% of Portland residents would assign a more-than-neutral priority to further expansions of the streetcar.  The same number for more frequent bus service is 67%.   (Light rail, in exclusive lanes by definition, is at 59%)

The Portland Streetcar has taught Portland residents a lot about what’s really matters as you define an “imperfect good.”  Listen to what they’ve learned:  Frequent, useful, reliable transit — using tools that scale to the scale of the whole city —  is the “imperfect good” that matters.

Historically, in the U.S. most promotion of the Portland Streetcar and other lines have focused on their development impacts, not improving transit speeds, frequencies or reliability. While encouraging new walkable development around transit stops in downtown and other areas is desirable, expensive rail transit lines should also actually bring significant improvements in transit service.

In a similar vein, what Jeff Morales has admitted that in the current CHSRA plan for high speed rail, development potential has trumped improved transportation and the potential to obtain private investment to reduce the burden and risk to taxpayers.

An additional irony is that those arguing in favor of the current CHSRA plan (for example, see the California High Speed Rail Blog by Robert Cruickshank at have fallen for the “Fresno Fallacy.” That is, “all HSR trains have to serve Fresno” despite the fact that trips between Fresno, the Bay Area, Sacramento and Southern California in less than three hours would be possible with 110 mph upgrades to current service and the more efficient HSR routings via the Altamont and Tejon Passes.

Bringing More Train Travel To California