Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Keeping Perspective on HSR and State Budget

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

The failure of the budget propositions yesterday have led some to wonder how this will impact high speed rail. It's been discussed in the comments, and is mentioned in a George Will column. George Will has been on a kind of jihad against sustainable policy lately, with his silly attack on Portland and his dishonest misuse of data to undermine action on global warming. So it should be in that vein that we read this:

California’s voters are complicit in their state’s collapse.

They elect and re-elect the legislators off whom public employees unions batten. Also, voters have promiscuously used their state’s plebiscitary devices to control and fatten the budget. Last November, as the dark fiscal clouds lowered, they authorized $9.95 billion more in debt as a down payment on a perhaps $75 billion high-speed rail project linking San Francisco and Los Angeles — a delight California cannot afford.

As you can tell, facts and evidence no longer mean anything to Will - there is no basis for the claim that HSR will cost $75 billion. If "perhaps" is the only justification to toss out numbers, then I think HSR will "perhaps" cost $1.50. I mean, really. WTF.

Of course, Will's argument is deeper. He claims that HSR is unnecessary (a "delight") that we "can't afford" and its mere presence on the book as a partly-funded proposal is to him further sign of how California got into the crisis.

So, here we go again, with arguments that to me were decisively won by our side in 2008. I won't completely repeat myself - go read The Cost of Doing Nothing is Not Zero and Prop 1A and State Bond Debt for starters.

But, it is worth reminding ourselves of the key points:

  • If we don't build HSR, that does NOT represent savings to the budget. HSR is itself savings. The cost of expanding airports and freeways to meet the expected future demand has been estimated to be anywhere from $80 to $160 billion. HSR can meet much of that demand for much less of the cost. Further, it does so by providing sustainable transportation, saving money to workers and businesses by liberating them from the vagaries of oil prices.


  • HSR is absolutely necessary to economic recovery. Our budget mess isn't the product of overspending but of the worst economic crisis in 60 years. If it were up to folks like Will we'd still be in the Depression - massive public works projects like HSR provide short-term stimulus and long-term economic growth. The 100,000+ jobs the construction will create will pour money into the state's economy and into the state's treasury. On the converse, NOT doing public works like this will help create a downward spiral that will leave California in perpetual crisis.


  • HSR does NOT come at the expense of any other budget line item. It's not a matter of firing teachers to build trains. This is because the money for HSR is going to come out of bonds and federal funds. Some might say that's disingenuous since we have to pay for the bonds somehow. But the point I would make is that HSR's costs are amortized over 30-40 years. Teachers need to be hired and paid now. Cutting HSR won't save other services (especially when the current amount of spending on HSR is barely $100 million, whereas the budget deficit is $25,100 million). The problems with the ongoing budget deficit have to be resolved through a mixture of new taxes and economic stimulus. Cutting stuff will actually make the problem worse.


It's not that we support HSR because we are train junkies. We support it because it is an essential part of our economic recovery and vital to providing long-term prosperity in the 21st century. We should not be surprised when the usual suspects and, yes, HSR deniers like George Will use the budget mess to try and push through their usual attack on government and on passenger rail. But we can and should push back against their nonsense.

68 comments:

YesonHSR said...

Really where do this people get this stupid made up cost figures and get away with it? And 9billion what is that 1 or 2months of the state budget..for something that will last for 80-100 years.I feel federal funds will really keep the project going until the state can sell the bonds in 3-4 years at a reasonable rate

Brandon in San Diego said...

If you say something often enough... it becomes correct, right?

Observer said...

Brandon - Yes - like "HSR saves the state money".

Again, HSR does not replace the need for roads or airports. It doesn't take any significant amount of car trips off the roads (certainly doesn't get people to their jobs everyday, it doesn't serve any commercial transport uses, it serves just a miniscule fraction of the airport traffic to Disneyland. The state will be footing the bill for HSR (then the maintenance and operation) AND the full bill for roads, AND the full bill for airports. Not to mention the bills for local useful mass transit (that the HSR system needs too!). HSR as a cost savings measure - Is it Halloween? April Fools Day? Or are you just a funny guy.

Here's food for thought - since road and airports DON"T GO AWAY, the full bill of maintenance operation, upkeep of those infrastructures are sill spent, but spread over few users - making those even more expensive in the POST HSR era. Unless you're saying - hey lets close highway 5? or maybe highway 99? 101?

Cost per trip from LA to SF including three infrastructure systems, amortized over same number of users (versus 2 infrastructure system over same number of users.) Do the math - its more expensive any way you cut it.

Robert over 1000 teachers salaries are paid for with $100M. This is EXACTLY the type of tough choice the people of the state of California are expecting their government to make now.

Public works? Hey there are plenty of suffering public works projects that REALLY need to be done, that give us a better and updated California when they're done, and which by the way will still need to be done, whether we spend money on HSR or not. So we spend on HSR and we STILL NEED TO DO THESE OTHER PROJECTS. And where's the money??? YES, let's do public works, if we can get a loan, lets DO the public works that get us out of the massive disrepair we're in.

Or we fritter the government stimulus (not just federal - all government infrastructure spendings) on HSR and continue to live in squalor all around us. Not a good trade at all for Californian's.

Spokker said...

"Again, HSR does not replace the need for roads or airports."

Airports don't replace the need for roads or rail. Roads don't replace the need for airports or rail.

"It doesn't take any significant amount of car trips off the roads"

HSR isn't competing with your inefficient, wasteful, downright selfish and stupid, unsustainable one-five mile drives to the grocery store and back.

"Here's food for thought - since road and airports DON"T GO AWAY, the full bill of maintenance operation, upkeep of those infrastructures are sill spent"

I'm not saying HSR is definitely going to pay for itself, but it has a hell of a lot better chance of doing so than any highway.

"Unless you're saying - hey lets close highway 5? or maybe highway 99? 101?"

I'm down for closing down some highways and taking some lanes away for rail. I've got a few places where we could start!

"Hey there are plenty of suffering public works projects that REALLY need to be done"

Let me guess, roads?

Anonymous said...

hey, if its stimulus, we should build the more expensive airports and roads. Points 1 and 2 are contradictory.

Also, when you say that we are "creating jobs," that money comes out of the private sector. So you are "destroying jobs" there. By your rationale, the big dig was worth it at any price.

I'm not saying i'm against HSR, but the case for it is far from airtight.

Eric said...

@Spokker

Let me guess, roads?
Zeppelins, dude. Nobody ever wants to spend a dime on the damn Zeppelins. Oh the humanity.

observer-2 said...

Well let's see. About 18 months ago HSR was to cost 32 billions. Then Morshed said 35 billion last summer. Then we started to hear 40 billions and Kopp himself said 45 billion the other day and at the Simitian committee meeting the deputy director said 40 - 50 billions. That was a new high water mark.

Reason foundation report said 65 to 80 billion. CalTrain says electrification and grade separation from SF to SJ just for their line (no HSR) estimated to cost 5 billion. The numbers the Authority the wants us to believe are 4.2 billions for 4 tracks, including CalTrain and HSR. So don't be discounting Will's $75 billion figure.

Eric said...

I'm not saying i'm against HSR, but the case for it is far from airtight.

The case for California's continued existence is far from airtight, but it seems to be be the best option we've got right now...

Brandon in San Diego said...

What this State does... what this nation does... is unsustainable with its transportation policy.

Some type of change is needed.

Greater emphasis on HSR is supported by a majority of people.

Budget impolications... near term, very little. Long-term... some changes will need to be made. I am glad for that... 'cause continued roadway construction does not solve congestion or air pollution or much of anything. But it does incentivize driving more. That is not good for California or the nation.

Adirondacker said...

Unless you're saying - hey lets close highway 5? or maybe highway 99? 101?

Nah, tolls would work. Median toll, last time I looked, on toll road in the Northeast and Midwest, was 5 cents a mile. Since California would be spending a lot on toll booths etc. 10 cents a mile would be about right. It doesn't look like a ticket system would work - one where you get a toll ticket or your electronic tag is read at an entrance and then you pay when you exit - barrier tolls every 10 miles or so on the Peninsula would work. Only a few hundred houses would have to be torn down to make room for the toll plazas. When should they start building? After all maintaining roads cost money. Money the state doesn't have....

luis d. said...

Yeah, pretty soon our "Freeways" will be "tollways". They've already started with the HOV lanes on I-580 through the Tri-Valley the second busiest commute in Northern Cal after H-101. Also I-680 through Sunol is getting one. That's just the start, not includeing future High gas prices. Then everyone will require FastTrak to drive on all freeway's. They already started that on the tolls on the Bay Bridge.

The HOV lane tolls are ridiculously expensive only the rich will afford them, sound familiar? Might as well garage your commute car and buy yourself a Rail and Public transportation pass. Rail is inevitably coming back strong, get used to it.

Spokker said...

"Also, when you say that we are "creating jobs," that money comes out of the private sector. So you are "destroying jobs" there. By your rationale, the big dig was worth it at any price."

Government spending crowds out investment but by less than it generates in income and consumption.

The Big Dig was botched. But when you look out where the elevated Central Artery used to be, you see a lot of opportunity. Even though they haven't really done much with that space yet, it looks better already.

jim said...

i-5 should absolutely be a toll road and should be more expensive for vehicles with out of state plates. The cost should be 10 cents a mile. thats about 40 bucks to drive from here to LA.

Rafael said...

@ observer -

so CA teachers make $100k a year now? Your math seems off. Besides, comparing teaching to infrastructure development makes no sense at all. You need both, and you need to give the state enough of your hard-earned cash to make that possible.

Try deporting the illegal aliens in CA prisons before you cut either teaching or infrastructure projects.

@ observer-2 -

Context please. The $3 billion jump came as a result of adding Anaheim to the starter line. The $45 billion number is for the fully built-out system including the spurs to San Diego, Sacramento and Irvine.

At this stage, the figures cannot be anything other than estimates because there has been no open tender for any of the construction jobs yet. How could there be, the planning process for exactly how the alignment will be implemented has only just begun.

Construction companies have to bid low to get a contract in the first place. Engineering change orders are where construction companies earn their profits. Therefore, cost containment depends on drafting accurate specs and sticking with them. That's one reason why there are project-level EIR/EIS processes in the first place.

Morris Brown said...

@Rafael

The Authority has certainly not been clear when they talk cost numbers. You may be right that they now claim it is the whole line when they talk 45 - 50 billion, but that certainly is not clear to me.

However, maybe you can shed some light on this question.

AECOM apparently has a 60 million dollar contract to study the Altamont pass. There is considerable material on the Authority's website now about this study.

The question is why are they now doing this study, since the chosen route does not include Altamont. It make no sense that at this time they would be undertaking such a study unless they are hedging their bets, especially worrying about the lawsuit, which if they lose, is going to at the very least mean a major delay on the SJ to Gilroy to Merced segment, and with the UPRR being absolutely adamant about, not allowing HSR on the SJ to Gilroy line, might make it impossible to go Pacheco.

Clem said...

CalTrain says electrification and grade separation from SF to SJ just for their line (no HSR) estimated to cost 5 billion ...

They've said no such thing. The latest figure for Caltrain electrification is $1.5 billion, including a total train fleet replacement worth $400+ million that is due around 2015, whether or not the line is electrified. The majority of Caltrain's fleet will be reaching its 30 year lifetime by that date. So the incremental cost of electrification is closer to $1 billion.

Alon Levy said...

Anon at 11:17: although Keynes himself thought that stimulus meant spending money on anything, nowadays Keynesian economists emphasize that stimulus should be spent on things with lasting long-term benefits.

For example, Krugman is suggesting spending the one-time cost it takes to modernize health care infrastructure, which will then cut costs further down the line. Retrofitting buildings to be more energy efficient and high-speed rail are of the same kind of spending, as they reduce operating costs down the line through higher efficiency. (HSR has enormous up-front costs, but very low operating costs).

Adirondacker: isn't the main US 101 exit serving Palo Alto actually located in East Palo Alto? I heard it suggested on Clem's blog that EPA should put a toll on it since it owns the road.

Rafael: it's very likely that where Observer lives, experienced teachers really do make 100k a year...

BruceMcF said...

Spokker: "I'm not saying HSR is definitely going to pay for itself, but it has a hell of a lot better chance of doing so than any highway."

It will definitely pay for its operating cost and maintenance expenses.

"Won't Pay For Itself" in the commercial sense of refunding the original capital subsidy from farebox revenue is a red herring to try to con people into thinking it won't cover its operating expenses, including maintenance.

Observer says "Again, HSR does not replace the need for roads or airports." I believe that his or her problem is that he does not understand the difference between the cost of the existence of a road or air network, and the cost of adding capacity to the road and air network.

Similar, he or she does not seem to understand that "transport" is not a single homogeneous, one-size-fits-all service, but is a range of services. HSR meets transport tasks in one range of the spectrum. The fact that it will only cater to a small, fringe portion of commutes is, quite obviously, no more relevant than the fact that air travel only caters to a small, fringe portion of commutes.

Observer said...

Rafael - the average fully loaded cost of a teacher (including PT&B), is probably 100K in California. Some more some less. You think its less? Then $100M buys EVEN MORE than 1000 teachers.

Spokker - no, not roads. Well, for starters... Water infrastructure; resevoirs, pipelines, levies, etc. How about power grid - power generation and distribution. By the way HSR is going to need at least one of these - Who's going to pay for that??? How about local mass transit infrastructure - that will do what you actually claim to want - which is take alot MORE cars off the roads. How about solarizing homes, businesses and public buildings. And there are probably about 1000 or more schools in California that are crumbling. How about reconfiguring highways to separate large vehicle traffice from small/high efficiency vehicles - this would go MUCH farther than HSR in getting gas guzzling cars off the roads - supporting the widespread adoption of new vehicle technology. We have aging sewage plants all over the bay area that spill sewage into the bay every time it rains...

Dude, We could literally go on and on on infrastructure California needs to invest in - MUCH higher priority and high value add than HSR. Shall we go on?

jim said...

It isn't done now, but I suppose one way to help make HSR "profitable' whatever that means in todays convoluted business environment is to add taxes to tickets just like airline tickets - facility charge, homeland security charge, sales tax, and so forth. Sales tax goes into the general fund. Security fee goes to pay TSA staff and equipment, and facilities charges go to pay back bonds and for maintenance and expansion. This would be more inline with airline costs, and if we keep the gas tax and add tolls to roads you get a 3 prong system - air rail and road - the collects heavily from the users of each mode. No one gets a free ride, one mode isn't favored over another, and californians can choose to pay appropriately for whichever mode works for them per trip.

James Jonas said...

@BruceMcF:
“the difference between the cost of the existence of a road or air network, and the cost of adding capacity to the road and air network”

Well said. As we are dealing with a very long time span, cost of existing transportation systems move from fixed to variable. Although I don’t expect this to happen, as substitution costs between transportation options are not zero, over a one to two hundred year time horizon it is possible that future generations may see a Highway 101 very different from what we see today.

“The cost of expanding airports and freeways to meet the expected future demand has been estimated to be anywhere from $80 to $160 billion.”

Supporting references would be helpful. This is all I found:

“Questions and Answers: Financing/Cost”
The estimated $82 billion ($2003) needed to expand our highways and airports to meet a similar demand expected to be carried by the high-speed train system is a very conservative figure. The analysis behind this conclusion was part of the Authority’s certified Statewide Program EIR/EIS, and was extensively peer reviewed by other agencies, organizations, and the public….”
http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/faqs/financing.htm

NOTE: Contains and extensive description on how this figure ($82 Billion) was derived.
Source: Authority’s and Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA’s) Statewide Program EIR/EIS document (certified November 2005)

I’m not finding the support for the $160 billion figure.

jim said...

@ob-Dude, We could literally go on and on on infrastructure California needs to invest in - MUCH higher priority and high value add than HSR. Shall we go on?"

yeah go on- none of these arguments address those of us who don't drive for instance. yes i can fly to LA or SD and Even plam springs, but there are times when I need to get to fresno and bakersfield as well. plane tickets to these places are high and inconvenient. i can ride the train for free as an emplyee but the timing doesn't work out - I am currently stuck in yet another dillema where I have to be in the hanford area at certain times and it can't be done unless I drive. Id on't want to rent a car and drive for four hours. and back. with HSR I can take my choice of trains every hour - be there in 90 minutes, and get home by dinner. I mean there is a whole gigantic chunk of travel in cali that roads and air do not address. Also theres tourism - as someone who serves hundreds of tourists a week - I can tell you that there is a high demand for this type of travel. You can't imagine the disappointed and even shocked look on europeans faces when I tell them it takes 11 hours to get to vegas. They don't want to fly. I hear it all day long from elderly folks, disabled folks, and a whole slough of other folks - " I won't fly" so there is a need for the train. period. There's a huge chunk of people out there who need this transport.

observer-2 said...

@Clem

Clem in a private conversation with CalTrain, I was told their estimate for electrification and grade separation was 5 billion. The 1.5 billion as you say is for electrification and trainsets, but the grade separations are the big item and you add in that your over 5 billion.

That's precisely why numbers thrown around by CHSRA make no sense and why a number like $75 billion that George Will tosses out are not un-reasonable.

It is precisely why CalTrain is willing to join with the Authority, because they see no way to get their project funded otherwise.

carlivar said...

Massive public works projects did not get us out of the Great Depression.

World War II did.

A common misconception.

Clem said...

The 1.5 billion as you say is for electrification and trainsets, but the grade separations are the big item and you add in that your over 5 billion ...

@observer-2: I understand now; that's interesting information. I did rummage around the CHSRA's cost figures for the peninsula, and they assume that grade separation will cost about $20M per crossing (in 2008 dollars). That figure is definitely on the low side compared to the actual cost of grade separations that Caltrain has built over the last 15 years, so it's quite possible your $5 billion figure is on the money.

Alon Levy said...

Carlivar: WW2 was itself a massive public works project, funded by immense deficits. The peacetime public works were fairly slow - FDR increased government spending by a lot, but he also raised taxes. The deficit under the New Deal wasn't that high - I believe the full employment deficit was 3%, compared with 6-7% now. On top of that, in 1937 FDR tried to balance the budget, against Keynes' advice, and plunged the US into a recession, delaying recovery.

Fred Martin said...

I remember seeing a Caltrain electrification estimate being between $300-500 million several years ago. Why do these projects always inflate in cost so much??

I think $5 billion for the 46 individual grade separations sounds about right, which already exceeds the $4.2 billion CHSRA is budgeting for the entire SF-SJ project. We're not talking about tunnels and even full-length embankments yet either, so costs will indeed soar. The $33 billion for the SF-LA starter (and finisher?) line is a serious low-ball estimate, and I hope this blog keeps an archive to record the proof.

NONIMBYS said...

NO Observer..you dont need to go on
you can go back to that stupid little paper that you normally post rants on

Spokker said...

"Massive public works projects did not get us out of the Great Depression.

World War II did."

Building everything we used for World War II and dumping it into the ocean would have had the same effect economically.

observer-2 said...

Just to keep these costs estimates into context, remember CalTrain estimates, 5 billions, are for 2 tracks, no HSR.

CHSRA estimate of 4.2 billions was for 4 tracks including CalTrain. That estimate just doesn't make any sense.

Clem said...

We're not talking about tunnels and even full-length embankments yet ...

Hold on a minute, why are we talking about full-length embankments?

The sole purpose of an embankment is to achieve a grade separation. While the FUD campaign by HSR opponents often promotes the notion of a full-length Berlin Wall style embankment dividing communities in half, there is absolutely no reason to elevate tracks other than to cross over roads, bike paths and pedestrian walkways!

The length of grade separation embankments is dictated by freight train requirements (1% grade); HSR and commuter trains can easily handle 2% or steeper grades, which would make such embankments much shorter. So whatever they may tell you, it's not like HSR requires extra long embankments.

Anonymous said...

Clem,

One of the reasons for the extra long embankments that engineers have given for both north and south of San Jose is the frequency of cross streets. While the train can handle a 2% grade, they do not want to go up and down and up and down - at 125-180 mph, this starts feeling very roller coaster like.
Add in the freight train requirements and you have a very long embankment - particularly south of San Jose actually.

Residents down there are now being told it will be elevated most of the way, unlike initial plans which had 80% of it at grade.

Spokker said...

One thing I don't understand is why roads can't go under or over the at-grade tracks. Sure, there will be some embankments, but you can reduce that roller coaster feeling by moving the road over or under.

This is the most common type of grade separation I see where I live.

Fred Martin said...

I agree that the Peninsula line should be kept at-grade as much as possible, but I don't think this is what CHSRA and its contractors have in mind. Right now, it seems to be a debate between an embankment or a tunnel -- or some combination of both -- all options of which will be expensive in the extreme. Just for service that will only average 100-110mph too...

By the way, why isn't road money being used to fund the grade separations?? Previously, if a road wanted to cross over or under a railroad, it was road money that paid for the separation.

jim said...

I prefer the roller coaster. its more fun. other wise the whole thing is just boring.

Anonymous said...

Spokker,

The reason for the train either going up or down instead of the road is the problem that the Caltrain tracks have roads parallel to them, often on both sides. You would need to lower these roads as well as cross streets. Mountain View had plans to do just that for Alma. Alma was going to have to start to be lowered by 900 feet in each direction. You then also cut off a lot of driveways and the state ends up buying a lot of homes and businesses.

Clem said...

at 125-180 mph, this starts feeling very roller coaster like ...

No, it does not. 125 mph over a 10 km vertical radius (typical of these structures) induces an acceleration of 1/30th of gravity. You would barely feel that in the seat of your pants. Even with a 10 km sag and hump radius limit, the length of a grade separation is largely determined by the maximum grade.

Building straight instead of a so-called "roller coaster" will cost more, consume more concrete, and cause more blight without actual benefit to anyone but the contractors and Union Pacific freight trains.

One thing I don't understand is why roads can't go under or over the at-grade tracks .

They can, but lowering or raising roads usually has impacts one or two blocks away from the tracks, vastly expanding the physical footprint of the project. That is evidently not a fight the CHSRA wanted to pick, since it involves lots of eminent domain action.

The other thing to keep in mind is that most grade seps fall somewhere between the extremes, along a continuous spectrum. The height of the rails and road can be varied continuously at will. For example, the Churchill grade sep that recently had Palo Alto up in arms was penciled in as road down 6 feet and rails up 15 feet... but that quickly snowballed into a "20 foot Berlin wall".

Anonymous said...

Clem,

Can you translate that to English? I will say that the engineers have consistently made this point to various people that repeated quick ups and downs need to be avoided so if this not true, facts and figures that mean something to layperson would help.

Anonymous said...

The Berlin Wall was only 12 feet high, FWIW.

Alon Levy said...

With or without the watchtowers and the automatic guns?

Clem said...

@anon, in lay terms, the ups and downs are not that quick: the radius of the vertical curve is SIX MILES, hardly enough to push you into the floor or smash you into the ceiling. To put it in perspective, 1/30th of gravity is about 1/3 or 1/4 of the forces you experience in a typical elevator: nothing that would spill your coffee.

They do have a point at speeds of 180 - 200 mph (since the acceleration goes as the square of speed).

jim said...

so, where shall the billions in cuts come from? The clock is ticking.

jim said...

Mr Schwarzenegger is thinking about freeing 38,000 people. Half of them are undocumented immigrants whom he would transfer to federal custody.

see the common sense prevails when it gets down to the wire.

jim said...

the new plan is emerging: "...It doesn’t end there. A plan, previously rejected, to drill for oil off the coast near Santa Barbara will be revived. And a statewide yard sale will be held. State properties, from a big coliseum in Los Angeles to concert halls and fairgrounds, will be auctioned off. Even the San Quentin prison, built during the gold rush and housing the state’s death row, may go. Jeff Denham, a Republican state senator who votes resolutely against any attempt to raise taxes, has for years wanted to move the prison to a cheaper place inland in order to sell its “ocean-front property” in the bay north of San Francisco. He may now get his way"

Alon Levy said...

Or you could just abolish the death penalty the way the rest of the civilized world has, and close San Quentin without relocating.

Devil's Advocate said...

Since Carlivar said that what took US out of the depression was WW2, I propose that to take us out of the current recession we forget about the HSR and declare war on Canada instead.

Regarding the cost of construction of the HSR, since the Spaniards and the French are currently spending under 15 million Euro/km (about $32 Million/mile) for their HSR, so I don't see why it should cost California more than $15 billion to build the 450 miles between SF to LA. Ok, add a handful of billions for the stations (which the europeans already had, in large part) and it shouldn't be more than $20 billion to build this first segment.
As far as traffic relief, I think that HSR would be successful to relieve some of the short haul air traffic (LA/SF Bay). It happened elsewhere in the world, I don't see why not here. I agree with skeptics that it won't relieve a lot of car traffic for trips up to 3 hours (200 miles), since car travel is subsidized and too inexpensive in US compared to overseas, where they pay 3 times as much for gas, and most freeways are toll roads.
Said this, I'm against building any stations in any city with less than 300,000 people within 5 miles radius from the station. Sorry Palmdale, Merced, Sylmar, etc. You need to take a bus or a commuter train to the closest big town where there is a station.

resident said...

Devils Ad - probably European countries put their main lines through countrysides, enter city centers briefly, and limit impact on their residential neighborhoods. CHSRA For whatever reason figures that in order to serve a metro population center it also had to rake through 50 miles of its suburbs. - an expensive undertaking at best. Idiotic, shortsighted more like it.

Relieve air traffic and auto traffic - a bit - but does it save California from having to maintain these other systems? No. No money saved, only another whole system to maintain. Pretty rich living for a state that's on the verge of bankruptcy.

Lets see, 300,000 within 5 mile radius of station... Well, Palo Alto is about 7 miles wide, and its got about 60,000. Its bordered on the west by Santa Cruz Foothills/Mtns, which is basically a population barrier. Its bordered on the west by SF Bay - population barrier. And that's the geography of the entire Peninsula (which CHSRA utterly fails to consider).

To its North sits Menlo Park, about 30,000 and to its South Mountain View, about 65,000. (Mt. View is quite long though, population in proximity to Palo Alto, only a fraction of this 65,000. And a good chunk of that is low income - not a big market for daily luxury rides on HSR to Disneyland.

No way Peninsula cities makes sense as a big population centers for HSR stations.

I mean really, how do they figure all these "masses" of Peninsula residents, that are suddently going to pack themselves into high rises around HSR stations (puleeze), suddenly have some burning need to take all these rides to LA?

anonymous-3 said...

Of course the whole concept of running through the cities is to build high density housing close by, the much advocated Transit Oriented Housing (TOD) concept.

If you listen to Robert, no sprawl is created, everyone wants to live near the train. Fresno could become a city of commuters to San Jose.

Developers love the concept, you get to lower the cost of a project considerably by packing more residents into less land. You get to provide less (or in a true TOD development zero), parking for cars, since everyone is supposed to use public transportation.

That's not what happens. Typically less than 10% of the residents use the train to commute and all the residents want to keep their cars. Families want to live in homes with yards, where their children can play etc.

When is this nonsense going to stop. It doesn't work. The train should go along I-5, making it the most efficient path to go from north to south. That would have been good planning, but the CHSRA has never been about good planning but about making money for the development community and getting political leaders in the Central Valley to endorse the project.

Spokker said...

"Families want to live in homes with yards, where their children can play etc."

Families can continue to live where they want to live. But there are an increasing amount of singles or childless couples who never plan to have children and couldn't care less about suburban life.

Personally I don't plan to have children and would love to live near a good train station if I could afford it.

Spokker said...

With or without HSR, suburban living may become an outdated ideal anyway.

Hope you like raising your kids in apartments!

NONIMBYS said...

Why do you PA nimbys always have some "Spin" on why HSR will not work..just because you dont want it to come thru on that 120 year old railroad. Dont wooryy Resident
your little town will be the small
thou you will have underpasses to drive your 70K SUVS across the Railroad ROW

Devil's Advocate said...

@ resident: it's not that CHSRA chose to cross suburbs, whereas europeans chose not to. The difference is in the urban planning pattern. European cities are densely compacted and not sprawling into huge suburbs. It is true that their HSRs were built primarily in rural areas, and merged for a few miles into the existing regular lines at the cities' limits. Choices are more limited in California where you necessarily need to cross tons of suburbs before you get to SF or LA, and where there are no existing lines to merge into. I agree that certain stations, like the peninsula, are not necessary. I put that station in the same list as Palmdale and Sylmar. At least not until there is a sufficient population density to support it. Station Stops in SF, SJ, LA (with some trains servicing Fresno and maybe Bksfield) will do for now. HSR is not meant for commuters, it would be too expensive for most, therefore forget Fresnans working in S.Jose. HSR is meant for those who value time more than money, who nowadays use the airplanes from and to these destinations rather than drive. A family living within 3-4 hr drive from Disneyland (or anyplace else) will probably continue to choose to drive like they do now, and save a lot of money by sharing the driving costs rather than buying multiple train tickets just to save a few minutes. Those who will take the train to Disneyland will probably be those Bay Area families who nowadays fly to Disneyland. Consider however that Virgin America flies you from SF to LA and back for $100 these days, so price competitiveness might be another issue.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Massive public works *did* help ameliorate the Depression. They created jobs and helped grow GDP. They also did help produce long-term growth that made it possible to avoid sliding back into the Depression.

Without those projects, we'd have had not had any recovery from the nadir.

Dan S said...

resident said...

I mean really, how do they figure all these "masses" of Peninsula residents, that are suddently going to pack themselves into high rises around HSR stations (puleeze), suddenly have some burning need to take all these rides to LA?The lack of need for regular transportation between the Bay Area and the LA area is probably due to the fact that they share similar time zones and mild temperatures. I believe this is borne out by the small number of daily flights between these two metro areas (maybe one or two?) and the consistently mild traffic density on the grapevine. Combine that with the trend of declining population in the state, and I think you have a good argument for subsidizing gasoline to encourage people to hit the road. I mean, those cars aren't going to drive themselves!

On the one percent doctrine...

So is the system a "delight" that we can't afford? According to wikipedia, the budget of the state DoT is $60 billion per year. We're discussing spending around ten billion of state money, in payments spread over 30 years, to create a significant new transportation mode. Given that we currently have only two and a half major transport modes (I'm adding up car, plane, train, and skateboard), I personally think it passes a basic worthiness test quite easily.

I might suggest to the Will of the people that he start counting his delightful blessings right now, like his clean air and his cheap gas, because both have a greater than 1% chance of disappearing in the future. Remember the conviction with which conservatives rallied around the 1% doctrine when it came to the possibility of a terrorist getting a nuke? Well, how about the 1% chance of global warming being real, or of our addiction to oil empowering dangerous interests, or of our highway system not being able to scale with our population growth? How about a little investment to hedge against those possibilities?

Spokker said...

Despite a bleak outlook, I must not overlook my goals here, to take a dump on a high speed train at 220 MPH.

I have it pinned to my monitor to remind myself when times get tough.

Anonymous said...

If the HSR craps out it is because the current scheme is crappy, not because of "NIMBYS".

Get back to freeway alignments, get back to the grapevine, get rid of rinky-dink stops. A totally new route.

Invest all of the money on express service from San Jose to LA. Enough of the public will be satisfied and the rest will fall into place.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Devil's Advocate, that isn't supported by either the available evidence (people HAVE shifted from driving to HSR in places like Spain and even on the NEC with the Acela) or the long-term projections of the rising price of oil, which will make driving uneconomical.

Spokker said...

Michael Dukakis has a boner for trains.

http://www.infrastructurist.com/2009/05/21/talking-trains-with-michael-dukakis-part-1/"You’ve been cautious about plans to build European and Japanese-style high speed rail here.In certain places its fine. In California, it’s what they need. To their credit they’re way ahead of everyone else on it. They started way back when under Pete Wilson, a good Republican, created the high speed rail authority. There may be other opportunities. But when you have a well developed national rail network which with fairly modest investment can get you moving in the 125 mph range, without disruption and delay, for most parts of the country it makes sense to upgrade and improve those rights of way. You go to Britain and ride the trains that go 125 mph a hour – it’s not 200 mph, but it’s pretty damn good."

Good for him.

new auto industry said...

While gas prices are rising, Obama administration is furiously working to increase mileage standards

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20090520/ap_on_bi_ge/us_autos_fleet_of_the_future

At the same time auto technology is blossoming
http://www.zeromotorcycles.com/

Combine this with the death and rebirth of the auto makers themselves

And CHSR will be obsolete before the ground breaking ceremony.

In fact as soon as CHSRA puts truth into their EIRs, factoring in the 21st century auto industry (not the 20th century auto industry), then CHSR benefits arguments will dry up. (And they WILL be eventually required to do this math - they won't get away with their nonsense analysis forever.

Clem said...

@new auto industry: but will it ever take fewer than 5 hours of my undivided attention to get from SF to LA? Personally I'd rather spend 3 hours reading, snoozing, surfing the net, or drinking coffee in the on-board Starbucks lounge.

jim said...

@spokker Building everything we used for World War II and dumping it into the ocean would have had the same effect economically. yes but it would totally exacerbate sea level rise cause the polar bears to melt at an even more alarming rate.

Adirondacker said...

that in order to serve a metro population center it also had to rake through 50 miles of its suburbs. - an expensive undertaking at best. Idiotic, shortsighted more like it.

Or plowing through 50 miles of? I suppose they could build a tunnel under the bay. Or come in from the ocean but I have a feeling that would be much more expensive. There's a lot of suburb around Los Angeles and San Francisco no matter which way you go. The surveyors who laid out the Southern Pacific's line up the Peninsula did a pretty good job of laying out a line that will support high speeds. Maybe not TGV speeds but fast ones. There's going to be lots of digging along Caltrain's right of way but not a whole lot of plowing through much of anything except existing railroad right of way.

where there are no existing lines to merge into.

Caltrain is an existing line to merge into. So are the parts that will be sharing track with Metrolink

At least not until there is a sufficient population density to support it.

Quick call Amtrak and tell them they should abandon Wilmington, Trenton and Metropark. And New Rochelle and Stamford and.... If the train is already passing through it doesn't cost much to stop some of them there. The other ones can express through and get to the end point almost as fast as if there was no station at all. This isn't BART, the trains don't have to make every stop.


A family living within 3-4 hr drive from Disneyland (or anyplace else) will probably continue to choose to drive like they do now.

And the people who aren't families should drive too? Have you ever been in an airport or train station? Most of the people there are traveling alone. It will be the same with HSR. Instead of driving all alone in your car from Fresno to Los Angeles you'll get on the train. Not everyone but enough of them but enough of them to cut back on flights between cities served by HSR. Less highway has to built too.

even on the NEC with the Acela.

Even on the NEC's plain old everyday regionals. I frequently traveled between Newark NJ and Washington DC. The fastest way to do it was on Amtrak. Acela was fastest but the regionals, which are much cheaper, do it almost as fast. Acela's premium fare wasn't worth it. Driving, when the weather cooperates, when there is no traffic on the Turnpikes and I95 might be the next fastest. It means 4 hours of driving in heavy traffic. Or 6 hours in very heavy traffic. Can't nap when you are driving either. It also means you have a car to park when you get to DC. Bus is next fastest but the bus is.....rustic. Flying is slowest unless your trip is from one airport to another. Since I didn't live at the airport it was never an option.

If I want to do it now, the Ethan Allen can get me to Manhattan faster than driving. Changing trains in Penn Station is competitive with driving to Philadelphia and points south. Driving is work and the fare is competitive with driving if you consider costs other than gasoline. Otherwise I drive to Albany and take the train from there.

In fact as soon as CHSRA puts truth into their EIRs, factoring in the 21st century auto industry .

Those 21st century cars will get better mileage but they won't be going any faster. It's still going to be a very long drive between the HSR stations. And there's no bar in the backseat or toilet in the glove compartment.

Spokker said...

"Combine this with the death and rebirth of the auto makers themselves

And CHSR will be obsolete before the ground breaking ceremony."

Which is why Obama is all about high speed rail in 2009 and why he stood there with Biden and announced billions for HSR as a start.

Alon Levy said...

Ah, yes, the 21st century auto industry. The US has been planning on it for 16 years with nothing to show for it. Every eight years, some President hugs auto execs and promises that change is right around the corner. It'll keep happening until GM and Chrysler finally liquidate as nobody wants to buy their cars, and the US will no longer be under pressure to support zombie automakers.

Daniel Jacobson said...

@ New Auto Industry:
America has over 250 million cars. Anybody who even thinks that we can solve our energy and environmental crises with more cars is just plain ignorant. To replace even 1/5 of these cars, or 50 million, with a plug-in at 25,000 apiece (very low estimate) would cost 1.25 TRILLION and take decades (while exacerbating our congestion and public health crises). Given the sheer number of automobiles in America, and given that hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and electric cars reduce emissions at about 60% tops, and given that increased population and sprawl will increase driving, THERE IS NO POSSIBLE WAY TO OBTAIN SIGNIFICANT REDUCTIONS IN EMISSIONS AND ENERGY USE BY AUTOMOBILES ALONE.

lets get real said...

new auto industry wrote"

"In fact as soon as CHSRA puts truth into their EIRs, factoring in the 21st century auto industry (not the 20th century auto industry), then CHSR benefits arguments will dry up. (And they WILL be eventually required to do this math - they won't get away with their nonsense analysis forever."If only this were true. Still no business plan. Now not promised until Jan 2010. And who will prepare this plan? Why, of course, a consultant(s) chosen by the CHSRA. The only way they won't keep getting away with this fraud, is by the CHSRA being forced to have an independent body, like the Berkeley institute do the business plan. Its the old fox in the chicken pen story.

flowmotion said...

@Daniel Jacobson

Exaggerate as you have, but virtually the entire US auto fleet will be rolled over before the first shovel of dirt is turned for HSR. Autos are obviously the biggest and easiest target to reduce energy consumption.

Not to mention HSR would very few cars from the road anyway and wouldn't fundementally change transportation patterns. People will still drive their (electric) cars to the HSR station, just as they do with air travel today.

(I'm always amused at how posters here confuse HSR and local transit systems.)

Anonymous said...

How do you confuse HSR and local transit systems?

That's like confusing Formula 1 racing cars with Toyota Tercels.