Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Arnold Schwarzenegger Says "Travel the World, Support High Speed Rail!"

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

I've occasionally mentioned that the origin of my support for high speed rail was a trip on Spain's AVE line from Madrid to Sevilla in 2001, in the context of a broader argument that a surefire way to generate support for rail travel is to put people on a train and show them how useful it is, and how good it could be at a high speed.

Today Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger made much the same argument, but in a rather odd way:

Speaking at a forum on global economics held by the nonprofit Milken Institute, the governor suggested lawmakers would be more willing to embrace his plans to privatize the building of roads, schools, high-speed rail systems and other public works if they could see how effectively it has worked in other countries.

"Some of them come from those little towns, you know what I am saying, they come from those little towns and they don't have that vision yet of an airport or of a highway that maybe has 10 lanes or of putting a highway on top of a highway," Schwarzenegger said. "They look at you and say, 'We don't have that in my town. What are you talking about?'

"So they are kind of shocked when you say certain things. So I like them to travel around."

It's a pretty strange way to frame the argument for a number of reasons. The overall context is Arnold's effort to defend travel junkets paid for by his corporate allies, and using high speed rail trips as an example. A closely related context is Arnold's effort to privatize everything in sight despite the poor track record of privatized government. In fact, if legislators traveled to France or Spain, they'd see a government-run high speed rail system that turns enough of a profit to seed the construction of new lines. Somehow I doubt Arnold's corporate buddies are interested in showing off the positive benefits of European socialism.

Nor am I convinced that telling legislators from small California towns that their horizons are narrow is going to accomplish much. It had a mixed effect on a Republican assemblyman from Hesperia:

Assemblyman Anthony Adams, a Republican from the mid-size city of Hesperia (population 83,000), said Schwarzenegger's comments, "while I'm sure well-intentioned, reek of a certain elitism that doesn't help foster a cooperative working relationship."

Last month, Adams toured Japan's high-speed rail system on a trip organized by the Senate Office of International Relations. He said he paid for the week of travel with campaign money and personal funds, and was impressed that Japan's system is efficient and well-managed.

"I'm awful grateful I did it," said Adams. "It will help me make the case for why high-speed rail is right for California."

I do believe that Arnold is right that Californians should embrace technologies and systems used successfully around the world. We've done this many, many times before, and in a global economy California has to keep up with Europe and Asia or fall permanently behind. And while a surefire way to create a lifelong HSR supporter is to put them on the TGV or the AVE or the Shinkansen, it's not necessary to leave the continent or even the state to see the value of HSR.

Many Californians instinctively understand why HSR is necessary when we explain the need to replace air travel for financial, environmental, and practical reasons; or when we explain the economic and climate benefits of the system. But if we want to go a step further, Arnold should be encouraging Californians to take trips on the state's extensive train network. Ride Metrorail, or Caltrain. Take a trip to Santa Barbara on the Pacific Surfliner, or a trip from Sacramento to the Bay Area on the Capitol Corridor. That would show Californians the value of rail travel as well as get them to see why high speed rail would be so much better than what we already have.

Of course, that would all require Arnold to stop trying to destroy public transportation in California. We welcome his support on HSR, but he also needs to understand HSR works best when there is a strong feeder network of mass transit.


Brandon in California said...

Wow, you are fast! That LA Times article was posted less than 5 hours ago, and you followed up in fewer than 3.

Myself, I only saw it 20 minutes ago, and then came here to see of any new postings.

While I appreciate your perspective that Californian's can learn to appreciate the opportunity that HSR can provide by riding local systems, I find something else of interest from that article.

Arnold is increasingly showing support for HSR. Although he referenced it among other public infrastructure projects only once, and not in a negative light, he did not need to cite it at all. Nor should he if he didn't have positive interest in the project.

In fact, I find it more and more difficult for him to come out negatively about the project as we approach the November elections. That is good, because Arnold can influence how people vote.

Additionally, I don't think Arnold is challenging small town residents, per se, to think outside their normal paradigm. Instead, I think he is challenging 'small time thinkers' to think bigger. After-all, they live everywhere. 'Small town' is being used as an analogy to small time thinkers.... in my opinion.

And, that analogy leads to rebuttals to opponent arguments against HSR as being small minded or short-sighted.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Arnold has always claimed to support HSR - last year he published an op-ed in the Fresno Bee explaining his support - but it's always been highly conditional. He is insisting on a big role for private companies in the HSR system and the Legislature is trying to accommodate him, though privately some of these legislators point out that the Legislature would still oversee it and once Arnold's gone the role of private companies might not be as big as he hopes.

Arnold also tried to cripple the California High Speed Rail Authority by decimating its 2007-08 budget, leaving them unable to do their work. It took a mobilization of rail advocates to get their money restored and even then we only got half. Of course he was also the force behind postponing the HSR bond vote, first in 2004 and again in 2006.

The thing about Arnold is he talks a big game but the devil is in the details, and it's in those details where he routinely tries to screw environmental action. He has to be watched very closely and carefully, so while I welcome his support for HSR - it's definitely better to have him on our side - the details make all the difference.

Anonymous said...

@ bmfarley -

'Small town' is being used as an analogy to small time thinkers ...

perhaps you're right, but it would still be an insulting stereotype - especially since HSR will run through but not stop at many small towns: Manteca, Los Banos, Visalia, San Bernardino etc. If the governor meant to talk about narrow-minded people, then he should have talked about those and left the size of their towns out of it. It's not like 100% of people in SoCal or the Bay Area are enlightened about HSR - or have ever heard of it, for that matter.

Anonymous said...

For reference, exploratory construction began this week on the Brenner base tunnel between Italy and Austria - Gov. Schwarzenegger's country of birth. At an (opmistically projected) and only partially funded cost of EUR 6 billion + EUR 2 billion financing, this 56km (35mi) long structure will be the second longest tunnel in the world.

Consisting of two single-track standard-gauge tubes for rail plus evacuation routes, the project presents daunting engineering problems. When the tunnel goes into service in 2022 at the earliest, it will carry 400 trains a day (80% freight) at speeds of up to 250kph (156mph). The objective is to relieve chronic congestion and pollution by commercial traffic on the Inntal freeway on the Austrian side, itself partly a result of inadequate capacity on the existing rail link. Whether this goal will be achieved depends on how fast demand for transalpine freight capacity will grow during the construction period.

The Brenner base tunnel is the central component of principal axis #1 (rail Berlin-Palermo) of the EU's ambitious
TEN-T framework to co-ordinate the development of road, rail, aviation and shipping infrastructure for freight and passengers between its 27 member states and 450 million citizens through approx. 2030. This massive framework has been in development since 1990.

In 2004, the construction cost for the 30 principal projects alone was estimated at EUR 255 billion, that of the entire framework at EUR 600 billion. Estimates have risen considerably since, largely because of rising prices for energy and raw materials.

As elsewhere, securing public support and funding for the massive and risky component projects is a perennial challenge. Nevertheless, both member states and the EU are proceeding with key projects even before the private sector - burnt badly in the Channel Tunnel project - has committed itself to a new set of PPPs.

Perhaps then, the take-away from others' experience should be this: in some cases, you just can't wait for the invisible hand of the market, because the opportunity cost of further delay is just too great.

If Californians do not approve HSR this November, it will take years just to prepare the EIR/EIS for the modal alternative. Today, California's high-tech and media industries are the envy of the world. However, inadequate infrastructure will severely hamper the development of the brand-new industries that the state will need if it is to remain in the vanguard of the world economy for the remainder of the 21st century.

Anonymous said...

For those who won't have the opportunity to experience HSR first hand before November, the WSJ published a piece back in March on US customer experience on European High Speed Trains.

Inhabitat published a piece on Spain's AVE high speed train (incl. video).

Via the PCJ.

Robert Cruickshank said...

anonymous, thanks so much for that excellent article. Its points apply quite well to the US and especially California - HSR provides a more comfortable ride for about the same travel time and about the same cost. It's a no brainer.

As to this:

"SNCF, France's high-speed rail operator, is launching a youth-aimed overnight service to Biarritz and the French Riviera later this year. The service, called IDnight, will have music, dancing and an all-night bar."

That is awesome. I am SO there.

Anonymous said...

A video of the inside of a duplex TGV from Marseille to Amsterdam. Made with a handheld camcorder by a passenger, so the quality isn't great, but it shows the interior of both first and second class, the cafe car, the restroom and gives you a sense of the speed.

Anonymous said...

Here's an entertaining 18 min. video from the popular BBC motoring show Top Gear, documenting a race between one presenter in an Aston Martin and the other two using public transport - incl. a Eurostar and a TGV - to get from Guildford to Monte Carlo (Monaco). That's a distance of 900 miles.

Since it's a motoring show, the whole thing is of course rigged to make sure the car wins by a whisker - but then it is a GBP 103,000 supercar and it does consume almost 60 imp. gallons of gasoline on the trip because the presenter drives like a maniac. At ~$9/imp. gallon in the UK and France, that's a $540 drive.

HSR fans will be more interested in the space, quiet and service the two co-presenters enjoy on the trains. In the real world, without the rules and pressure of a race, it is they who would arrive in better shape - at much lower cost and environmental footprint.

Bonus #1: 1992 amateur video of the standard-speed Eurotunnel car train. Half the cars on each train are double-deckers, there are more cars on the upper deck. It's a short trip, so passengers stay with their vehicles.

Bonus #2: animation of the new St. Pancras station in downtown London, serving the high-speed Eurostar passenger trains.

Brandon in California said...

^^^ Anon 6:12... the Eurostar vid is impressive! I want to move there.