Thursday, July 30, 2009

US Senate Committee Proposes Fewer HSR Funds

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

Living up to its reputation as the place where good ideas go to die, a US Senate transportation panel proposed only $1.2 billion for HSR in the coming year:

The Senate's transportation bill, shepherded by senior appropriator Patty Murray (D-WA), provides $1.2 billion for the Obama administration's high-speed rail initiative -- $200 million more than the White House's budget request, but significantly less than the $4 billion that the House set aside for that purpose.

Highways, by contrast, got $41.1 billion from the House but $1.4 billion extra from the Senate, for a total of $43.5 billion in spending. Transit would get $480 million more than the White House requested, along with a $150 million infusion for the cash-strapped D.C. Metro system.

Recall that the US House approved $4 billion last week for HSR. So obviously there's going to be a conference committee fight over this, assuming the $1.2 billion for HSR makes it to the full Senate floor (and I expect it will).

This fight isn't going to happen anytime soon - the final bill likely won't be voted on until the fall, and the conference committee report may not come until September or October. The fight over health care reform may well push that timeline back somewhat.

No word yet from either Senators Dianne Feinstein or Barbara Boxer about their position on this. Would be nice to see California's senators help bring home some money for our HSR project. After all, isn't that one of the reasons we keep sending them to DC?

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

At Least the Above-Grade Tracks Are Quiet

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

So the Peninsula is having a hard time making up its mind - do they dislike above-grade tracks more than they dislike the loud horns that are an inherent part of at-grade passenger rail?

It’s not just you — Caltrain’s horns are indeed louder and the transit agency is working hard to tweak its “toots” and “tweets” to bring the noise level down and keep in line with federal law at the same time.

Federal regulations require the horns to produce distinct, separate and sequential blasts and a recent safety inspection revealed the horns were not making the unique “toot” and “tweet.”...

Caltrain moved the horns to the underside of locomotives and cab cars in response to previous complaints from the community.

But since the powerful air horns weren’t making the distinctive “toots” and “tweets” the horns have returned to their original location on top of the trains.

I can see why this would rile up the neighbors. The train horns are already pretty loud, as we demonstrated back in May:

And here's one of many videos of above-grade HSR, in this case an AVE trainset in Catalonia:

Which one would you rather live next to? I found it instructive that in this video, the barking dog was louder and more persistent than the passing train. Sure, sure, the dog was probably closer to the videocamera than the train, but that would be the experience of most residents along the corridor, who will live closer to passing cars, barking dogs, teenagers blasting loud music, etc, than they'd live to a far quieter train structure that is grade separated using electric trainsets.

The horns are clearly getting noticed:

Burlingame resident Lynn Hawthorne said her entire neighborhood has noticed the louder horns.

“It’s just terrible. The horns got much louder. I live two blocks from the track but it feels like I’m living on the tracks when the train passes,” Hawthorne said. “I’ve got double-pane windows but I might as well not have windows at all.”

You just don't hear this from people living next to above-grade high speed tracks. HSR trains aren't silent, and we're not claiming they are. But neither are they anything close to this loud. It's instead an occasional "woosh" that won't sound appreciably louder than the truck that just rumbled down my street here in Monterey.

Which brings me to the real issue here. Living in a city means dealing with noise. It is right to want to minimize the most offending and loud noises. But you can't eliminate it entirely, especially when your community is built around a major passenger rail corridor.

Despite the fact that the Caltrain corridor has been handling passenger trains for much longer than any resident along the route has been alive, there are still people living there who seem to think they can make the train corridor silent and invisible. That's just not possible, unless these cities have billions of dollars lying around to spend on a tunnel. So instead you should find ways to ensure that the trains are well-integrated into the community, including finding ways to minimize the noise.

Above-grade tracks are the most cost-effective way to do this - and they come with the added benefit of making what is already an extremely dangerous corridor much safer by separating the trains and the cars and people passing by the tracks.

In short, if folks in Burlingame are upset at the horns, they should be asking their city councilmembers and city staff why they've joined with Menlo Park and Atherton to fight the above-grade solution that can affordably solve this rather loud problem.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Will the New York Times Provide A Fair HSR Assessment?

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

The Economix Blog at the New York Times is launching a multi-part series on high speed rail, beginning with this post by Harvard economist Edward Glaeser. As a general rule I tend to dismiss any analysis of passenger rail that thinks a Simpsons episode has any role to play in the assessment (but then I did live through the endless and ultimately self-defeating debate over the Seattle monorail project, so perhaps I'm biased). But Glaeser has a high-profile soapbox to make his assessment, and as he is promising a fair analysis, it's worth taking this seriously.

Glaseser's basic approach can be gleaned from the following quotes:

I would be delighted to share the president’s optimism about high-speed rail, but if benefits do not exceed the costs, then America will just be living through a real-life version of “Marge vs. the Monorail,” where the residents of the Simpsons’ Springfield were foolishly infatuated with a snazzy rail project oversold in song by Phil Hartman’s character.

Economics doesn’t have any inherent opinion on trains, but it does strongly suggest the value of cost-benefit analysis, which may be the best tool ever created for evaluating public investments.

Already Glaeser is off to a bad start. By framing HSR as presidential optimism bordering on hucksterism and demanding a "cost-benefit analysis" he is assuming HSR is guilty until proven otherwise. HSR is cast as an unproven, almost mythical concept. Nowhere in this introductory post does Glaeser mention other HSR systems around the world, all of which generate operating surpluses and have successfully met their ridership goals (although it usually takes several years to reach that point).

In fact, as Glaeser lays out his methodology for the series, it seems that the numerous other HSR projects aren't going to put in an appearance at all:

I will spend the next three blog posts on the major costs and benefits of high-speed rail. The costs include up-front construction and operating costs. The benefits include direct benefits to riders, indirect benefits include reductions in carbon emissions and traffic congestion, and any indirect aid that rail gives to local economies and to national economic recovery.

I'm not quite sure how a credible analysis can be given without looking at the experience of other HSR projects around the world. But even if we were to limit our study to the US - flawed methodology, but let's play along - Glaeser's metrics leave quite a lot out.

Glaeser is likely going to assume that the cost of doing nothing is zero, as he gives no indication that the construction and operating costs will be compared to the construction and operating costs of new freeway lanes and new airport terminals and runways that will be needed to handle future traffic. We spent virtually all of 2008 on this blog reminding people that the cost of doing nothing is NOT zero - that any assessment of HSR's costs must be done in the context of the costs of alternatives.

This is almost never done for passenger rail, let alone HSR. The default assumption, even among academics (and especially among economists) is that the cost of not building passenger rail is always zero. Rail projects are usually framed as a new, novel, and probably unnecessary cost. It gets held to standards and metrics no other form of transportation is ever held to, especially automobile transportation, whose costs are not only far from zero, but are far higher than the cost of HSR.

The list of benefits of HSR also seems unusually limited. Glaeser doesn't include the savings on oil consumption, or the financial benefits of reduced pollution. He does plan to mention "indirect" benefits, hopefully to be measured along the lines of the green dividend, but he apparently isn't going to examine the benefits of greater urban density that HSR will encourage.

Granted, this first post is like the introduction of a dissertation - doesn't really offer much in the way of hard analysis. But what analysis is advanced here isn't exactly encouraging:

The up-front costs of rail are primarily the cash outlays, and these are perhaps easiest to quantify. The Government Accountability Office’s summary of building costs in Europe range from $37 million to $53 million a mile. The Japanese lines cost from $82 million to $143 million a mile. (Higher costs in Japan reflect difficult earthquake-prone terrain and expensive land.) Cost estimates in the United States range from $22 million a mile, for a Victorville, Calif., to Las Vegas route, to $132 million a mile for connecting Baltimore and Washington.

These figures are all debatable, but anyone who thinks that the G.A.O. got it wrong needs to come up with alternative figures that are equally plausible. As such, the cost of a 240-mile line, like the one that could connect Dallas and Houston, would probably run about $12 billion, but it could be as cheap as $6 billion or as expensive as $24 billion, and these are the numbers that we have most confidence about.

Actually, what is most in need is a clear definition of what makes a cost estimate "plausible." We need to see the logic and methodology behind an estimate. Land, labor, materials, etc - these costs can be estimated, and even though the estimates sometimes vary, there should always be a measurable reason for the variation - different assumptions about how land values will change in coming years, etc.

One reason I am so persistently critical of the "omg California HSR will cost $80 billion" claims are that those estimates are never explained. They're numbers pulled out of thin air. If someone sat down and looked at every single expenditure, questioned the assumptions, gave their own estimates for those expenditures, explained the reason for giving a different estimate on each piece, and then totaled it up and said "hmm this is higher than predicted" then that analysis would be quite welcome.

Unfortunately there's just something about passenger rail that seems to make some people think that it's perfectly fine to just pull numbers out of thin air and pass them off as if they are reasonable and credible. I don't know if that's Glaeser's plan, but what he's offered here isn't exactly encouraging.

So we will watch the next posts in the series (to be published once a week) with interest, but with skepticism. It's hard to shake the feeling that we're playing with a stacked deck on this one.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Should California bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics?

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

by Rafael

Earlier today, Southeastern Rail in the UK conducted the first trial run of its "Olympic Javelin" service based on its new Japanese-built electric class 395 trains. The service will shuttle passengers from St. Pancras station in downtown London to the sports arenas being constructed for the 2012 summer Olympics near Stratford station on HS1, the UK portion of the high speed line to France. Each of the the 28 trainsets consists of 6 cars and is capable of a top speed of 140mph. Together, the fleet will transport up to 24,000 passengers per hour (!) during the games.

Of course, the games are just the catalyst for a permanent high speed commuter service (cp. NS HiSpeed in Holland) between densely populated Kent and central London - albeit at the expense of reductions in slower, less profitable services.

This news led me to the following question: Should California bid for the 2020 summer Olympics?

By tradition, the event is nominally awarded to a single city. In practice, the number of events is so large venues can easily be spread out over a much wider area, especially if fast, high-capacity public transportation is available. It just so happens that California is on track to have just that for much of the state by 2020: bullet trains between San Francisco and Anaheim plus upgraded Amtrak California services to Sacramento and San Diego. Metrolink service in the San Gabriel Valley could also be beefed up for the occasion.

The last time the summer Olympics were held in the US California was in Los Angeles in 1984. Those were also the first games to turn a profit and, many of the venues could presumably be refurbished and re-used. What if the Golden State as a whole entered a bid to host the 2020 games? Winning would surely do wonders for both the construction and the tourism industry. If by then DesertXpress to Las Vegas is operational and connected to the California network - a big IF - I imagine many visitors would want to head over to Sin City as well, regardless of whether any Olympic events were hosted there.

Of course, there would be quite a few obstacles to overcome:
  • First, the IOC has never awarded the Olympics to an entire state or country. However, there's no fundamental reason it could not break with tradition if presented with an attractive, innovative bid.

  • Second, the state of California is effectively broke, so virtually all of the up-front investments in sports venues etc. would have to come from individual counties, cities and private investors. The feds would chip in via their contribution to the HSR network. For the next governor of California, that would create an opportunity to take an active marketing role on behalf of a no doubt popular bid without having to actually fund anything over and above the $9.95 billion in prop 1A(2008) bonds that voters have already approved for HSR.

  • Third, the HSR starter line and its feeders would have to be fully operational in time for the games. IMHO, this is actually a great argument for submitting a bid, since delays invariably come with cost overruns and carry opportunity costs.
However, perhaps the most important consideration is that there's a very good chance Chicago will get to host the 2016 games. I fully expect President Obama may yet lend his considerable powers of persuasion to help clinch the deal. If successful, three cheers for the Windy City and Midwest HSR, which would surely be a beneficiary.

The IOC will render its final decision on the host city for the 2016 games on October 2, 2009. Californians would have to decide soon after that whether or not to reach for the brass rings four years later.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The Multi-Pronged Attack on California HSR

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

Last year this blog led the fight against the staggering amounts of misinformation put out by opponents of mass transit in their effort to defeat Proposition 1A. Even though these opponents were frequently given room to spout their misleading claims in TV and print reports around the state, whereas pro-HSR forces rarely ever got that opportunity, we won the battle. Californians rejected the arguments of the HSR deniers, the people who tried to argue against the evidence that high speed rail would be a financial disaster or that it wouldn't work in California or that people would never ride the trains. The voters showed that they understood the value and need for sustainable transportation, for economic recovery, for giving Californians an alternative to soaring oil prices.

That was the easy part.

2009 has seen a different and much more challenging battle taking shape. The Reason Foundation is still out their with their talking points, but few are listening. Instead most HSR deniers, like Morris Brown, have shifted tactics. Instead of arguing against passenger rail - a losing argument in California - they are trying to play on the environmental concerns of Bay Area residents. In order to undermine high speed rail, which will be one of the most environmentally beneficial projects this state has ever seen, they have joined with misguided environmentalists to try and block the progress of California high speed rail by claiming the project as planned will harm the environment.

Environmentalists have made a deal with the devil (so to speak) and allied with people who are fundamentally opposed to high speed rail. The environmentalists in question - particularly those from the Planning and Conservation League - apparently believe that they can use the HSR deniers for their own purposes without enabling the deniers' broader attack on the HSR project. In this the environmentalists are very, very wrong. They are jeopardizing the viability of the project as a whole, are placing a parochial and small concern above the concept, and are enabling anti-environment, anti-rail arguments in order to achieve their goals.

Californians rightly want to protect their environment. They rightly want big infrastructure projects to be built affordably and properly. And even though the environmental/NIMBY alliance ultimately seeks none of that - in fact, they are pursuing methods that jeopardize those values - they are increasingly effective at spreading their misleading claims among both the public and the state legislature.

As longtime blog readers know, these criticisms of mine are not new. What is new is that the Planning and Conservation League and the BayRail Alliance, two normally progressive organizations that support environmental and mass transit projects, have allied with the vehemently anti-HSR TRANSDEF, the "Cal Rail Foundation" (and its three members), and the cities of Menlo Park and Atherton to launch a deeply misleading attack on the high speed rail project.

The centerpiece of the attack is a new website: HSR: Let's Do It Right. The site is chock full of misleading statements, and embraces messaging that will ultimately and fundamentally undermine the HSR project they claim to support.

Before taking an in-depth look at the flaws of this site, let's lay out the landscape of HSR opposition in California:

Peninsula NIMBYs. Concentrated in the Menlo Park/Atherton/Palo Alto area, these are a quite small but vocal group of well-off homeowners who are adamantly opposed to building a grade-separated railroad for Caltrain and HSR, despite the numerous safety and environmental benefits of doing so. They've been convinced that a tunnel is a better solution, but have not identified any funding source for such a ridiculously expensive solution. They have no organization, but have instead brought on board the cities of Menlo Park, Atherton, and Palo Alto to their cause.

HSR deniers. Contrary to those who criticize the use of the term, this refers to a very distinct group of people who deny the proven benefits of high speed rail and want to kill the project outright. They are called "deniers" as an analogue to global warming deniers, based on the HSR deniers' repeated use of claims about HSR's supposed lack of financial viability, its supposed inability to meet projected ridership, and/or its supposed lack of environmental benefit. They tend to be ideologically opposed to government spending and to passenger rail projects. Not all HSR opponents are HSR deniers. But HSR deniers have had a lot of success in allying with more mainstream and respectable groups to advance their cause - specifically, the NIMBYs. HSR deniers have achieved significant gains by convincing some Peninsula residents that above-grade tracks will be a horrible city-killing disaster and that a tunnel is a better alternative - despite the fact that a tunnel is too expensive to ever become reality. HSR deniers hope that NIMBYs will provide the political power they themselves lack, and kill the project when it becomes clear that there is no viable alternative to grade-separating the Caltrain corridor.

Parochial environmentalists. The state's main environmental organizations, like the Sierra Club, strongly embraced high speed rail AND worked to ensure Prop 1A was as environmentally strong as possible (particularly by writing a ban on a Los Banos station into Prop 1A). They recognized that HSR will be a revolutionary shift in California infrastructure in favor of truly sustainable transportation that helps fight global warming, reduces pollution, and grows mass transit while shrinking the ranks of automobile commuters. But a small group of environmentalists have chosen to reject these broad benefits in a fit of pique about the choice of the Pacheco Pass alignment. The Planning and Conservation League is the biggest offender here, apparently convinced that the Pacheco alignment is so horrible that it is worth risking the entire HSR project to block it. To do so they are now allying with the NIMBYs and HSR deniers.

Parochial state legislators. California's Legislature is a broken institution totally incapable of governing this state in a time of crisis. One reason for this is term limits, which encourage legislators to ignore long-term planning and focus on their own careers. This incentivizes a focus on their own districts at the expense of the state's needs. As it relates to HSR, it enables ideological opponents of HSR like Senator Roy Ashburn, a genuine HSR denier, to try and tie down the project through burdensome and unnecessary oversight rules. It also enables people who don't care about the project's stated purpose of providing sustainable intercity transit to try and use the Prop 1A money to fund pet projects in their own backyards, like Senator Alan Lowenthal. NIMBYs, HSR deniers and environmentalists are allying with both Ashburn and Lowenthal to try and kill the HSR project by running it aground on the shoals of the legislature.

All four of these groups are represented on the HSR: Let's Do It Right site. The website is an incoherent jumble of anti-HSR claims that are sometimes mutually contradictory, but together represent a formidable threat to high speed rail.

Let's have a look at some examples.

Lying About Altamont/Pacheco

The main intent of the site is to rally the public to oppose the Pacheco alignment and force its abandonment in favor of Altamont - despite the fact that the decision for Pacheco was made through a legitimate process a year ago, and despite the fact that it was ratified by voters at the November 2008 election. Their Why Altamont? page consists of this extremely dishonest graphic:

This is pretty ridiculous stuff. The notion of "fewer impacts on communities" is only true if you don't consider Fremont, Pleasanton, Livermore and Tracy as communities. As I'll explain in a moment the site is full of "concern" for the "livable communities" on the Peninsula that would be harmed by HSR, but no such concern is offered here for the East Bay cities along the proposed Altamont route. There are about the same impacts on communities in the Altamont alignment - but those communities do not count, are not relevant, to the PCL and the other backers of this website.

It is true that expanding passenger rail along the Altamont corridor would help ease congestion. Which is why Prop 1A created a high speed corridor along the Altamont Pass and directs the CHSRA to spend money upgrading it for the purpose of easing congestion. But you wouldn't know that from the site or this graphic.

Sure, a shift from the Pacheco to the Altamont alignment might serve more East Bay residents. But it would come at the expense of about the same number of people in Santa Clara County and the Monterey Bay Area. Given that San José is the state's third largest city and one of the state's key economic centers, you'd think that it would have a pretty strong argument for being included on the HSR line. But you won't hear that argument on the website.

The claim of "$2 billion saved" is not sourced or proved. Given the support for Peninsula NIMBYs, the site's authors are in no position to make claims about saving money.

As to the wilderness area, this is is complete bullshit. The graphic is designed to mislead people into thinking the whole wilderness as shown on the map is under threat from HSR. It isn't. The tracks will run close to the existing Highway 152 corridor, and will go underneath Pacheco Pass State Park in a tunnel - which is conveniently not mentioned anywhere in this graphic or on the site.

Another lie is the "no sprawl effect" claim made. The graphic labels "land speculation" as possible in the Los Banos area, not informing readers that a station at Los Banos was specifically outlawed when Prop 1A passed. No station is planned on the western side of the Pacheco Pass. There IS a station planned at Gilroy, but that alone doesn't induce sprawl - unless the site's supporters think Caltrain service to Gilroy does that already. South County has its sprawl issues, but those already exist without HSR, and residents of Gilroy have already shown their willingness to oppose sprawl (fighting a planned Wal-Mart supercenter, for example).

Embracing NIMBYism

Environmentalists who actually care about doing something to stop global warming should be extremely wary before getting into bed with NIMBYs. NIMBYs around the country have fought wind turbines, solar power generators, and the transmission lines needed to bring clean, sustainable, renewable power to cities that need them. Solutions designed to protect our environment and arrest the pace of global warming will necessarily impact communities in ways some won't like. We have to weigh their objections against the dire and pressing need to act to reduce pollution and reduce carbon emissions.

The environmentalists who put the website together have thrown all such caution to the win. Desperate to stop the Altamont alignment, they are busy fueling misleading NIMBY claims that WILL get used elsewhere in the state to attack the HSR project, presumably in places where the PCL (among others) claims to support HSR - like Pleasanton.

The site includes a paged titled Visualize What Disaster Looks Like. It's the old misleading "Berlin Wall" images from Menlo Park that we debunked back in March.

But that's not the most insane and crazy element of the unholy alliance between the PCL and the NIMBYs. On the contact page, which includes the list of organizations sponsoring the site, in bright red capital letters is written the statement "REMEMBER: THE CITY YOU SAVE MAY BE YOUR OWN!" Is that a message people who supposedly support the HSR project, as the PCL and the BayRail Alliance claim, want to spread? By claiming that HSR will destroy cities, they're inviting open season on the HSR project from other cities, including those along the Altamont alignment. Does the PCL want Fresno to sue? Do they want Fullerton to sue? This is madness.

Allying With Legislative Enemies

The final lunatic aspect of the site I want to examine is their alliance with a broken legislature and in particular with legislators whose opposition to high speed rail has frequently been demonstrated. The site encourages the broken legislature to exert "oversight despite the fact that the legislature is incapable of effectively doing so until that institution is repaired and restored to functionality. There is no better way to undermine the HSR project than to make it dependent on a legislature that can no longer effectively govern the state.

Especially when the site specifically calls out for praise known HSR opponents. One of these is Senator Roy Ashburn, who tried to postpone the Prop 1A vote beyond 2008. Here's what the site has to say about Ashburn, listing the members of the Senate Appropriations Committee (emphasis mine):

Below is a list of Senators on the Senate Appropriations Committee. Note that Senators Simitian, Yee, Cedillo, Corbett, and Oropeza, along with Senator Ashburn, are on both Committees. Senator Ashburn has been very sympathetic:

Perhaps the site would like to explain WHY Ashburn has been sympathetic? That he has worked hard in the last year or so to throw as many roadblocks and obstacles in the path of HSR as he can?

Although Alan Lowenthal is not singled out for praise (yet) on the site, he is one of the leading figures in the legislature trying to use "oversight" to destroy the project. This blog has frequently demonstrated Lowenthal's desire to chop the statewide project into disconnected pieces, to create a glorified commuter rail benefiting Southern California and presumably the Bay Area (although the alliance with Peninsula NIMBYs jeopardizes that).

There are more flaws with the website in question, but I've gone on long enough as is. The above should be enough to make it clear that the folks behind that site are not interested in telling Californians the truth about the high speed rail project, and certainly aren't interested in ensuring that HSR actually gets built.

In fact, as I will demonstrate tomorrow, the Planning and Conservation League has taken a leading role in trying to undermine California's application for federal HSR stimulus funds, thus jeopardizing the financial viability of the entire project. There's much, much more to come.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Freakonomics: High-Speed Rail and CO2

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

by Rafael

Ceci n'est pas un TGVEric A. Morris has published a post on the Freakonomics blog of the New York Times entitled "High Speed Rail and CO2". IMHO, his is a poorly researched and extremely biased article since it completely disregards research commissioned by CHSRA.

Before I explain my gut reaction to Mr. Morris' hit piece, please bear in mind that reducing CO2 emissions is not the core objective of the California HSR project. Rather, its principal purpose is to enhance population mobility at the medium-distance scale by giving residents and tourists a safe, affordable and environmentally responsible alternative to long drives and short flights.

The CO2 emissions avoided during construction and operations are a result of rail technology, i.e. making do with just a narrow strip of land, avoiding asphalt and using grid-electric traction. Personally, I think of any direct reductions in CO2 emissions as icing on the cake.

What follows is a cross-post of my comment on the NYT blog.

  • First of all, Mr. Morris' article portrays the cost estimate of $80 billion produced by one person in Minnesota as gospel while failing to mention that the California High Speed Rail Authority's (CHSRA) own forecast is around $33 billion for the SF-San Jose-Fresno-LA-Anaheim starter line and another $12 billion total for the phase II extensions to San Diego, Irvine and Sacramento, respectively.

    It also neglects to mention that phase II construction will be funded with non-state bonds backed by operating surpluses from phase I. It is completely disingenuous to report that California taxpayers will be burdened with the cost of funding the entire network. Indeed, the language of California AB3034(2008) includes numerous safeguards to ensure the state's contribution remains limited to $9.95 billion, of which $950 million is reserved for capital projects of local and regional agencies that operate connecting transit.

    All this must be compared to the cost of doing nothing and also to the cost of building more roads and runways instead. Both alternatives were estimated to be much more expensive, with the cost of the no-build alternative measured in lost productivity and other opportunity parameters. This aspect of the program EIR/EIS study did not even include the option of providing reliable broadband internet access to HSR passengers.

  • Second, wrt to CO2 emissions: it beggars belief that the author should compare a study for HS2 in the UK - which assumes the extra electricity would be produced mostly from coal - with the California situation. CHSRA decided before the election last fall that the entire system would operate exclusively on renewable electricity, with new wind turbines being the cheapest way to implement that. Using renewables will eliminate most of the 19.1 million barrels of oil equivalent* that would otherwise be required each year (vs. 24.3 for the no-build and 24.5 for the modal alternative). CHSRA estimated the additional power requirement for peak period operations in 2020 is 480MW, about 0.6% of total generating capacity in the state at that time.

    As for the energy required for construction, CHSRA estimates 152 trillion** BTUs, equivalent to 26.2 million barrels of oil equivalent. That's comparable to about 16 months of operations - not trivial, but not terribly significant relative to a system life expectancy measured in decades. For reference, the construction of highway lane-miles and airport runways under the modal alternative would require 37% more energy. Again, the overwhelming majority of total energy is consumed during the years of operation.
For more details, please consult the document library at the CHSRA web site.

* CHSRA Final Program EIR/EIS Chapter 7.1.1 (Library -> Archived Materials)
** The document actually interprets 1 MMBTU as 1 million BTUs but that strikes me as a clerical error.

Friday, July 24, 2009

House Approves $4 Billion for HSR

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

Congress is moving full steam ahead on HSR funding:

Yesterday, the House approved a $123.1 billion transportation and housing bill for fiscal-year 2010.

The measure would provide $4 billion for high-speed rail (HSR), $3 billion more than the Obama Administration had sought in the next fiscal year for HSR and intercity passenger rail. The bill also would appropriate $1.5 billion for Amtrak — in line with the national intercity passenger railroad’s current funding and the Administration’s request — and $150 million for the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

The Senate has yet to begin addressing its version of the spending bill. The House and Senate eventually will have to reconcile any differences between their bills before a measure is presented to President Obama.

Not all of that $4 billion goes straight to HSR projects, as Reuters points out:

The spending bill passed by the House actually sets out $4 billion for high-speed rail, but Democratic officials expect to transfer half of that total to a national infrastructure bank that would give grants and make loans for large-scale transportation projects, another Obama priority.

All of this is a good start, but the big question - how to pay for a long-term project to build out a national high speed rail system - remains up in the air. Republicans are adamantly opposed to any new tax, and the Obama Administration is not exactly in a mood to go around raising lots of taxes (the health care tax increases will be a big enough battle).

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Menlo Park Town Hall Postponed

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

This Saturday's planned HSR town hall meeting in Menlo Park has been postponed indefinitely, according to Representative Anna Eshoo's office:

Congresswoman Anna G. Eshoo (D-Palo Alto) received notice today that she must postpone the scheduled meeting in Menlo Park on Saturday, July 25th due to critical votes in Washington, D.C. As a Member of the Energy and Commerce Committee she must remain in Washington over the weekend to vote.

Congresswoman Eshoo apologizes for any inconvenience the schedule change may cause and is committed to hosting a meeting in the near future with experts who can answer citizen questions on High Speed Rail. She will inform constituents as soon as possible of the new date and time.

The background here is that the Energy and Commerce Committee is at the center of the fight over health care reform. The "Blue Dog" Democrats, a group of right-wing Democrats, have been holding up the committee's progress on marking up the health care bill. There is a lot of pressure on Congress to postpone its planned August recess to get the health care bill ready for a vote on the floor of both the House and the Senate, so it should come as little surprise that Anna Eshoo is going to have to stay in DC until this is resolved.

There's every reason to expect this town hall meeting will happen and soon. When it gets rescheduled, I'll be sure to announce that here on the blog.

CA HSR Blog On Twitter

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

Over on the right hand column of the blog you can see a new feature - our twitter feed. We're @cahsr. So far it's linked to the blog's RSS feed, but I plan to use it for HSR related purposes and updates, including tweeting the Menlo Park scoping meeting.

My twitter feed is @cruickshank. Some other good transit-related twitter feeds you should follow:


@transbay - this is a particularly excellent Twitter account, from the proprietor of the Transbay Blog, including lots of great tweets from Bay Area government meetings.




I'm sure I'm missing out on lots of good transit and train related twitter feeds. So be sure to share some other good ones in the comments!

UPDATE: Definitely follow @lastreetsblog and @streetsblogsf for updates on mass transit in the two main metro regions of our state.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

ARTIC Designs Unveiled

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

The design proposal for the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center (ARTIC), which will be the southern terminus of the HSR route (at least until the San Diego line is built), was released recently. The image above is of the station, which will be wedged in between the Santa Ana River and the 57 freeway just across from Angels Stadium and the Honda Center (formerly The Pond). HOK Los Angeles and Parsons Brinkerhoff are the designers and builders for the ARTIC project. According to the release, the building will be of a sustainable design and will aim to receive a LEED Platinum certification, currently the highest rating for sustainable building.

The release also notes that the ARTIC design is modeled in part on the blimp hangars at the old MCAS Tustin. Which I have to say I find a bit unusual and not exactly inspiring. I never really understood the attraction some people had to the blimp hangars (the hangars at Moffett Field in Sunnyvale are exact copies of the Tustin hangars, for you Bay Area folks). Having grown up in Tustin, and having had several opportunities to take extensive tours of the hangars, I always thought they looked like rather ugly blights on the landscape that should have been torn down once the Marine Corps and US Navy stopped using blimps in the 1950s. (Apparently the hangars made good storage space for helicopters, which is why they were preserved.)

One of my favorite train stations is located just down the road in Santa Ana. I'm a sucker for the Mission Revival style, and that would seem to be more fitting for an Orange County HSR station. The Old Orange County Courthouse, which isn't Mission Revival but is still a great bit of 19th century architecture, would also make a good basis for ARTIC. At minimum there should be some orange trees around the station, to mark Anaheim's history and especially given how few orange trees are actually left in the county.

These criticisms should not be taken as a criticism of the ARTIC project itself. It's a long overdue and welcome project to improve the woefully inadequate existing Anaheim station (located in the parking lot of Angels Stadium), providing a centrally located place for trains, buses and pedestrians to meet.

OCTA is hosting a scoping meeting for ARTIC next Thursday, July 30, from 5 to 7 pm at OCTA HQ on 600 S. Main Street in Orange. You can submit comments online if you can't attend the meeting in-person.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

HSR Meeting In Menlo Park, Saturday 7/25

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

Congresswoman Anna Eshoo is hosting a high speed rail "town meeting" this Saturday in Menlo Park. State Senator Joe Simitian will be there, and has the details on his site:

You are invited to join Joe at a town hall meeting on high-speed rail hosted by Congresswoman Anna Eshoo. The event will give participants an opportunity to receive the latest information on California’s high-speed rail project and to get questions answered. A live webcast will also allow you to watch the town hall from home.

WHAT: Town Hall Meeting on High-Speed Rail hosted by Congresswoman Anna Eshoo

WHEN: Saturday, July 25 at 2:00 PM

WHERE: Menlo Park City Council Chambers
701 Laurel Street, Menlo Park, CA

Live webcast at

This town hall is open to the public, and no RSVP is necessary. For more information, call Joe’s district office at (650) 688-6384 or (408) 277-9460.

I will be there. Will you? We need to ensure that there are HSR supporters at this meeting, people who want the HSR/Caltrain project to be built the right way, a way that maximizes the operational capability of the line, a way that is financially responsible, and a way that is properly integrated with the surrounding urban landscape.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Quentin Kopp: HSR is "Organic Green"

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

Responding to a silly Examiner editorial espousing neo-Hooverite claims about the high speed rail project, former CHSRA chairman Quentin Kopp has an op-ed today defending the HSR project against claims it is "pork":

The latest editorial suggests that federal stimulus dollars to the high-speed rail project are attributable to backroom, smoke-filled dealings with Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Such leaps of logic would be silly and worth a chuckle or two if not so dangerous in misinforming California residents. On the contrary, federal stimulus dollars will provide needed impetus to our dreary economy. Moreover, California is in the pole position for those critical dollars thanks to decades of vital work by the California High-Speed Rail Authority....

Don’t politicize high-speed rail and lambaste it in some overarching dissatisfaction with the U.S. stimulus bill. “Track to Nowhere” may be an easy, sophomoric chant, to which millions more will chant back, “Build, baby, build.” Construction of a high-speed train system constitutes the premiere opportunity for California to lift itself into the 21st century. I’ll put my faith in independent residents of California who understand the benefits of high-speed rail, not as a partisan policy position but as a nonpartisan solution for our state’s stressed transportation system.

Kopp is right to put his faith there, in the same voters who were bombarded with right-wing distortions and lies about HSR in 2008 and still voted to approve HSR and $10 billion in bonds. Voters understand very well the need for economic recovery, for sustainable transportation, for high speed trains. Republican, right-wing claims that this is "pork" have gained hardly any traction at all with the public. But kudos to Kopp for pushing back against the nonsense anyway.

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.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Friday Open Thread

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

Been a somewhat quiet day on the HSR front here in California, so use this as an open thread.

• The SF Business Times briefly examines foreign companies that are advising the CHSRA, as part of formal advisory agreements that will help ensure that CHSRA gets top-level expertise from around the world.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Why Is Obama Scared Of The Transportation Bill?

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

by Robert Cruickshank

During the debate over the stimulus, it became clear that the Obama Administration planned to use the transportation bill reauthorization to offer the long-term changes in funding and modal priorities they had been promising. Unfortunately, the administration is getting cold feet on pushing the transportation bill this year, setting up a battle with two of the House's leading mass transit advocates, James Oberstar of Wisconsin and Peter DeFazio of Oregon (both are Democrats), as Streetsblog SF reports:

It's no secret that key leaders of the House transportation panel and the White House economic team don't get along -- from quips about shovel skills to a stimulus "shouting match," committee chairman Jim Oberstar (D-MN) and his top lieutenant, Rep. Pete DeFazio (D-OR), have become two of their party's leading Obama administration skeptics.

But the committee is now fighting a two-front battle, against an administration determined to put off a new six-year transport bill and a Senate that yesterday approved a "clean" 18-month extension of existing law.

Undaunted, Oberstar and DeFazio today pressed U.S. DOT undersecretary Roy Kienitz to clear one thing up: If the administration wants policy changes added to the 18-month stopgap, and if Kienitz agrees that the House bill's "goals are very similar" to the White House's, should the Senate be allowed to press on with its "clean" bill?

Kienitz answered carefully: "I don't think it's my place to try to make policy on that." A nonplussed DeFazio then wondered who would make policy on the transportation extension, if not senior DOT officials.

"I'm coming to learn that's a bit complicated," Kienitz said.

The problem is that the administration is skittish about the tax increases that would be necessary to fund the $500 billion bill Oberstar has worked out. Senator Barbara Boxer has offered support for indexing the gas tax to inflation, and DeFazio has proposed a 0.01 percent tax on oil speculators, but both are unpalatable to an administration looking at a major battle over taxes to fund the health care reform plan currently dominating the Congressional agenda.

Instead, Obama wants to extend the existing transportation bill for 18 months - kicking it into 2011, past the November 2010 elections. It's not exactly an act of leadership, but then this administration is making a mark for itself as being fundamentally reactive on virtually every major policy issue it is confronted with. Setting the agenda and systematically building support for it and selling it to lawmakers and the public - in other words, doing the stuff that every president has done since at least FDR - does not come naturally to the Obama Administration.

Oberstar is livid about the delay, but anger crosses party lines, with Ohio Republican Senator George Voinovich calling for at most a 12-month extension but would like Obama to get serious about the transportation bill itself. As Streetsblog's Elana Schor noted that the US Chamber of Commerce wants a new transportation bill and is willing to lobby to get it.

Another factor in the complicated fight is the fact that the highway trust fund is quickly becoming insolvent. This is not a new situation - it has been in trouble for nearly a decade owing to anti-tax sentiment - but it is another reason why an extension of the existing bill isn't itself a simple solution.

Ultimately the Obama Administration is going to have to resolve its budding identity crisis. Is it really an agent of change, as the inclusion of $8 billion for HSR in the stimulus indicated? Or is it dedicated to preserving the status quo, just without the insane misanthropy of the Bush-Cheney years? The transportation bill is one area where the administration is going to have to choose, and soon.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Private Sector Still Interested in HSR

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

by Robert Cruickshank

Although some still seem to believe that the recession and state budget problems make HSR undesirable, that view isn't held by some of the most important figures - Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood (who at least in his public statements has turned out to be WAY better than I ever imagined) and the companies that would build and operate high speed rail in the US. The recession is bad, is likely to persist for some time, and runs a very real risk of taking another downward lurch. But as this Reuters article makes clear, there is still demand and capacity out there to build HSR:

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, speaking to policy experts and reporters, said rail would be a strong opportunity for outside participation with the Obama administration taking early steps financially and politically to advance new train corridors to compete with short-haul air and highway travel.

"Companies involved in (overseas) high speed rail are in the U.S. right now," LaHood said, noting that several states are vying for a piece of an $8 billion downpayment in federal rail funding from February's economic stimulus package.

"I think you'll see private investment in high speed rail -- from Europe and Asia, not just the U.S.," he said.

LaHood also said broadband expansion would be a good bet for private interests but was less optimistic about attracting near-term investment from outside government in U.S. road projects due to recession.

This is quite significant - not only because it suggests that HSR demand is robust, but that there is more interest in funding it than in funding roads. The fact that Ray LaHood is picking up on this suggests that the Obama Administration is aware of this and might be willing to plan its transportation priorities accordingly (although first they'll need to resolve the battle over the Transportation Bill, subject of tomorrow's post).

LaHood is joined by industry leaders such as Alstom and SNCF in this assessment:

Hitachi and Kawasaki Heavy Industries are leading train manufacturers.

Leading global players also include Canada's Bombardier, Germany's Siemens and France's Alstom....

Alstom's U.S. president, Pierre Gauthier, told Reuters in an interview the company concentrates on providing trains and signal systems but would not preclude other forms of investment in U.S. rail if a market develops.

"When you have this and good service, I think Europe has shown that people use this a lot," Gauthier said.

One of the key questions being asked right now as we look at the wreckage of the global economy is what will drive growth that can get us out of this crisis? Mass transit, including high speed rail, is obviously part of the answer. Neither California nor the US can afford to fall behind yet again. We wasted the prosperity of the 1980s and 1990s on more freeways and kicked high speed rail down the road. Now that we are in an economic crisis brought on partly by that failure to embrace sustainable transportation, we would be fools to miss a chance to use HSR to both rebuild our economy and put it on a much more sustainable and prosperous long-term footing.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

USDOT Announces HSR "Pre-Applications"

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

by Robert Cruickshank

California has some competition - 39 competitors, if you're counting by state. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood made that statement at a press conference in Las Vegas yesterday:

On Monday Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced that 40 states had submitted 270 high-speed rail pre-applications seeking to qualify for stimulus money.

A total of $93 billion has been preliminarily requested. The Transport Politic offers a great overview of the state applications. California represents $22.3 billion of that total:

Caltrans met the Friday deadline to submit preliminary applications for $22.3 billion in passenger and high-speed rail projects in three main corridors: San Francisco-San Jose (which includes improvements to San Francisco's Transbay Terminal), Los Angeles-Anaheim and the Central Valley.

Many of these applications were for "regional" multi-state projects, such as the New England and the Midwest.

Nevada also submitted a multi-billion request, entirely for the maglev project:

Neil Cummings, president of the American Magline Group, the private consortium of firms that would develop the maglev line, said the commission proposed building the first, 40-mile segment between Las Vegas and Primm. The cost would be $1.6 billion.

The group also submitted a second application to the Transportation Department for planning money to continue developing the line to Anaheim.

DesertXpress, for its part, didn't put in an application for HSR stimulus funds, but intends to make use of the planned national infrastructure bank program to finance up to 70% of the estimated $5 billion cost, according to the Las Vegas Sun.

I confess I would be surprised if maglev got much money out of this. Ray LaHood has previously said that California and Florida are in the lead for HSR funds, and although that doesn't guarantee a thing, we've always anticipated CA could get as much as $3-$4 billion of the HSR stimulus funds.

As far as I can tell that should remain the case. The Midwestern application has its issues, including what Ray LaHood has described as a lack of leadership. New England's application is interesting but as they already have the Acela, one might expect USDOT to spread the money around a bit.

We'll find out later this fall what the USDOT's final decision is.

PS: Apologies for the spotty posting of late. I came down with the flu while in LA last weekend, and I'm only just now coming out of the worst of it.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Why The CHSRA Was Right To Reject The Settlement

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

by Robert Cruickshank

Reports of the CHSRA's rejection of a settlement offer put forward by Menlo Park, Atherton, the Planning and Conservation League, and several other unnamed organizations have gotten some notice in the comments to the previous post, but it deserves its own entry.

Especially so I can explain why this was the right thing to do for not just the CHSRA, but the HSR project.

The California High Speed Rail Authority has rejected a settlement offer that Menlo Park, Atherton and environmental groups made in a lawsuit challenging the decision to run bullet trains through the Peninsula instead of the East Bay, an attorney for the cities said.

The offer, which the authority rejected in a closed session meeting July 2, would have required the agency to consider running trains through Altamont Pass, said Stuart Flashman, an attorney for the petitioners. Altamont Pass and Pacheco Pass were the two finalists for the route, and the authority selected Pacheco in 2007.

"What we are proposing is we would agree to dismiss the case if you would agree at the project level to restudy one Altamont alternative," Flashman said Thursday. "You throw this out now, and it may not come back. They decided they would just roll the dice."

Why should the CHSRA believe this? Although the specific parties to a settlement would be bound by its terms, others would not. Flashman has done a lot of work to sow doubt about the Pacheco choice. Menlo Park and Atherton have residents who would still be free to file their own lawsuits - suits that are almost guaranteed to occur should the CHSRA decide on anything other than a no-build option for the Peninsula.

More importantly, it would open the door to revisiting route choices by what is essentially blackmail. Route selection and design choices must be driven by what is best for the HSR project.

There's more:

Flashman noted that the authority did not make a counter offer.

Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Michael Kenny held a five-hour hearing in the case May 29 and must make a ruling by the end of August, Flashman said. In the meantime, he must go through about 35,000 pages of documents.

"I felt, and talking with my clients they also felt, that this would have been an opportune time to try and settle," Flashman said. "Essentially we were in a situation where everybody could form their opinions about who was likely to win."

Flashman is parsing his words carefully here, but this is as clear an admission of defeat as we'll probably ever get from him and his crew. One has to assume the CHSRA recognized this as well and therefore felt no reason to settle. A court victory for the Authority would also do much to discourage other frivolous lawsuits.

Still, would it have been good for the CHSRA to offer a settlement anyway? Especially since it's possible that refusing to do so might reinforce the incorrect view among the Peninsula NIMBYs that the CHSRA is unaccountable and hostile?

I don't believe it would have been, since I'm not seeing anything the CHSRA could have offered that would be better than a court victory. As I noted above, no settlement could stop others in Menlo Park and Atherton - or other cities - from suing. Flashman et. al. want to force reconsideration of the Altamont corridor, but that ship has long since sailed, especially with CA voters ratifying the plan to use the Altamont corridor as a high speed corridor anyway.

I still await the final verdict, in favor of the HSR project and its fair process, against NIMBYs and those so-called environmentalists who prioritize small-time parochial concerns over the much greater benefits to the environment of actually building HSR.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Friday Open Thread

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

by Robert Cruickshank

Posting via iPhone from the Pacific Surfliner on the way from SNA to LAUS. It's packed to the rafters this morning, as was the Metrolink train I took south yesterday afternoon. It's great to see passenger rail remains popular here in SoCal - and that the demand for more, faster trains is still here.

Plus there looks to be plenty of ROW here, though several of the Metrolink stations will need to be reconfigured, and numerous grade separations rebuilt to accommodate more tracks.

I'll be offline for most of the next 2 days, so use this as an open thread.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

San Jose Mercury News: Take Out The "HSR Killer"

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

Silicon Valley's main newspaper doesn't mince words in its attack on the legislature's moronic attack on high speed rail:

Innocently or not, a poison pill for California's high-speed rail project has been slipped into the state budget. Lawmakers have to remove it before a budget is signed into law, or else the project approved by voters will suffer a possibly irreversible setback. At a minimum, it's likely to cost the Bay Area more than $1 billion in federal stimulus dollars expected for the project.

The budget appropriation includes a sentence, apparently inserted by clueless staff members, that calls for further study of different routes through the Bay Area. But all the routes, including the environmentally devastating Altamont Pass option, were thoroughly studied and argued at public hearings. This led to the selection a year ago of the Caltrain route through San Jose and the Peninsula to San Francisco. Some Peninsula residents don't want the trains, but it's not for lack of study.

Redoing the work would set the project back a year or more and squander the federal dollars, which will be contingent on a 2012 groundbreaking. The lack of legislative support for the current plan implied by the study requirement could be another crippling blow in future quests for funding.

If it's true that "clueless staff members" inserted the provision then there should be no debate about removing it. Of course, the provision fails on its merits, as we have thoroughly discussed in the comments to yesterday's post. As the Mercury News noted, there were exhaustive hearings and debates on the HSR route. Altamont advocates had years to argue their case. They did an admirable job of it, and the CHSRA decided on something else. Those advocates can either accept the decision and work to ensure HSR gets built, or they can undermine the HSR project and cost the state billions of dollars just because they didn't get their way.

Similarly, Peninsula NIMBYs who want the CHSRA to waste even more time and money studying the flawed and unworkable 280 or 101 alignment aren't advancing a legitimate technical case, but are trying to undo 11 years of studies merely because they don't like the outcome. CHSRA studies laid out the reasoning for rejecting 280 and 101, but nothing's going to be good enough for these NIMBYs.

Let's hope the Legislature does the right thing and takes this costly and reckless provision out of the budget.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Is the State Legislature Going to Screw Up HSR?

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

The California State Legislature isn't exactly the most popular group of people these days. As the state budget crisis worsens - and as California's bond rating takes another hit - Californians are losing what little patience they had for their legislators, who remain unable to produce a budget solution. It's not for lack of trying, as the 2/3rds rule and Republican obstinacy has produced the ongoing delays and deficits. But it reflects poorly on the legislators, who are facing some of the lowest approval ratings ever.

It doesn't help matters when the Legislature proposes something that is manifestly stupid, wasteful, and unnecessary. And that is what has happened regarding high speed rail on the peninsula, where the legislature has caved to Peninsula NIMBYs at the possible cost of $1 billion in stimulus funds:

An obscure sentence inserted deep in a massive state budget bill could delay construction of the proposed high-speed rail route from San Jose to San Francisco, potentially costing the region more than $1 billion in federal stimulus money, high-speed rail planners said Monday.

The language requires that as a condition of getting $139 million next year from the state budget to hire staff and engineering firms, the state High Speed Rail Authority must study "alternative alignments" to the route along the Caltrain tracks, approved by the authority last July.

Though the bill has passed both chambers of the state Legislature, its fate is uncertain because it remains part of the bigger state budget imbroglio.

This is ridiculous. The CHSRA already studied the Peninsula corridor, already studied the Altamont alignment, and already concluded that the Caltrain corridor is the best solution. They spent 11 years on these studies. Neither the Legislature nor the Peninsula NIMBYs have any place calling for another study just because they didn't like the outcome of the first one.

This is especially troubling given the financial implications of the Legislature's meddling:

On Monday, Rod Diridon, a former Santa Clara County supervisor who sits on the high-speed rail board, said that restudying the route could jeopardize federal stimulus money that requires eligible projects have construction started by September 2012.

"If it were to stay in, only our corridor in the whole state would be penalized, and all the federal stimulus money would go to Southern California," Diridon said.

The San Jose-to-San Francisco route will be seeking $1.3 billion in stimulus money, Diridon said. Two other proposed high-speed-rail routes near Los Angeles also will be seeking similar amounts.

The Peninsula NIMBYs would be perfectly happy with this outcome - their goal is to kill the HSR project in their own backyard, and have shown no regard for fiscal responsibility (such as their proposal of an extremely costly tunnel without offering any method of paying for it).

But it would cost the state as much as $1 billion in HSR stimulus, which translates into thousands of jobs and a not insignificant boost to the local economy on the Peninsula, which in turn means rising tax receipts in Sacramento. I'm not surprised at the Peninsula NIMBYs for not caring about any of this. I am surprised at the Legislature for being incredibly reckless by approving this proposal.

Sen. Joe Simitian, who represents Palo Alto, understands as much, as he denied responsibility for this moronic provision:

Adding to the drama Monday was that neither Diridon nor any other member of the high-speed rail board said they knew who wrote the provision requiring the extra study.

"We're all mystified. The whole board was caught by surprise how the language got in the bill," Diridon said.

State Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto — whose constituents are most upset by the route — said he's not the author.

"That's not my language. I didn't have anything to do with it," he said.

Political skulduggery may not be to blame. In the rush to finish the budget, legislative staff members crafted the new requirement based on what Peninsula residents who testified at hearings and senators seemed to want, said Brian Annis, transportation budget consultant on the state Senate budget committee.

"We were incorporating many different comments and issues that staff and legislators were involved in," Annis said. "As far as the specific language, we drafted something we thought was workable."

So the problem seems to be in the Senate Budget Committee. There are a LOT of Senators on that committee - including one familiar name:

Senator Alan Lowenthal.

Now granted, we don't know whether he was responsible for this provision. But it would not surprise me if he were. Senator Lowenthal has been working for the last year to gut the HSR project. My assessment has always been that he wants to turn the HSR project into a vehicle to deliver funds to commuter rail projects in Southern California, and that he has no commitment to the statewide project, and certainly not to the route voters approved in Prop 1A at the November 2008 election.

Was he behind the provision in question that would undermine the HSR project AND cost California $1 billion in HSR stimulus? We don't know, but someone in the Legislature was, and they're currently trying to keep quiet. These things don't just wind up in the legislation by accident. California deserves to know who in the State Senate believes that a few NIMBYs should have the power to upend 11 years of studies and cost the state $1 billion in stimulus funding.

It's also time for the Legislature to stop meddling with the HSR project. The CHSRA exists to provide clear leadership and project management that isn't tied down by the vicissitudes - and, frankly, the incompetence - of the state legislature, which has shown itself incapable of offering anything positive toward the HSR project. The legislature needs to take advantage of the budget delay by stripping this provision from the bill, and ensuring that the legislature remains committed to the HSR project as approved by voters in November.

Monday, July 6, 2009

NIMBYism and the Environment Don't Mix

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

by Robert Cruickshank

The East Bay Express, a weekly newspaper serving the Berkeley-Oakland market, had a great feature article last week titled "You're Not An Environmentalist If You're Also A NIMBY". Its focus is the debate over urban density in Berkeley and Oakland, where folks who claim to be environmentalists are also opposing greater urban density, despite the fact that such opposition fuels sprawl, which contributes significantly more pollution and carbon emissions to the atmosphere than urban density:

Global warming is changing far more than just the climate. It's altering the way environmentalists view development. For years, city dwellers who consider themselves to be eco-conscious have used environmental laws and arcane zoning rules to block new home construction, especially apartments and condominiums. In the inner East Bay, liberals have justified their actions by railing against gentrification and portraying developers as profiteers. But the lack of urban growth in Berkeley and in parts of Oakland during the past few decades also has contributed to suburban sprawl and long commutes. And all those freeways choked with cars are now the single biggest cause of greenhouse gas emissions in the region.

The debate on the Peninsula regarding high speed rail has a different focus, and yet the basic details remain similar as this AP article on Peninsula "concern" over HSR explains - one of a number of similar articles that have been written about Peninsula NIMBYism in the wake of the release of the draft scoping report on the SF-SJ segment of the HSR route. As in Berkeley, folks in Palo Alto and Menlo Park are primarily driven by a desire to maintain their communities exactly as they look right now, with little regard for the environmental consequences of maintaining an urban landscape suited to the auto-oriented 1950s.

There is a crucial difference between the urban density debate in the East Bay and the HSR debate on the Peninsula. NIMBYs on the Peninsula have been able to have it both ways, claiming that they aren't opposed to HSR, that they either want it built underground (without explaining how to pay for it, meaning they're not offering a credible proposal) or built somewhere else (without explaining why, if HSR is so awful for communities, it's OK for Pleasanton and Hayward to be stuck with it).

In all this time I've never been unsympathetic to legitimate concerns from community members about making sure that HSR can work in their town. Nobody, myself included, wants to just drop the train in the middle of town. Of course, neither does the CHSRA, despite the frequent hyperbole you hear from some on the Peninsula.

But what you never seem to hear is an honest assessment of the HSR project's place in our broader agenda of environmental and global warming action. Too often HSR is cast as some random project being foisted upon the Peninsula, when in fact it's designed to help them get around their county, their region, and their state more easily and sustainably.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Making Tracks Down South

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

by Rafael

while CHSRA continues to face widely publicized opposition in the SF peninsula, there is active competition for the alignment that the phase 2 spur from LA Union Station to San Diego will follow. We already discussed the ROW issues in an earlier post.

The Riverside Press-Enterprise explains that the City of Riverside is competing with the much smaller City of Corona for a station, as both recognize the economic value of having a stop on the network. The Corona concept is based on an alignment alternative down I-15 and is supported by Riverside county as well as Lake Elsinore and Temecula. This would be the shortest option that still allows for a station close to Ontario airport, but the proposed station at Cajalco Rd would be several miles south-east of downtown Corona; an old freight spur could be leveraged for new Metrolink routes, but most passengers would presumably drive or take a bus to a giant parking lot in the middle of nowhere (cp. Victorville). The city could probably improve its chances by proposing instead a new station for both HSR and Metrolink at the intersection of the BNSF Transcon line and I-15, between Quarry St. and the CA-91 interchange in Corona proper.

On the other hand, CHSRA's completed and certified program-level EIR/EIS calls for trains to run further east past UC Riverside, before joining I-15 by way of I-215. Three separate connectors down from the I-10 corridor near Colton are being studied, but running above or below Iowa Ave, Chicago Ave or S Riverside Ave/Main Street is non-trivial. Note that the existing Riverside Metrolink station is located approx. 1.5 miles south of the CA-91/CA-60/I-215 interchange, rendering it useless as a regional feeder service to the HSR station for Corona, Perris and San Bernardino. This last city would very much like to have an HSR station of its own, but its downtown is out of the way of the preferred route described in the program-level EIR/EIS.

There is, of course, one heretical idea that might be worth considering now that DesertXPress looks like it may go ahead: continuing HSR along the BNSF Transcon line and/or CA-91 past the phase 1 section to Fullerton. Bullet trains would then run to San Diego via Corona without any need for additional HSR tracks along I-10. Eventually, a connector would put Riverside and San Bernardino on the spur to Victorville and Las Vegas. Anaheim ARTIC would also be on a spur, though there is a railroad ROW running north from Orange that could perhaps be used to allow a subset of trains to include that station on a run-through detour. The biggest problems are NIMBYs in the Santa Ana Valley and, the fact that this route would not run anywhere near Ontario airport. That would mean redoing part of the program-level EIR/EIS for this phase 2 spur, something I am sure CHSRA would prefer to avoid.

The above is meant to illustrate how integrated planning of the California network and DesertXPress line could open up new and possibly superior alternatives for HSR development. One slide at the recent press conference announcing the inclusion of Las Vegas in the federally designated California HSR corridor already included a connector between Palmdale and Victorville, though frankly one between Mojave and Barstow would be more useful for SF-LV and hew close to an existing road/rail traffic corridor (CA-58) The latter point is relevant for CEQA. For the moment, though, all of this remains wishful thinking: there appears to have been zero formal contact between CHSRA and DesertXPress to date and, neither planning body has taken ownership of getting any such connector funded and built.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Orange County Takes Over The CHSRA Board

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

That's one way to look at the news that the California High Speed Rail Authority board has a new chair and vice-chair, and they're both from Anaheim. According to the press release:

Earlier in the meeting, the Board elected Anaheim Mayor Curt Pringle to be its chairman, replacing Judge Quentin L. Kopp who had served two terms as chairman. Former California Assemblymember Tom Umberg was elected vice-chairman.

Pringle is a moderate Republican; Umberg is a Democrat who narrowly lost a primary for a State Senate seat to Lou Correa in 2006. Both are well-known in Sacramento and may have better relations with the Legislature than Quentin Kopp. Pringle is a strong supporter of HSR:

“High-speed trains are needed in California,” said Pringle. “The state must find a viable surface transportation alternative to ease auto and air traffic congestion between major urban centers and high population growth areas like the Central Valley.

Pringle clearly understands the need for the HSR project and for it to be kept whole, unlike Sen. Alan Lowenthal who wants to chop it into a glorified commuter rail for the Bay Area and Southern California.

I wouldn't read too much into the change of leadership on the CHSRA board. Quentin Kopp has been the chairman for several years now, taking time away from his spot on the San Mateo County Superior Court bench. Kopp's term as chair was a clear success, as California voters approved Prop 1A and the federal government approved billions in HSR stimulus money - and California will likely be largest recipient of that money.

Now it's Curt Pringle's turn to lead the HSR project through this crucial moment. On the plus side the project has the support of the people of California, of the Congress and of President Barack Obama. It has as much as $13 billion ready (assuming we get $4 billion of the HSR stimulus, and that is likely to be the high end of the likely funds) and is well along the way of finalizing the project plans in some of the key corridors.

The HSR plan also has some challenges, from the Peninsula NIMBYs to people like Sen. Lowenthal who want to gut the project. Pringle can help sway more Republicans to support a project that will create a lot of jobs and opportunities for business up and down the corridor. And hopefully he can help navigate the project through the state legislature.

So this blog welcomes Curt Pringle and Tom Umberg to their new positions as leaders of the CHSRA board and of the HSR project. Besides, as an Orange County native myself, it's good to see leadership from OC stepping up for high speed rail.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

SoCal to Vegas to Become Official Federal HSR Corridor Today

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

This image is about to get a makeover:

That's the map of the USDOT HSR corridors. One corridor that's not there is Los Angeles to Las Vegas. That is changing today:

The U.S. Transportation secretary will announce today the designation of a federal high-speed-rail corridor between Las Vegas and Southern California, a major assist that enables the long-imagined train route to compete for $8 billion in economic recovery funding and other federal support, the Las Vegas Sun has learned.

The announcement comes as two proposed fast trains are vying to connect Las Vegas and Southern California, a race that has intensified since President Barack Obama unleashed an unprecedented investment in high-speed rail as part of the stimulus bill approved by Congress.

It is unclear whether today’s announcement will favor one of the competing projects over the other. However, the federal designation improves the chances that a train will be developed between the two regions by opening the door to federal aid. Analysts think only one train system will be built.

DesertXpress has not as of yet planned to seek federal aid. I suspect that will have to change. Vegas is in the middle of a severe downturn, which means there's going to be much less private money available to fund it. The maglev is still alive, although with Sen. Harry Reid having switched his support to DesertXpress, I don't see the maglev plan lasting a whole lot longer. Some of its remaining backers include Bellagio CEO Bruce Aguilera, but the Bellagio and the other Vegas resorts are going to have their hands full riding out the recession.

I expect DesertXpress to be the "last project standing" along the Vegas HSR corridor. Whether it gets built, of course, is another matter entirely.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

July CHSRA Board Meeting

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

The July meeting of the California High Speed Rail Authority board is tomorrow morning at 10 AM in Sacramento at the city council chambers. You can find the meeting materials here. The meeting will be streamed live at this link (kudos to the Authority for putting that together!).

The agenda includes a discussion of project phasing, an update on HSR stimulus funding and pending legislation in the state legislature relating to the HSR project, and a proposed disability access committee.