Friday, October 31, 2008

Pelosi, Feinstein, Newsom for Prop 1A

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

At a press conference in San Francisco today Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senator Dianne Feinstein, and San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom all spoke out in favor of Proposition 1A. Their presence ought to dissuade some of the Prop 1A critics who claim that federal funding is uncertain - in 2009 these two members of Congress will be among the most powerful politicians in America and will be in a VERY strong position to help fund California High Speed Rail. They emphasized the environmental and the economic benefits of the project, and DiFi had some strong words for the HSR deniers:

One newspaper said now is not the time because we can’t afford it. I would say we can’t afford not to do it.

Which is of course the truth. As Paul Krugman explains in today's column deficit spending by government to prime the economic pump is an absolute necessity for getting the country out of the recession.

It's not just leading national politicians and Nobel laureate economists making this point. Average Californians grasp the necessity of passing Prop 1A as part of an overall economic stimulus program, as shown by this letter in the Modesto Bee:

California has budget problems because our legislators have been unable to control spending growth and have been unwilling to raise taxes. The current budget uses gimmicks and tricks and is unbalanced. Our state government is dysfunctional. Killing beneficial infrastructure projects will not solve California's problems. We need to invest in California. In the long run this will lead to better lives for the state's residents and will result in increased state and local tax revenue. We need to approve the high-speed rail measure, and we need to demand that the Legislature do its job. These are compatible goals.



Thanks John for helping inject some common sense into the debate. Killing Prop 1A will do absolutely NOTHING to help California's economy or budget. Nothing at all. Especially when you consider that the cost of doing nothing is not zero - whether it's the cost to consumers of higher gas prices or the cost to the budget of expanding roads and airports, Prop 1A and HSR is the affordable solution.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

SPUR on Prop 1A

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

San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association - SPUR - is one of the leading and most respected urban planning organizations in the state. And now they have offered an excellent overview of the case for Prop 1A and some excellent rebuttals of the HSR deniers:

The high-speed train system is well planned and long overdue. Criticisms of the proposal, for the most part, amount to the charge that "it's not good enough," and its associated presumption that we should reject this proposal until a better one comes along. This point of view fails to recognize that every delay in building the system increases its costs due to the severe escalation in construction costs hitting all construction projects.

An excellent point. Those who claim that we can and or should wait are actually suggesting we should take the financially reckless path. If HSR is "not affordable" now, when exactly WILL it be? What could possibly be a better and more valuable time to build this than now, when the economic stimulus will be at its most potent, before the costs have risen?

Further, while connecting downtown San Francisco to the downtowns of other California cities with fast and efficient train service would have a positive benefit to San Francisco's economy, it could transform the economies of struggling downtowns in the Central Valley, as well as help expand jobs and increase the number of residents in and around downtown San Jose. Suburban office sprawl is as dangerous a contributor to global warming as residential sprawl. High-speed trains give us the opportunity to vitalize downtowns that need it.

We haven't heard much from the "HSR will cause sprawl!" crowd but even if they've changed their tune, SPUR has identified an extremely important aspect of the project. It will help concentrate jobs away from suburban office parks and in city centers. HSR will have the same impact on urban residential patterns:

Finally, the system is planned to minimize the effects of sprawl and maximize the potential for transit-oriented development throughout the system. In response to urging from SPUR and others, the California High Speed Rail Authority chose to place the route along the populated U.S. Highway 99 corridor instead of along the Interstate Highway 5 corridor. It also agreed to place the train stations in the city centers instead of at the edges, and it has developed principles and guidelines that must be followed before cities will receive a station. These decisions slightly increased the cost of the project but dramatically increased the benefit, as city-center stations would lead to transit-oriented development and limit the sprawl inducing effects that might otherwise be the result of a high-speed train system that makes it easier to commute long distances.

This bond is necessary to improve mobility throughout California, shift the growth in intra-state travel from cars and planes to trains, and reshape our low-density, sprawling land use patterns of the past half century.

Which is the entire point. California's dependence on sprawl has wound up bankrupting the state, wrecking its economy, and destroying its climate and environment. Most Californians understand the need to move beyond sprawl and HSR is a necessary move in that direction.

And our opponents - the HSR deniers - are all fundamentally animated by a desire to maintain the 20th century sprawl regime even despite its epic fail. Whether you're Morris Brown, the Reason Foundation, or the Howard Jarvis Association, sprawl is at the core of your policy agenda, the animating force behind your opposition to Prop 1A. It's good that real urban planning experts, as opposed to fake experts like Joseph Vranich, understand the importance of HSR and of ending sprawl.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Christian Science Monitor Endorses Prop 1A

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

Normally I might not give this its own post, but the editorial from the Christian Science Monitor on Prop 1A has some really good points that deserve a wider airing:

Yearly ridership is predicted at 88 million to 117 million passengers by 2030.

How can that be if last year only 26 million people rode the national rail network, Amtrak? Part of the answer lies in the state's expected population boom. But also, travelers gravitate to high-quality, affordable transport. Last year, ridership jumped 20 percent for the Acela, Amtrak's only fast train (but not as fast as trains around the world).

Opponents also say the north-south ride will take more like 3-1/2 hours, because no bullet trains operate at the plan's projected speed of up to 220 m.p.h. But Japan and France are testing prototypes capable of such speeds. And so what if the estimate is off? Downtown-to-downtown transport that's also independent of much bad weather and gate delays has its advantages.

Excellent points, all. Projected ridership can be easily attained and the claims about speed and timing don't hold water - or even if they did don't undermine the value and attractiveness of the system.

Finally, naysayers warn the construction price will nearly double, and that the trains will operate on a regular deficit. True, research shows rail projects around the world bust construction budgets by an average 45 percent. But the rail authority's plan spreads the build-out expense and risk between the state, federal government, and private investors. And while governments do subsidize rail systems the world over, bullet trains are proven moneymakers...

This is not a credit-card shopping spree on Rodeo Drive. It is an investment in reduced greenhouse gases, in less foreign oil, in less congestion, and in more jobs – for commerce is built on transport.

Couldn't agree more.

Prop 1A Overview at Daily Kos

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

Authored by yours truly. If you have an account there, recommend it so more readers there can hear the case for Prop 1A!

Arnold Endorses Prop 1A

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

I know there had been some doubt among the HSR deniers about Arnold's position, but as KQED's John Myers reports he is indeed endorsing Yes on 1A.

Arnold spoke at the Commonwealth Club last month and explained his support for high speed rail:

There is far more economic opportunity in fighting global warming than economic risk....We shouldn't let the budget crisis hold back good things for the future. 20 years from now you can't look back and say "well they had a budget crisis so we didn't do it." Just because we had a problem with the budget does not mean that people should vote "no" on high speed rail. Our rail system in America is so old, we're driving the same speed as 100 years ago, the same system as 100 years ago. We should modernize, we should do what other countries do...We should start in this state, we should show leadership.

It would be nice if he would actually get out and do some campaigning for it. That goes for the rest of you California political leaders.

Oil, Auto, and Airline Companies vs Prop 1A?

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

For several months we kept hearing there was "no funded opposition" to Proposition 1A. There are several committees spending money FOR Prop 1A, including Californians for High Speed Trains, funded by a cross-section of Californians but definitely including labor unions and engineering companies that may benefit from Prop 1A. There's nothing illegal or unethical about that - these contributions are publicly disclosed for everyone to see.

There is no committee registered with the state of California to oppose Prop 1A. But there are two groups that have been rather active in opposing Prop 1A - the Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and the Reason Foundation. Both are right-wing think tanks determined to undermine government in the state of California through tax cuts that force reductions in government spending and other government programs. The Reason Foundation in particular promotes privatization of government services and less regulation on business, which of course worked out brilliantly with the financial industry.

Both groups were behind the thoroughly discredited Cox-Vranich report on high speed rail. The Reason Foundation in particular has been using its staffers to flood the state media with misleading claims and outright lies that find their way to both opinion pages and even news articles about Prop 1A.

Neither group discloses its donors on its website and only a few details about Reason's funders have emerged over the last few years. But what we do know suggests that the Reason Foundation's campaign against sustainable transportation is being funded by the very companies that oppose sustainable transportation - oil companies, automakers, and airlines.

Some of the most reliable information about the Reason Foundation's funding comes from Media Transparency, a watchdog on the conservative media movement. Their reports show that long-time right-wing organizations such as the Koch Foundation, founded by oil and gas billionaires, alongside groups like the Castle Rock Foundation, a project of the far-right Coors family.

The Reason Foundation also receives corporate contributions. A list of these has not been made public since the year 2000. But the most recent list, compiled by Source Watch, shows that oil, auto, and airline companies figured prominently in their funding, such as:

American Petroleum Institute
Continental Airlines
Delta Air Lines
Ford Motor Company
Shell Oil
Western States Petroleum Association

We don't know if that money has continued over the last 8 years, but that money has continued to seed ongoing program operations for the Reason Foundation. Right-wing foundations and oil, auto and airline companies have been paying for Reason's attack on high speed rail.

Given current campaign finance laws Reason does not have to disclose any of this as a campaign expenditure. And so the public doesn't realize that when they see misleading anti-transit propaganda spread by the Reason Foundation, that it's coming from the far-right and from the very companies whose business model depends on prolonging our dependence on oil - even when that dependence destroys our economic prosperity.

By contrast we at this blog have nothing to hide. This blog is hosted free of charge by, which offers free blogs to pretty much anyone who wants one. I work on this in my spare time and neither this blog or my time on it are funded by anyone. Yet we manage to get the facts right, instead of the Reason Foundation's constant misleading of voters. Funny how that works.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Zombie Lies

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

I had hoped we'd dealt with this when it popped up at Daily Kos yesterday - the commenters there gave it a thorough smackdown - but unfortunately it's appeared across the blogosphere today, helped by the credulous and fundamentally uninformed Kevin Drum (I still don't understand why Mother Jones would hire a moderate to blog for them) who reproduced "it" on his site today.

"It" is an email being peddled by the daughter of James Mills offering criticism of Prop 1A. Mills is another one of these "rail supporters" who are offering truthiness and outright lies to try and convince people Prop 1A is a bad idea. To the uninformed masses - which unfortunately include some bloggers - anyone who claims to have rail credentials apparently is given the benefit of the doubt when we who actually understand rail policy know that James Mills, Richard Tolmach, Wendell Cox, and Joseph Vranich are fundamentally anti-rail.

Mills and Tolmach co-authored an HSR denier op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this month. I gave it the usual thorough deconstruction here on the blog when it appeared, although I focused my fire on Tolmach, since I'd never heard of James Mills. Now Mills' daughter is circulating Mills' own arguments to the bloggers, and some of the more gullible bloggers, like Kevin Drum, have taken the bait. As a result Ezra Klein and now Atrios are discussing its contents.

So, time to try and kill the Zombie Lies.

The email starts like this:

I am passing on an analysis of California's Prop 1A ballot initiative from one of the leading experts and advocates of mass transit in the state of California, James Mills.

Mills' daughter writes:

I'd like to suggest you vote "No" on Proposition 1A, the "Safe Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act," on the basis of the following insider, expert information: my dad says it's a bad idea.

My father, James Mills, spent his entire career in the California state legislature (1961-1983) working to promote public transportation in the state. He was President pro Tem of the Senate for a decade. He was chairman of the Amtrak board under president Carter. Since retiring he has worked as a consultant on transit issues, and in the 1990's he served on the High Speed Rail Commission for the State of California . My dad is hard-core in favor of rail. If he says a proposal to fund a rail project is no good, then that proposal has to be a real turkey.

Notice the sleight of hand here. James Mills is not a well-known figure even in California political circles. His specific policy positions are completely unknown. But just like the notoriously anti-transit Wendell Cox, and the equally anti-rail Joseph Vranich, Mills trades on a 30-year old association with Amtrak to try and gain credibility when he passes on flawed HSR denials. The last sentence is designed to solidify the assumed expertise of Mills, but to me it just sets off alarm bells.

Which are justified when we read the specific objections:

1. Prop 1A raises about ten billion dollars in a bond issue. This is a down-payment on a project which was estimated in 2006 to cost 45 billion dollars but will probably cost more if it is ever built. Remaining funding will be sought from the federal government (10-15 billion) and private investors (15-20 billion).

Notice that, as always, no specific reason is given as to "probably cost more". It is blind speculation. No specific figure of cost overruns is given either. Lacking those details or underlying explanations this claim lacks credibility. Rail projects around the country, including LA's Metro Gold Line extension, have been delivered on time and on budget in recent years.

Further, and this is ironic, that $45 billion is the figure for the ENTIRE system - which in point #5 Mills claims is unplanned.

2. The federal government has never invested any amount even close to $10 billlion in a transit project.

The federal government had never spent $700 billion on a bank bailout either. Before 1971 they'd never operated passenger trains. Before 1956 they'd never spent hundreds of billions on freeways. Shall we go on?

But we have better evidence. John Kerry and Johnny Isakson are working on a bill to provide about $10 billion for HSR projects around the nation. Both Barack Obama and Joe Biden are strong supporters of HSR and want to fund it.

3. If private investment were found, the bill says that investors would make money NOT from a the profit of the transit system, but from a percentage of ticket sales. In other words, the profit of investors is guaranteed, regardless of the operating costs of the system. The Legislative Analyst estimates that the OPERATING AND MAINTENANCE COSTS of the system will be one billion per year -- the State of California will cover any deficit not covered by ticket sales. It is rare for a public transit system to run in the black: normally, not all costs of the system will be covered from the fare box.

This is a bit misleading. As I understand it from what Rod Diridon explained today, those same investors also have to satisfy their own bond to the state/CHSRA and a "franchise fee" to the same. That's quite a bit different than saying "their profit is guaranteed" - a misleading statement designed to imply that California is going to be left holding the bag while private investors light cigars with our money.

This claim also misleads Californians on the Legislative Analyst's estimate - she has said the $1 billion figure is a worst-case scenario.

And of course, it is not rare for high speed rail systems to run in the black. In fact, they ALL run in the black. Every last one. In France the TGVs are so profitable they subsidize other slower rail services. SNCF had so much money they actually gave some to the French treasury earlier this year.

4. Premises on projected ridership are false. The only high-speed rail system in the US is Amtrak's "Acela" service between NY-Washington and NY-Boston. This system is well established and serves large population centers with excellent public transportation tie-ins to feed it such as subways, and they carry 3 million riders a year. The French have the best high-speed rail system in the world, and their busiest line is Paris to Lyon, again large cities with major subway systems, and it carries perhaps 15 million riders a year. In contrast, proponents of Prop 1A rely on a projection of 100 million riders per year between Los Angeles and San Francisco, a figure provided by a paid consultant that happened to be Lehman Brothers. This projection of patronage is a fantasy.

This paragraph is full of outright lies. Yes, lies.

First, Acela is not true HSR and is much slower than our system will be. Anyone trying to compare the Acela to CA HSR either does not understand Acela or is deliberately misleading readers. It does not speak very well of James Mills' vaunted "rail knowledge."

Second, these arguments about ridership come directly from the oil company funded Reason Foundation. It is a libertarian lies being passed off as fact. Those ridership claims - specifically about Paris-Lyon - are complete nonsense. We thoroughly debunked the "not enough riders" claim last month. The key portion of our mythbusting:

Cox-Vranich's [the Reason Foundation study] ridership figures are wildly inaccurate. Using C-V's preferred measure, JR Central reported 2007 ridership of 80 million passenger km per Shinkansen route km (44.5 billion passenger km / 552 km route). In the "high" scenario, CA HSRA is forecasting roughly 27 million passenger km per HSR route km (30 billion passenger km / 1,120 km route). So C-V's claim that CA HSRA is using numbers higher than those achieved on any other system in the world is absurdly false - in fact, CA HSRA's numbers are only 1/3rd of what has been previously achieved.

JR Central's Shinkansen is the densest ridership in the world. A more informative comparison would be the TGV or the new Taiwan HSR (THSR). We don't have passenger-km ridership for those lines, but we can compute passengers per route-km. The TGV Paris Southeast (PSE) line gets 45k passengers per route-km (20 million pax / 448 route-km) while the THSR gets 101k passengers per route-km (34 million pax / 335 route-km). CA HSR is forecasting a high of 80k passengers per route-km in 2030, or around 56k passengers per route-km at today's populations. This is slightly above TGV PSE but well below THSR. It does not seem unreasonable since the LA Metro Area is larger than Paris Metro Area or the Taipei Metro Area. And more importantly, the SF Bay Area is twice as large as the Kaoshiung Metro Area and four times as large as the Lyon Metro Area.

On to the fifth and final lie, which is the most ridiculous of them all:

5. Promises of future extension to Sacramento, Orange County and San Diego are empty in that no concrete plan of any kind is offered other than the unrealistic plan for a Los Angeles-San Francisco line.

Mills is just showing off his ignorance here. Prop 1A would fund a line from SF to Anaheim - which, last time I checked, was still in Orange County. SD and Sacramento plans are in existence in full detail and can be found at the California High Speed Rail Authority website.

It's worth closing by reminding people of the big picture here. High speed rail will create badly needed green jobs and economic stimulus while providing Californians with sustainable transportation that reduces dependence on oil and cuts carbon emissions. It is supported by virtually the entire California progressive community.

It is being opposed by the Howard Jarvis Association and the Reason Foundation. The former are the keepers of the right-wing flame here in California. The latter are a group of rabid anti-government nuts who are funded by oil companies and other leading right-wing foundations. They have been using an ignorant and pliant media to push out their "omg boondoggle not enough riders" nonsense over the last six weeks or so.

It would be a shame for folks in the blogosphere - folks who usually know better - than to repeat the high speed rail version of the "Obama is a Muslim" email.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Prop 1A Forum at UC Santa Cruz

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

For those of you in the Monterey Bay or San José areas, I will be part of a panel discussion on Proposition 1A at UC Santa Cruz at noon today, in Cowell Conference Room 132. Rod Diridon of the California High Speed Rail Authority will also be there. RSVP here.

Then at 2pm I will be a guest on Deborah Lindsay's show Tomorrow Matters, broadcast on KRXA 540 AM here in Monterey. Deborah Lindsay focuses on sustainable communities, peak oil, and other environmental solutions to our ongoing ecological crisis. You can listen live online if you don't live in the Monterey Bay area.

UPDATE: Now that was fun. The event at UCSC was a great success - thanks go in particular to Cynthia Burrage Armour and Dan Xie for helping to put it together. I gave a good overview of HSR and the reasons why it is so vital to our future as Californians, and then Rod Diridon gave a really compelling and detailed explanation of HSR around the world and of our own system. He was asked some very good questions by the audience and answered them quite effectively. Diridon gave some key details on the financing of high speed rail that I had not known and that I hope to pass on to you all tomorrow or Wednesday once I can get them written down and confirmed.

The discussion on Deborah Lindsay's show also went well. We got some good calls from folks with questions, some critical, of the HSR project and I thought I did a good and thorough job of responding to them. KRXA is a small operation and doesn't have complete audio archives, otherwise I'd offer you an MP3 here. I was surprised that none of the usual HSR deniers called into the show!

Sunday, October 26, 2008


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

Earlier this summer the price of a barrel of crude oil hit a record $147. Since then the price has declined dramatically to about $64. Gas prices here in Monterey have fallen from a high of about $4.60 to just under $3. Some might be tempted to argue this makes alternatives to oil less necessary, but that would miss the point - the current decline in oil prices is strictly a product of demand destruction.

What that means is we're in between a rock and a hard place. Our economy has been built on growth made possible by cheap oil. More cars need to be sold, more suburban sprawl needs to be built, more goods need to be hauled by truck in order for the 20th century economic model to continue. If you can't do any of that without risking a crippling oil price increase like that which burst the housing bubble, you are stuck in an economic trough that has no visible way out.

Unless, of course, you start building an alternative to oil.

Besides, the phenomenon of peak oil is going to rather quickly necessitate such alternatives, if OPEC doesn't do so first. If this current respite in oil prices is to be anything other than the eye of a hurricane, we must build our way out of oil dependence.

Just as the oil crisis has not gone away, neither has the climate crisis. Arctic sea ice nearly reached a new record minimum. Global warming continues unabated, as the carbon-burning industry merely takes a short breather.

2008 is therefore an opportunity to start transitioning away from a failed economic model, one that became so dependent on burning fossil fuels that the economy nearly collapsed and severe ecological crisis has taken place. If we are to turn the 21st century into a sustainable century - with sustainable prosperity, built on renewable resources and a better, more sensible ecology, we need to start NOW on producing alternatives to oil.

California High Speed Rail is one of those alternatives. It will:

-Reduce carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to removing 1.4 million cars from the road, and take the place of nearly 42 million annual city-to-city car trips (Final EIR)

-Reduce CO2 emissions by up to 17.6 billion pounds/year (HSR fact sheet)

-Reduce California’s oil consumption by up to 12 million barrels/year (same as above)

According to the Final EIR 63% of intercity trips over 150 miles in California are taken by car (scroll to page 12). This is a major factor in causing most of California to be out of compliance with state clean air goals. Given that HSR would be much faster than driving between California's major metro regions, and will likely be less costly as well by 2018, HSR would make a significant dent in those car trips and therefore in the pollution they spew.

And HSR provides a VAST carbon emissions savings over other forms of transportation:

(Image from Alberta High Speed Rail)

HSR can be powered entirely by renewable energy sources, a goal the California High Speed Rail Authority recently adopted. HSR will provide a guaranteed buyer for renewable energy projects, making their construction more likely and more economical.

Sustainability is also a smart economic strategy. We have talked repeatedly about the economic stimulus it will provide. It will also provide a Green Dividend to Californians in the amount of several billion dollars at least.

Sustainable transportation is both economical and necessary for California's 21st century future. Sure, we have a temporary respite from the worst of the oil price hikes. But does anyone here really want to gamble that such price increases will never return? That we can continue the 20th century sprawl model indefinitely?

If you don't want to make that sucker bet, then vote Yes on Prop 1A.

Saturday, October 25, 2008


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

We talk so much about the stock market these days - its ups, its downs, and its crashes - that we seem to forget what it's ostensibly all about - an investment. You put some money in now and you get MORE in return later. Of course there is a cost to this - that money up front. Sure, you could use it to buy something else right now, but if you commit that money to the investment - especially if it's a good investment, in something certain to bring you greater savings and new opportunities in the future - it seems like a no brainer of a move.

That's the nutshell version of the argument advanced by R. Sean Randolph in today's San Jose Mercury News. Randolph is president and CEO of the Bay Area Council Economic Institute, a consortium of leading businesses and institutions in the Bay Area. Randolph understands what we have been saying for months here at the blog - that high speed rail and Prop 1A are a smart and necessary investment for our state's future:

The project will generate nearly 50,000 long-term jobs in the Bay Area between now and 2030. Between $6.9 billion and $8.9 billion will be spent here on construction, generating 128,000 to 130,000 direct and indirect jobs during construction. By taking cars off the roads the system will enhance business productivity. Bay Area commuters lose 150,000 hours each day to congestion, at an annual cost to the economy of $2.6 billion. In-state business can also be conducted more efficiently, as travel time from San Jose to Los Angeles will be cut to a little over two hours.

That's the first effort I've seen to quantify a California version of the green dividend that has been studied in Portland - and the $2.6 billion figure here is limited to congestion (not including savings on gas) and limited to the Bay Area. We can assume that figure will be larger for the entire state and once savings on gas is included - for flights and cars - we may very well approach, yes, $10 billion.

The job creation alone is both considerable and desperately needed in a state whose unemployment rate is at 7.7% and rising fast. Do we want to wait until we're pushing 10%? Those construction jobs create other indirect jobs, and they ALL create tax income for a state that desperately needs it.

All while acting as a long-term investment that will provide clean, safe, sustainable and quality transportation that fights global warming instead of contributes to it.

High speed rail is an investment we can afford - and an investment we cannot afford to reject. Especially when you consider that not only do we not have to pay $10 billion up front, but that it will bring in even more money from the federal government, stimulus money we aren't going to get if we reject Prop 1A.

The HSR deniers don't see the purpose of investment. They instead see HSR as a threat either to their property values or political ideologies. Which is their right, of course - but Californians should think about the value of the investment, and not be swayed by those who prefer to cling to the past instead of make a smart investment to secure our future.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Their Past vs Our Future

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

With just over a week until the votes are counted we are about to learn whether California will embrace the 21st century or go down with the sinking 20th century ship.

Proposition 1A and high speed rail are a cornerstone of California's efforts to build prosperity for the 21st century. The infrastructure that built 20th century prosperity - including those paid for with bonds approved by voters in the depth of the Depression - has taken us as far as it can. California's 20th century prosperity was based on cheap oil, which is beginning to run out.

And yes, it is still running out. Neither the summer price spike nor the current price collapse change the underlying facts - we are reaching peak oil which means long-term supply shortages and price increases. The current decline in prices is due to demand destruction, which means that if people take advantage of lower prices by driving more...the price will again rise. And of course OPEC isn't going to take this lying down - the last time gas prices dropped dramatically, in 1999, was merely prelude to a steady, 8-year, 1300% increase in the price of oil.

Well before gas prices hit $4 this summer they had destroyed the American economy. The housing bubble burst in 2006 - at precisely the moment gas prices hit $3. And which areas have seen the steepest home value declines and the highest foreclosure rates? The car-dependent suburbs. Which areas have held their values and had the lowest foreclosure rates? City centers and neighborhoods with mass transit options.

This was clearly illustrated by a recent episode of NOW on PBS, Driven to Despair. The episode contrasted two young couples - one living in Hemet (east of Riverside) and one living in South Pasadena near the Gold Line. The family living in Hemet was facing serious financial distress and a lower standard of living owing to their dependence on oil. The family living in South Pasadena had more disposable income and a happier life because they were free from that dependence.

On a macro level we have already demonstrated the green dividend that results from building mass transit - a multibillion dollar economic shot in the arm. In the case of high speed rail this will be compounded by the significant economic stimulus of HSR - just as the Golden Gate Bridge and Shasta Dam were in the Depression. 160,000 construction jobs is nothing to sneeze at.

We also need to remember the environmental benefits of high speed rail. It seems global warming and carbon emissions have faded a bit from the public's consciousness which is a shame - pollution and carbon emissions cost money and the longer we delay in reducing them and building a sustainable alternative, the more expensive life will ultimately become here in California.

To ignore all of this and embrace the status quo is to look at a broken economy and shrug and hope we somehow magically recover, and that somehow the conditions that caused the economic downturn will magically disappear. They won't. If California wants to enjoy the kind of widely shared prosperity in the 21st century that we had in the 20th we need to reorient this state away from oil and sprawl and toward urban density and sustainable transportation. HSR will stimulate both.

It's no accident that those lined up to oppose Prop 1A are from that shrinking group that still benefits from the 20th century status quo. The right-wingers at the San Diego Union-Tribune don't want to see their anti-government, anti-transit dreams get shot down by voters. Dan Walters is one of the state's leading defenders of sprawl and small government, so it makes sense that he'd oppose Prop 1A as well.

Then there is the Reason Foundation, which is swimming in oil money. They have every reason to want to kill HSR, which would undermine their anti-government, pro-oil, pro-sprawl agenda. Sure, their arguments are riddled with factual errors and their flagship study lacks credibility. But it's all well and good in the service of defending the status quo, which has failed for America but succeeded for their oil company buddies.

It would seem to me that when a project's opponents are the far right and the oil companies, you're doing something right, you've got a winning idea.

But that's not why HSR and Prop 1A are a good idea. They are the gateway to a more secure, more prosperous California in the 21st century. I do not see why we would listen to those who helped create the current economic failure when they pontificate against Prop 1A.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Kopp's Epic Smackdown of HSR Critics

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

On August 26th AB 3034, after a weeks-long delay, was finally signed by Arnold Schwarzenegger. That bill directed the California High Speed Rail Authority to create a new business September 1. Giving the Authority merely five days to come up with the new plan.

Why the delay? The bill was passed out of the Assembly on May 29. From there it languished in the State Senate. Alan Lowenthal put out a nonsense study trying to cast doubt on the plan, but it was Sen. Roy Ashburn who played the central role in delaying AB 3034 into early August. By the time the Senate passed AB 3034, however, Arnold Schwarzenegger had started in on his temper tantrum, refusing to sign any new bills until we got a new budget. Arnold relented on AB 3034 - but had the bill bent sent to Arnold sooner, it would not have been subject to Arnold's tantrum, and there would have been time to produce it.

But it gets worse. As you know, the state budget delay this year was the worst on record - three months long. The state Constitution mandates that a budget be approved by June 15 and implemented on July 1 - the beginning of the new fiscal year.

The Authority's staff consists of 6.5 employees. Not a huge amount of staff to put together a business plan, actually, especially when you give them five days and then withhold a budget from them.

HSR deniers have now tried to use the delayed business plan to claim that Prop 1A and HSR are flawed. Today the State Senate held a hearing about the business plan, likely designed and timed to hurt Prop 1A's chances. You can see the video here. At the hearing Quentin Kopp explained that the plan will be ready around November 8, after proper work goes into its production and review by Goldman Sachs.

Roy Ashburn tried to attack Kopp over the delay, asking "You and your Authority are in violation of California law as we sit here today. If you were in my chair, what would you say?"

Kopp's reply: "If I were sitting in your chair I would use temperate language. Did you ever read the state Constitution? Did you ever read Article 4, Section 12? Do you know what it says? It says...the Legislature shall pass the budget bill by midnight on June 15 of each year. You're in violation of the law. Consider the outcome should a taxpayer bring a suit to recover the money that you eventually drew between June 15 and September 23 of this year. Consider the fact that people don't work without being paid. Consider the fact that my executive director hasn't been paid since January of this year. Consider the fact that when you finally appropriated the money the contractors who expect to be paid can finally begin work on the business plan. I'll tell you why people should believe me. Because I have an impeccable reputation for honesty, integrity, and independence."

Ashburn could not reply to that point. He avoided it and tried to repeat his same points. But the smackdown was delivered, and Ashburn is exposed as a fraud. The state legislature, led by Republicans like Ashburn who held this state hostage for three months, refusing to do their Constitutional duty to pass a budget because they were demanding unspecified cuts, have absolutely NO place to be criticizing ANYONE else in the state government for not following the law. Ashburn is full of it and kudos to Kopp for calling him out on it.

Kopp drank Roy Ashburn's milkshake. I think we're done with this whole "business plan" nonsense, aren't we?

UPDATE: Huge hanks to jwb for turning the key segment into this handy YouTube clip:

UPDATE 2: Kopp then takes on lawsuit-happy HSR denier David Schonbrunn.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

HSR: Safe and Fuel Efficient

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

Dennis Lytton, who has authored a post for this blog back in June and is a member of the Board of Directors for the National Association of Railroad Passengers, has now published an op-ed in today's Daily Breeze, a newspaper in SoCal's South Bay region, explaining the benefits of Prop 1A and high speed rail. I won't reproduce the entire op-ed here but will include some of the salient points.

The op-ed opens by retelling a tragic story of a UC Berkeley student from Pasadena who was killed on her way back to campus while driving near Gilroy - one of the numerous automobile fatalities that can be prevented by fast, efficient, plentiful intercity rail:

Improvements in auto safety have helped reduce the rate of automobile fatalities. However, that gain is largely negated by increases in the number of miles Americans typically drive. This is a reflection of bad public policy that favors sprawl and freeways over modern rail systems and transit-oriented development. It causes our traffic nightmares, fouls our air, takes far too many lives and makes us dependent on triple-digit prices for crude oil.

California High Speed Rail would initially stretch from Anaheim to San Francisco, with future branches to Sacramento and San Diego. The system would be completely separated from automobile traffic and freight trains. The tracks would be fenced in and monitored by earthquake sensors and cameras. Safety would even exceed that of airplanes, since high-speed trains don't carry volatile fuels that can be touched off by explosives in a shampoo bottle or shoe.

But the most important safety feature is that millions of people annually will take the train instead of driving. Europe and Japan have far fewer transportation-related fatalities than the United States - due mostly to their lower dependence on the automobile for local and intercity transit. California could potentially save thousands of lives lost per year in auto accidents if it built a state-of-the art intercity rail system.

Dennis' points are excellent and have not been made often enough. The safety features that HSR offers are not available to drivers or those taking planes. The system's safety will save lives over driving and will make the trains a more attractive option to travelers within California.

Dennis also reminds us of the fuel efficiency of HSR:

High-speed rail is the greenest way to move people ever invented. Trains consume only one-third of the energy used by an airplane and one-fifth the energy of an automobile trip. Nearly all of the electricity of HSR's trains could be produced from renewable energy sources. High-speed rail would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by up to 17.6 billion pounds per year. It would reduce California's oil consumption by up to 22 million barrels per year (1,100 million gallons per year). At a price of $125 a barrel, savings in oil costs alone would approach $2.75billion annually. Oil costs will rise in the long run, as oil geologists agree that we are entering an age of declining oil reserves that will be ever harder to extract.

Which gives me the opportunity to repost one of my favorite images:

(Image from Alberta High Speed Rail)

Now I'm sure the usual HSR deniers are clucking, "but oil prices have fallen!" That's true - for now. When Dennis originally wrote this op-ed the price of a barrel of oil was at $125. They're now at $66. Of course, it is common for oil prices to decline in the autumn and winter months, only to rise again in the spring and summer. But here's the thing - that does NOT mean we can rely on oil to serve our travel needs.

The only reason oil prices have declined is demand destruction. Meaning that fewer people are using gas to travel. If lower gas prices spur an increase in gas consumption, the price will rise again, as many economists have recognized. The only way to produce affordable, sustainable, long-term growth independent of the vagaries of oil price fluctuation is to build rail projects such as high speed rail.

As we've seen here, HSR is a successful method of travel around the world. It operates without subsidies, attracts millions of new train riders, and provides badly needed jobs and economic growth. Thanks to Dennis Lytton we are also reminded that it provides safer and more fuel efficient travel. The case for Prop 1A could not be clearer.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Why Is Adrian Moore Lying in the LA Times?

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

The LA Times is running a "dust up" in its opinion pages - a weeklong discussion of high speed rail between Adrian Moore of the oil company funded Reason Foundation and Dan Tempelis, project manager for the CHSRA on the Palmdale-LA section of the route. It's something of an unfair fight, as Moore is trained to push misleading framing into the media, and Tempelis is a project engineer trained to build things. Tempelis isn't bad at this, but neither is he equipped to undermine the truthiness Moore spews.

Here's an example of Moore's misleading claims:

There are several reasons why high-speed rail does not stack up as the best infrastructure investment we can make today. Let's start with ridership. When high-speed rail systems were built in Europe and Asia, they served corridors that were already very dense and where a large share of travel was already by train -- and there was still no reduction in overall air travel in those corridors. Most riders of high-speed rail were already train riders. The California High-Speed Rail Authority's estimates for the state show that riders will not come from existing trains (there are very few of those) or much from the airlines. Rather, their plan rests on getting people to ride the train rather than drive. Given the more modest gas prices here, the lower density and car culture, to predict that the California high-speed train will get far more riders than systems in Europe and Japan is ridiculously optimistic.

This is a classic example of what Stephen Colbert called truthiniess - this "feels" true even though Moore hasn't provided any evidence. In fact Moore is passing along a huge pile of outright lies.

For example: "and there was still no reduction in overall air travel in those corridors." Um, WTF?

We could go on, but there's more Moore misinformation to correct, like "Most riders of high-speed rail were already train riders." Wrong again. As NARP's Matt Melzer pointed out in July Spain's experience proves that many HSR riders are in fact new train passengers. The images below compare the before and after the inaugural AVE line opened between Madrid and Sevilla in 1992:

Melzer's post also destroys another of Moore's claims, that California lacks the density for HSR, showing that in fact CA and Spain are very comparable on this basis:

Moore's left with lame defenses of California's "car culture" - never mind the fact that Amtrak California intercity routes are setting monthly ridership records. From here Moore moves on to equally truthy claims:

This despite that fact that every other high-speed rail line in the world, all with many advantages over a California system, are subsidized.

Wow. This is a bald-faced lie. In France the situation is reverse - HSR subsidizes all other trains. France alone disproves Moore's lie.

there is no doubt that the high-speed train will need to be subsidized; the Reason Foundation's middling estimate is that it will require about $3 billion per year.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst Office reported that in the worst-case scenario only $1 billion would be required. This isn't the end of Moore's careless numerology:

Taxpayers should expect the final bill for this train system to be closer to $80 billion.

Moore has NO evidence for this claim. He uses a discredited study to claim there are 45% cost overruns on rail - Angelenos can look to the Metro Gold Line extension to see an on-time, on-budget rail project. Further, if Moore is going to give a specific figure, he needs to explain precisely where the cost overruns will come from and why they will amount to $80 billion. Since he can't, he's merely pulling the numbers out of his ass, an effort to mimic Dr. Evil.

Much of the rest of Moore's argument comes from a discredited Reason Foundation study. It would be nice if more members of the media would challenge this study instead of allow Moore to cite it as if it were gospel.

Dan Tempelis does a good job explaining the economic stimulus benefits of high speed rail and the fiscal safeguards in Prop 1A. But it's an unfair fight, since he's up against someone who will lie to readers to make his points. Yes on 1A advocates need to do a better job pushing back against the bullshit coming out of the Reason Foundation - they are lying to the public and will kill HSR if their lies are not countered.

Sadly that is the story of the 2008 election - lies, lies, lies everywhere. We're dealing with the same problems in the presidential campaign and the fight against Proposition 8. This blog has been consistently willing to debate HSR deniers on the issues. But instead all we get are lies.

If Prop 1A is going to pass, we need to fight back hard against these lies. The official campaign would do well to take a more aggressive tone here.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Finally, Some Real Experts

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

Michael Cabanatuan's article on Prop 1A in today's San Francisco Chronicle is one of the best articles I've seen from the media on high speed rail - partly because he doesn't just play the "he said, she said" game where someone from the oil company funded Reason Foundation spouts off a bunch of numbers and then someone from the authority responds. Cabanatuan, almost alone among California journalists, actually interviewed longtime HSR experts - people who have spent their careers in the field and who know what they're talking about:

California's system would be the first in the United States. But high-speed rail has been running in Europe and Asia for three to four decades.

"It's a proven business model in many parts of the world. Most of the high-speed rail in Europe is 25 years old," said Roelof Van Ark, senior vice president for North America for Alstom, a French firm that develops and builds high-speed rail trains and systems.

Japanese companies and Alstom are both interested in possibly investing in the California system, [Noriyuki] Shikata [of the Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs] and Van Ark said. And both are convinced that high-speed rail can fly in California - if voters approve it at the polls.

"The world is booming in high-speed rail," Van Ark said, citing new lines around the world and expanding networks in Europe and Asia. "The model has proven to be successful. It's only a matter of time before it comes to North America. But you've got to start somewhere."

Alstom understands how high speed rail works, and would not be interested in a California high speed rail project if they did not believe it to be financially and practically viable. They also know that California has optimal conditions for high speed rail to be as successful here as in Japan and Europe:

Van Ark and Shikata agree, saying a line connecting the heavily populated Bay Area and Southern California, and running through the flat, more sparsely developed San Joaquin Valley, is ideal.

"That stretch between San Francisco and Los Angeles is such an optimum stretch," said Van Ark. "You want a long stretch where you can actually use the maximum speed of the train."

Cabanatuan's article also points out the importance of having high density around the HSR stations. The Reason Foundation is again quoted as saying California doesn't have the population density period to support HSR but we have disproved that argument before, showing that California and Spain are very similar on that point. Van Ark pointed out that HSR actually spurs urban density as the land around a station becomes more valuable.

The Central Valley will be key to this, as cities along the line will have to shift their land use policies to favor infill density development. It's always been my argument that this is going to happen anyway given the factors that make sprawl less economically viable or practical. SB 375, recently signed by Arnold Schwarzenegger, provides a powerful weapon to make that happen, tying land use law to global warming reduction targets and favoring urban density.

In any event, it's refreshing to see a California journalist write an HSR article that actually informs the reader and provides a thoughtful discussion of the issue, rather than acting as a proxy for the Reason Foundation's anti-transit diatribes. Kudos to Michael Cabanatuan for this article.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

A Little Less Conversation

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

Daniel Weintraub at the Sacramento Bee is hosting a "Sunday Conversation" on Prop 1A. The conversation consists of four articles - an HSR-skeptical article from Weintraub himself, an article from HSR denier Joseph Vranich and two from Californians who currently ride the passenger trains and who would welcome high speed rail. It's an interesting discussion, if rather incomplete.

Weintraub's article does not set a good tone, and is rather deeply biased against HSR. For example:

Will they risk $10 billion, which translates into $650 million a year in debt-service payments, on an unproven idea at a time of great personal, societal and governmental financial stress?

Weintraub does his readers a disservice to argue that HSR is an "unproven idea." That is simply untrue. It is a proven idea - he can look at France, Germany, Spain, Japan, China, and Taiwan to find HSR success stories. Many of these systems have been operating for a long time - for 45 years in Japan - so Weintraub is off base to claim it "unproven." Californians have been setting monthly records on intercity passenger trains for nearly two years, so he can't credibly argue intercity rail is an unproven idea either.

And even in good times, $650 million a year is not chump change. To put that number in perspective, consider that it is equivalent to 20 percent of what the taxpayers spend now on the California State University system, which has become a giant assimilator taking working-class kids, many of them from poor immigrant families, and turning them into successful players in an ever more technological economy.

Would a new train, even a futuristic one, really be a better investment than giving 70,000 more young adults a college education every year? That's the kind of choice that is buried in these single-issue ballot measures but rarely debated.

This is a deeply biased and misleading framing. $650 million a year is 6.5% of the annual budget of California prisons, but Weintraub didn't use that as the point of comparison. Instead he argues that California must choose between higher education or high speed trains, a clearly biased choice designed to make HSR look bad.

The state Legislative Analyst, a nonpartisan office, noted that California can afford Prop 1A - that the bond debt will not break our existing debt ceiling. Further, as a Sacramento-based political reporter Weintraub certainly knows that the problem with California's budget is a broken process where the 2/3 rule prevents the state from generating as much revenue as it needs to. Simply restoring the pre-1998 income tax brackets for the top earners, or restoring the Vehicle License Fee that averaged $150 per driver per year, would generate more than enough money to close our budget deficit, pay the debt service, and have enough left over to help more kids attend college.

Besides, "futuristic"? Huh? HSR is a standard, off-the-shelf technology that is actually rather prosaic in its day to day operations.

At the end of his column Weintraub mentions the jobs and economic stimulus that will be generated by Prop 1A, but this feels tacked on - especially as it directly challenges many of his earlier claims about the "opportunity cost" of HSR:

But voters seldom consider the trade-offs inherent in each such proposal, the opportunity cost of doing less of something else, such as higher education, that is not on the ballot.

The problem is that voters also don't often consider the tradeoffs of rejecting a badly needed piece of long-term infrastructure, partly because writers like Weintraub do not ever put it in that way. The stats on job creation Weintraub cited should have caused him to reconsider this "opportunity cost" point - how exactly is California going to have money to do anything if people are out of work, dependent on volatile oil prices, and if the state lacks the tax revenues that the jobs would create?

Further, Weintraub is assuming that the state cannot or will not generate new revenues to ensure that we can do all the things we need to do - pay for schools and health care AND generate new economic opportunities through projects like high speed rail. His framing is inherently Hooverite - that we should not turn to deficit spending in a time of economic crisis. One wonders if Weintraub would have supported the Golden Gate Bridge or the Shasta Dam were he writing for the Bee in the 1930s.

Perhaps the most egregious part of his article is his discussion of outside funding, which is just plain wrong:

More than two-thirds of the money to complete the project is supposed to come from sources still not identified. If that money never materializes, or comes up short, the taxpayers would some day be asked to step up with even more billions to finish the line, or risk stopping mid-project with the world's most expensive train to nowhere.

None of this is true. Much of the remainder of funds is to come from Congress. Weintraub's own paper ran an article quoting Rep. Doris Matsui as saying California is well positioned to receive some of the first Congressional HSR money. Senators John Kerry and Johnny Isakson are leading a bipartisan effort for HSR funding. Weintraub would have been on less biased ground had he said that the funding was not secured.

Additionally AB 3034 amended the ballot proposal to NOT leave the taxpayers on the hook. AB 3034 directly addressed and rendered moot Weintraub's worry about a train to nowhere, since the Prop 1A bond money cannot be used to build more than 50% of a track or a station. The Legislature is not stupid and they will simply not authorize money to be spent to build half a station - only when matching funds are secured will construction begin.

Of course the Bee also included an article from Joseph Vranich, the co-author of oil company-funded Reason Foundation's HSR study that was thoroughly debunked here a few weeks ago. His article offers little that is new and relies on the same discredited ideas as that flawed study.

Happily Weintraub did solicit articles from two California women who eagerly await high speed rail. Estelle Shiroma is a frequent rider on the Capitol Corridor and shared her reasons for wanting HSR:

High-speed rail could very easily replace airline trips when I travel within California. The advantages are numerous - no long waiting period to board, more comfortable surroundings, and ample work space not available on planes. Trains are also more accessible for the handicapped. As the baby boomers age, there will be many more seniors who will not be (or should not be) driving, and the train would provide a safer alternative.

Shelly Poticha is the president and CEO of Reconnecting America and offered her own thoughts on HSR's value:

If California's high-speed rail is anything like the Acela in the Northeast Corridor or the trains I've ridden in Italy and France, the cars will be clean, the seats comfortable, and good food will be available. I'll be able to look out the window at the landscape of our beautiful state and see the communities that define much of our history and support our economy. And, unlike air travel, I'll be able to plug in my computer and connect to the Internet via Wi-Fi or take a business call on my cell phone(in the cellphone-approved cars, of course)....

Ironically, I'm heading to Mississippi to speak to a group of 100 mayors who have joined the Southern High-Speed Rail Commission. They want to build high-speed rail from New Orleans to Atlanta and Houston to Mobile. Many see the rail investment as a huge economic boon: thousands of new jobs, revived towns and travel options for residents who have to commute from city to city. It looks like they are going to pull this off. Can California afford to be left behind?

HSR is a better way to travel, and Poticha does a good job of explaining not only that aspect of HSR's value to California, but reminds us of another aspect of the "opportunity cost" that Weintraub ignored - if we don't build it, other parts of the United States will. California will lose out on not only federal funding, but on the economic opportunities that high speed trains generate.

California cannot rest on its laurels and do nothing to secure a prosperous 21st century future, the way Weintraub and Vranich suggest. Instead we should follow the lead of Estelle Shiroma, Shelly Poticha, and the San Jose Mercury News and plan for our future. From the Merc's Yes on 1A editorial:

The proposal, years in the making, has been thoroughly vetted in public debate, particularly over the route. The High Speed Rail Authority made the right choices, coming up with a practical and visionary plan that will place San Jose and Silicon Valley at the heart of the Bay Area's economy. We recommend it.

Proposition 1A's $9.95 billion bond will cover about a quarter of the cost of the high-speed rail project. The source for the rest is not certain, although similar systems have found private investment, and a federal high-speed rail funding bill just signed by President Bush was drafted in part with this project in mind.

Still, there's no question it's expensive, and, with a recession looming, voters will be wary. But a down economy is exactly the time to invest in transportation and other infrastructure that will form the backbone of our future prosperity.

California cannot rely on the 20th century infrastructure to provide prosperity for much longer. Just as we rejected the advice of Herbert Hoover and his supporters in the 1930s and built the Golden Gate Bridge and Shasta Dam anyway, so too should we reject the claims of the New Hoovers and build high speed rail in California.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

How Sacramento (and other CA cities) Will Benefit From Prop 1A

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

Today's Sacramento Bee examines what Sacramento gets out of Proposition 1A and high speed rail. The article wants to generate some controversy about the fact that Sacramento is going to be included in a later phase of construction, but few of the folks interviewed were willing to play along. Instead the article provides one of the most detailed and strongest arguments for voters not living along the SF-LA "spine" to support Proposition 1A.

Rail Authority executive Mehdi Morshed said his agency's studies indicate the first segment will be a moneymaker – and income would be used to extend the line to Sacramento and San Diego.

That's the rub for Sacramento.

"Unless somebody builds the San Francisco to Los Angeles segment, Sacramento will never be built because it will never pencil out," Morshed said. "You need to have the cash cow (first)."

Morshed isn't just speaking in the abstract. Both the French TGV and Spanish AVE systems have followed a similar trajectory, where an initial line became so popular it created the political will and the financial capacity to expand new lines. The TGV puts SNCF in the black and subsidizes not only new HSR lines but the rest of SNCF's passenger rail operations. The first AVE lines helped pay for expansions of the system, including the route from Madrid to Barcelona.

Representative Doris Matsui, whose district is primarily comprised of Sacramento, agrees, especially on the need to use a starter line to build momentum for more extensions:

"For me it would be easier to look favorably on this if Sacramento were in the loop early on," said Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento. "We are the capital city. Why not?"

But, she said, "We're never going to get there unless we take the first step. If California comes out ahead, we benefit."

Matsui's approach is sound - realizing that Sacramento benefits when the state as a whole benefits - which it will once the SF-LA line is under way.

Sacramento benefits in more tangible and immediate ways and the article's author, Tony Bizjak, should be commended for explaining to readers that Sacramento's existing passenger rail systems are in line for a much-needed financial boost from Prop 1A:

The bond measure sets aside at least $47 million for improvements to Sacramento's popular Capitol Corridor passenger train line.

Sacramento Regional Transit, which runs light rail and buses, also is in line to receive at least $21 million.

Capitol Corridor train chief Gene Skoropowski is a vocal bond measure supporter, and said his trains between Auburn and the Bay Area would work in tandem with bullet trains, at first in San Jose, and eventually in Sacramento.

"Our service would likely become a major feeder-collector," he said. "People would take our train to Sacramento or San Jose to connect up with the high-speed trains."

The Capitol Corridor trains, RT light-rail trains and Amtrak trains would meet up with bullet trains at the downtown Sacramento railyard transit depot.

$47 million can go quite a long way for the Capitol Corridor, as would $21 million for Sacramento's RT. For the Capitol Corridor that money could purchase new train cars, and upgrade existing sections of track to improve the route's already remarkable on-time percentage - 93.8% in September 2008.

Other passenger rail systems around the state will receive immediate benefits from Prop 1A. The Pacific Surfliner that connects SLO, Santa Barbara, Ventura, LA, Orange County, and San Diego is in line for about $45 million, as are the San Joaquins. The San Joaquin money would be significant since upgrades there could help passengers in Sacramento reach the Merced HSR station more quickly. Metrolink is to receive some money, and the long-planned Coast Daylight, a train from SF to LA via the coast route (Salinas, SLO, Santa Barbara) could also get fully funded.

The article closes by showing how Congress is already poised to begin directing federal money to the HSR project:

Congress also recently established a $1.5 billion grant program to promote high-speed rail. Rep. Matsui said California should line up well for a chunk of that money if voters approve the bond.

That money isn't the full federal match that will be needed, of course - but it IS a clear indication of Congressional willingness to provide money, especially when the US Senate is prepared to push a much larger HSR funding plan in 2009.

Of course, Sacramento can expect to someday be included on the HSR route. We here in Monterey will never be included. But both of our cities will benefit, immediately, from Prop 1A when it passes. And we will benefit in the long term from the HSR line that will make passenger rail travel in our state much quicker, efficient, and available to all of us, even we folks on the Central Coast who make regular trips to Southern California.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Fighting Back Against the New Hoovers

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

Not content with denying to Californians the numerous tangible benefits of high speed rail, Prop 1A opponents have retreated into a revival of Herbert Hoover's economic policy in order to try and defeat the most important project Californians have considered in nearly 50 years. Their argument is that in an economic crisis, we should turn to austerity instead of following the tried and true path of deficit spending on infrastructure that provides short-term job relief and long-term economic value.

For a couple weeks this blog has been doing yeoman's work in fighting back against this nonsense, one of the few voices directing Californians to learn from our past successes instead of repeating our mistakes.

No longer.

Today we have numerous articles and media outlets starting to push back against the New Hoovers. From newspaper editorial pages to leading economists there is a growing consensus that we must use deficit spending - in our case, bonds - to spur economic growth through infrastructure projects.

Even conservative observers and federal deficit hawks are seeing the need for deficit spending, as the conservative Washington Times reports:

Conservative Financial Times columnist Samuel Brittan said the fears that short-term stimulus spending by governments will raise deficits miss the point. Even the $700 billion Wall Street rescue plan approved by the U.S. government — part of a more than $2 trillion international bailout of banks by governments around the world — does not change the equation.

"Maxims about debt that might be prudent for families can be the height of folly for government," he wrote.

British economist John Maynard Keynes is credited with the basic insight, arguing that the Great Depression was prolonged because Western governments insisted on balancing budgets, raising taxes and cutting spending at a time when private economic activity had ground to a halt.

Maya MacGuineas, president of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, a nonpartisan research group, said both candidates must put together a credible long-term plan to deal with the exploding deficit, but that the government should be priming the pump in the short term.

These conservatives are joined by Nobel laureate Paul Krugman, who writes in today's column:

And to provide that help, we’re going to have to put some prejudices aside. It’s politically fashionable to rant against government spending and demand fiscal responsibility. But right now, increased government spending is just what the doctor ordered, and concerns about the budget deficit should be put on hold....

All signs point to an economic slump that will be nasty, brutish — and long....

And this is also a good time to engage in some serious infrastructure spending, which the country badly needs in any case. The usual argument against public works as economic stimulus is that they take too long: by the time you get around to repairing that bridge and upgrading that rail line, the slump is over and the stimulus isn’t needed. Well, that argument has no force now, since the chances that this slump will be over anytime soon are virtually nil. So let’s get those projects rolling.

The growing unanimity of opinion on the need for deficit spending for infrastructure projects is striking. Krugman, MacGuineas and Brittan join leading economic figures like Nouriel Roubini and Lawrence Summers in calling for bold action to mitigate the deepening economic crisis.

They are joined today by the Fresno Bee editorial in favor of Prop 1A which clearly understands the need for infrastructure stimulus, and directly refutes some of the fiscal arguments against HSR:

Sadly, much opposition has come from people who say they like the idea of 220-mph trains zipping up and down the state, but don't think we can afford it right now, in a time of budget disaster and economic crisis.

That sounds prudent, even reasonable, but it ignores an important fact of American history: Many of our most important public works projects have come in times of deep economic distress -- and they have been crucial elements in our recovery in those times.

Recall the Great Depression, when voters in the Bay Area passed bonds to build the Golden Gate and Bay bridges -- projects that lightened the impact of the Depression on that region and were critical to the postwar economic boom. Shasta Dam was built during the Depression, and remains a linchpin of the state's water system.

The closing paragraph of the editorial is a powerful, stirring statement that deserves to be quoted in full:

The high-speed rail project is immense, and that can be daunting. The current economic situation is likely to get worse before it gets better. In the past, Californians have risen to such challenges with vision and determination. Voting "yes" on Proposition 1A is a declaration that we still possess those qualities, and have not surrendered them to a timid faith in a status quo that is no longer sustainable.

I've never seen it put so well. The Fresno Bee clearly understands that our state's very future is at stake and that Californians should be able to meet that challenge just as we have done in the past.

And what about the arguments that the financial crisis makes this a bad time to float bonds? The Sacramento Bee reports "unprecedented demand" for California's short-term bonds:

California has secured commitments for nearly $4 billion in short-term loans thanks to unprecedented demand from individual investors Wednesday, averting a need for federal assistance and allaying fears of a cash shortage....

California secured orders for $3.92 billion in short-term bonds from individual investors Tuesday and Wednesday, 98 percent of its original $4 billion goal, according to state Treasurer Bill Lockyer....

This week's bond sale reassured state officials that traditional lending markets would suffice.

Translation: capital markets WANT state bonds. If we float Prop 1A bonds they will be quickly gobbled up by a hungry market desperate for a safe investment.

All the HSR deniers have left is what was at the core of their belief all along - opposition to passenger rail:

"This is like losing your job and then using your credit card to put in a new swimming pool to help provide work for others," said [Kris] Vosburgh [of the Howard Jarvis Association] of the jobs argument.

Have fun with that ridiculous "swimming pool" analogy in the comments...

CALPIRG Prop 1A Info Sessions

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

CALPIRG is hosting a number of high speed rail and Prop 1A forums at college campuses around the state this month - including one at UC Santa Cruz where yours truly will join Rod Diridon on the panel explaining the benefits of high speed rail, the reasons to vote Yes on Prop 1A.

You can RSVP at this link.

The schedule of events:


When: Monday, October 20th, 5pm
Where: California State University, Bakersfield, Dorothy Donahue Hall Room G102

Speakers include:
Bakersfield Mayor Harvey Hall
State Senator Dean Florez
Aaron Hegee, Professor of Economics and Director of the Environmental Resource Management Program at CSUB


When: Tuesday, October 21st, 12pm
Where: University of California, Los Angeles, Kerckhoff Grand Salon

Speakers include:
Maria Elena Durazo, Executive Secretary-Treasurer Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO
Alex Pugh, Los Angeles Chamber of Commerce Senior Public Policy Manager


When: Wednesday, October 22nd, 4pm
Where: Santa Clara University, Benson Hall, Parlors 2 and 3

Speakers Include:
San Jose City Council Member Sam Liccardo
San Jose City Council Member Forrest Williams


When: Wednesday, October 22nd at 11am
Where: University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley Art Museum Theatre, 2626 Bancroft Way

Speakers include:
Professor Dan Kammen, UC Berkeley
State Senator Leland Yee
Jim Lazarus, San Francisco Chamber of Commerce


When: Thursday, October 23rd, 1:30pm
Where: University of California, San Diego, Price Center Ballroom B

Speakers Include:
State Senator Christine Kehoe
State Assemblymember Lori Saldaña
Jay Hansen, Legislative Director, Building and Construction Trade Council
Kelly Cunningham, Policy Fellow, San Diego Institute for Policy Research


When: Monday, October 27th, 12pm
Where: University of California, Santa Cruz (RSVP below and we'll send you the room information)

Speakers include:
Rod Diridon, High-Speed Rail Authority Board member and Executive Director of the Mineta Transportation Institute
Robert Cruickshank, High-Speed Rail blog

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Colma Is Not Bayview

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

Unless you're John Horgan, in which case they're the same:

Speaking of reality, there is one more obvious and bizarre outcome for proponents of Proposition 1A to contemplate and explain, if they can do so with any semblance of logic.

If the grandiose setup is OK'd by taxpayers on Nov. 4, we would then have to prepare for — get ready — not one, not two, but three separate rail lines from Millbrae to San Francisco.

That is correct. You would have Caltrain, BART and the new high-speed outfit all providing much the same service. It would be one very crowded right of way.

Talk about redundancy and waste on a wildly expensive and outlandish scale.

The fact that BART and Caltrain take a totally different route from Millbrae to SF clearly escapes him. There's no ROW sharing at all beyond the SF Airport.

Nor do they "provide much the same service." Because they serve different routes BART and Caltrain are obviously different. High speed rail of course connects SF to LA - they're long-distance trains whereas BART and Caltrain are local commuter trains.

Who at the San Mateo County Times thought it was a good idea to let someone with no knowledge of trains write about trains?

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Flawed LA Times Article on Prop 1A

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

The Los Angeles Times editorial board wrote an excellent argument for Prop 1A earlier this month. Unfortunately Eric Bailey's feature article in today's paper misses the mark and fails to provide readers an accurate picture of the HSR project - particularly by presenting some flawed claims from HSR deniers without independent verification or refutation.

First up is Richard Tolmach who engages in some of the worst kind of exploitation - using the horrific Chatsworth disaster to argue that HSR is somehow similarly unsafe:

"After all the crashes -- the train crash and the market crash -- supporters may have a lot more trouble than they anticipated," said Richard Tolmach, president of the nonprofit California Rail Foundation, a Proposition 1A foe.

Eric Bailey does provide refutation of this egregious bit of nonsense:

Metrolink-type collisions wouldn't be an issue, they say, because the train would run on tracks separate from freight lines. Bridges and other grade separations would keep the rails away from cars.

But unfortunately Bailey does not include refutation of the Reason Foundation's nonsense - even though this blog has provided a thorough deconstruction of that deeply flawed study, including the following points:

A report commissioned by the Libertarian think tank Reason Foundation and other foes compared California's plans with what is rolling on the ground right now in Europe and Asia.

Instead of a profit, the California trains could yield financial losses up to $4 billion, the report contends, predicting at least 60% fewer passengers than promoters project.

mike specifically refuted that point:

So [the Reason Foundation study's] claim that CA HSRA is using numbers higher than those achieved on any other system in the world is absurdly false - in fact, CA HSRA's numbers are only 1/3rd of what has been previously achieved.

Unfortunately Bailey just lets them rant on:

The final construction tab, they say, would swell beyond $80 billion, and other studies support that sort of conclusion. A Danish researcher who analyzed more than 250 big infrastructure projects around the world determined that new rail lines typically cost 45% more than originally estimated.

That Danish study has been challenged before. The LA Times can look a few blocks from its downtown headquarters to see the Metro Gold Line extension is on-time and under-budget. It is entirely possible that we will see cost overruns, but you can't pull a number out of thin air like $80 billion. If you're going to talk about overruns you need to explain precisely why and how those costs will rise. If you can't, then you're just making stuff up, and the LA Times shouldn't be allowing its pages to be used for that purpose.

The article also digs up an anti-HSR prof at USC:

Professor James Moore, director of USC's transportation engineering program, calls it "a dumb project" with overblown ridership and construction estimates, inflated profit forecasts, and wildly optimistic speeds and travel times.

"It's technologically impossible to do what the High-Speed Rail Authority claims can be done, for any amount of money," he said. "When it comes to predicting the actual cost of systems like this, I just say a zillion and leave it at that."

But Moore doesn't explain himself. At all. "A zillion?" That's not intellectually defensible.

The deeper issue Moore is likely referring to is whether the 220mph speed can be achieved. It's worth noting that 220mph is not intended to be the average speed, but the top achievable speed. The HSR deniers' strategy is to claim that if we can't meet the exact specifications that the CHSRA is promoting, then the entire concept is bad and should be rejected.

Which doesn't make any sense. HSR is a good idea not because we can achieve 220mph but because we can get quite close, providing very fast service that will still attract riders and meet our fundamental goals of sustainable, non-oil based, profitable transportation.

We don't have to speculate here. We can look at the evidence. The Madrid-Barcelona AVE line was intended to accomplish 217mph (350kph) with Siemens train technology. But the best they've been able to accomplish is 186mph (300kph). 186mph is still VERY fast, and it hasn't hurt the success of the new AVE line. In six months the AVE trains have taken 30% of the market on the Madrid-Barcelona route. The AVE trains are so successful that Spain's airlines have had to cut flights because their passengers are flocking to HSR.

Madrid-Barcelona is in fact a very good comparison to SF-LA. The Madrid-Barcelona corridor was one of the busiest airline routes in the world, and are Spain's two primary urban centers. SF to LA is one of the USA's busiest airline routes and are California's two primary urban centers. Madrid and Barcelona are 385 miles from each other by rail; SF to LA via the HSR route is 432 miles. Even if we cannot achieve 220mph, which IS technically possible, a top speed of 186mph would put the cities roughly three hours apart. Given the convenience of train travel and the added time costs of flying this still compares favorably to the airlines, especially when you consider the cost of expanding airports to meet demand, and especially the cost of fuel (and therefore airfares) in ten years' time.

The details do matter. And the details are likely to change. That's the nature of large infrastructure projects. You don't always come out with exactly, precisely the same thing you went in with. That's not a bad thing - projects need to be adapted to conditions if and when they change. Those who claim "omg they can't reach 220 so this is DOOMED!" are merely trying to pull a fast one on Californians, hoping that voters' lack of knowledge about HSR and general distrust of government can cover up the basic fact that even at 186 mph HSR is going to be profitable and popular.

Sadly, this is how American journalism works these days. Journalists become stenographers, quoting "both sides" and leaving it at that, even if one side's flawed arguments are left unrefuted. That's a major reason why this blog exists - to push back against this and provide Californians the truth.

Note: I've had to turn on comment moderation for the time being, since one particularly determined spammer chose to repeatedly post the same personal attacks. I will approve submitted comments as quickly as possible. As usual, I will not reject comments merely for criticizing HSR and Prop 1A. The only out-of-bounds comments are those that engage in personal attacks or those that are cut-and-pastes of entire articles. If you have any problems submitting comments, send an email to my last name at gmail dot com.

Update: Air France is getting into the HSR business, and will operate trains between Paris and London that reach a maximum speed of 224mph.

Do the HSR deniers still want to say that 220mph is impossible?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Is California Going to Surrender Billions in Federal Money?

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

We keep hearing from the HSR deniers that because of the financial crisis we shouldn't approve Prop 1A. For several days running we've demolished that ridiculous thinking. But as we watch what is going on in Washington, DC we can see just how self-destructive their arguments are.

Momentum is building in Congress for a new economic stimulus package. Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pushing for a new stimulus that would accomplish the following goals:

money for infrastructure projects, aid to cash-strapped states, an extension of unemployment benefits and perhaps another round of tax rebates or tax cuts to boost consumer spending.

Pelosi wants to help ease California's budget crisis, something Barack Obama has proposed as well. That should help cut down on the number of people who claim, falsely, that California's budget troubles should lead us to reject Prop 1A.

With the budget deficit out of the way we can then focus on the infrastructure stimulus aspect. We must keep in mind that the federal government no longer gives money away. Instead you have to provide a state-level match to receive transit money. No local match, no money.

California's high-speed rail project, with its detailed construction plan and with a $10 billion state match, with the potential to create 160,000 jobs over the next few years, would likely rank pretty high on the list of projects Congress would be interested in funding. The fact that the northern terminus would be in the core of the home district of the Speaker of the House, and that two of the most powerful Senators - Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer - hail from California would also boost our chances.

And of course, both Barack Obama and Joe Biden have repeatedly expressed their support of high speed rail.

Finally, the US Senate has been ready to step up on high speed rail, with Republican Senator Johnny Isakson joining Democratic Senator John Kerry to propose several billion dollars be spent on high speed rail.

But if we reject Prop 1A, those billions - likely between $10 and $20 billion - will go elsewhere. Senator Isakson wants to spend it on HSR connecting Birmingham, Alabama to Washington, DC via Atlanta and Charlotte. Texas has revived its HSR plan and the Midwest has its own HSR plans. That money is NOT coming to California if we reject Prop 1A. It's just not. Without a local match there is no incentive at all for Congress to drop a dime on HSR here.

With federal HSR money committed to other states that's going to set back our own HSR project by about a decade at best. Those who claim we should vote no on Prop 1A to get a better HSR plan are either misleading you or aren't aware of the facts. For California, it really is now or never.

The choice is clear: follow the new Hoovers and reject Prop 1A, or follow the successful path FDR charted and approve Prop 1A.