Sunday, May 11, 2008

Arnold Marvels at HSR

NOTE: We've moved! Visit us at the California High Speed Rail Blog.

From our friends at the Overhead Wire comes this Financial Times op-ed gem. Arnold Schwarzenegger was talking about a recent trip to France that included a ride on the TGV with Nicolas Sarkozy:

“I could not believe we were going at 350km an hour,” the erstwhile film action hero marvelled.

The Overhead Wire's reaction:

Believe it Governor, and make it happen here.

Amen to that. Of course, Arnold, Fiona Ma could have told you about going 575 kph. Our plan doesn't promise anything nearly that ambitious, but 350km an hour, which is what ours DOES offer, is worth Arnold's full-throated support. The legislature and the CHSRA have been busy changing the implementation plan to suit Arnold's demands, especially on private sector involvement. It's time for Arnold to come out strongly for HSR and in particular for the bond measure on the November ballot.

Programming Note: High speed rail will be the topic of discussion on KQED's Forum with Michael Krasny Monday morning at 9AM. The guest list includes Quentin Kopp, Lee Harrington of the SoCal Leadership Council, and Erik Nelson, aka the Capricious Commuter. According to Nelson, noted HSR denier Martin Engel was invited to be a guest but refused. That's pretty gutless. But it shouldn't be surprising, considering that Martin's site does not allow comments, doesn't even provide a way to contact the site's authors. Not only is it a very 1995 approach to the Internet, but it's a sign that the HSR critics are not confident in their arguments. Whereas here, we welcome all comments on the topic. We have nothing to hide, we have nothing to fear.


Anonymous said...

My guess is Arnold may do what politicians often do: endorse a policy/ballot initiative only when zhey're fairly confident it already enjoys sufficient public support and then, take credit for it. That wouldn't be leadership and many voters would recognize it as opportunistic.

However, the Governator could yet make HSR his personal legacy if he actively started campaigning for it no later than early September. That gives CHSRA another 100 days to firm up private backing while legislators lay the groundwork for securing federal funding.

In this context, firm backing means a memorandum of understanding to invest a specified amount in a specified manner at a specified time, conditioned on passage of the ballot initiative.

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

It's interesting, a lot of folks on the anti-transit side are against comments. For example, there is a fairly well known anti-transit site in Austin run by a former Tech CEO that parrots Randall O'Toole talking points. There is not place for comment. It seems to me that for some reason they just don't want to hear the other side, or they are afraid of their readers hearing the other side.

bmfarley said...

^^^ Do they HAVE readers?

It could be that they do not have any; at least ones with similar thoughts as their own.

Robert Cruickshank said...

I suspect you're right about Arnold's plans, anonymous. I also agree it would be smart for him to make HSR his legacy - since as far as I can tell, he has absolutely nothing else positive to leave as a legacy. At this rate his term in office is going to be defined by the destruction of California's public sector and economic struggle.

It is sad that so many anti-transit folks aren't willing to defend their arguments in open online dialogue. I've always welcomed Martin Engel's contributions in our comments here, even when he's been totally wrong.

bmfarley said...

I read the Financial Times article referencing Arnold's comments. I am not convinced as others that he is behind HSR.

The comments were overheard by the writer and could have been taken out of context. And given the circle Arnold was in during that comment, it wouldn't suprise me.
He was with French President Sarkozy.

However, I wish it to be true.

bmfarley said...

I wish I cold edit that comment. I would add

I am cautiously optomistic, but not yet entirely convinced he'll come out and support HSR as we approach November.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Arnold has been playing games with HSR since he took office. He repeatedly claims to support the concept but has been reluctant to commit to the financing plan and the bond vote. I like playing up statements such as the one quoted in the FT article because it helps push Arnold into a corner - shows voters that he has said good things about the concept, and therefore should not hesitate to embrace the bond package on the November ballot.

It's the "more flies with honey" approach. Of course, I have been known to use a more combative approach as well...

bmfarley said...

Most elected officials have aids keeping tabs on various web sites with blogs.. For various reasons, but, most notably to gather information... see who is saying what about something and so forth.

I would expect some have registered on the Yahoo HSR Support page to have news/op'eds forwarded to them. Maybe they'll come here too? Maybe they already have?

Anonymous said...

I just listened to the recording of this morning's KQED Forum discussion on High Speed Rail. Quentin Kopp, chairman of the CHSRA, mentioned twice that the upcoming AB 3034 prohibits stations between Merced and San Jose. It actually prohibits them between Merced and Gilroy, where there will be a station.

Moreover, Judge Kopp responded to an audience question about how narrow the I-5 Grapevine (Tejon Pass) is by expressing his full confidence in the engineering work done so far. In fact, the chosen route uses Tehachapi Pass rather than the Grapevine - for sound safety engineering, environmental and economic reasons that he didn't go into at all.

He also re-emphasized that the SF-LA fare would be $55 in 2020 dollars, which at 3% inflation translates to just $28 in today's money. That is far less than a discount airline ticket plus taxes and fuel surcharges, or even the raw fuel cost of driving.

Perhaps HSR will offer some extra-low fares to passengers belonging to socially disadvantaged groups, but nominal fares will almost certainly be based on a cost-benefit comparison with the alternatives, i.e. flying and driving. There's no reason to leave money on the table, nor any to encourage frivolous travel or long-distance commuting. HSR should be the cash cow that allows the state to subsidize local commuter rail upgrades and operations and, to fund additional rail freight capacity for the ports of LA and Oakland.

I was left wondering if Quentin Kopp is merely a slick ex-politician glossing over potential problems or, an old man who cannot memorize important details of the project he's responsible for. Either way, afaiac his personal manner did not inspire confidence.

Michael Kiesling said...

The fare quoted is for modeling purposes. The initial EIR needed to divine the number of passengers who would choose HSR given a set fare and travel time, relative to flying and driving. The fare is then used to calculate the income from the system to figure if the passengers attracted would pay for the service. Even though the models were updated recently, they didn't assume anything CLOSE to today's fuel prices. $4/gallon makes flying cheaper today SF-LA than driving solo.

The HSR fare is not a made up number. If you follow the previous paragraph, if anything, the assumption of the really low fare means that cheap HSR tickets will make the system money. Raising the fare some will make it more money. Of course, at some point, raise the fare high enough and you drive off customers, but what do you think the cost of jet fuel or gasoline will be in 2020?

Also, PLEASE make up a name or use your real name when posting. Everyone using "anonymous" is a bit confusing.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Yes, definitely put a name - even a pseudonym - instead of anonymous. I am going to write post about this later today.

As to Kopp, I was listening to the show intermittently (it comes and goes along Highway 101 between Salinas and Gilroy) but I did catch his repeated references to "no station between Merced and San José." That annoyed me.

But overall I thought Kopp did pretty well, especially given that there is SO much ignorance and misinformation out there on the subject. And none of the others on the show - including Michael Krasny - showed much in the way of solid knowledge about the project.

Kopp is an experienced politician and has a reputation for not putting up with BS, even if he's not always solid on his own data. In this sense I think he's a good person to have as CHSRA chair - they need someone who is forceful, with a presence, and not willing to tolerate idiocy.

Tony D. said...

Back to Arnold,
If the man wants to take credit for HSR and make it part of his legacy, that's fine with me; Let's just get the bond passed come November and have HSR become a reality! Robert, anon 3:39 brings up an interesting thought in that HSR would become the "cash cow" for subsidizing local commuter rail upgrades and operations. Could the Santa Clara County VTA and Silicon Valley Leadership Group be banking on the passage of the HSR bond to help CONSTRUCT AND OPERATE BART to San Jose? We here in SCCo. always hear from local pols that we'll know more about the future of BART come the end of this year. Makes you wonder what they know that we don't. Lastly Robert, this question was asked a few posts back: do you foresee HSR opening in segments or as a whole?

Robert Cruickshank said...

I suppose it's possible that some in Santa Clara County think they can use HSR to subsidize their own pet projects. Problem is they're going to have a LOT of competition for that. Caltrain is expecting to leverage HSR into electrification of their own system. Folks along the ACE corridor expect the same thing, same in SoCal. They will ALL have to fight with the CHSRA and the state legislature over HSR profits, which will most likely be plowed into bond repayment, private investor dividends, and funding of future extensions. I would be surprised, therefore, if VTA is able to get their hands on much of that money.

VTA has a better shot at some the $950 million in the non-HSR portions of the November bond but again they're not the only hungry agencies eyeing that juicy morsel.

As to the opening of the system, yes, it will almost certainly open in segments. BART did that form 1972-74, and the Spanish AVE line from Madrid to Barcelona did so from 2005 to 2008 (first to Zaragoza, then Lleida, and only this year did it open all the way to Barcelona Sants).

This is not such a bad thing. Opening it in pieces is smart because it gets folks on the system early, therefore building support for future phases of the system.

bmfarley said...

Robert has it right. Any excess revenue from fares will first go toward repaying bond debt. Then future extensions.

The best opportunity VTA has to dip their straw into the funding pot is out of the $950 million for other rail ransit improvements intended to support connections to the HSR system.

And, I believe I read in AB 3034, or another public source, that funding would be apportioned by formula to rail transit operators. By passenger miles come to mind.

Elligible operators include:
- Sacramento RTD
- SF Muni
- Caltrain
- LA MTA & Metrolink
- SD MTS / Trolley
- NCTD Coaster

I believe the Caltrans operated services may be elligible too; Surfliner, Starlight, etc.

When sufficient revenues are generated beyond debt and HSR extensions, and if funds are not diverted to the States' general funds, I would suspect a competitive grant process opened up to the same eligible rail operators cited above, and/or, funds diverted to the states transportation improvement program (STIP).

morris Brown said...


Martin Engel is out of town on the east coast. He left last Saturday, and is out of contact on family business. He would have been more than happy to appear on Forum, I am sure, if had known about the invitation.

Hopefully there will be more programs in which discussion can take place.

Contacts with can be made through the join section or to

I can be reached at


morris brown