In the comments on yesterday's post rafael, one of HSR's strongest and most knowledgeable supporters, gave a list of changes to AB 3034 and the overall project that the State Senate is likely to consider. It's a good guide to how the politics may play out over the next week and I wanted to give my commentary on the specific details.
- an explicit phasing policy that prioritizes bottleneck sections that must enable high growth in freight and/or commuter rail in addition to separate tracks for HSR. In practice, that means the Caltrain and LOSSAN corridors.
I fear rafael is right that the State Senate is going to suggest this. To me this is gutting the HSR project as it delays the intercity aspect of HSR indefinitely. Faster service on the Caltrain and LOSSAN corridors would be valuable, but it should not come at the expense of the overall concept of giving Californians an affordable and sustainable alternative to driving and flying between north and south while also providing for commuters as well.
- priority for LA-San Diego over crossing Tehachapi Pass, based on ridership considerations. One option would be to switch from an SF-LA starter line to two shorter ones in Northern and Southern California, respectively. See this map for details.
I also think we are likely to see this - but we shouldn't. Someone has to take the lead in funding a Tehachapi Pass crossing. It is likely to remain the "missing link" for quite some time, unfunded and seemingly without priority, unless we step up now to ensure it gets built. This goes to the core of my objection to the commuter HSR-first strategy - it doesn't help us make the necessary leap. Californians already understand the role of trains in commuting, but what we really need is intercity rail capacity. That's the harder project to build, but also the one that can transform the state the most dramatically.
Further, the State Senate report acknowledged that commuter trips will only be 30% of the overall ridership, and that the LA-SF route offered the most lucrative revenues. If the State Senate suggests deemphasizing LA-SF, they cannot credibly use ridership as justification for doing so.
- an external engineering review of construction feasibility and SF-LA line haul time estimates for Altamont Pass variation 9 (excl. spur to Oakland), separately for San Jose Diridon and Santa Clara/SJC station options. Target date: ASAP
rafael has been arguing for a few weeks now that Altamont option 9 - which goes through San Jose but not across the bay - should be reconsidered. I'm willing to see the results of such a study, even though I continue to believe what's most important is resolving Altamont vs. Pacheco and sticking with one or the other. It's becoming like the Obama vs. Hillary thing - strong cases can be made for either one, but eventually we have to choose and focus on the bigger picture, in this case getting the bonds passed.
- updated cost estimates for all sections of the network, including especially the sections down to San Diego and up to Sacramento (the latter separately for Altamont only, Pacheco only and Pacheco+overlay options). Target date: October 2008.
I would suggest absolutely no later than October 1 for delivery of these estimates - which are certainly necessary. Ballots go in the mail in early October and we're going to need to have coverage of the estimates turned around pretty quickly.
- a prospectus aimed at investors, itemizing not only the many benefits and business opportunities but also known project risks. These include but are not limited to tunneling, ridership projections, the FRA waiver for running off-the-shelf European/Asian equipment and, land acquisition in urban/suburban areas and at stations. The prospectus should also quantify the opportunity cost of failing to construct HSR, itemized for each phase of construction. Target publication date: early October 2008 - CA voters should be considered investors, it's important to set realistic expectations.
I really, really like this. Especially quantifying the cost of NOT building HSR. The State Senate failed dramatically by not asking or even seeming to understand that question, but Californians deserve to make a fully informed choice. Only a comparison of the cost of building HSR and the cost of not building it allows that kind of informed choice to be made.
- explicitly tasking CHSRA with planning railroad operations, especially tools for optimizing the express/local mix and, processes and technologies for handling emergency situations involving both HSR and other railroad operators.
- formally tasking a separate organization responsible for day-to-day quality assurance of CHSRA research and decision-making, especially with regard to major expenditures such as finalizing the network structure and San Mateo county station, choosing trainset vendors and especially, awarding construction contracts.
These are good practices that an amended AB 3034 ought to embrace.
- spelling out the consequences of the outcome of the ballot initiative for CHSRA and HSR in California. If it's now or never, voters must be told as much.
Absolutely. This is an opportunity that isn't going to come back around again, and we're not going to get any federal money for HSR unless we take the first step. By voting against the bond Californians would be voting to shackle the state to soaring gas prices and an airline industry in crisis.
Needless to say, CHSRA will need sufficient funds to do all this extra work at such short notice in addition to actively marketing the project to investors. Any amendment by the State Senate should ensure it doesn't run out of money before the November ballot.
An excellent point. If CHSRA is being tasked with additional projects they will need the money to properly deliver these studies and updates. Otherwise the State Senate is setting them up to fail.
I would close by saying that any alteration of the construction plan - if LA-SF is to be abandoned as the first phase - MUST, absolutely must, ensure that the north-south link will be built. The State Senate cannot change this project into commuter rail alone. It needs to keep in mind the need to connect north and south without missing links. It needs to keep in mind the need to provide a truly statewide alternative to oil, which only intercity HSR can offer.
What else should the State Senate include in an amended AB 3034?