Tuesday, April 7, 2009

CHSRA Gets Its $29.1 Million

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

As we discussed last month, the legislature's ongoing budget standoff put the California High Speed Rail Authority on the verge of shutting down its operations as it had run out of money to pay contractors and staff. This was an especially worrisome problem for two reasons: 1) the need to continue operations to position California to get HSR stimulus funds, and 2) the need to provide up-to-date information to concerned residents along the proposed route.

Last week the state had a successful sale of bonds, and yesterday the pooled money investment board gave CHSRA the $29.1 million it needed to keep working through the end of June:

California's financially strapped high-speed rail project has received an infusion of $29 million to get it back on track through the middle of the year...

That led most of the private consultants who were performing engineering and environmental reviews to stop working because they weren't being paid, said Mehdi Morshed, the rail board's executive director.

He said the treasurer's decision to issue commercial paper to provide the $29 million was "excellent news."

"We're finally back to work again," he said.

We're probably going to have to have this fight again in June, when the state tackles an $8 billion shortfall (which could be larger if the initiatives on the May 19 ballot fail). Let's hope that we see some true political leadership this time from Sacramento in support of this project.


Brandon in San Diego said...

It's my hope that the CHSRA and Transbay Authority can come together and fund a peer review of the terminal design.

It should be reviewed by qualified individuals familiar with train operations and reviewed for the ability to accomodate applicable HSR trains available on the world market and ability to process trains (ie turn around time).

The criteria applied should be those expected in the industry and with what was passed by voters in Proposition 1A.

But, where would such people come from? Local consultants? Probably not since they could theoritically be working on the project, or bid on work in the future.

Is it time to bring the French TGV planners over?

jim said...

Brandon, you have obviously been living in san deigo too long where everything is so very pleasant all the time... now, I know you don't expect to find qualified individuals with common sense running things in the bay area do you? come on now... ;-)

Rafael said...

@ brandon -

independent outside review? Excellent idea! Using French TGV planners? Maybe not, they would surely be biased in favor of something that excludes the Japanese competition. Besides, the throat and station are not high speed segments.

I'd like to see a civil engineering/transportation economics professor from a country that has HSR service but not an HSR industry tackle this. Someone from Holland (TU Delft) or Switzerland (ETH Zurich) perhaps.

Andre Peretti said...

"French planners would surely be biased in favor of something that excludes the Japanese competition".
The consultants for the design of Taiwan HSR were French firms Systra and SNCF-International. Obviously, they did not "push" European rolling stock. These two firms will probably appear at some stage of CHSR design. If they do, they will not necessarily favour Alstom.
In fact, even in France, the SNCF is not biased towards French firms. A recent contract for 680 trainsets was won by Bombardier against Alstom.
Regarding the seismic risk: there is not such a thing as an anti-seismic train or railtrack. The only technique is early warning. Systra chose the Japanese system using seismic stations along the track. The same system is also used in the seismic part of the TGV-Med.
Some bloggers compare trains by their seating arrangements. Seating arrangements are chosen by the buyer, not the train builder. The Italian Alstom Pendolinos are more comfortable than their English counterparts because Virgin chose to cram more people in the same space.
The choice of the train builder for CHRS will probably be influenced by politics. I suppose firms will be ready to make sacrifices and build local unprofitable plants in order to have California as launch customer.

BruceMcF said...

Yes, an independent peer review of whether the TJPA design meets the Prop1A requirements, to even qualify for consideration as an HSR facility (it certainly will not qualify based on speed in the facility itself). The terms of reference should also include "industry expectations", which may have some weight at the DoT, but the statutory criteria would seem to have the most weight at this stage.

Rafael said...

@ Andre Peretti -

the French and German consultants most definitely did advocate a European train design (Eurotrain was a joint venture between Alstom and Siemens).

Prime contractor THSRC double-crossed Eurotrain, the subcontractor with whom they had won the bid and brought in TSC, a consortium of Taiwanese and Japanese companies. Eurotrain eventually won some compensation but was then disbanded.

Under EU rules, publicly owned companies like SNCF need to put acquisition contracts out to tender. For low-prestige equipment like commuter rail cars, they'll go with the lowest bid that meets their stated requirements. However, SNCF and Deutsche Bahn both have yet to buy a foreign-made high speed train.

As for seismic safety, please see my post Shake, Rattle and Roll. I'm fully aware that the French have implemented earthquake monitoring equipment, though I did not know that they simply bought the Japanese gear.

99% of the seismic safety issues are dealt with in the fixed infrastructure, it's pretty easy to program a train to hit the emergency brakes when the voltage goes to zero. Still, there is value in keeping vendor options open, for both infrastructure and trains.

If nothing else, many passengers will feel safer if they know the system integration of technologies has already been proven elsewhere. Minimizing technology risk was the whole point of selecting steels wheels over maglev, in spite of the lower gradient limit and higher noise emissions.

Robert said...

@ jim

Common sense? San Diego? It may be pleasant down here but have a good look at our city's finances and you will conclude that it has been a long time since anyone with common sense was at the helm.

Although to be serious our airport planners seem to be very much on board with HSR and integrating it into the plan for the re-orientation of the airport.

jim said...

@robert - Oh now see I was under the impression that san diego was well run. The frew times I've been there I saw spotless freeways, brand new light rail lines, a nice historic district near a ball park, a very nice golden gate park knock off, and great weather ( ok the politicians don't create the weather) Now you tell me there is trouble in paradise. One thing I do like down there is the freeways in San Deigo and Orange counties, they are very nice compared to what we have up here. all our freeways are like driving on dirt roads they are in such bad repair. ( do you guys get all the freeway money)

Rafael said...

@ Robert -

yes, the design they ended up with (basically, alternative A2) does show HSR with straight full-length platforms.

However, the last time I saw a cross-section of the proposed intermodal terminal, HSR was two tracks on an aerial with no platforms on either side and no way for pedestrians to reach them.

The wavy roof line was too low to permit a pedestrian overpass and the tracks at grade are in use for FRA-compliant trains and SD Trolley. HSR passengers would either have to cross those or else, use an underground concourse level to reach the northbound platform. Admittedly, that's something that can be sorted out later but it does show that HSR is very much a peripheral consideration for the folks planning the airport build-out.

A more serious problem is that no site has been identified for a yard in the San Diego area, nor how the trains would get there.

My guess is CHSRA was hoping for an elevated terminus station with a sufficient number of full-length tracks to support overnight parking (cp . Sacramento). However, the intermodal terminal is located exactly at a curved section of the ROW and curved platforms should be avoided. Two straight ones can easily be accommodated - six or eight, not trivial.

Another option for overnight parking would be elevated tail tracks above the rail ROW. A terminus station at Imperial Beach (near Main St exit off I-5) should also be considered. It would relieve the slow but crowded SD Trolley Blue Line from the border and congestion on I-5. HSR trains would get there via the ROW just west of I-5, which is abandoned south of the harbor at National City.

Unfortunately, the Destination Lindbergh site was recently revamped and I can't find any architectural cross-sections in the Technical Report that's now being offered.

AMRivlin said...

Good day,

Where can I apply and submit my resume to work for the CAHSR Authority.

During this time of downsizing it would be great to see official opportunities open with the group.

As a planner and urban designer I want to be part of this historic and large impact project.

Thank you in advance...

HBR said...

Re: "yesterday the pooled money investment board gave CHSRA the $29.1 million it needed to keep working through the end of June:"

According to the AP release,the state issued commercial paper in order to AVOID tapping the pooled money investment account:

"Tom Dresslar, a spokesman for state Treasurer Bill Lockyer, said sale of the commercial paper was a way to avoid tapping the Pooled Money Investment Account, which officials say will be needed to maintain other state programs in the fiscal year that starts July 1."

jim said...

here is my money saving standard design for al hsr stations. plain simple concrete straightforward easy to build and cheap.


Spokker said...

Off-topic, but high speed rail got a mention on the Howard Stern Show. It was mostly about the Acela Express but Stern said his daughter was talking about a "super train" in California. From MarksFriggin.com:

"Robin said that she was on a star filled train recently. She was coming home from Baltimore and she saw Danny DeVito and his wife on the train as well as Dan. Howard asked her about taking the train and how that works. Robin said that it's great for going down to Baltimore because it doesn't take that long and it's easier than going through the airport. Robin said the train is very easy and she can read, text and e-mail on it. She takes the Acela train down there so it only takes like 2 and a half hours to get there. Artie said he's taken that train to Boston before and it is great."

Andrew MacDonald said...

Offtopic, but the new FRA administrator and deputy administrator has been named:

National Corridors reports that Joseph “Joe” Szabo, currently Illinois state director of the United Transportation Union, will be the President’s pick for chief of the Federal Railroad Administration, which oversees freight rail movements, Amtrak, and most commuter railroads. Mr. Szabo is currently serving on the FRA’s Rail Safety Advisory Committee and before that he was mayor of the Village of Riverdale, IL.


Earlier this year, he spoke in favor of high-speed rail to a Midwest group. In 2006, he said “There is a pent-up demand for inter-city passenger rail, and increased frequencies raise ridership exponentially… The bottom line is that as the frequencies grow by addition the choices grow by multiplication—and so does the ridership… As long as we can get the quality up and keep it up, any quantity we add to the system will find its market and keep it. The future of passenger rail service in Illinois is whatever we want to make it. Think of the job growth…”

Karen Rae, deputy commission of the state Department of Transportation and the state’s point person on all things high-speed rail, will join the Obama administration as the Federal Railroad Administration’s Deputy Administrator, according to Railway Age magazine.


On one hand, his participation on the FRA safety committee may suggest that he's not interested in eliminating ye olde tyme rail practices. On the other, he's very supportive of HSR. His deputy seems like she is going to be very pro HSR too.

Andrew MacDonald said...

Hate to double post here, and especially since it's off topic, but I was doing some background reading on the FRA Safety Committee.

Ugh. It's ugly looking for any changes to make HSR not have to deal with all of FRA's stupidity.

Out of 62 members of the safety committee, only 4 represent passenger rail in some way. Big cargo rail has 12 vote alone, and there are a slew of industry groups that are also represented that are likely to take their side on any fight about HSR.

Most of the committee recommendations, as far as I can tell, are fairly minor and technical in nature, but the general trend, from what I can glean from their committee meeting minutes, is to focus on incremental changes in favor of increasing safety regulations. This is not a group that will be all that excited about a wholesale revision of rules to support the growth of HSR in this country, or even increased 'rapid rail'.

Membership Link
Meeting minutes

Rob Dawg said...

We all know there's a budget crunch. What in your opinion stands in line behind CAHSR when it comes time to tighten the belt? You are correct that the $8b is but a baselinethat is likely to increase. We need to establish priorities within the bounds of mandated spending. Care to make a stab at that ranking?

Rafael said...

@ AMRivlin -

this blog is not affiliated with CHSRA. If you would like to contact them about possible job opportunities, here is how.

Most of their work is contracted out to firms like HNTB, AECOM and others. The Authority's staff is still very small.

Rafael said...

@ Rob Dawg -

the $9.5 billion is federal money for all eligible HSR project nationwide, the $9.95 billion is state bond authority - not appropriation - for the bullet train network in California. The crunch is on at the state level, since the federal government is not required to balance it budget.

At the personal and corporate level, the natural and appropriate response to a deep recession is to pinch pennies. Counter-intuitively, the government has to do the opposite to avert an even deeper one. That's not true of all recessions, but it is for those that are already deep.

HSR remains a priority because it's a long-term project that doesn't cost a whole lot in the short term (before a lot of detailed engineering is done and dirt is turned). Postponing it to save a tens of millions now would cost hundreds of millions in construction cost escalations down the road. If you're going to do it at all, do it as fast as prudently possible.

Anonymous said...

And how does one find detailed information on the budgets and actual spending of CHSRA? What is the $29M going to be spent on? At the end of June, what work will be completed? How far along with the EIR processes be at that time? Is the CHSRA spending $$ now that extends beyond this $29M?

I've looked around on the CHSRA website, I don't see anything like this. By the way, I also didn't see any notices about the Willow Glen meetings or the closing of the scoping comment period for the Bay Area project EIR. Where would someone find that info on the CHSRA website? Anyone know?

NONimbys said...

Why anno..trying to dig up nimby dirt?

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 5:42pm -

the Willow Glen meeting was a neighborhood affair, not an official scoping meeting hosted by CHSRA. The had already held that for San Jose on the Mar 26 IIRC. However, they accepted written comments, even via email, through April 6 - after extending the comments period for a month. There had already been one for Santa Clara county on Jan 29.

Documentation for the project-level EIR/EIS methodologies as well as the SF-SJ section are in the Library, but what's missing is a simple calendar of scoping meetings.

I agree that the Authority should update its website to better reflect all aspects of the project-level EIR/EIS process they are now going through, especially the deadlines, but they simply haven't had the money to do that until just a couple of days ago.

I also agree that there should be a financial statement reflecting the Authority's funds, funding requests, contracts awarded (via tender) incl. sums involved etc. More transparency in this regard would be welcome.

I'd recommend that you contact the Authority directly and ask them to make the appropriate changes to their web site, since that is its primary avenue of getting information out to the general public. We're not in the 20th century any longer.

I used that link a few days ago and they sent back an email to confirm that they had received mine, so it's not as if they're a black hole.

I'll schedule an open thread over the Easter Weekend regarding suggestions for improving the CHSRA website and the way they are going about the process generally.

Fred Martin said...

More transparency from CHSRA is not just welcome, it's essential to build public trust, which is faltering. How exactly were these contracts bidded out anyway? Was this no-bid contracting?

Bay Area Resident said...

Scoping comments for San Jose are not due until this friday, which has always been the plan. The peninsula scoping comments were originally due last month. Personally I think CHSRA is not announcing the dates for any of this because they don't want any more comments than they already have. They must rue the day they allowed one more month for the peninsula. I think they are deliberately vague on these dates, hoping for fewer comments.

Brandon in San Diego said...


People, please erase from your minds the idea that the City of San Diego is doing something good and positive concerning rail!

One, the proposal to have HSR stop at Lindbergh is not an HSR proposal... or anything intended to benefit HSR. It is strictly to make the proposal look stronger for relocating airport terminal facilities, combined with a super transit hub, from the west to east sides. That proposal is from teh Mayor.

There is the additional possibility that the Mayor does not want to burden downtown with an ugly station too... or have to pay for it while there may be FAA funding available for a transit hub next to Lindbergh.

But make no mistake... HSR synergy with Lindbergh is near non-existant. San Diego is a destination... not a hub. No one will be transfering between the two. Those that do... are lost.

What an HSR station at Lindbergh does is shortchange local users and commuters.. by not seizing on the opportunity to make downtown more accessible and pedestrian friendly.

Two, the City of San Diego does not operate any of the transit or rail systems in the County. And, it's the city that is in the financial mess and has trouble maintaining itself!

That said, there may indeed be qualified rail people in San Diego.. but you will not find them working at the City of San Diego!