Sunday, July 19, 2009

Now Is The Perfect Time To Build A Railroad

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

What do the Golden Gate Bridge, Shasta Dam, and the Central Valley Water Project have in common? They are all products of the Great Depression. At a time when both California and the federal government were strapped for cash and suffering the effects of a major economic downturn, government decided to use infrastructure projects to provide economic recovery in both the short and the long term. Each project continues to provide economic activity 70 years later. Each has paid for itself many times over.

Last fall we spent a lot of time on this blog debunking the New Hoovers who claimed that now was the wrong time to build high speed rail - that despite the clearly successful model of the big 1930s infrastructure projects, California should embrace austerity and follow a different path, even in spite of the need and economic benefit of high speed trains. Here in the summer of 2009 we find that this attitude persists. However, as the enormous scale of the recession has become undeniable, the New Hoovers have had to find another reason to argue against infrastructure projects. As Dan Walters shows in the Sacramento Bee today, the state budget mess is providing the new excuse for New Hooverism:

Is this the time to launch construction of a high-speed railroad line between Northern and Southern California that will cost at least $40 billion, much of it from bonds to be repaid from a state budget that's already gushing red ink?

Yes, say its fervent advocates, contending that a bullet train, similar to those in Europe and Japan, will reduce air and auto congestion, reduce greenhouse gases and generate many billions of dollars in economic benefits.


Walters doesn't give his opponents or HSR much credit. He ignores the effect of those "many billions of dollars in economic benefits" - does he think that the state of California or its budget can afford to turn down the jobs and tax dollars that come from the HSR project? Construction workers' pay is taxed, as is their spending. HSR saves travelers time and money, creating a Green Dividend that fuels economic growth through the savings that sustainable mass transportation creates.

Instead he seems to be arguing from an embrace of misery. His preferred solution to the economic crisis appears to be lowered horizons and mass suffering. To Walters, the budget crisis means that all plans and projects that would spend money must be shelved. Presumably they'll await economic recovery, but that recovery will not occur without those infrastructure projects. Since the phrase "economic recovery" appears to be banned in Sacramento, among both politicians and the media that cover them, it isn't surprising that Walters embraces misery for misery's sake. Suffering and pain will somehow produce recovery - that's the neo-Hooverite model that Walters espouses in his column.

Most of Walters' column is devoted to rather weak attacks on the HSR project that suggest he is simply not very familiar with the key details of the project:

Bullet train advocates have been touting California as qualifying for a significant portion of the $8 billion set aside in federal stimulus money for transit because of the bond issue.

Recently, however, the feds decided to place the Los Angeles-Las Vegas high-speed route promoted by Nevada interests, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in the California system. It raises the specter that huge sums would be spent to make it easier for Californians to spend money in Las Vegas casinos.


In fact, the LA-Vegas HSR project does not appear eligible for HSR stimulus money. Nevada's application for stimulus funds was limited to $1 billion to study maglev from Primm to the Las Vegas Strip, a project that Senator Reid no longer supports. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood has repeatedly stated the SF-LA HSR route is the most likely to receive HSR stimulus funds.

The criticism continues, however, questioning both whether a high-speed rail system makes transportation and economic sense and the route adopted by the California High-Speed Rail Authority, especially running trains over the unpopulated Pacheco Pass between San Jose and the Central Valley....Meanwhile, opposition to the Pacheco Pass route appears to be growing because it would mean routing trains down the bucolic San Francisco Peninsula between San Francisco and San Jose. The alternative would be to run trains over the Altamont Pass along Interstate 580 into the Stockton-Tracy area, a more heavily traveled commuter corridor.


But since the alternative route, over Altamont Pass, would have bypassed San Jose entirely, the Pacheco route actually has far more people living along it than Altamont. The fact that nobody lives in the Pacheco Pass itself is actually an argument FOR that alignment, as it means fewer stops for a train whose purpose is to whisk travelers from the Bay Area to Southern California in the shortest amount of time possible. If the goal was to design a commuter railroad, then Altamont would indeed be a preferable choice - which is exactly why the California High Speed Rail Authority plans to develop Altamont as a high speed corridor.

Environmental activists in Palo Alto are complaining about the impact on their city and, somewhat mysteriously, language appeared in still-pending revisions to the 2009-10 state budget that makes allocation of $139 million in high-speed rail planning funds contingent on "alternative alignments" being considered. Advocates of the Pacheco Pass route consider that to be a poison pill and will try to get it removed before a final budget is enacted, if that ever occurs.


Peninsula NIMBYs are a nuisance to the project, and are putting their own personal aesthetic values in alliance with neo-Hooverism in order to block economic recovery. Their opposition is unsurprising and annoying, but it's not a reason to doubt the economic value of the project.

While $9 billion of the voter-approved bond issue is to be used for the system, if and when it is ever built, the remaining $995 million can be spent on local mass transit systems on the assumption that they will improve access to high-speed rail.

There is a suspicion among those who chart the erratic course taken by the bullet train project that when push comes to shove, its only tangible fruit will be those local projects.


Only someone who has paid just passing attention to the HSR project would consider its course "erratic" - the CHSRA is well along the path of finalizing environmental documents, determining the project-level design, and has already built working relationships with the leading HSR experts around the world. Winning voter support for the project AND the $10 billion in bonds it needs to get started was no small accomplishment. And with President Barack Obama and most of the Congress on board, HSR is far from a pipe dream. It is a real plan with a bright and viable future.

But it's understandable why those who have chosen to deny the future would choose to deny the value and viability of the HSR project. For people like Dan Walters, the state's economic and budget crisis means we must lower our horizons and suffer until somehow, apparently through magic, we have economic recovery. For the rest of us, who believe economic recovery is desirable and that it can be produced through infrastructure as it was 70 years ago, the high speed rail project is a necessary part of the project to rebuild California. It's a shame Dan Walters, who has spoken so insightfully in other venues about the need to rebuild California's broken political system, chooses to eschew vision and planning in favor of a morose neo-Hooverism.

Our predecessors did not listen to that kind of talk when planning the Golden Gate Bridge or the Central Valley Project. Nor should we.

58 comments:

Morris Brown said...


But since the alternative route, over Altamont Pass, would have bypassed San Jose entirely..


Come on Robert. San Jose was only going to be bypassed as a direct line. The reasonable approach which, has been outlined here before, would include San Jose on an side tracks (spur). Rafael's input on this issue was right on point.

Pacheco is a disaster and if the lawsuit invalidates the EIR for that segment, you will see just how big a disaster that decision has been.

無名 - wu ming said...

LOL, the peninsula hasn't been "bucolic" for decades and decades, certainly not in my lifetime.

Spokker said...

In a recent interview with PBS Paul Krugman's advise was to spend, spend, spend. Republicans are retarded when they say that it was World War II that got us out of the Great Depression. What the hell was World War II? It was a giant public works project.

The problem with the WPA is that it didn't go fair enough, according to Krugman, Nobel Prize winner in the field of economics. World War II was the spending that did it and it was what should have been done initially. World War II would have still been necessary to stop Hitler, of course.

But we would have recovered anyway whether or not we actually used those tanks and bombs or not. We could have dumped them in the ocean and it would have had the same effect.

Some people say high speed rail goes too far. I say it doesn't go too far enough!

Spokker said...

Jesus fuck, I should probably read my posts before I submit them.

matt said...

I am not a government spending advocate, even if it is a recession. The exception, however is infrastructure, since it is not possible/likely for competition. And now is the perfect time to build it, since labor and materials will be at their lowest point.

NONIMBYS said...

The EIS will stand..time to build this system THRU Menol/Atherton/PA
enough crybaby whines..Look at what happened to America big cities
so you SOBs can have your freeways
A 120 year old ROW that you moved next to is no excuse for once again we are being abused

Brandon in San Diego said...

MB... There is a big difference between being on the mainline versus a branch or spur! Level of service is a much lower and travel time increased.

Morris Brown said...

Brandon:

For San Jose, the difference between being on the main line or not was a deal breaker. Travel time is no big deal. But downtown SJ real estate values and perceived future riches coming from being a direct line terminus was the main concern. Hey, if SF is at the end, we need to be on that line.

Then, of course, you have the ego of a board director looking to have his name on a $2 billion station.

Now Robert is quite willing to claim that SJ was being effectively by-passed with Altamont, but what about Sacramento being effectively being cut off from SF by the Pacheco routing.

Of course both Sacramento and San Diego will never be connected under the proposed financing, which is to come from profits from the system.

In case nobody has noticed, private investment was supposed to provide 1/3 of the capital costs of construction. Private investors expect not only a profit from their investment, but they expect their capital costs to be repaid from revenues also.

So as some keep claiming, capital costs are in no system in the world ever repaid, how in the world is the private sector ever going to get its investment repaid, get a profit and yet these profits are going to pay for extensions to San Diego and Sacramento?

Rafael said...

@ Morris Brown -

if your reasoning were anything to go by, Japan would have only the Tohoku shinkansen, France just the LGV sud-est and Spain just the Madrid-Sevilla line. HSR networks tend to expand beyond the starter line.

California will be no exception, especially if the state decides to gradually raise gasoline and cut general sales taxes to help meet AB32 goals.

jim said...

Too many deniers actually seem to think that california is just going to stay in a permanent state of recession forever. By the time its time to pay the bonds, the economy will have long since recovered and the return on the infrastructure will be a part of that recovery. When california has its next series of boom years, not only will the investment be useful and help to lubricate the boom, but the tax revenues will go up as a result. Its no different than investing in roads and ports to make sure that the state can remain competitive. I thought that conservatives were suppose to so brilliant when it comes to managing money but what we have around here is a bunch of people who are against hsr on personal grounds trying to use economics to justify their position. Any fool off the street knows that if california had not invested in railroads, ports, airports, highways, water and every other type if infrastructure over the last 50 years, we would not be the economic powerhouse we are today on the global stage. I would love to live here 150 years ago when the state was "bucolic" but it hasn't been that for a century at least. Its an economic engine, the most important part of America's economy and if we want it to remain that way, then we have to continue to invest in it as always. People who get stuck on stupid with an outlook of "the state is broke, therefore we can't do anything" are the same people who get out of the stock market when stocks drop thinking they will never go back up,, instead of buying low. Anyone who has been alive in the country for 40 years or more has seen this economy go up and down from prosperity to recession at least 4 times since the 60s. I was here, I saw it. was I the only one? The water is still in the ocean, the sky is still where it was last week and california will still be here next year. I was out last night and the hotel valets were packed, the clubs were full, the tourists were touring, the diners were dining, the drinkers were drinking the surfers are still surfing. Everything is fine. -except for the henny pennys. All this california doomsday hysteria reminds me of the chicken little story.

Brandon in San Diego said...

Morris Brown,
Somehow, you have been blinded.

Quality service is a factor of frequency of service and travel time / directness of route.

Your being blind, or willingly ignorant of that has translated a spur or branch scenario for San Jose to mean that it is somehow equal, or only marginally different, than being on the mainline.

The fact is, a branch spur/scenario means San Jose would get substantially less service... probably 33% to 50% less...

Or, the CHSRA would need to provide substantially more service at greater cost.... possibly busting the formula for the system to generate a projected operating surplus.

The alignment on the north end, having San Jose as a through station, is sufficient.

Rafael said...

@ Brandon in San Diego -

sorry for being Cptn. Obvious here, but what you call the main line and what a spur is a matter of semantics. The reality is that forking the main line would reduce service frequency to both San Jose and San Francisco.

That would be an issue for growing ridership in the early years, but IFF the service proves popular enough anyhow there could be a train leaving from each city every 10-15 minutes, at which point the fork would no longer be an issue. It's getting to that level of ridership that would be hard.

@ Morris Brown -

one of the Altamont scenarios studied by CHSRA was that of forking the starter line in Atherton rather than Fremont. Now that BART will use the only available ROW south from Niles, what you are advocating might not prevent the construction of HSR tracks through Menlo Park anyhow.

Brandon in San Diego said...

Rafael,
No, there is a big difference between being on a spur versus the main line... respective of the California HSR network. Those difference are pointed out in my above post, which speaks to quality and levels of service.

And the challenge you speak to concerning ridership (early or long-term) is much greater a challenge than you assume.

The branch or spur scenario suggested by Morris, and perhaps supported by yourself (I forgot if you do or not)... simply marginalizes the opportunity of the proposed system to genernate ridership an reach a high level operating effeciency.

The fight for the system design should be one that maximizes the opportunity to generate ridership with the least amount of operating funds necessary, or subsidy necessary... with appropriate/reasonable locally sensative design mitigation measures... ones which do not significantly sacrifice safety or operating effeciencies.

The system design, to me, appears pretty darn close to being ideal. Improvments, geographical features aside, could be more direct alignments between San Jose and the Central Valley, Bakersfield to Sylmar (thru Tehachipi), and from Union Station to Escondido (San Diego). Each has out of direction travel that adds travel time to the system with marginal benefit to ridership... from my perspective.

Clem said...

I'm with Morris Brown on this one: I think it is disingenuous to say Altamont "would have bypassed San Jose entirely". That's a flat out falsehood, period.

BruceMcF said...

Morris Brown said...
"Now Robert is quite willing to claim that SJ was being effectively by-passed with Altamont, but what about Sacramento being effectively being cut off from SF by the Pacheco routing."

How can you pretend to be writing about a HSR project while ignoring differences in distances between locations? Sacramento and San Francisco are not far enough apart to require 220mph trains to yield trips of under two hours, let alone under three hours. 110mph and 125mph is plenty fast enough for that transport task.

By contrast, effectively linking the LA Basin and the Bay by rail, which is more capital efficient than the equivalent air and ground inter-regional transport capacity under current energy costs, and less exposed to the risk of crude oil price shocks, requires 220mph Express HSR rail technology.

So "cutting off Sacramento from San Francisco" is just an empty rhetorical flourish, and using it brands the user as either ignorant or willing to deceive in pursuit of his objectives. Misled or misleading ... the only third option is "or both".

Rafael said...

@ BruceMcF -

one of the issues is that CHSRA marketed its true bullet train network as "high speed rail", a much narrower definition than the one used by USDOT and the Obama administration.

Speeding up (large sections of) Amtrak Capitol Corridor to 110mph would indeed make a big difference for Sac-SF travel. Having to transfer to an Amtrak motorcoach between Emeryville and SF isn't ideal, but at least one exists.

Sacramento has some bus and light rail connecting transit, especially in the downtown area. Getting from the train station to e.g. the state capitol isn't difficult.

Fred Martin said...

Don't forget about the 100 mile detour to the vital metropoles of Fresno and Palmdale....

Bruce, check the size of the Bay Area/SoCal air market again. It can be entirely handled with about 16-20 full HSR trainsets each way DAILY, so what's all this talk of 12 trains per hour being necessary???

Clem said...

Sacramento and San Francisco are not far enough apart to require 220mph trains to yield trips of under two hours, let alone under three hours

You seem to be implying that Sacramento needs to be at least 2 hours from SF by rail, or that there is no value in further reducing the travel time.

If a re-route with no material impact to SF - LA timings can cut SF - Sac timings in half, how is that trumped by service frequency between LA and SJ?

Note, the ridership analysis that might reveal the answer to this question (from the Bay Area / Central Valley EIR/EIS) shows that Altamont to SF (cutting out SJ entirely!) would generate 13% more ridership than adding a spur to San Jose. In other words, adding direct service to San Jose would reduce system ridership. I'm sorry, but that doesn't even pass the smell test.

The point is that Pacheco was decided on a political basis, not a technical basis, and trying to retroactively justify the decision on a technical basis ("SJ service frequency" yadda yadda) makes for a wobbly argument.

And the clearest sign of a wobbly argument is the need to accuse people of ignorance or deceit.

BruceMcF said...

Rafael said...
"@ BruceMcF

one of the issues is that CHSRA marketed its true bullet train network as "high speed rail", a much narrower definition than the one used by USDOT and the Obama administration.
"

Since the definitions adopted by the USDoT and the Obama Administration includes one focused on bullet trains, start using it. Go ahead an throw in a redundant "true", if it helps the framing ... "Our True Express High Speed Rail system" ... and then throw in a redundant "complementary" to frame the "Emerging HSR network", "combined with upgrading our existing rail services into Complementary Emerging HSR corridors".

Fred Martin said...

"Don't forget about the 100 mile detour to the vital metropoles of Fresno and Palmdale...."

It takes quite a bit of ignorance about the network economies of HSR to argue that the backbone network should bypass every main metro area between the Bay and the LA Basin.

I am not arguing process here ... at this point in the process, its beside the point whether Fresno was included because its such an obvious net benefit for the commercial viability of services along the corridor, or whether California just got lucky that the sensible choice to go via Fresno happened to also be a politically effective choice ... the alternatives are the massive capital expense of a 3 hour or less coastal route (which would be far more than two big tunneling projects), or the absurdity of bypassing a metro area of half a million to shorten the route by twenty miles or so.

Palmdale is a closer call, but once you set out commercial slam dunk of including Fresno on the route as some kind of "unnecessary diversion", you either have not worked through the network economies, or else you are simply engaged in a Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt contra-advocacy strategy.

BruceMcF said...

@ Clem: "You seem to be implying that Sacramento needs to be at least 2 hours from SF by rail, or that there is no value in further reducing the travel time."

However, in contrast to what I "seem to be implying", what I am actually arguing is that the majority of the ridership benefit from further reducing the travel time can be obtained with a Regional HSR corridor, and at substantially lower capital cost per route mile.

Devil's Advocate said...

Since my univ. education is in economics, I do certainly agree that now, during a recession, is the time to spend on public infrastructure projects.

The comparison with the great depression is not totally correct however.

Those projects were significantly, if not totally, financed by the Federal Government.

Unfortunately the State of California does not possess the ability to borrow money like the Federal Government. States must balance their budgets and don't have the option of printing dollars (which the FED is doing plenty this days).

Now if the Federal Government, instead of throwing money at banks, was throwing money at trains, it would be a totally different matter.

The problem with the HSR is that the State of California will have to come up with most of the funds. And since California has only limited capacity to deficit spend (especially with bonds at junk bond status), the task is not going to be easy.

I suggest that you write to your favorite congressman and ask the Feds to increase their stimulus money for these infrastructure projects if you want to see them completed. If those hundreds of billion $$ instead that to banks, had gone to that purpose, this train would have a much better chance to be built.

Entrusting the cash strapped states, with no money printing ability, to spend our way out of this recession is not feasible.

BruceMcF said...

Devil's Advocate said...
"Those projects were significantly, if not totally, financed by the Federal Government.

Unfortunately the State of California does not possess the ability to borrow money like the Federal Government. States must balance their budgets and don't have the option of printing dollars (which the FED is doing plenty this days).

Now if the Federal Government, instead of throwing money at banks, was throwing money at trains, it would be a totally different matter.
"

Why set out the reality as a "hypothetical"? The current application for funding is from the $8b from the Stimulus Bill, which was designated for HSR during Conference at the agreement of the Senate and the White House. An additional $1.5b is already budgeted an on annual basis, and the current plans are for a $50b "rail investment bank" to be included in the next Transport Bill ... and even if that is put off until the first half of 2011, that will be 5 years to 2016.

Indeed, unlike Health Care and Cap and Give-Away-To-Emitters, HSR is the part of the White House policy agenda where they have been able to attract a modest amount of Republican support.

And once the first routes go into operation, the CHSRA or its successor will be in a position to provide the 20% state match from revenue bonds.

In the present political environment, its the scenario where California has to provide a majority of the funding that is the hypothetical counter-factual. Its more likely that the corridor will be able to be built at the same generous 80:20 Federal:State match as new Interstate Highway construction traditionally received.

And unlike new Interstate Highway construction, it offers additional protection from the massive exposure of the California economy to oil price shocks.

Travis D said...

Fresno has almost a million people now. How is it not vital?

Anonymous said...

1. FDR's New Deal policies actually *prolonged* the Great Depression. It did take WWII for us to snap out of it.

2. I'll support HSR -- if we cut back massively on the ridiculous entitlements that we hand out.

It's a zero-sum game. What are you going to take out to fund this piggy project?

Devil's Advocate said...

@Anon @11:31am:
Your no. 1 point is total bullshit (pardon my French) that you probably heard from Rush Limbaugh and the like, but is not supported by actual data.

FDR was sworn in on March 4, 1933. 1933 was the year where the US real GDP was lowest. The GDP began to recover in 1934 and real GDP increased steadily between 1934 and 1940, with the only exception of 1938 (see below). In 1940 (before WW2) real GDP had already surpassed what it was in 1929 before the depression began.
In 1937 there was an attempt to control deficit spending. Taxes were increased and federal spending was curtailed. It is widely recognized that that measure caused the slump of 1938.
Unemployment figures also improved during FDR's first 8 years.
The highest peak in unemployment, at 25.2% was in 1933 (the year FDR became president) and decreased steadily every year in FDR's two first terms (with the exception of 1938 where it slightly increased again, as mentioned above). By 1940, the unemployment rate was 14.6% if you don't include emergency workers as employed (less than 9% otherwise).

You'd better stay Anonymous if you want to keep telling BS.

Read this, then shut up and go back to watch Fox News:
http://faculty.tcu.edu/jlovett/econ_data/Depression.pdf

Adirondacker12800 said...

The reality is that forking the main line would reduce service frequency to both San Jose and San Francisco.

If it ever gets to San Jose. Altamont to San Jose would be Stage 2 or Stage 3.

Go look at a schedule for Trenton NJ or Wilmington DE. Then compare it to Harford CT or Albany NY. Or even worse case scenario compare Trenton to Scranton PA. Or Croton NY a suburb of White Plains and White Plains. White Plains has fairly frequent service to Grand Central Terminal. Or fairly frequent service to Wassaic. Croton has fairly frequent service to Grand Central Terminal, fairly frequent service to Albany. Once a day to Chicago and once a day to Toronto. Service to Penn Station isn't as frequent as service to Grand Central but it's once an hour-ish. While the transfers aren't cross platform at Penn Station in NY, it's fairly easy to transfer to trains to Washington DC and points south or to Philadelphia and points west.

If San Jose isn't on the mainline to San Francisco chances are very good that Caltrain to Redwood City or BART or Caltrain East or Capitol Corridor or whatever to Fremont would be good enough... forever.

Instead of becoming the Grand Central of the West it would become White Plains of California.

James said...

Minor point:

The reference to the Golden Gate Bridge construction is relevant and correct but incomplete. You leave the implication that the GGB construction and operation is related to federal and/or state funds. It was not and is not.

A more complete description should include reference to the local funding source for the GGB construction. Similar to Prop 1A funding CHSR at its local level (the state) the GGB was funded by a vote at its local level (SF, Marin, Sonoma, and Mendocino Counties) The 35M GGB bonds were paid in full, with interest, in 1971. Current operations and maintenance as well as the related GGB transportation district are fully funded from tolls. The state sets tolls on all other Bay Area bridges.

http://goldengatebridge.org/

Rafael said...

@ Adirondacker12800 -

San Jose is the tenth largest city in the US, it has a million plus inhabitants and is also home to a large fraction of Silicon Valley's high tech companies. Santa Clara county is the wealthiest in the state of California. Both it and its primary city San Jose are politically powerful at the state level.

South city may not be as well known as the smaller San Francisco outside the state, let alone to foreign tourists. However, your comparison with White Plains seems inappropriate.

If CHSRA were forced to abandon Pacheco for some reason, the alternative would be Altamont with a spur to San Jose in phase one. It would do everything possible to throw its weight around and make Sacramento and San Diego "wait their turn", even though both of those cities are actually larger and would generate more ridership.

Political decisions are based on power not common sense.

jim said...

no one is changing anything. this isn't fantasy island.

Robert Cruickshank said...

In fact, the Golden Gate Bridge was funded by local borrowing (the GG Bridge District), but federal aid was needed to refinance the bonds. The initial voter approval came at the November 1930 election and federal refinancing was around 1933.

Shasta Dam was paid for by bonds approved by state voters in 1932. The feds helped provide funds to complete the Central Valley Project.

California's borrowing ability has been hurt by the budget deficit. But the feds can and should promise a "backstop" for our borrowing, especially for infrastructure bonds. As Bruce McF noted, the feds ARE very much involved in funding HSR.

Clem said...

South city may not be as well known as the smaller San Francisco

South city traditionally refers to South San Francisco, doesn't it? I've never heard it used to refer to San Jose. And they would hate it, too: south of what? The center of the universe?

Jack said...

@all

What's with the Fresno hate today? The CV has over a million legal residence all with their wallets out to ride this train. So let's just bypass them for a costal route?

If you count our illegal population (who have money to ride the train as well). That number climbs to well above 2 million people.

Of course the Palo Alto residents are horrified by the fact that, those illegals may invade their area.

Anonymous said...

Oh yes. San Jose. The ridership will be infinite. Just like Rod's light rail system and Rod's BART line and Quentin's BART line. Totally.

http://caltrain-hsr.blogspot.com/2009/07/focus-on-san-mateo.html?showComment=1247797467988#c689140705875801296

Oddly enough, I recently spent an hour -- RUSH HOUR -- 5:30 to 6:30pm -- at San José Diridon Station last week; the hour when tens of thousands of workers leave the humming office towers of San José, Capital of Silicon Valley, and head home via efficient VTA, Amtrak, ACE, and Caltrain services.

My observation was that typical boardings on Caltrain were between 10 and 20 passengers. I believe the usual industry term for this is "non revenue service".

The multi-modal VTA light rail connection was even more stunning: average boarding per train of just over 1 person during the time I observed the platforms (which was basically any time a Caltrain wasn't departing.)

As for the transit oriented development condos around the station, let's just say I didn't see a single pedestrian.

So by all means let's keep building on this success! It's clear the station isn't anywhere big enough or multi-modal enough to deal with the demand of the tenth largest city in the most important country on the only known habitable planet in the universe. The arrival of BART and HSR will make San José Diridon Station so multi-modal I get dizzy just thinking about it. Light rail boardings might rocket up to dozens per hour, while the 4200 BART seats per direction per hour (10 car trains every 6 minutes) may have have occupancy as high as 1%.

Meanwhile, San Mateo's downtown isn't a bad place to visit at all. It isn't up there in the major metropolis league with Palo Alto or Burlingame, but there's stuff to do and stuff to buy. Check it out!

None of this is just prejudice or "hating on" San José, Capital of Silicon Valley: it's more looking at the numbers, taking the time to see what's happening in the world, rather than on a blog or in the propaganda pieces of local politicians.

PS I work in Silicon Valley, have worked in Silicon Valley for more than a decade, I can make the payments on my mortgage thanks to the largesse of the Captains of Industry of Silicon Valley, but I have no reason to ever visit San José, Capital of Silicon Valley, nor do most of my fellow Silicon Valley serfs.

James said...

Jack said,
"Of course the Palo Alto residents are horrified by the fact that, those illegals may invade their area."

What's with all the Palo Alto hate today. I live two blocks from the tracks, fully support HSR, and my uncle was an illegal about 55 years ago and no I am not horrified by the hard working illegals. I am horrified by the border drug wars as well as the Bay Area drug wars, San Francisco drug wars...

Devil's Advocate said...

I agree that excluding Fresno from the route would be crazy. Fresno County has a very large population and it's located at what is considered the dream distance (200 miles) from two major urban centers (SFBay - LA). In addition flying in/out of FAT is generally more expensive than LA or SFBay airports, therefore competion to the train from air travel would not be threatening. I actually forecast that Fresno will become the most important hub for the HSR, especially once the branches to Sacto and to Las Vegas are built. The shortest distance between SF and LA wouldn't be along the coast or US101 anyway, but rather along I-5. The Fresno detour doesn't increase the distance by much anyway. But I do agree that Mojave-Palmdale does somewhat. But I don't know how physically and politically feasible would be to bypass PMD and tunnel through the Grapevine.

Anonymous said...

Hey Devils

It's me, Anonymous.

"By 1940, the unemployment rate was 14.6% if you don't include emergency workers as employed (less than 9% otherwise)."

Tells me that the unemployment rate was still too high. And you're telling me based on this that he didn't extend the Depression? All that money, and the unemployment rate was still 14.6% 7 years after?

That's still worse than today.

Sorry. Your line of reasoning doesn't work. You may be an economist by training, but give me a break.

BruceMcF said...

Anonymous said...
""By 1940, the unemployment rate was 14.6% if you don't include emergency workers as employed (less than 9% otherwise)."

Tells me that the unemployment rate was still too high. And you're telling me based on this that he didn't extend the Depression? All that money, and the unemployment rate was still 14.6% 7 years after?
"

Of course he extended the Depression. Rather than increasing the modest deficit spending of the First and Second New Deals ... which were effective in reducing unemployment ... Roosevelt gave in to pressure in 1937 to deliver a balanced budget, leading to the Roosevelt Recession.

Indeed, precisely as those who wrote the talking points you are copying from here are calling to be done today.

However, with broad unemployment present at 16.8% unadjusted, 16.5% seasonally adjusted, and a far bigger institutional population outside the civilian labor force in prison and the army than in the 1930's, it debatable whether the unemployment rate of 9% in 1940 was worse than today.

And further, what brought the economy to full employment was a truly massive deficit spending and direct employment program called "World War II".

Anonymous said...

"South City"? Like, srsly?

"Rafael" (and his CHSRA buddies) ought to visit Planet Earth some time.

Just to check it out. No permanent commitment implied.

Devil's Advocate said...

Anon: an unemployment rate of 14% in 1940 might have been high by today's standards, but it was 10 points lower than what it was when FDR took office.
I don't dismiss that WW2 took care of the depression for good, but I do dismiss the claim that some make that FDR's policies prolonged, and even worsened the depression.
The restrictive monetary policies of the FED and the reluctance by the Hoover's administration to increase Gov't spending were the cause of the depression, not FDR.
I suggest that you choose a Nickname for yourself instead of using the anonymous one. I suggest that you use Ditto Head, since you seem to talk like your master Rush (you know, the Chairman of the Republican Party)

Spokker said...

According to Krugman, the current stimulus efforts are slowing the recession. It would be far worse without it.

Just like the depression would have been far worse than without the New Deal.

Spokker said...

"The problem with the HSR is that the State of California will have to come up with most of the funds. And since California has only limited capacity to deficit spend (especially with bonds at junk bond status), the task is not going to be easy."

True, but I support a more robust federal funding effort for high speed rail. Let's call it the Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Railways.

BruceMcF said...

No, Spokker, not true. On the terms of Federal HSR funding to date, California will not have to come up with "most of the funds", unless you have a bizarre definition where "most" = "less than half"

Indeed, not only is the Interstate Highway 80:20 match emerging as the dominant Federal HSR funding formula, but beyond that, the CHSRA is not even permitted to use the state bonding authority to pay for more than half of any individual segment.

Adirondacker12800 said...

San Jose is the tenth largest city in the US.

So? Phoenix is the fifth largest, how many intercity trains a day stop in Phoenix? How many are planned?
Philadelphia is the the sixth largest and they have regional, Keystone and Acela service in addition to SEPTA as doesTrenton.. Poor Wilmington has to make do with just Acela, regionals and SEPTA.

Bridegeport CT, one of the poorest communities in Connecticut has six trains a day to Philadelphia. White Plains, or for that matter any station along the Harlem Line, never had intercity service and never will. The difference is that Bridgeport, Trenton, WIlimgton are on the main line of the Northeast Corridor.

Santa Clara county is the wealthiest in the state of California.

I'll raise you Nassau County in NY and Somerset or Morris County in NJ. There is no long distance train service in any of those counties. Morris County used to have service to places like Buffalo and Chicago. They may get it back, to Scranton, someday. Scranton is Pennsylvania's third largest metro area. Scranton doesn't have any train service at all. The rest of California sees San Jose as a suburb of San Francisco. They aren't going to see any great need to extend service out to the 'burbs,

Both it and its primary city San Jose are politically powerful at the state level.

The legislature meets in Sacramento. Are the legislators going to be more inclined to give themselves a fast relaxing ride to their districts in SoCal or are they going to bend over backwards so people in San Jose can shave a few minutes off their trip to LA? How many people in Los Angeles want to go to San Diego versus San Jose? I'm sure the Pan Galactic is going to be impressive but not worth a trip from Burbank. People destined for Palo Alto or Sunnvale, even Mountain View are they going to get off in Redwood City and take Caltrain south or are they going to go to San Jose and backtrack on Caltrain? A spur off the mainline to San Jose is very very important to a few people in San Jose, the rest of the state couldn't care less.

South city may not be as well known as the smaller San Francisco outside the state, let alone to foreign tourists.

There might be a reason for that.

However, your comparison with White Plains seems inappropriate.

True. I really shouldn't disparage White Plains like that.

Anonymous said...

Well they just announced a state budget agreement -- sounds like more of the same -- just move around the money shenanigans again.


That includes $15 billion in cuts, which will come on top of an equal amount of spending cuts enacted in February. The rest of the deficit will be made up by a combination of borrowing from local governments, shifting money from other government accounts and accelerating the collection of certain taxes.


This is a budget. We should all like to balance our budgets this way.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 8:52pm -

California will always limp from one tortuous budget to the next as long as there is a 2/3 rule to get one passed. Voters need to get rid of that so one party is in charge and the other in opposition. Only then will there be two distinct but internally consistent sets of fiscal policies to choose from.

Don't assume that this would translate into a quasi-permanent Dem majority. The objective should be a genuine choice and, the state constitution currently prevents that with its anachronistic pious hope of forcing consensus.

On the substantive point: in a deep recession, the state is supposed to be the buyer of last resort. Measuring its economic behavior with the yardstick used by individual consumers is exactly the wrong thing to do.

Anonymous said...

Rafael,
Sacramento is actually much smaller than San Jose, not larger.

jim said...

south city means south san francisco. not san jose. this is not negotiable.

and why is everyone rehashing the same arguments.

Spokker said...

"No, Spokker, not true."

I didn't actually read what that person said.

Tony D. said...

It is far more important to have the states largest city (LA), third largest (SJ), and fourth largest (SF) on the HSR mainline (via Pacheco) than connecting "Cow Town" (aka Sacramento) to SF via Altamont. Altamont to Sac can happen waaaay later via HSR overlay.

Political (yes) AND technical basis for Pacheco Pass Clem! And others who keep hating on SJ!

Fred Martin said...

What about the San Jose connections to Sacramento and even Livermore, Pleasanton, and Stockton??? Aren't those important too? I'll bet there is heavier traffic between Sacramento and San Jose than between San Jose and LA. The highly political Pacheco Pass selection decimates these connections and actually hurts San Jose.

As for the CV, Fresno can be included in an upgraded rail NETWORK (not a single capital-intensive line that meanders all over the state, Bruce), but the fully-grade-separated mainline HSR should go along the I-5 where it is both cheaper to build, less political (no local NIMBYs), and much more direct between the dominant population hubs of the state. An improved 110mph rail line can go along the SR99 corridor to connect all of these CV cities to the HSR network. Going along the sprawl-zone SR99 corridor with full HSR is going to be damn expensive, slow, and long.

jim said...

the regional commute connections between san jose livermore oakland sacramento stockton and so forth will be handled by upgrades to exisiting agencies. There is no need to implement full hsr in these markets. Travel within this area with upgrades will be more than sufficient. hsr to sac is for the purpose of getting the great sac population a means of getting to southern california not to the bay area.

Clem said...

What about the San Jose connections to Sacramento and even Livermore, Pleasanton, and Stockton???

Oh, no, no, no... those connections would negatively impact HSR. After all, it was shown by their ridership study that a San Jose branch from an Altamont alignment would be detrimental to total system ridership, compared to not serving San Jose at all.

As absurd as that sounds.

CComMack said...

@Fred Martin

I'll bet there is heavier traffic between Sacramento and San Jose than between San Jose and LA.

For now. Direct fast trains can change that equation, since Los Angeles is kind of large and has lots of businesses and money. (You may have read something about this in the papers.)

Mostly, the Pacheco/Altamont/SJ debate actually reminds of the Tokaido Shinkansen, which if you ever look at a map of it, traces a giant S curve winding its way through every city of note in Southern Japan between Tokyo and Osaka. I wonder what the reaction would have been if a large constituency had insisted in 1958 on a direct route that bypassed Yokohama, Nagoya, and Kyoto, in order to shave a few minutes off of the Tokyo-Osaka running time. Remember that the first Shinkansen ran slower than the Acelas do today, with a top speed of 137 mph and a 3:10 run time, so every minute was crucial.

I still suspect that advocates for a direct route would have been laughed out of the room.

amandainsjc said...

Anonymous-
Have you ever taken an AM Baby Bullet out of Dirdion? You know, the ones that are standing room only? Or become SRO by the time they leave Palo Alto?

Anonymous said...

Questioning Crapshank's pipe dream.

Dan Walters: Is now the right time build a railroad?

dwalters@sacbee.com
Published Sunday, Jul. 19, 2009

http://www.sacbee.com/walters/story/2037414.html

California is mired in the worst recession since the Great Depression, more than 2 million Californians are unemployed, its budget is riddled with deficits, its credit rating is dropping into junk status, and Sacramento is issuing IOUs in lieu of checks.

Is this the time to launch construction of a high-speed railroad line between Northern and Southern California that will cost at least $40 billion, much of it from bonds to be repaid from a state budget that's already gushing red ink?

Yes, say its fervent advocates, contending that a bullet train, similar to those in Europe and Japan, will reduce air and auto congestion, reduce greenhouse gases and generate many billions of dollars in economic benefits.

Last year, California voters passed a $9.95 billion bond issue to provide initial financing for the system, the rest to come from the federal government, private investors and perhaps revenue bonds.

The criticism continues, however, questioning both whether a high-speed rail system makes transportation and economic sense and the route adopted by the California High-Speed Rail Authority, especially running trains over the unpopulated Pacheco Pass between San Jose and the Central Valley.

Bullet train advocates have been touting California as qualifying for a significant portion of the $8 billion set aside in federal stimulus money for transit because of the bond issue.

Recently, however, the feds decided to place the Los Angeles-Las Vegas high-speed route promoted by Nevada interests, including Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, in the California system. It raises the specter that huge sums would be spent to make it easier for Californians to spend money in Las Vegas casinos.

Meanwhile, opposition to the Pacheco Pass route appears to be growing because it would mean routing trains down the bucolic San Francisco Peninsula between San Francisco and San Jose. The alternative would be to run trains over the Altamont Pass along Interstate 580 into the Stockton-Tracy area, a more heavily traveled commuter corridor.

Environmental activists in Palo Alto are complaining about the impact on their city and, somewhat mysteriously, language appeared in still-pending revisions to the 2009-10 state budget that makes allocation of $139 million in high-speed rail planning funds contingent on "alternative alignments" being considered. Advocates of the Pacheco Pass route consider that to be a poison pill and will try to get it removed before a final budget is enacted, if that ever occurs.

While $9 billion of the voter-approved bond issue is to be used for the system, if and when it is ever built, the remaining $995 million can be spent on local mass transit systems on the assumption that they will improve access to high-speed rail.

There is a suspicion among those who chart the erratic course taken by the bullet train project that when push comes to shove, its only tangible fruit will be those local projects.

Fred Martin said...

Given the mountainous topography of Japan, the original Tokaido Shinkansen is basically the most direct flat route between Osaka and Tokyo. Building along the coastal plains is much cheaper than going through mountains, and Japanese urban centers happen to be along the coast. The sprawling ag-oriented cities (all of a limited size and of limited economic prospects) are NOT on the easiest-to-build, most direct route between the Bay Area and SoCal, which is the I-5 corridor.

LA is kind of large, but it is also quite some distance from the Bay Area. Proximity is a very strong determinant of transportation activity. Sacramento, an urban region of 2 million, is simply closer to San Jose, making the connections stronger. Even though San Francisco is bigger than Palo Alto, I suspect there are at least as many transportation trips between Palo Alto and San Jose as between SF and San Jose.

Japan, France, and Germany all built their HSR systems on top of well-established rail networks. California's existing passenger rail network is rudimentary at best, yet a single line between SF and LA neglects all the necessary feeder connections necessary. Building full HSR along the I-5 would save so much money compared to the SR99 corridor that the saving could finance a fast regional rail system along the SR99 corridor. The slower regional rail system will actually connect all the smallish cities along SR99 better than a 220mph HSR system would (think of all the stops or at least station slow-downs).

Anonymous said...

Fred Martin's comments about the routing are exactly on target.

This project has been scraped together by politicians, each looking to feather their own nests. It certainly is not as advertised, that being a project to move passengers, fast and efficiently from north to south. It will cost 3 times as much as it should; take 3 times longer than it should to build also.

It will never turn a profit and will be a constant drain on the State Treasury for generations.

Knowning the chief proponents of the project, Kopp, Diridon, Morshed, their past history, we are getting just what their history would foretell.

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