Sunday, June 29, 2008

June 2008 CHSRA Meeting Report

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

Dennis Lytton attended the CHSRA board meeting in Los Angeles on June 11, and wrote up this report of the meeting. The next meeting is July 8 in San Francisco. Thanks to Dennis for writing this! - Robert

HSR Board Meeting in LA:
The Spain/California Connection and the Coming Campaign


Early this month the High Speed Rail board traveled to Los Angeles Metro Headquarters for their monthly board meeting.

Newly appointed board member Tom Umberg was at the meeting. The board also voted, wisely, to keep Judge Kopp as chair.

It was also heartening to hear Republican appointee to the board Curt Pringle rail against UP’s opposition to the project. This is an opportunity for both the state and UP, Pringle opined. Things seem to have changed in the last several months as climate change and oil prices have brought mainstream Republicans in Congress together on boosting rail and public transit recently (see below). Maybe the state’s Republicans will finally come around.

In other business, the Authority entered into an agreement with Fresno COG to cooperate on their project to consolidate the two freight railroads together, BNSF and UP. Potentially, like the Alameda Corridor, this could lead to better passenger and freight train service while reducing the rail lines' already small footprint (compared to freeways) through their community.

There was a fascinating presentation from the Infrastructure Management Group and Lehman Bros. They were hired as consultants by the Authority for the issue of bringing private equity investment into HSR. Their presentation to the board was based on the responses they received to their Request for Expression of Interest (RFEI), sort of like a pre-RFQ (request for qualifications). Diverse operators and contractors, including SNCF (the French National Railway), Britain’s Angel Trains, and giants like Alstom, Parsons, and Goldman Sachs responded.

Long story short, there's lots of interest in it but it would require at least 60% public financing. Probably at least 75%, IMHO. The good news is that if we get both the bond money and a matching federal amount under veto proof legislation (S.294 and HR 6003) pending in the Congress we are there. $20 billion S.F. to L.A. and beyond to Sacto and San Diego.

There was also a presentation from the L.A. to Palmdale consultant team on their planning work for the first several miles of the alignment north of Los Angeles Union Station. The Taylor Yards region around the current Metrolink yard has been a social justice issue for the neighboring Glassel Park neighborhood in Los Angeles. The consultants recognized the need to expand the developing Taylor Yards Park and also access to the L.A. River and are working with local stakeholders and elected officials staff to this end.

There was also a great presentation on the Spanish HSR system presented by Spanish HSR contractors and train manufacturers Talgo, Insolux Corsan, and Renfe. The Spanish will soon have the largest HSR system in the world. They have the added complication of having multiple track gauges in Spain, which we don’t have. More importantly however, Spain and California are comparable in terms of area and population. Spain's conventional railways were also in poor shape by European standards 20 years ago.

At the end of the meeting I made public comment for my two groups, the National Association of Railroad Passengers (NARP), and the Rail Passenger Association of California (RailPac). We are supporting getting the bond passed this November and are looking forward to working with the campaign and the grassroots/netroots on this important issue.

Also, reportedly, the campaign machine for HSR is ramping up. Kopp and Umberg are looking forward to a vigorous and well funded campaign for the project and expect some Republican support to be garnered up by board member and former Assembly Speaker Curt Pringle.

Just a few months ago I would have been doubtful about California Republican support. However, with the way gas and climate change have gone lately, and with Congressional Republicans recently joining House Democrats to pass a bill to aid local transit agencies to the tune of $1.7 billion over two years by a vote of 322-98, you’re got to wonder whether the anything-but-transit/trains Republicans like Tom McClintock will still dominate.

Dennis Lytton

10 comments:

pat moore said...

This is the reason why contrary to years past - the airlines may be very open to the idea of running the HSR system as a substitute for running the competing planes. At the plane ticket prices they will need to charge + the airport delays driving LA-SF is nearly competitive with flying LAX-SFO.

Some more thoughts are here.

Rob Dawg said...

This is an opportunity for both the state and UP, Pringle opined.

What can UP expect to get out of cooperating?

pat moore said...

Why should UP disagree at this point? The state might come in with $2B to buy ROW. UP can afford to talk. They know that the state can NOT use eminent domain. So if UP acts agreeable they loss nothing and are in the room negotiating.

I would be very worried about what they *are* asking for behind those close doors.

Anonymous said...

UP certainly is not going to deal. They are making money hand over fist and being able to be 10 times more fuel efficient, even running diesel power, over trucks they are looking forward to using this ROW for their own purposes. The same is true for the Sante Fe RR.

Why this blog keeps saying the airlines want to give up on short hauls is just nonsense. I note the ATA is opposing HSR because they see it as pure competition to their members, and it is publicly subsidized competition.

Brandon M. Farley said...

^^^
UP would be, or is, negotiating from a position of strength. Further, their industry is pressed to become more effecient with more and more goods being shipped via rail versus trucks..., requiring more rail, sidings, etc.

If I were UP, I would be protecting my ROW... not giving it up. And, I don't think they are motivated to sell... or find cooperative ways to share their ROW.

They may be interested in leveraging CAHSR need for some of their ROW for improvements elsewhere in their network... to improve effeceincies and what-not???

Rob Dawg said...

Long story short, there's lots of interest in it but it would require at least 60% public financing. Probably at least 75%, IMHO. The good news is that if we get both the bond money and a matching federal amount under veto proof legislation (S.294 and HR 6003) pending in the Congress we are there. $20 billion S.F. to L.A. and beyond to Sacto and San Diego.

Check your math Robert. Even taking the $40b at face value the bond only provides $9b. After matching $18b leaves us $4b short of 60%.

Rafael said...

Scraping enough money together is going to be tough because the state of California is only putting up $10 billion. However, if the counties served together chip in another $3 billion, it may be possible to persuade Congress to match the sum of those two by dipping into a variety of federal programs, including e.g. FRA funds for grade separation. Every little bit helps.

If governments at all levels can come up with $26 billion, it may be possible to attract $14 billion total from multiple private sources.

That should be enough to construct an SF-LA starter line plus one of the two spurs. CHSRA says $40 billion will be enough for the whole network, but if I lived in Sacramento or San Diego, I'd prefer to have construction begin at all four ends and proceed toward the middle. It'll be easier to secure additional funds for the north-south link IFF any will be needed.

Of course, any HST overlay would be over-and-above the core network.

pat moore said...

@Anonymous --

Even if the ATA takes that position doesn't mean its member airlines do.

From the website:

Through June 24, jet fuel prices have surged 69% compared to 2007 – just as the economy is slowing. Did you know that every dollar increase per barrel drives an additional $465M in U.S. airline fuel expenses?

How many regional airlines are going to cut service to marginal markets? These regional airlines feed the big boys. Without regionals, the big airlines will need to turn to rail as spokes to feed their hubs.

Economics alone will dictate a new attitude. Fuel prices are something that the airlines can lobby away.

pat moore said...

correction:

Economics alone will dictate a new attitude. Fuel prices are NOT something that the airlines can lobby away.

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