Monday, September 7, 2009

Labor Day Open Thread

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

In keeping with the spirit of the holiday, it's worth keeping in mind that HSR in California is projected to create 160,000 construction jobs and 450,000 permanent jobs. Even if you quibble with the numbers, it's worth considering that California desperately needs new jobs, and anything that can produce long-term sustainable growth and employment should be embraced. The current recession has reversed all the job gains of the 2000s - fewer people are employed in California in July 2009 than in January 2000, which is an even more worrisome stat when you consider that we have 3 million more people living here than we did at the beginning of the decade.

Job creation has to be one of the state's top priorities. The best kind of jobs program during a severe economic contraction is exactly what we did during the Great Depression - put people to work building long-term infrastructure. In the 1930s that meant dams and bridges. In the 2000s and 2010s that will mean, among other things, high speed rail.

This isn't going to be cheap. But does anyone have a better idea of how to create jobs? Or are we just going to give up and not try to produce economic recovery at all, just wallow in misery and refuse to undertake proven efforts to address the problem? Especially given that almost all observers expect unemployment to remain high for some time, it is vital that we use government to create as many jobs as possible. The up-front costs are sizable, but they will be repaid many times over during the rest of the century, and as I've repeatedly pointed out, it's a lot cheaper than doing nothing.


Spokker said...

Creating jobs is an admirable goal, but even better if those workers build something that has a lasting, positive effect on California's transportation network.

Unfortunately, we are seeing the beginnings of decisions that may cripple the ability of the high speed rail network to perform. Clem writes that San Bruno's grade separation project is being done wrong, and will only cement poor decisions that will affect HSR later on.

Sure, it's great that the project will create jobs (and more jobs in the future to correct the defective design), but it also weakens public trust and generates a perception that the CHSRA and Caltrain are doing nothing right.

The PR flap adds to that perception, and I think it will create a snowball of mistrust that may send the CHSRA down in flames. Even the SF Chronicle editorialized against the CHSRA, and they threw their weight behind Prop 1A last year.

I still support the fantasy of 220 MPH trains from LA to SF, but I'm starting to wonder whether or not it would be a good idea to dissolve the CHSRA and hand over the project to some people who put passengers before getting their hands on stimulus money or something, even if it adds a few years to the project.

If the CHSRA continues to make poor decisions, I will probably throw my meaningless support behind efforts to improve LOSSAN or something and forget about HSR. I want it to happen, but I don't think it will.

political)incorrectness said...

Since this is an open thread, Clem made a very interesting post which I think deserves a mention

They want to build two temp tracks off to the side, then build a two track station just to go back in and do four tracks later on, no corrections to the curve. Here is what I do not get.

1) Why make the temp tracks instead of grade separating the other side first?
2) Would there be a problem with the $30 million in federal funds to straighten the curve for 125 mph and/or quad track it now versus later?

Andre Peretti said...

Goldman Sachs, the New York investment fund, have just raised their participation in Eurotunnel to 21.2%, which makes them its biggest shareholder. Do you imagine them doing the same for CHSR? I don't, as long as this project is entangled in politics.
If I were a selfish Frenchman, I would rejoice, as it means more Wall Street money available for future TGV lines.
This is, for me, a paradox: in "socialist" France, HSR was built with private (largely Wall Sreet) funding, while in capitalism's own country it has to be funded by the state.

Alon Levy said...

In all fairness to Wall Street, the LGV Sud-Est was a smaller project than CAHSR, by an order of magnitude.

Anonymous said...

"Job creation has to be one of the state's top priorities."

It should be, but it isn't. If they were serious about job creation, they should be trying to attract businesses to the state instead of scaring them away.

I'm still laughing (when not crying) about how stupid all this last minute effort to keep Toyota in NUMMI. What a bunch of incompetent fools. They should have been worrying about it long before. But really, why is all the attention towards Toyota, when GM's departure was the actual catalyst?

In any case, Government jobs are always temporary and dubious in creating permanent value.

Alon Levy said...

In any case, Government jobs are always temporary and dubious in creating permanent value.

Indeed, Washington DC is famous for its lack of permanent employment. So are San Diego, Norfolk, and all the other military towns.

jim said...

from a fairly positive sounding article

"Railroad operators like Union Pacific Corp., which own and maintain almost all of the lines used by Amtrak and regional commuter rail operators today, also stand to benefit from the stimulus money"

"As soon as this week, Joseph Szabo, administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and other senior White House officials will start deciding how to award the grants. A Transportation Department spokesman said the officials won't meet with any lobbyists or state transportation officials.

In an recent interview, Mr. Szabo indicated that clear winners will emerge from the process.

"We have to come away with very tangible success," Mr. Szabo said. "One of the worst things we can do is spread the money around so thin" that no major impact is seen.

jim said...

In any case, Government jobs are always temporary and dubious in creating permanent value

It's true. All you have to do is look at how worthless Hoover Dam and the Tennessee Valley Project are. Not to mention the interstates.

I'd much rather cary my bucket to the well every morning have than have that ridiculous tap in my kitchen.

Brandon in San Diego said...


After scanning the material released for the environmental review for the Pacheco Pass section... Chowchilla to Gilroy, or somethign like that... I am nearly stunned at what is diagramed for teh alignment at Chowchilla!!!

Essentially, the small town is at the very center of the CHSRA wye, surrounded by tracks... two of three sides have curves.

amandainsjc said...

I'm as big as an HSR supporter as anyone-afterall, I don't think that, in the world of Peak Oil, any country with pretensions of being a first world country can last without HSR.

Though, to be honest, every timetable I've seen with regards to the CAHSR means that...the current recession will be long over with by the time stuff gets going.Long term heavy infrastructure investment on the scale of HSR (when nothing has even been built yet) isn't good counter cyclical economic policy.

Anonymous said...

Speaking of full employment, read this

and then offer your opinion on the probability that high speed trains ever go over the Pacheco Pass and what the eventual cost, including environmental mitigation, will be.

AndyDuncan said...

and then offer your opinion on the probability that high speed trains ever go over the Pacheco Pass and what the eventual cost, including environmental mitigation, will be.

Vastly more likely than Altamont and at a far lower cost than a transbay alignment (respectively).

The argument isn't that Pacheco is perfect, it's that it's better.

Anonymous said...

did you read the letters?

jim said...

Those letters are from people who in the long run don't have much say over anything. They are government bureaucrats trying to protect their own positions and little more. The idea that train crossing thought here is disrutpive to anything is ridiculous. Are they saying the i-5 never should have been built either?

This enviropsychosis has got to stop. These people can try and make a case over anything. Pacheco, a bay crossing, altamont, you name it. Perhaps we should just close the state and shut down all roads and all business and move everyone out so the birds and fish won't be bothered.
What a load of crap. Birds stand in fields and watch trains go by all the time without the least bit of alarm of concern. You know what this is, its the same level of stupidity you see being expressed by the inbreds who want to keep their kids out of school because they think the president is trying to indoctrinate them.

People on both the left and the right who have taken leave of common sense in favor ideology are a bigger threat to this country than any terrorist ever will be. KNock it off and pull your heads out of your asses.

Anonymous said...

Exceptions that prove the rule.

Anonymous said...

HSR is an ideology.

Anonymous said...

What an idiot. Jim sees no connection between environment and people.

Jim, I5 is there now, isn't it - because they didn't know any better back then -or- because it was the least of all evils, or because they were arrogant and pea brained - who really cares now? Whatever the reason, I5 is done. Water under the bridge. No putting that decision back in the box. And in fact, for better or for worse, because I5 is already a scar across california -, that's EXACTLY where the HSR should be built - and society knows better now. So go ahead and belittle protection of California's natural resources (at the same time your two faced lying HSR buddies are using PROTECTING THE ENVIRONMENT to DEFEND HSR -ironic isn't it?), but what it boils down to is that arrogant assholes like you are going to be rolling around in your graves before you ever see HSR built here. Get used to it - the lawsuits are lining up and because your buddies Kopp and Diridon decided SJ and SF political/real estate development were more important that actually getting an HSr line built, they've stirred up a hornets nest - and that won't go back in the box either. You're cooked.

Jim, if you would have bothered to read the letter (if you can indeed read, or maybe that's why you work for Amtrak), you'd know that the letter was about CHSRA's inability to deliver on its EIR suppostion that it could buy enough conservation easments. Its a legal/cost/ownership problem with their chosen route - self made, which will become the next UPRR issue (if CHSR even survives the UPRR issue) - why? Arrogance, just like yours.

Spokker said...

But jim, the process that kills off a bird or a turtle can also be harmful to us. Groundwater contamination, air pollution, you name it. Rare Doves aren't the only victims, it's us.

In the short run there is a trade off between environmental quality and production. You can have high production, at a high environmental cost. You can have low environmental costs, at a low production level. We decide as a society how much pollution we are willing to tolerate in exchange for higher levels of production.

In the long run technilogical change can reduce environmental cost while keeping production constant. Or you can increase production while keeping constant our burden on the environment.

Specifically to HSR, I think the biggest impact it's going to have is in the construction phase. Barring any incredible advances in construction techniques, we are going to use CO2 belching bulldozers to put up concrete and steel. You have to admit that this has an impact whether you're a dirty hippy or not.

HSR's saving grace is that it runs off electricity, which means that initially it will probably run off of coal, but in the future that can be switched to nuclear, hydroelectric, wind or solar sources. If the infrastructure lasts for a century or more, we may end up better off environmentally for having built it, especially if it does takes cars off the road or planes out of the air. But of course, those claims are disputed.

France apparently has some of the cleanest air in the world. They also use nuclear power and high speed electric trains. Is it a coincidence?

Spokker said...

"who really cares now? Whatever the reason, I5 is done."

Actually, you could close it, removing the ability for people to use it and therefore emit air pollutants.

But you wouldn't, because there is some usefulness is being able to travel between Northern and Southern California, even in a car. That's my point, we trade some environmental quality for productive infrastructure. We could remove 100 percent of man-made air pollutants from the air *right now*. But you'd find that our incomes would dry up real quickly.

Nobody *wants* pollution, but we have to live with some whether we want to build an airport, a highway or a train route. Luckily for high speed rail, its impacts on the environment can be mitigated fairly well as demonstrated around the world, in some places better than others.

jim said...

ok well good luck with your train. The caltrans guy I spoke with this weekend seems to think UP has no interest in cooperating anyway.

With or without hsr, life in sf will be good. At least they won't be interfereing with our terminal.

jim said...

by the way - humans have been screwing with the environment for thousands of years and yet some how, here we are. So enough with the hysterics.

AndyDuncan said...

the letter was about CHSRA's inability to deliver on its EIR suppostion that it could buy enough conservation easments

That statement in the letters (yes, I read them) was purely speculation, first of all, there's no evidence that land speculation in Los Banos has driven land costs so high that the authority will be "unable" to purchase them. The GEA is large, there are a large number of landowners around it to compete with each other over who wants to sell for the lowest price. The CAHSR route crosses it at it's narrowest point.

All of this pales in comparison to the cost and environmental liability of a bay crossing, or adding another runway to SFO or OAK. There will be 100 Kim Forrests (great name for someone working as a Wildlife Refuge Manager, btw) for every acre of bay you try to touch.

Anonymous said...

I think the point is that there are going to be a lot of permits required for this and HSRA doesn't seem to be making friends with the people who give them out.

AndyDuncan said...

Whatever the reason, I5 is done. Water under the bridge. No putting that decision back in the box. And in fact, for better or for worse, because I5 is already a scar across california -, that's EXACTLY where the HSR should be built - and society knows better now.

Oh, and 99 and 152 (and Henry Miller road, if I'm not mistaken) have been there longer than the 5.

And I think you meant "water under the elevated viaduct".

We've Got No Money for Toys said...

Guys! Stop cursing one another over a project that will never see the light of day.
We've got no money for this toy, no matter how useful you might think it is. Since private funding will not materialize, and the State coffers are empty, I suggest that you surrender your hopes and get over it. Lots of countries around the world function beautifully without HSR. I don't see why the US, with cheap gasoline, cheap air travel, and low population density, should even bother to spend money on this dream. Just enjoy driving your truck up and down the state. There is nothing like driving from LA to SF on a truck, listening to good country music, and maybe stopping for some good steak along the way. Actually, since you're all a bunch of elitist socialist liberals, maybe I should say that there is nothing like driving from LA to SF on a Prius (yuk!), listening to good classical music (yawn!), and maybe stopping for some wine tasting along the way (snobbish!).
If you're in a hurry to get there just get a damn airplane. It will be cheaper and faster than your choo choo train.

Robert Cruickshank said...

So I just deleted a few comments that had devolved into personal attacks on people (and one comment that was nothing more than "fuck fuck fuck"). I don't mind cursing, I do it in some of my posts. And I don't mind spirited debate.

But there isn't a place here for personal attacks. Even when - *especially* when - you are convinced the other person is totally wrong.

Observer said...


1. Are there any dates assigned to the next steps in the Atherton lawsuit? I understand the plaintiffs come up with the remediation proposal and the judge rules on that proposal. How long do the plaintiffs have and how long after that should the final directions from the judge take. Does CHSRA then take additional time, or have ability to challenge whatever that remidiation ruling may be?

2. How does CHSRA come up with a business plan by December without an understanding of the UPRR related issues/changes it will be forced to make - without an understanding, or completed study, of those issues and their costs?

3. How does CHSRA come up with a business plan by December without a "PR" firm to manage the business plan? How long after the next meeting will a vote on PR firm occur? If we were to assume approx Nov, is one month enough time to turn out a professional business plan of the quality and content that the legislature expects.

4. Why is a PR firm managing the business plan, and not a financial firm or a rail building firm?

5. What is the implication on california state funding if the CHSRA fails to meet the december deadeline for a business plan?

6. what is the implication for federal stimulus funding - for the fact that CHSRA doesn't have a certified Program EIR? or rather an EIR that inadequately describes the project (as I believe the ruling stated it)?

7. What is the implication for AB3034 for invalidated EIR, which was used as the basis for the vote on 1A? Is this grounds for reversal or repeal of 1A or AB3034?

8. Should route alternatives begin to be reopened due to UPRR issues, does that put a nail in the program EIR as a certified approved document overall?

9. Are there UPRR issues elsewhere along the SF to SJ segment, besides the SJ to Gilroy section?

Spokker said...

I, for one, enjoy cursing. I do it all day, every day.

無名 - wu ming said...

it's unlikely that the HSR would use coal for electricity, because coal isn't a very bit % of california's electrical production. natural gas + hydro + nuclear makes up the lion's share.

now electrified trains in the midwest? that's definitely the case.

無名 - wu ming said...

ah, hard numbers:

California Energy Output by Source (Electrical Utilities plus
Independent Power Producers) 2002 [1]

Source Megawatts % of Total

Coal .............. 2,327,809 1.3
Petroleum ......... 1,961,066 1.1
Natural Gas ....... 89,624,044 48.7
Other Gasses ...... 1,240,053 0.7
Nuclear ........... 34,352,340 18.6
Hydroelectric ..... 30,899,631 16.8
Other Renewables .. 23,680,568 12.9
Other.............. 124,520 0.1

Spokker said...

Thanks for the numbers! Now I can stop talking about coal.

AndyDuncan said...

@Wu: Yeah CA is about 50% non fossil fuel (for some reason people get pissy when you call nuclear or large hydro "renewable").

CAHSR has said that they will be buying 100% renewable power to supply their trains. While it's not possible to guarantee that the electrons running through your trains came from renewable sources, it is possible to request that your load is directly supplied by renewable power.

How much effect this has is debatable. On the one hand, every KWH that CAHSR uses will be one less renewable KWH that is used somewhere else in the state. On the other hand increased, explicit, guaranteed demand for renewables encourages investment.

I think for the purposes of CO2 emissions, you need to ignore the marketing of "buying 100% green power" and look at the pool of power generated across the state, which for CA means about 50% carbon-generating today. What it is in 2020+ will likely be a lower percent carbon generating as CA has mandates on "renewable" energy. But there's no mandate that the "renewables" can't replace nuclear, which doesn't get you much with regards to carbon.

Basically, just because CAHSR says they're going to use 500gwh of renewable energy doesn't mean that 500gwhs more renewable energy will be produced in CA, but it will help to some unknown amount.

無名 - wu ming said...

the big carbon advantage is vs. the equivalent amount emitted by planes and cars that the HSR would displace.

i would like to see us less dependent on natural gas, tho. 2001 already showed how easily it is to screw california in that regard.

Spokker said...

Turns out Curt Pringle has worked with Parsons before.

Should we be concerned?

AndyDuncan said...

@Spokker: Actually, yes. The 5/22/57 interchange is a horrible design. The rest of the freeway is fine.

AndyDuncan said...

*phew* looks like a different parsons:

Parsons Corporation

Parsons Brinkerhoff

Anonymous said...

Both Parsons are deep in this project in oh so many ways.

Anonymous said...

Does anybody know what this - is about?

Spokker said...

I guess we'll find out what their concerns are tomorrow.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Anon @9:08: I have no idea what's up with that, or what Santa Fe Springs is upset about. It's no Palo Alto - there aren't homes up against the ROW. However, there are a lot of light industrial parks close to that ROW. Perhaps the concern is about those? SFS also has a lot of grade separations, so they shouldn't be flipping out about that.


Robert Cruickshank said...

Observer @4:57, feel like asking less loaded questions next time? The "PR" agency will not be "managing" the business plan. All they'll do is find a pretty way to present the content that the expert consultants who actually are tasked with researching and analyzing the operational and fiscal effects of the project will produce.

Anonymous said...

actually - Spokker is right - It isn't the same as Parsons Brinkerhoff - but Parsons is still VERY much involved

See page 2 of - note who creates the report - Circle Point - a subconsultant of Parsons

Yes, we should be concerned.

From the webpage:
Working with Parsons executives, Curt Pringle and Associates implemented a local government relations campaign, briefing city and county staff on the company’s broad background of experience, and advocating for their behalf before members of the Orange County Transportation Authority.


AndyDuncan said...


They're most likely worried about the Aerial that is planned for that curve. They also may be campaigning for or against having the station located in their town.

The only residential abutting the line in that area is technically in Norwalk, at least according to the Alternatives Analysis, so I'm guessing some business owners in those industrial parks are worried about eminent domain.

qrius said...

this just in:

Observer said...

Robert feel free to unload them, then answer them.

You took a stab at one (why a PR firm), I'm curious your thoughts on the others.

Observer said...

OK. I'll try to unload them..

1. What are the expected dates for the next steps in the Atherton lawsuit. When will we have the judges final word on what CHSRA needs to do to remedy the EIR?

2. Can CHSRA produce a business plan without revisions to the EIR in accordance with the lawsuit being completed?

3. Given the PR firm was not approved, and lawsuit status, does CHSRA have enough time to complete a business plan?

4. won't ask you again, you already put your thoughts forward on this point. (FYI, Morshed used the term 'manage')

5. What are the consequences to the State's '09 funding if they do not meet the business plan deadline in December?

6. What are the consequences to the Federal Stimulus funding given the unknown status of the EIR?

out of order...

8. What is the implication to the EIR "certified" or "approved" status if route decisions are reopened due to UPRR issue?

9. Are there any UPRR issues along the SF to SJ segment other than in the SJ to Gilroy stretch?

7. What are the implications to AB3034 given status of EIR? Status of lawsuit? potential reopening of route due to lawsuit?

jim said...

hmmm. I think one of my earlier posts was removed. I see.

on a lighter note, I found this in the lobby today, picked up and read it ( all by myself, anon) and thought it was kind of interesting and or funny.

Now, stop me if you've heard this before....
Railroad tracks....

The US standard railroad gauge is 4 ft 8.5 inches. That's an exceedingly odd number.

Why was that gauge used? Because that's the way they built them in England and English expatriates designed the US railroads.

Why did the English build them like that? Because the first rail lines were built by the same people who built the pre-railroad tramways and that's the gauge they used.

Why did they use that gauge for the tramways? Because the people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they had used for building wagons, which used that wheel spacing.

Why did the wagons have that particular odd wheel spacing? Well. if they tried to use any other spacing, the wagon wheels would break on some of the old, long distance roads in England because that was the spacing of the wheel ruts.

So, who built those old rutted roads? Imperial Rome built the first long distance roads in Europe including England for their legions. Those roads have been used ever since.

And the ruts in the roads? Roman war chariots formed the initial ruts, which everyone else had to match for fear of destroying their wagon wheels. Since the chariots were made for Imperial Rome, they were all alike in the matter of wheel spacing. Therefore the United States standard railroad gauge of 4 ft 8.5 inches is derived from the original specifications for an Imperial Roman war chariot.

Bureaucracies live forever.

So the next time you are handed a specification/procedure/process and wonder "what anon, er I mean, what horse's ass came up with this?" you may be exactly right. Imperial Roman army chariots were made just wide enough to accommodate the rear ends of two war horses. ( two horse's asses.)

but wait there's more..

When you see a space shuttle sitting on its launch pad, there are two big booster rockets attached to the sides of the main fuel tank.

These are solid rocket boosters or SRBs. The SRBs are made by THIOKOL at their factory in Utah.

The engineers who designed the SRBs would have preferred to make the fatter but he SRBs had to be shipped by rail from the factory to the launch site.

The railroad line happened to run through a tunnel that is slightly wider than the railroad track, and as you now know, the railroad rack is about as wide as two horses' behinds.
So, a major space shuttle design feature of what is arguably the world's most advanced transportation system was determined over two thousand years ago by the width of a horses' ass. And you thought being a horse's ass wasn't important? Ancient horse's asses control almost everything ... and current horses asses are controlling everything else.

.. see, something we can all agree on, Ill bet even anon and toys liked that one.

無名 - wu ming said...

@jim, that's an interesting story. i wonder how one accounts for all the different rail gauges in europe, then?

Alon Levy said...

Jim, your story about the choice of standard gauge in Britain is incorrect. The correct story is that in the late 18th century and early 19th century, there were lots of disconnected short lines, each with its own gauge. A narrower gauge would cost less and allow tighter curves, but reduced stability and limited speed; a broader gauge was just the opposite.

Standard gauge was a compromise, used on the first true rail mainline in the world, the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, which led to its adoption nationwide. Even then some railways were slow to build - one of Britain's mainlines, the Great Western, was built with 7' 1/4" gauge, and took decades to convert to standard gauge. While it's true that standard gauge is close to the gauge used by Roman chariots, this was accidental.

jim said...

Well, like I said, I found this paper on the floor of the lobby when I was closing up. I don't make any claims to its accuracy, just thought it was funny.

Alon Levy said...

It's a funny story, but it's not true. If you want a funny story that is true, then consider the fact that both the old Roman gauge and today's train gauges are near 5', which is slightly more than enough for the width of a horse. While the Great Western really did try to run with a 7' gauge, most gauges in Britain at the time were not far from standard gauge due to that. Even the Southern US gauge, which became standard in Russia, was 5', which isn't far away from 4' 8.5".