Sunday, April 19, 2009

Open Thread: Next Steps for California?

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

Last week's announcement of a national strategic plan for HSR was essentially the official start of the intense lobbying efforts by multiple states to secure a slice of the $9.5 billion in federal dollars currently on the table. The plan clarified that "emerging HSR", i.e. selected upgrades from 79mph to 110mph top speed, would be prioritized for phase 1. Related grant awards are supposed to happen by the end of summer, in keeping with the objective of the stimulus bill: turn dirt early.

Strategic corridor development, i.e. "regional HSR" (speeds up to 150mph) and "express HSR" (bullet trains at speeds in excess of 150mph) would be addressed in phase 2. This presumably includes both the Acela, California and Florida corridors. Texas still needs to decide if it wants to split into 5 states so the other 49 will kick them out of the union. Sometime after that, they may get around to deciding on the T-bone network. SoCal-Vegas would also be a bullet train of one type or another, preferably compatible with the California network, but at this point it's not even on the map of federally designated corridors yet.

Congress will have to allocate significant additional funding to make any bullet train system at all feasible in the US. Perhaps the President expects Congress to do just that for him, since his budget proposal includes just $1 billion per year for the next five years for HSR, over and above the $9.5 billion already on the table. He knows full well that's not going to be enough.

So what should the next steps be for California HSR regarding funding? A focus on increasing the regular budget allocation for HSR? A tariff on all crude oil and refined products imported from non-NAFTA contries? A hike in federal or state gasoline tax?

Or should the focus instead shift to making California a center of excellence in HSR technology and associated regulation? Should the state ask FRA to designate a senior liaison who would sit across from a counterpart from the CPUC, with Caltrans Dept. of Rail and CHSRA engineers down the hall in a building in Sacramento? Should there be a formal federal program for developing standards for mobile broadband internet access at speeds of up to 300mph, headquartered in Silicon Valley?

49 comments:

Rob Dawg said...

I think it is absolutely critical to get very public commitments from both private investors and the municipalities that are expected to materially participate.

JohnTEQP said...

Yes.

All of the above.

Robert said...

I understand that there is a huge difference between HSR and "rapid rail" but to the extent that other HSR corridors may eventually connect to California, then it seems to me that the US should be looking to CA to set the national standard. Certainly you can imagine that someday the Pacific Northwest corridor could follow I-5 (or the Amtrak corridor, not sure how that is aligned) down to Sacramento. And the Gulf Coast/Texas (assuming it hasn't seceded - LOL) may reasonably connect Albuquerque/Phoenix/Las Vegas ... maybe?

Anonymous said...

One of the basic fundamentals of Prop 1A was the 10 Billion in bonds would be all that was ever going to be asked from California voters to fund the project. The rest of the funds would come from Federal and private sources. This was stated time and time again by Kopp. (and others)

Now you suggest Calfiornia should raise the fuel tax for autos to pay for HSR. Ok, then lets kill Prop 1A and do a new measure not that we have come to realize that the 10 billion is not nearly enough. Let us see who will vote for this measure.

Just also remember another of the fundamentals was the statement, "this bond measure will not raise your taxes". An untrue statement really, but now you suggest a direct tax to fund the project.

Voters don't like fraud and lies; taxing fuel to pay for HSR would make Prop 1A fall into both of those categories.

bossyman15 said...

yeah Prop 1A doesn't raise the taxes BUT the taxes from gasoline barely covers road repair let alone transportation system. so it needs to be increased for that reason.

add tolls to all freeways in california it needs to be done. highways are too costly to repair with sales tax alone. Sure no one (even me) will like it but i don't think we have any choice.

Andrew Bogan said...

@Rob Dawg

I think it is absolutely critical to get very public commitments from both private investors and the municipalities that are expected to materially participate.Municipalities could make vague government-style commitments this early in the process and it would certainly be beneficial if they did, but it is unrealistic to think any private equity infrastructure PPP investors will get involved until the planning is close to complete, which is likely a couple years away still.

Private investors can't really allocate capital that far in advance without knowing whether or not the project will ever actually get all the government approvals needed for it to be constructed. This is, in part, why Atherton is suing CHSRA: to complicate the feasibility of attracting private capital on the hope that will help to stop or indefinitely delay HSR's construction.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Robert, as much as I want to see the rail corridor to the Pacific Northwest improved (I'd use it frequently), it's not really a good HSR corridor. There's a ton of mountains in between Redding and Eugene, even if you follow the current Amtrak corridor (which branches away from the I-5 corridor at Weed, following US-97 north to Klamath Falls and crossing the Cascades at Willamette Pass southeast of Eugene). I think that corridor can be upgraded and electrified, and a sleeper service to connect PNW HSR at Eugene to CA HSR at Sacramento would be good.

But beyond that, I dunno, it would be really difficult to justify the money necessary to turn the Eugene-Redding stretch into an HSR corridor while there are some much more heavily traveled corridors that need the investment. I can't imagine this happening until much further down the line.

BruceMcF said...

(1) California puts in enough projects to get $2b of the $8b, no-match. That ought to be straightforward.

There is absolutely nothing in the announcement last week to suggest that a "project" (eg, TBT, LA-Union) associated with Express HSR is slow-tracked behind a project associated with Emerging or Regional HSR ... there is nothing suggesting that segment level planning funding will take a back seat to preliminary planning ... the idea that there is some bad news in the announcement is only for those who thought, on no foundation but wishful thinking, that California could get half.

Well, $4b was never in the cards in your hand, but $2b could well be if the hand is played right.

(2) California put in a bid for funding of $250m/year for five years, for tunneling or laying track or something turn-earthery, on the grounds of nobody else being in a position to do any "Express HSR" in that time frame.

(3) The California delegation log rolls support for each and every Emerging and Regional HSR project coming down the pike in return for committed multi-year support for Express HSR ... that log-roll, of course, implies an increase funding rate in the appropriation in, hopefully for your funding chances, Obama's second term. And for 80:20 federal matching funds "to put it on level footing with interstate highway funding".

At 80:20, California's $9b state match translates out to $45b total, plus $2b no-match up front and that's $47b. Before revenue bonds and public/private games.

BruceMcF said...

Since its an open thread, I got a diary on the Agent Orange Wrecklist (at least it was): How To Build a National High Speed Rail system

Andrew said...

First, they need to do whatever it takes to get some people to work and some steel in the ground with the central valley test track. Once that starts, getting additional funding won't be much of a problem.

Alon Levy said...

Robert: between Sacramento and Portland, there aren't enough cities for HSR. The only section there that even justifies rapid rail is Eugene-Portland.

Rafael: any tariff will generate retaliatory tariffs from non-NAFTA countries, even those that don't export oil to the US. Do you really want Britain to slap tariffs on the Ford Focus?

Brian Tyler said...

The Federal Government invests in infrastructure all the time. What is required is a shift in priorities, not necessarily new taxes. In fact HSR is cheaper than many alternative forms of infrastructure. Thus, in the long run HSR may require less of a fiscal investment in infrastructure than would otherwise be spent on roads and airports.

Additionally there is a fundamental difference between HSR and other types of transportation infrastructure: HSR can earn money. This means that it is possible that the bonds approved by voters for HSR in California can be repaid from operational revenues.

This isn't to say that congestion pricing schemes, higher taxes, new forms of taxes or other funding mechanisms are a bad idea. However, any, or even all of these measures will not fund HSR without a shift in priorities. That shift historically has happened in congress, the Interstate Highway Act is an excellent example. The funds already allocated for HSR are good "first step," but we will need a clear and specific declaration of intent if we ever expect anything close to the HSR systems in Europe, Japan and China. Perhaps, The Interstate High-Speed Rail Act?At SwitchingModes there are similar viewpoints expressed.

BruceMcF said...

Alon Levy said...
"Rafael: any tariff will generate retaliatory tariffs from non-NAFTA countries, even those that don't export oil to the US. Do you really want Britain to slap tariffs on the Ford Focus?First, how can Britain slap tariffs on the Ford Focus? The Saarlouis assembly plant is in Germany, and the EU looks very unfavorably on EU members slapping tariffs on the products of fellow EU member countries.

Second, if there were retaliatory tariffs, it would have to be on non-WTO agreed items ... you can only put a retaliatory item on an item under a WTO agreement if the WTO finds that a country has broken a WTO agreement, and since crude oil is not a schedule item, all WTO schedule items would be off-limits, cars included.

So the US is free to tax imported petroleum if we want to. Indeed, for a country that imports 2/3 of its crude oil, and which will be importing more than that over the decade ahead, the only difference between a gas tax and a crude oil tariff is the political bribe to domestic oil producers combined with the easy to sell populism that makes the imported crude oil tariff much more likely to pass.

theo said...

it would be really difficult to justify the money necessary to turn the Eugene-Redding stretch into an HSR corridor while there are some much more heavily traveled corridors that need the investment.Maybe if Mt. Shasta attracted 300,000 climbers a year (+ more visitors) like Mt. Fuji.

Rapid Rail from Sacramento to Tahoe/Reno is a much better connection than Eugene - Sacramento -- supposedly Tahoe gets 5 million visitors a year, and the Reno area has a few hundred thousand residents. Why is it never discussed? Does UP own all the good passes?

Spokker said...

Off topic, but how do I get my cat to switch from dry food to wet food?

Matt said...

@Theo. I think it has been discussed to extend the capitol corridor to Reno. And turning that into a rapid rail would be a good idea. San Jose/Oakland/Sacramento/Tahoe/Reno. Hmm...good idea

Andrew Bogan said...

Wall Street Journal article on Spain's AVE, for those who are interested.

Tariffs on foreign oil are reminiscent of the Smoot-Hawley tariffs that turned the last truly nasty global recession into a Great Depression. Bad idea.

Sacramento to Reno/Tahoe is pretty compelling, but only if you can originate out of the Bay Area. It would be quite similar to Japan's "ski trains", the Joetsu and Nagano shinkansen.

YesonHSR said...

@Spoker..from a LEO...butter and Cream..and love@@@@GO High Speed Rail//Love Cal

Brandon in San Diego said...

I feel HSR efforts should remain grounded.

Developing and forwarding pie-in-the-sky ideas like a national inter-connected network would not be functional and likely do more harm than good.

Robert Cruickshank's example is a good illustration; additionally, no viable markets exist between Eugene and Redding... a distance of over 240 miles.

For CHSRA... what is needed next is to continue to move forward with planning design and engineering work... with focus on critical areas that may need greater efforts and attention to detail.

I also feel property acquisition should move forward as quickly as it can when it is known what land pieces are needed for the network.

And, that CHSRA should initiate station area planning efforts with local jurisdictions to best position those areas for dense development which complimentary to the HSR system and ridership.

CHSRA additionally needs to continue, and possibly expand, public outreach efforts to get Californians ready for HSR. I'd love to see large signs along the alignments announcing CHSRA is to be built here! ... essentially being more pro-active... and pre-emptive.

---

Nationally, I feel the next step is to define the parameters or criteria for HSR systems to be eligible for funding... which IS occurring right now.

I feel criteria should speak to 1) local capital funding participation, 2) local ability to financially operate system, 3) an index/ratio of capital funding with anticipated ridership, 4) an index/ratio of the anticipated operating cost per rider… and or public subsidy needed per rider (if any? CA's will not).

Above all, I feel HSR to be true HSR service should be 1) regularly scheduled and have no less than 2 hours between trains in each direction, and 2) be completely grade separated from cars and from non-HSR rail services. Temporal separation may suffice, so long as high maintenance standards are applied.

With the above said, I do not feel a national network from coast to coast lines makes sense. The logical progression should focus on intercity services providing trips between 200 and 500 miles, or so. If a viable network exists enabling a single ride trip from Boston to Miami works out... so be it. However, I doubt very much a network would grow up around such long trips... but only over the shorter trips.

I do not want to see HSR funding used to improve freight lines with zero benefit to riders.

Alon Levy said...

Bruce: Britain, Germany, and other EU countries can mandate local ownership of the plants. Essentially, they can strip the international Focus from Ford.

And bribing domestic oil producers makes them stronger and in a better position to lobby against more rail spending.

Spokker said...

Holy shit.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124018395386633143.html

Not everyone is pleased. ETA, the militant Basque separatist group, has said it would target anyone involved in the construction of a line that will connect the restive northern region with Madrid and France. ETA killed the owner of a company working on the project in December.Talk about a sticky situation.

jim said...

Build the BFD-MCD test section first with part of the states 9 billion and the what ever we can get from the feds. Once that section is up and running and before anyone else gets anything done... we will be in the forefront and setting the example for others to follow;

jim said...

@theo there are no tracks between sac and south lake tahoe. only sac-reno- via donner pass (UP) or Sac -reno via feather rivver canyon (oroville-quincy) Both are UP and it will be hell and high water before they make room for more passenger rail over those passes. Its a priority for amtrak california (cap corridor0 but don't hold your breath. the lines are way to stacked with freight as it is.

jim said...

once the test track is running and can be put into limited revenue service - construction can begin on the southern and norther tunnels.

Anonymous said...

It takes at least 50% matching funds from the feds or private parties to do construction. That is the law.

Diridon and Kopp want the SF to San Jose route first, with the test bed in the central valley to be done concurrently. With the price tag for the SF to San Jose route now up from 4.5 billion to 15 billion, a whole newe funding structure will have to be found.

BTW, those are still just low balled estimates. Tunneling is expensive and with the route chosen it is the only acceptable possibility and will ever get done.

BruceMcF said...

Andrew Bogan said...
"Tariffs on foreign oil are reminiscent of the Smoot-Hawley tariffs that turned the last truly nasty global recession into a Great Depression."

Yes, in the sense that both have the word "tariff" in them.

But a tariff on imported oil is not a protective tariff, its a revenue tariff, and for a country that has chronic unsustainable current account deficits that is a heavy oil importer, is a perfectly reasonable structural adjustment tariff.

Lots of countries still use revenue tariffs ... indeed, insisting on the adoption of revenue tariffs and reduction of subsidies on imports is one of the things that the IMF and World Bank have been in the habit of doing when a low-income nation gets into current account strife and needs to be bailed out.

It would violate the WTO agreements if it was a discriminatory tariff, but if its the same rate irrespective of the source of the crude oil, its fine.

Alon Levy said...
"Bruce: Britain, Germany, and other EU countries can mandate local ownership of the plants. Essentially, they can strip the international Focus from Ford."

And then open the door to WTO approved retaliatory tariffs.

If EU countries bring a case against a non-discriminatory revenue tariff on crude oil, they will lose, because there is no agreed maximum tariff rate on crude oil, and so the only basis for a case would be trade discrimination.

Lose the case and then engage in a "wildcat retaliation" violating WTO agreements ... calling it "retaliatory" is not what makes it OK in the WTO, its the WTO decision that the rules have been violated and the aggrieved party is allowed to retaliate ... and a case could be brought by the US that would be on strong ground.

And also, France and Germany are oil importers, not oil exporters ... they benefit from any US policy that would moderate our crude oil gluttony, if only a little.

BruceMcF said...

jim: "Build the BFD-MCD test section first with part of the states 9 billion and the what ever we can get from the feds."

How much will the BFD-MCD test section cost?

Anonymouse: "It takes at least 50% matching funds from the feds or private parties to do construction."

At a 50:50 match, if $3.25b can be snared from the feds, that would be a total of $6.5b, and the given the deadline on spending the money, it would be a lot easier to tap into the Stimulus bill toward meeting SF/SJ costs.

Though it may be that CA-HSR can snare more than 1/4 of the annual appropriation, since that would be on a required matching funds basis, and there may be less of a queue for the money that requires a state match.

TomW said...

@ Brandon in San Diego:
"Developing and forwarding pie-in-the-sky ideas like a national inter-connected network would not be functional and likely do more harm than good."
This implies you favour an ad hoc, piecemeal approach, with no planning of how things should be nationally. If you look at the maps proposeing the Interstate Highway Network, there's a very close matach-up to how it ended it up. Sure it took several decades to build, but it was planend from the start.

jim said...

I would assume the valley test track would be the cheapest segment to build as its at grade, with no tunnels.

Bruce.McFarling said...

TomW said...
"If you look at the maps proposeing the Interstate Highway Network, there's a very close matach-up to how it ended it up. Sure it took several decades to build, but it was planend from the start."

Except that Federal funding of highway construction began a couple of decades before, in the 1930's.

In advancing the proposition that any approach other than a national network map at the outset is doomed to fail, there is the small problem that most successful HSR systems began without a subcontinental network map ... first the seed corridors succeeded, and then the broader network maps were developed.

When an argument explains that what happened in reality is impossible, its not reality that has to give way.

Rafael said...

@ jim -

that depends on how the alignment will run through Fresno. The BNSF ROW through town isn't nearly straight enough for running at high speed and UPRR still isn't interested in selling any of its ROW or even the air rights above it.

Andrew Bogan said...

@Bruce McF

While a revenue tariff is somewhat more rational than a protectionist one, oil is a poor choice for such a tariff. It would largely be an anti-NAFTA measure since most US oil actually comes from Canada and Mexico (not the Middle East). It would be severely complicated by the fact that many states (Texas, Alaska, Oklahoma) still produce a small, but significant amount of oil, so it is protectionist and would unfairly benefit American producers over their Canadian counterparts (unlike in, say, Japan where they produce no domestic oil so protectionism would not be an issue).

Despite the politics of it, a tax on refined fuel is a much better economic structure, since large amounts of oil imported to the US are utilized in a myriad of products from the petrochemical industry that have nothing to do with transportation (plastics, industrial chemicals, etc) as well as in refining liquid fuels. There are many problematic complications of taxing crude oil, far fewer of directly taxing liquid fuels to off-set the negative externalities associated with burning them (pollution, carbon dioxide, etc). As you know, politics is a bad way to guide economics.

jim said...

@rafaelThe bnsf row is fine for hsr the trains will ahve to slow down going through town anyway.

jim said...

The Fresno station is going to be where the current amtrak station is. and thats the bnsf row.

jim said...

and even express trains are going to stop at fresno.

Alon Levy said...

With the price tag for the SF to San Jose route now up from 4.5 billion to 15 billionAccording to who - Wendell Cox?

Owen E said...

This is sort of off topic but browsing the web in Japanese today I found this:
The berlin wall! In Kanda, TokyoStop the heat island!NIMBY/opposition tactics are the same everywhere.

Spokker said...

Does the second link have any merit? It's like they are saying HSR is heating the planet or something.

BruceMcF said...

@ Andrew Bogan: the reason that the political appeal is of interest is that it makes the tax possible. The reason to be interested in the fact that the tax is possible is the strong economic case for the tax.

As for the rest of it, our structural dependency on oil imports is an issue across the board for all sectors that over-rely on petroleum products.

The way to buffer against the risk of oil price shocks is to include a tax component, so that a given percentage increase in the pre-tax price of oil results in smaller percentage increase in the after-tax price of oil. This is one reason that the US economy was harder hit by the oil price shock, so that we were already sliding into recession throughout the early part of 2008, while the Europeans were thrown into recession by the financial system meltdown.

Of course, when oil supply is not constrained, and oil price is determined by the cost of the marginal producer, the consumer pays the tariff. That is the time when there is an economic need for the consumer to pay the tariff, so that they do not build forward looking economic plans assuming the ability to rely on cheap oil.

When oil is supply constrained, the price rises to whatever price is high enough to ration demand. In that situation, the after-tax price of oil is the driving force, and the tariff comes out of the windfall gains of the producers ... which is precisely when we do NOT want the consumer to pay the tax.

That is the economic rationale for high gas taxes, independently of how the tax proceeds are distributed, and it is even more effective if applied to petroleum across the board.

As far as the politics, since domestic production only provides for 1/3 of consumption, we get the same benefit from the price effect whether it is an across the board tax on petroleum, or an import tariff ... and the import tariff is by far the politically easiest way to get that particular shock absorber installed in the economy ... easier than getting an across the board petroleum tax passed, while equally effective, and much easier than getting a higher per unit volume gasoline tax passed, while being more effective.

Brandon in San Diego said...

TomW... if the plains and Rockies have the population base and rider demand to support HSR... I'd support it. Or, if there were demand for frequent transcontinental HSR service across those areas... I'd support that too.

However, I believe the likelihood of either occurring is more than 200 years away, if ever.

It does HSR efforts no good to support something like that... it reminds me the bridge to no-where and providing NIMBY's and people like Wendyll Cox with unnecessary ammunition.

My planning approach defers from yours; but does not mean the focused and near term efforts (within 25-50 years) is piecemeal nor ad hoc.

Brandon in San Diego said...

That Japanese NIMBY page is interesting. It implies that a high wall, as must be the implication of a proposed train line there, reduces air flow to one side of a wall. Thus, causing one side to experience higher temperatures.

I have no idea if the argument has merit on such a small scale.

Rafael said...

@ jim -

HSR express trains will stop in SF, SJ, LA and possibly, in Anaheim. There are currently no plans to have them stop in Fresno as well.

Slowing down massively though Fresno isn't acceptable as it threatens the express line haul time of 2:42 for SF-LA. This isn't Amtrak!

Ryan said...

Wow, a lot of good comments going on in here. I want to tackle what I hadnt really considered before: which part of the track to build first.

The SF to SJ route is interesting, but I wonder if it will be that revolutionary. I mean I used to live in the bay area and rode the Caltrain to Giants games, and it seemed like it did a good job. The time difference wouldnt be that incredible seeing as how it would be an all urban track with speeds limited. Also, it will take the longest to build. If they do make it first, then they need to connect Gilroy and Morgan Hill to help grow that area and help the traffic on 101.

I think the easiest place to put the rail first would be the Bakersfield to Merced run, but I am not sure the demand would be that incredible for that route when there is already Amtrak. When they launch it, it needs to be a hit, not a mediocre launch.

The route that I think would benefit the most from getting it first would be the L.A. area because everyone down here is crying for anything better than Amtrak, and with the traffic as horrible as it is it would support a system like this. Build the Irvine to Slymar run first, and it will go over well. It would be an even bigger hit if it serviced all the way to Riverside too since the traffic is the worst on 91, 10 and 60 freeways, but that is part of phase 2 unfortunately.

On an unrelated note, the Pacific Northwest connection would be great, but sadly I think there will be a gap between Sacramento and Portland for a long time to come. Everyone is used to flying to get to Oregon or Washington anyway. Plus building all that new track over that rugged terrain will be expensive and difficult!

Eventually it would be nice, but we need to focus on getting the critical urban routes and mid-distance connection routes like SF/SAC to LA/SD first. I think nationally it should be based on demand by population and their geographic relation to each other up front, and later on down the road begin to connect the so-called regional systems.

Brandon in San Diego said...

IMO, CHSRA efforts should be focused first, in succession order, on which segments of the route will appear to take the greatest amount of time and staff effort to complete... for planning, design, and engineering work.

Concerning segment start-up phases... I am more indifferent. However, the valley test track obviously has much logic to it. Afterwards... I would suspect the urban lines... SF to SJ and Gilroy... or LA Union Station to someplace north. If these were up and running, even on a limited basis, it could generate public backing.

@ Raf... I could have sworn I came across material speaking to Fresno being included in all service types. That included express trains.

BruceMcF said...

Brandon in San Diego said...
"IMO, CHSRA efforts should be focused first, in succession order, on which segments of the route will appear to take the greatest amount of time and staff effort to complete... for planning, design, and engineering work."

There is orders of magnitude difference in cost of planning, design and final tier EIR/EIS, on the one hand, and construction on the other.

In terms of construction and risk management on funding, there may be a decision to make whether to ensure that CV / LA / Anaheim or CV / SJ / SF is completed, since either would given an operation that could be used to start generating revenue bonds.

That of course justifies a heavy emphasis on getting through the design and final EIR/EIS on the SF/SJ section early enough to nail down how much that is going to cost (and for those trying to create failure, a heavy emphasis on trying to make that process as hard to complete as possible).

jim said...

@Rafael but Fresno is going to want their station to be in the current location and intermodal with amtrak.

jim said...

@rafael "This isn't Amtrak!"....well that remains to be seen...

Alon Levy said...

HSR express trains will stop in SF, SJ, LA and possibly, in Anaheim. There are currently no plans to have them stop in Fresno as well.It's likely they'll also stop at Palo Alto, Burbank, and maybe also Sylmar, SFO, and Palmdale. For reference see the Nozomi, which makes three stops in Greater Tokyo and two in Greater Osaka.

Anonymous said...

Interesting. It looks from the 'tea leaves' like the North Carolina/Virginia project -- 110 mph DC-Richmond-Raleigh-High Point-Charlotte -- is by far the leading contender to get the first federal money. It's "rapid rail" and the planning is *very* far along. They have the alignment accurate within feet for the new rail, with a very limited number of options to be decided upon, and property acquisition is well underway. For the existing rail to-be-improved, they have a 100% engineered plan and incremental improvements are well underway. (The weak point in the design appears to be Petersburg, VA, because the design was split into north-of-Petersburg and south-of-Petersburg....)

Back to California: "I think the easiest place to put the rail first would be the Bakersfield to Merced run, but I am not sure the demand would be that incredible for that route when there is already Amtrak. When they launch it, it needs to be a hit, not a mediocre launch."

Add the Bakersfield-LA connection and you would have a hit. Bakersfield-LA is a very heavily used link with no regular rail service. It's probably the biggest "unserved demand" and the segment with the best operating profit to start off with.

The tunnelling from the Central Valley to the San Fernando Valley makes that rather more expensive than other sections -- *but* it is through essentially empty land, so the land acquisition issues are minimal and the tunnels are relatively straightforward (not like digging under San Francisco). Tunnels are *slow*, so starting early would be key to getting it done in a reasonable time.

The San Fernando Valley has relatively cheap real estate along the Metrolink line -- the trenched four-track route there should be cheaper and easier to build than, for instance, in the Peninsula, although taking some road ROW will probably be necessary. This is probably cheaper than the LA-Irvine section.

Metrolink is aggressively installing PTC. Once that's done from the Antelope Valley line to Union Station, the FRA might give a waiver to allow the high-speed trains to run (at normal speed) along the standard tracks in places where it's difficult to add new tracks (such as Union Station itself). A little electrification and you'd be up and running from LA through the Central Valley, which would be a pretty splashy and successful line all considered.