Monday, March 9, 2009

Fresno Bee: Fund the High Speed Rail Project

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

The looming cash crisis facing the California High Speed Rail Authority - which, I must repeat, is not the Authority's fault but instead the product of a flawed state budget process that has caught the CHSRA within its grasp - is the subject of a great Fresno Bee editorial today that calls on state lawmakers to find a solution and prevent the new national support for HSR from passing California:

The California High Speed Rail Authority is out of money, and may have to call a halt to all the planning efforts now under way. That could put the state at risk of losing out on federal funds in both the stimulus bill and the omnibus spending bill....

California is currently ahead of the rest of the states in planning its high-speed system. We're the only state whose voters have approved spending our own money on such a project, and the environmental and engineering studies required for the massive project are already well begun.

But that lead could evaporate quickly if California's efforts are stalled by money woes. Not a day passes without news of the enthusiasm that's rising in other states and regions to build high-speed systems -- the Midwest, the Northeast corridor, Texas, Florida.

In the meantime, some of the private contractors doing the engineering and environmental reviews in California have already stopped the work because they aren't getting paid. Most of the work of planning, designing and building the high-speed system will be done by private sector companies -- but they won't work for free, nor should they.

California's budget crisis is growing worse, and the US Senate's decision to tell the states to "drop dead" by cutting the state stabilization funds is a huge part of the problem. Still, $29.1 million is not an enormous amount of money and is a smart investment in enabling billions in federal money to come California's way.

State legislators and administrators must find a way to ensure the CHSRA has the money it needs to do its work. Otherwise we're going to see an emboldened NIMBY and HSR denier movement that will destroy high speed rail in the absence of the kind of information, charts, graphics, and public meetings that the CHSRA can offer.

Getting voters to approve Prop 1A was the easy part. Changing the underlying politics that frustrated passenger rail projects for over 40 years is the hard part. We have an opportunity to do that now. We cannot afford to let it pass us by.

43 comments:

Andrew Bogan said...

HSR planning in California clearly needs to be funded and hopefully politicians in Sacramento and Washington DC will realize this soon. Investment in infrastructure is a proven remedy for recession and the nonsense about this project not being "shovel ready" is short-sighted. Why would stimulus be better spent on a laborer with a shovel than on an engineering consultant with a computer? California is in serious need of both types of jobs during this crisis, so let's not focus too narrowly on when the shovel-pushers can start (that always happens after the engineering is complete).

The State's budget crisis was not caused by infrastructure projects and certainly not by the very small amounts already spent on HSR. The crisis comes from a 2/3 super-majority required to approve budgets in our State, an unusually progressive state tax code that amplifies economic cycles, and an unwillingness among politicians to admit that the ballooning costs of fixed benefit plan pensions for retired public sector employees cannot be met. It is time to move public sector workers to defined contribution plans, just like the private sector did years ago with the 401k.

Rafael said...

@ robert cruickshank -

$29.1 ?

timote said...

I've got thirty bucks in my pocket if you need ;-)

Rafael said...

California's budget is stuck in neutral until voters decide on the special cloodges the latest one contains in the special election in May. Meanwhile, CHSRA and its consultants can't really get much of anything done, besides hosting a few venting sessions in return for IOUs. The problem is that where there are anti-HSR groups, lawsuits are now being prepared in the vacuum that has resulted. If they manage to tie the whole thing up in the courts, the deadlines for federal funds may come and go without California getting a thick slice.

Conversely, where there are pro-HSR cities and counties, time is being wasted. They really need the jobs, but construction can't start until the project-level EIR/EIS for their segment is completed, ROW acquired etc.

California voters approved $9.95 billion in state bond authority for HSR and its feeder services last November. Of that, up to a maximum of $900 million is available for project-level EIR/EIS and associated preliminary engineering work. Unlike the other $8.1 billion for HSR as such, these $900 million are not subject to securing non-state matching funds first.

However, they very much are subject to appropriations by the California legislature in the context of the state budget process, which as we all know is terminally gridlocked because of the 2/3 rule.

Now, the CHSRA business plan actually calls for a contribution of $2-3 billion of the $33 billion estimated for the starter line from all of the cities and counties served combined. The idea was that this money would be spent on local projects such as construction of HSR stations and their environs.

Let's assume that CHSRA actually wants some money to keep working.

Step 1: cities/counties/private citizens that want to keep CHSRA's nose to the grindstone for the next few months have three options for helping:

a) make a small investment (a few million) from city/county coffers in the project and have CHSRA include that in its accounting of who paid what to make HSR happen

b) offer CHSRA a small bridging loan out of city/county coffers, tied to project-level planning of the local segment of the route

c) set up an investment vehicle that seeks and aggregates small investments by private citizens. If CHSRA sets up a C-corp that will end up owning the infrastructure, the investment vehicle can ppurchase equity. Otherwise, it can extend a private bridging loan to CHSRA.

Any bridging loan would have to be repaid as soon as the California legislature appropriates a fraction of the $900 million available for this phase of the project and the associated bonds are sold. The seniority of that debt would be subject to negotiation, after all CHSRA still has open invoices from contractors. Other strings could be attached, e.g. a specification of particular topics/options that are to be studied.

Step 2: eliminate the 2/3 rule on the state budget via a ballot proposition to amend the state constitution. Amazingly, this would only require a simple majority to pass. Therefore, also ensure a 2/3 majority would be required to reverse the decision in the future. Constitutional provisions aren't supposed to be easy to change, especially on money matters.

Morris Brown said...

With regards this project being "shovel ready" and therefore eligible for funds from the stimulus package, there would seem,at least to me, to be problems.

I understand the deadline that construction can begin in year 2012 is the benchmark of what is or is not shovel ready.

At the Palo Alto council meeting of March 2, we heard that by early 2012, the project would be at the 30% design level on construction drawings. Now 30% is not 100% and I believe using that benchmark this project is not shovel ready, and could not qualify for those funds. However, anything is possible.

The state now has a budget, but the state is in such poor financial shape they apparently cannot sell bonds, at least not at an acceptable level of interest rates. California is not rated the poorest bond risk in the nation.

There are many other project bonds that need to be sold as well as the bonds authorized by AB-3034.

The budget I have been told, authorized full funding for the Authority. The problem is where is the source for these funds. The source was to be from proceeds from sales of the bonds, which along with many billions of other bonds cannot not presently be marketed.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Well Morris, it would certainly help if you guys weren't pulling out all the stops to delay this project as long as you can, trying to strangle it in the crib.

There are several grade crossing projects in SoCal that can begin construction by 2012, along with some work at the Transbay Terminal, and project work in the Central Valley.

Jim said...

@ andrew " It is time to move public sector workers to defined contribution plans, just like the private sector did years ago with the 401k." NO, I don't think so. We've seen what happens to THAT money. No thank you. Real pensions only please.

Jim said...

The real problem seems to be that everything we know about what is going on is all speculation. Where is the exact, true and specific information about the day to day progress and goings on at hsr.

Rafael said...

@ Morris Brown -

30% design level does not mean that all component projects are at that level of maturity. Selected grade separations and other small projects can turn dirt well before some of the bigger issues are completely resolved.

Wrt the budget, I'm not sure what fully funding the CHSRA means. All expenses up to now have been funded out of the general fund, but the idea is obviously to switch to the bond authority granted in November. So perhaps CHSRA has asked for a slice of the max. $900 million available for project-level EIR/EIS and preliminary engineering that do not require matching funds. Or, the state has allocated some of the state budget stabilization funds in the stimulus bill to CHSRA.

Either way, as I understand it, the state budget as a whole cannot become law until and unless voters approve a set of ballot propositions in the special election in May.

So far, state legislators have not taken the obvious and prudent step of separating appropriations requests for the HSR project - only the single biggest infrastructure project in the state, ever - out of its general process to avoid causing construction cost escalations and difficulties in securing non-state investment.

On a related note, is there any effort underway to make the position of Chairman of the CHSRA Board an (indirectly) elected position before the 2010 midterms? The palpable absence of personal accountability to voters is actually a problem for a project this large, protracted and consequential for this many communities. It's a special case and ought to be treated as such.

Steve said...

According to the California State Government http://www.ebudget.ca.gov/pdf/BudgetSummary/SummaryofMajorChangesbyMajorProgramAreas.pdf there's $123 Million to start the project. am I missing something?

DBM said...

30% Design level means that the project can be let out for a design-build contract. When that happens, the project is under construction.

DBM said...

Should the head of Caltrans be elected? How about the Secretary of Defense? GM of BART?

I don't think people who want to run for office are best qualified for technical positions. Should the head of any project be expected to spend time and effort to campaign for their job? Is the project best served by a leader that might change every four years?

Morris Brown said...

@Steve

No, your not missing something. As I said, the full amount the CHSRA asked for is budgeted. However, where are those budgeted funds to come from? They were to come from bond sales, which right now are frozen.

@Rafael

I would think that it would be most imprudent to do parts of a segment, like grade crossings, until the design process, for at least that whole segment, is complete.

What I know about is going on in Sacramento is not much. SB-53 (Ducheny) became law last fall; it portends to study putting CHSRA and other agencies into an existing or new structure. I think that study is due this summer.

Now SB-409 (Ducheny) was just introduced and it is an interesting read. It would place the CHSRA under a new department

Finally the State Senate T&H committee was due to have a hearing on HSR tomorrow; it has been delayed until the 17th.

Rafael, I keep wondering how much delay each stop along the route causes. You mentioned a long time ago that it takes maybe 2 miles of slowing down from a high speed to stop these trains, and they take quite some time to get up to speed. I went to look at TGV schedules and came to the conclusion that each stop causes from 7 to 12 minutes delay. Is that reasonable?

Morris

Andrew Bogan said...

@Jim

"NO, I don't think so. We've seen what happens to THAT money. No thank you. Real pensions only please."

Please don't get me wrong, I understand why you would prefer the defined benefit plan you will likely receive upon retirement from Amtrak (and how extraordinarily valuable it is--compare it to the cost of buying a fixed annuity with similar annual benefits to get a rough net present value of the future cash-flows), I just don't believe they are actually going to be able to pay you the money.

I certainly hope they do, I just doubt they will. What has happened to "THAT" money in 401k plans is no different from what has happened to pension fund money, except in the case of pension plans it just gets booked as "unfunded liabilities", and everyone prays the tax payers can cover it some day. I, too, hope they can pay it, since it was clearly promised to current workers all along, I'm just not sure they will be able to do so unless they alter the structure for future employees to defined contribution plans. The problem is the depth of the current recession and its implications for tax revenues in the context of public sector pension plans that were, unlike 401k accounts, already underfunded before we got into this mess.

Alon Levy said...

Morris, looking at Shinkansen timetables, it seems that each stop adds about 7-8 minutes to the scheduled run time. This is very suboptimal, and more modern equipment can do better - I believe CAHSR is projecting 5 minutes for each extra stop in a high-speed segment, like the CV, and 3 in lower-speed segments, like the Peninsula.

Andrew Bogan said...

@Alon Levy

You may be correct on the time per station for the shinkansen, but be a little careful since the shinkansen routes typically run older slower trains on the runs that make the intermediate stops and the newest, fastest trains on the runs doing major express routes (like Tokyo-Osaka). The stopped shinkansen also sometimes wait for express trains to pass them at certain stations along the route, adding extra time.

Clem said...

30% design level does not mean that all component projects are at that level of maturity. Selected grade separations and other small projects can turn dirt well before some of the bigger issues are completely resolved.

Not if they're funded by the CHSRA. No earth is moved until after 30%. Notice that Kopp's recent laundry list of shovel-ready components are all designed and administered by other agencies.

Case in point: the extremely sub-optimal four track grade separation design that Caltrain came up with for San Bruno. Who knows, the rush to pour concrete might actually cause this abomination to be built without a proper re-design for HSR?

looking at Shinkansen timetables, it seems that each stop adds about 7-8 minutes to the scheduled run time. This is very suboptimal, and more modern equipment can do better

The higher the cruise speed, the bigger the schedule hit. 7-8 minutes sounds right on for "more modern equipment" cruising at 220 mph. That last bit of acceleration (from 180 mph to 220 mph) is not quick, as maglev wingnuts will never fail to point out.

Alon Levy said...

I know the acceleration near top speed is slow. But it matters less, since what really determines time penalties is the speed ratio. Spending 5 extra minutes at an average speed of 180 mph incurs a time penalty of 5*(1 - 180/220) minutes = 55 seconds. Besides, I'm just quoting the HSRA saying that an extra stop in Fresno adds 5 minutes to the nonstop baseline.

As for the Shinkansen, I compared trains of the same series.

Andrew Bogan said...

"maglev wingnuts"?

The Shanghai Maglev is a really fun, fast ride. A bit like some of the rides at Disneyland, just on a bigger, faster, and more expensive scale.

Too bad its expansion into downtown Shanghai seems to have been blocked by Chinese NIMBYs . . .

Fred Martin said...

Yeah, CV stops in places like Fresno and Visalia will each add at least 7-8 minutes to the trip. If that is how much time the Shinkansen trains are delayed, American operation most certainly won't be faster. Japanese service discipline is amazing, putting Amtrak to complete shame even on corridors in their full control(NEC).

BruceMcF said...

Fred Martin at 12:24 10Mar09: "If that is how much time the Shinkansen trains are delayed, American operation most certainly won't be faster.

Note Andrew Bogan: "be a little careful since the shinkansen routes typically run older slower trains on the runs that make the intermediate stops and the newest, fastest trains on the runs doing major express routes (like Tokyo-Osaka). The stopped shinkansen also sometimes wait for express trains to pass them at certain stations along the route, adding extra time."

This seems to have gone over your head when Andrew first said it, but where schedules with different stopping patterns are served by trains with different speeds and/or accelerations, the additional time cannot all be ascribed to the delay of a stop.

This is a fairly general principle, and certainly not restricted to HSR ... in New South Wales, the 130kph max Xplorer to Grafton takes substantially longer than the 160kph max XPT, and when old-timers complain about the extra stops added to the Newcastle Express, making it slower than the old Newcastle Flyer, they are generally not factoring in the reduction of the speed limit on the Main North between Newcastle and Sydney from 130kph to 100kph.

Gamecoug said...

Robert, you mean $29.1 Million.

Though, if we could just get $29.1 Billion, that would solve a lot of funding issues...

Rafael said...

@ morris brown -

as others have pointed out, the delay incurred by a stop depends on the speed from which the train must slow down, the need - if any - to wait so other trains with higher priority pass and, the speed to which the stopped train must accelerate again. All of that must be compared to the time an express train running through without slowing down takes to cover the same distance.

In the peninsula, max. speed will be 125mph. A bullet train designed to support speeds of up 220mph can accelerate back up to 125mph quite easily. In Japan, dwell times for shinkansen at the platform for a station with run-through tracks is on the order of 50 seconds.

Ergo, an SF-LA express train that stops only in the San Jose area should be expected to take about 4 minutes longer than an SF-LA non-stop train. IIRC, the maximum non-stop time is specified in AB3034 as 2h42min. This is relevant only to acceptance testing, in actual commercial service all HSR trains are expected to stop in the San Jose area.

---

CHSRA has indicated that there would be multiple service classes. As a strawman, it has suggested 4:

- express (SF-SJ-LA, possibly on to Anaheim)

- semi-express (2-3 major stops in-between, e.g. Millbrae/SFO, Fresno and Palmdale)

- semi-local (5-6 intermediate stops, e.g. Palo Alto/RC, Bakersfield, Burbank as well)

- local (all stops)

Each class would be implemented using 25% of total train count over the course of a day. All this is however very much subject to modification by the eventual HSR operators and the timetable drawn up to let them share the tracks. CHSRA has stated that operations will be put out to tender.

Note that SNCF uses fewer and different classes. For example, on the Paris-Lyon-Marseille trunk line, they have local-express service. Such trains are locals for half the trip and non-stop for the other half.

In any event, the critical implication of multiple service classes is that unlike BART, each and every station on the HSR network (except those that are always served) must have express bypass tracks.

In the SF peninsula, there isn't enough room anywhere for four dedicated HSR tracks and no-one has ever suggested that solution. Instead, lesser HSR service classes may share platform tracks with Caltrain (with FRA approval) or else, the timetable will be defined such that there won't be any express HSR trains that need to overtake HSR trains implementing a lesser service class in that part of the route.

---

Elsewhere, accommodating both the desire for express HSR bypass tracks at stations could be a challenge if the ROW portion for HSR is only wide enough for two tracks side-by-side.

For example, consider Murietta in Riverside county. Tracks there are supposed to run in a freeway median.

The southbound HSR track could dive a full level down and the northbound one rise a full level up. These elevation change would happen quite far from the station location.

The through tracks would be straight, the platform tracks accessible via a set of high-speed turnouts (these use extremely long, heavy points with as many as seven actuators).

The southbound side platform would be underneath the left freeway lane northbound and accessed from the east side of the freeway via 1-2 pedestrian passages under the other northbound road lanes.

Conversely, the northbound side platform would be above the left freeway lane southbound and accessed from the west side of the freeway via 1-2 pedestrian bridges above the other southbound road lanes.

If there's a perceived need for allowing pedestrians to cross the entire freeway, alternative/additional structures at levels -2 and +2 relative to the freeway grade would be needed. In principle, those would enable island, rather than side platforms, making all four tracks platform tracks.

Either way, there would be no conventional concourse level at grade in the free median because there would be no way to reach it.

All of the above is a tad expensive, but it is what you end up with if you need express bypass tracks and there is only enough width for two tracks side-by-side.

BART never went to these lengths, so all of its trains must run as locals, turning the whole network into a subway on steroids. An ugly workaround called the Central Contra Costa County Crossover (5C) is now being planned.

Morris Brown said...

@Rafael

Much thanks for all of this info.

Alon Levy said...

Everyone: I looked at the Shinkansen timetable again. Sometimes the time penalty is only 4-5 minutes per station. A lot of it depends on which station we're talking about - some, like Odawara and Toyohashi, consistently incur 4-minute penalties, while others, like Maibara and Gifu, incur 9-minute penalties. And that's with the old equipment; the N700, which is currently used only on Nozomi trains, accelerates fast enough as to reduce time penalty per station by 30-45 seconds.

Rafael: I'm not convinced there will be the market to support the four service classes you mention, each at 25%. The best place to look up to is not the TGV, where the largest city on the Paris-Lyon line has 30,000 people, but the Shinkansen, where mainline serves intermediate cities that are slightly larger than Fresno and Bakersfield. You should also note that CAHSR will have very large interstation distances even on its all-local lines. My guess is that there will be two main service classes: one all local, and one running nonstop from Burbank to SJ, and possibly skipping SFO or Palo Alto. Palmdale is not going to be a major stop - airports just don't generate enough traffic, and Antelope Valley is a very small urban area.

Andrew: it's not exactly an issue of NIMBYism. The Chinese government has lied about environmental issues so much that nobody believes it anymore. In addition, its proposed buffer zone between the tracks and residences is far smaller than the Transrapid specs. Those issues allowed spurious radiation concerns to take root in Shanghai. At any rate, the government went ahead with the maglev project anyway last August; right now the biggest threat to it is the global recession, not NIMBYs.

Andrew Bogan said...

@Alon Levy

Thanks for the update on the Shanghai Maglev, my comments were mostly in jest, since I was amused by Clem's reference to "maglev wingnuts". I also wanted to take the opportunity to remind Bay Area NIMBYs that China has people with similar personal concerns since I have so often been told that "California is not Asia". Really?

Have they knocked down the giant suburban apartment complex that somehow got built right in front of the maglev right of way yet? I have not been in Shanghai in a couple years.

Clem said...

Ergo, an SF-LA express train that stops only in the San Jose area should be expected to take about 4 minutes longer than an SF-LA non-stop train.

@Rafael, the station stop at SJ involves slowing down from 60 mph, not 125 mph. The Diridon area is a big mess of curves and even the Cannonball Express needs to crawl slowly through it.

(Another reason Altamont why was better!)

Clem said...

Uhh, I meant "Another reason why Altamont was better!"

Rafael said...

@ Alon Levy -

as I said, the service classes that CHSRA discusses in its business plan should be considered strawman at this point and very much subject to refinement.

Wrt Palmdale, LAWA considered the airport there was considered important enough to add a 60-mile detour to the entire route, relative to the more difficult but feasible alternative of a straight shot along the I-5 Grapevine.

True, CHSRA's computer simulations also showed that there would be more flexibility in the detailed alignment of tunnels through the Tehachapis, but the airport was really the driving factor in the route decision.

Effective relief for LAX, SFO and to a lesser extent, Lindbergh Field are very high on priority list for the HSR project. Also, the Central Valley south of Sacramento is currently served by relatively few, expensive flights. Between overflow demand from LA and the southern CV, Palmdale airport has the potential to attract plenty of business, but only if HSR service is frequent enough. Whether that means 25%, 50% or 75% of all trains, we'll see.

Iff a steel wheels electrified HSR spur to from Mojave to Las Vegas via Barstow were ever built - there are no plans for one at this time - then HSR and Palmdale combined could substantially relieve both I-15 and McCurran, eliminating the need to widen the freeway or construct a new airport in the Ivanpah Valley near the state border.

Rafael said...

@ morris brown -

as others have pointed out, the delay incurred by a stop depends on the speed from which the train must slow down, the need - if any - to wait so other trains with higher priority pass and, the speed to which the stopped train must accelerate again. All of that must be compared to the time an express train running through without slowing down takes to cover the same distance.

In the peninsula, max. speed will be 125mph. A bullet train designed to support speeds of up 220mph can accelerate back up to 125mph quite easily. In Japan, dwell times for shinkansen at the platform for a station with run-through tracks is on the order of 50 seconds.

Ergo, an SF-LA express train that stops only in the San Jose area should be expected to take about 4 minutes longer than an SF-LA non-stop train. IIRC, the maximum non-stop time is specified in AB3034 as 2h42min. This is relevant only to acceptance testing, in actual commercial service all HSR trains are expected to stop in the San Jose area.

---

CHSRA has indicated that there would be multiple service classes. As a strawman, it has suggested 4:

- express (SF-SJ-LA, possibly on to Anaheim)

- semi-express (2-3 major stops in-between, e.g. Millbrae/SFO, Fresno and Palmdale)

- semi-local (5-6 intermediate stops, e.g. Palo Alto/RC, Bakersfield, Burbank as well)

- local (all stops)

Each class would be implemented using 25% of total train count over the course of a day. All this is however very much subject to modification by the eventual HSR operators and the timetable drawn up to let them share the tracks. CHSRA has stated that operations will be put out to tender.

Note that SNCF uses fewer and different classes. For example, on the Paris-Lyon-Marseille trunk line, they have local-express service. Such trains are locals for half the trip and non-stop for the other half.

In any event, the critical implication of multiple service classes is that unlike BART, each and every station on the HSR network (except those that are always served) must have express bypass tracks.

In the SF peninsula, there isn't enough room anywhere for four dedicated HSR tracks and no-one has ever suggested that solution. Instead, lesser HSR service classes may share platform tracks with Caltrain (with FRA approval) or else, the timetable will be defined such that there won't be any express HSR trains that need to overtake HSR trains implementing a lesser service class in that part of the route.

---

Elsewhere, accommodating both the desire for express HSR bypass tracks at stations could be a challenge if the ROW portion for HSR is only wide enough for two tracks side-by-side.

For example, consider Murietta in Riverside county. Tracks there are supposed to run in a freeway median.

The southbound HSR track could dive a full level down and the northbound one rise a full level up. These elevation change would happen quite far from the station location.

The through tracks would be straight, the platform tracks accessible via a set of high-speed turnouts (these use extremely long, heavy points with as many as seven actuators).

The southbound side platform would be underneath the left freeway lane northbound and accessed from the east side of the freeway via 1-2 pedestrian passages under the other northbound road lanes.

Conversely, the northbound side platform would be above the left freeway lane southbound and accessed from the west side of the freeway via 1-2 pedestrian bridges above the other southbound road lanes.

If there's a perceived need for allowing pedestrians to cross the entire freeway, alternative/additional structures at levels -2 and +2 relative to the freeway grade would be needed. In principle, those would enable island, rather than side platforms, making all four tracks platform tracks.

Either way, there would be no conventional concourse level at grade in the free median because there would be no way to reach it.

All of the above is a tad expensive, but it is what you end up with if you need express bypass tracks and there is only enough width for two tracks side-by-side.

BART never went to these lengths, so all of its trains must run as locals, turning the whole network into a subway on steroids. An ugly workaround called the Central Contra Costa County Crossover (5C) is now being planned.

Alon Levy said...

I just don't think airports generate enough traffic to justify that much HSR service. Newark, which has more traffic than Palmdale will ever get, is only served by at most 6-7 tph. At rush hour, the need for more express trains is such that most trains skip the station, cutting it to 3-4 tph.

Now, 6 and even 4 tph off-peak is nothing to laugh at. The Northeast Regional tops at 2 (and usually skips the airport). It justifies an HSR station, probably even with a detour. However, it'll likely only get served by every third train, or at most every other train. I'm not even sure it'll get more traffic than SFO, which CV residents might use as their primary airport for international flights.

It's likely that the main airport relief will come from people switching from air to rail. This is especially true if there's a spur to LV, where one third of flights into McCarran come from California.

Not Tom Tomorrow said...

High speed rail has hit the mainstream:

http://www.salon.com/comics/tomo/2009/03/10/tomo/

A friend who does transit-oriented development once told me he knew he arrived when the local paper did an editorial cartoon about the debate over one of his projects.

Anonymous said...

"the CHSRA business plan actually calls for a contribution of $2-3 billion of the $33 billion estimated for the starter line from all of the cities and counties served combined. The idea was that this money would be spent on local projects such as construction of HSR stations and their environs."

The business plan can 'call for' it all they want, but the cities/county tax payers have to vote on that funding. Measure 1A doesn't secure any of that - but it does require all of the funding sources be specified before any Measure 1A bonds are issues.

You may notice that the cities and counties are in the process of closing schools and laying off teachers. Good luck getting that vote passed to send local $ to HSR.

That would actually be a pretty good test of how much support HSR really does have in the Peninsula, I would love to see that on the ballot.

CHSRA C corp owning the infrastructure? That's interesting. I would think the citizens of California would own the infrastructure, since they are the ones paying for it (via state bonds, local coffers, etc) I'd think that private investors would be given a rate of return (as in lenders), but I doubt would be given ownership position in the infrastrcuture.

I would be particularly concerned if you are suggesting that investors are given an ownership position in the underlying real estate. Is this what you are suggesting?

Jim: "The real problem seems to be that everything we know about what is going on is all speculation. Where is the exact, true and specific information about the day to day progress and goings on at hsr."

This is exactly right on. I don't care HOW fanatic about HSR you might be, its a big concern that we have an 'authority' operating in a complete unobstructed vacuum of oversight here. Its a very dangerous sitation - we might like the decisions they're making today -the shoe can just as easily be on the other foot tommorrow.

This CHSRA is on the path to becoming the next BIG scandal with tax payers money. And that's not going to do HSR interests ANY good at all. I'd think the HSR supporters would be first in line to want to make sure this all conducted out in broad daylight. ASAP.

Morris Brown said...

Anonymous writes:

the CHSRA business plan actually calls for a contribution of $2-3 billion of the $33 billion estimated for the starter line from all of the cities and counties served combined.


Remember this is the business plan that the voters never got to see, even though the CHSRA promised to deliver it by Sept 1st. Kopp all though the campaign kept saying"

"voters of California", approve Prop 1A and this 9.95 billing in bond funds will be all we will ask from you --- the rest will come from private and federal funds."

Now I understand a memorandum of understand (MOU) between CHSRA and CalTrain has been written and signed off on by the CHSRA.

CalTrain has yet to sign, but apparently they are expected to agree very shortly.

There has been very little public knowledge of this document and it should govern the relationship between CalTrain and CHSRA. Why wasn't the public being made aware of this agreement since the whole peninsula will be affected by this relationship?

Even supporters of the project should want time to examine and comment on such an important agreement.

This flies in the face of all the talk from CalTrain and CHSRA wanting public input.

Anonymous said...

anon @1:39 wrote:
You may notice that the cities and counties are in the process of closing schools and laying off teachers. Good luck getting that vote passed to send local $ to HSR.

It's certainly true that counties and cities are being squeezed within an inch of their lives, but school funding does not come from their budgets, but directly from the state.

Infrastructure comes from different pots of money than county/city workers as well.

elfling

jim said...

well there's too much of California's money going to schools as it is. More half the budget. That's ridiculous. Most of those kids are either a bunch of ungrateful hooigans, third worlders who can't even read and write english, and a bunch of lazy spoiled slovenly american kids who or more interested in tabloid trash and ipods than history or government. If they don't appreciate it take it away from them and spend that money on our state infrastructure instead since it's crumbling in every nook and cranny.


@andrew - well, the rrb is very secure very well funded and managed and will continue to be. Im not worried about it. Ill get mine. ( I undestand its so much more solvent than anything else in washington that bush had to go there to get the money for those 600 dollar refunds last year.)

As for the stops in the central valley as has been made clear here already, not every train will be 2 hours and 38 minutes only the express. I can see them starting out with two classes of service - a coule of express in each direction each morning and evening, and local midday trains. until ridership builds I can't imagine starting with more than 16 trains per day in each direction for the first year anyway. one per hour each way from 6 am to 9 pm. word will have to get out to build ridership and they will have to prove that the damn thing is reliable. Yes I know about the rest of the world but this is the united states - we don't know how to do anything but shop and eat remember.

yeson1a said...

If prop 13 homeowners would PAY there fair share of local school taxes then maby we would not be in such a mess with funding

jim said...

I remember everything went steadily downhill after prop 13 and continued to go downhill in this state and has never recovered.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 1:39pm -

CHSRA has always wanted private investors to share in the ridership risk as well as the rewards. There are many ways to do that, taking a stake in the legal entity that owns the infrastructure would be one of them. Unless and until ownership is floated on the stock market, retail investors would probably prefer to do so via a mutual fund that already is.

Most railroads in the US are privately owned and, they used to provide passenger service back when that was profitable. If HSR achieves makes that line of business attractive again, there's no reason why the state could not offer equity stakes in the infrastructure. Whether it should is a matter of political philosophy.

It's not yet clear if the federal government will want an ownership stake, normally they just provide loans or outright grants for transportation infrastructure. If California HSR is profitable but Amtrak not involved in running it, Congress might well want to leverage its investment to cross-subsidize Amtrak elsewhere in the nation.

There are of course other ways for private investors to assume ridership risk, e.g. by auctioning off slots on the timetable for one or several years. This would be roughly analogous to how airports earn their income.

The infrastructure operator who would set that timetable would enjoy a monopoly franchise that comes up for auction every e.g. 20 years, unless the state of California wants to retain that responsibility. To avoid conflicts of interest, the companies that operate the infrastructure and those that run trains should be separate or at least run at arm's length from one another.

jim said...

Just remember what clusterfk it was in britain when the first tried to privatize the railroads - with too many different organizations responsible for too many separate things.

Andrew Bogan said...

Jim is right that Britain badly botched their privatization of rail, but some other examples have worked much better.

In Japan, each of the major regions within the former government monopoly (Japan National Railways) was privatized starting in the late 1980s into seven regional operators, so you now have companies like Central Japan Railway (JR Central) and East Japan Railway (JR East) that are private companies with common stock listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange. Overall, it has been a reasonably successful model both in terms of quality of service and investor returns. There are also many other private rail lines in Japan (both freight and passenger) besides the JR Group.

One of Britain's problems was separately privatizing the rail network operator from the train operators, so various passenger and freight train companies competed on rail routes they did not have much, if any, control over. That is very different from the Japanese privatization where, for example, Central Japan Railway operates the entire Tokaido Shinkansen from Tokyo to Osaka with essentially exclusive control of both the train services and the tracks on the entire route.

Rafael's suggestion of having multiple private operators bidding to run specific trains on the California HSR (somewhat like competitive private airlines flying in and out of the same airports) is interesting and should be considered. However, I seriously doubt many investors would favor that structure, since it is similar to the failed British model.

It is much more likely that a future private public partnership (PPP) for California HSR would be structured as a build-operate-transfer deal, with a consortium of investors paying for something like a third of the upfront project costs in exchange for the right to operate all HSR trains on the route for a defined period of time, after which the concession is transfered back to the government (which could, in theory sell it again to another private operator, or operate it themselves).

The typical model involves most of the ticket revenues going to the private company which has to pay the State some (often escalating) fee for the concession to operate on infrastructure that the State owns (which it almost certainly would in the case of HSR).

The Taiwan High Speed Rail Corporation is very similar to this model and was one of the largest build-operate-transfer PPPs in the history of infrastructure investing at a project cost of something like $15 billion.

Rafael said...

@ Andrew -

good points. There are multiple avenues for private investment and, CHSRA should study those that have been implemented in other countries to guide its thinking.

In the UK, the problem is not so much that the infrastructure was privatized separately as plain old lack of investment in more of it.

The split ownership model is working much better in France and, other countries in Europe are following suit in response to an EU directive. It's in everyone's interest to break up the old national monopolies so freight train operators can compete across borders without having to change locomotives and drivers every time. That's a problem California/the US don't have.

Roberto G. said...

I found an interesting article on the costs of construction of HSR lines in Europe. It's in Italian, but numbers are numbers. The avg. for the latest lines is about 15 million Euro per Km in Spain and France (about $30 million per mile). The CHSR estimate of $45 million/mile may not be off the mark. Unless of course we follow the Italian lead, where costs run 3times as much (but they also have to pay Cosa Nostra there, so it's understandable). Here is the link:
http://soalinux.comune.firenze.it/idra/I.%20Cicconi,%20I%20costi%20AV,%2024.6.'08.pdf