Saturday, October 18, 2008

How Sacramento (and other CA cities) Will Benefit From Prop 1A

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

Today's Sacramento Bee examines what Sacramento gets out of Proposition 1A and high speed rail. The article wants to generate some controversy about the fact that Sacramento is going to be included in a later phase of construction, but few of the folks interviewed were willing to play along. Instead the article provides one of the most detailed and strongest arguments for voters not living along the SF-LA "spine" to support Proposition 1A.

Rail Authority executive Mehdi Morshed said his agency's studies indicate the first segment will be a moneymaker – and income would be used to extend the line to Sacramento and San Diego.

That's the rub for Sacramento.

"Unless somebody builds the San Francisco to Los Angeles segment, Sacramento will never be built because it will never pencil out," Morshed said. "You need to have the cash cow (first)."

Morshed isn't just speaking in the abstract. Both the French TGV and Spanish AVE systems have followed a similar trajectory, where an initial line became so popular it created the political will and the financial capacity to expand new lines. The TGV puts SNCF in the black and subsidizes not only new HSR lines but the rest of SNCF's passenger rail operations. The first AVE lines helped pay for expansions of the system, including the route from Madrid to Barcelona.

Representative Doris Matsui, whose district is primarily comprised of Sacramento, agrees, especially on the need to use a starter line to build momentum for more extensions:

"For me it would be easier to look favorably on this if Sacramento were in the loop early on," said Rep. Doris Matsui, D-Sacramento. "We are the capital city. Why not?"

But, she said, "We're never going to get there unless we take the first step. If California comes out ahead, we benefit."

Matsui's approach is sound - realizing that Sacramento benefits when the state as a whole benefits - which it will once the SF-LA line is under way.

Sacramento benefits in more tangible and immediate ways and the article's author, Tony Bizjak, should be commended for explaining to readers that Sacramento's existing passenger rail systems are in line for a much-needed financial boost from Prop 1A:

The bond measure sets aside at least $47 million for improvements to Sacramento's popular Capitol Corridor passenger train line.

Sacramento Regional Transit, which runs light rail and buses, also is in line to receive at least $21 million.

Capitol Corridor train chief Gene Skoropowski is a vocal bond measure supporter, and said his trains between Auburn and the Bay Area would work in tandem with bullet trains, at first in San Jose, and eventually in Sacramento.

"Our service would likely become a major feeder-collector," he said. "People would take our train to Sacramento or San Jose to connect up with the high-speed trains."

The Capitol Corridor trains, RT light-rail trains and Amtrak trains would meet up with bullet trains at the downtown Sacramento railyard transit depot.

$47 million can go quite a long way for the Capitol Corridor, as would $21 million for Sacramento's RT. For the Capitol Corridor that money could purchase new train cars, and upgrade existing sections of track to improve the route's already remarkable on-time percentage - 93.8% in September 2008.

Other passenger rail systems around the state will receive immediate benefits from Prop 1A. The Pacific Surfliner that connects SLO, Santa Barbara, Ventura, LA, Orange County, and San Diego is in line for about $45 million, as are the San Joaquins. The San Joaquin money would be significant since upgrades there could help passengers in Sacramento reach the Merced HSR station more quickly. Metrolink is to receive some money, and the long-planned Coast Daylight, a train from SF to LA via the coast route (Salinas, SLO, Santa Barbara) could also get fully funded.

The article closes by showing how Congress is already poised to begin directing federal money to the HSR project:

Congress also recently established a $1.5 billion grant program to promote high-speed rail. Rep. Matsui said California should line up well for a chunk of that money if voters approve the bond.

That money isn't the full federal match that will be needed, of course - but it IS a clear indication of Congressional willingness to provide money, especially when the US Senate is prepared to push a much larger HSR funding plan in 2009.

Of course, Sacramento can expect to someday be included on the HSR route. We here in Monterey will never be included. But both of our cities will benefit, immediately, from Prop 1A when it passes. And we will benefit in the long term from the HSR line that will make passenger rail travel in our state much quicker, efficient, and available to all of us, even we folks on the Central Coast who make regular trips to Southern California.


Anonymous said...

Slightly off topic, but when do we expect field poll results on 1A to come out? Or, I guess the better question is will a poll be conducted before Nov. 4th? It was up in July, but so much has happened since then...

Anonymous said...

The leadership, the California High Speed Rail Authority (CHSRA), for this project has already made several major blunders. The route chosen for the project has many problems, but the segment from San Jose to Gilroy was projected to use the Union Pacific Rail Road (UPRR) corridor. The CHSRA did not meet and negotiate a contract to use that corridor and the UPRR in May wrote and told the CHSRA they can’t use their corridor. So the EIR which has been certified and took millions of dollars and years of study is going to be declared invalid; it is already the subject of a lawsuit. This will result in years more delay and more money being spent. The CHSRA has already spent $60 million and over 10 years thus far, and still not a single foot of track has been laid. The project was the subject of a very negative 45 page report from the State Senate Transportation and Housing committee and a hearing on the project was held on July 1 The final version of Prop 1A came from amendments offered and approved by the legislature in an attempt to correct many of the problems outlined in that report. One change made for Prop 1A was that a business plan for the project had to be prepared and submitted by Sept 1. That date has come and gone and there is yet no business plan. The CHSRA agreed to this condition and it was mandated and written into law. The CHSRA is right now in violation of the law. Senator Roy Ashburn has written a letter to the CHRSA on this very subject. You can read this letter by going to and looking in the news section of the site. The voters of California are being asked to approve a $10 billion bond measure for a project that has no business plan. If and when a business plan is finally produced, the election will have come and gone. We must not approve a project that is being led by persons who won’t obey the law; we must Vote No On Prop 1A

Brandon in California said...

blah blah blah

There is a busniess plan. Didn't you know that. It was released in 2004 and it's the current one until it is updated.

And, UPRR argument is a negotiating tactic. They want something. At the end of the day, UPRR and CHSRA will work together to find a mutually beneficial solution.

Anon 5:36pm, I know you're not stupid as you must know this basic stuff. I am assuming your effort is to catch unsuspecting undecided voters and somhow influence them to vote no. Nice try.

Spokker said...

About the business plan, here's the other side of the story.

"Legislation signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Aug. 27 required the updated business plan but authority officials said they wouldn't have money to work on it until the state passed a budget, and estimated it would take 45 days to complete. The budget was signed on Sept. 23 - 85 days late.

"The purveyors of this last-minute lawsuit against the authority know full well that the nearly three-month delay of the state budget caused a similar delay in progress on this year's business plan," said Mehdi Morshed, authority executive director, in a prepared statement.

Authority spokeswoman Kris Deutschmann said most of the contents of the plan have already been made public, but they need to be compiled and updated - a process that will be completed within weeks. That could be before or after the Nov. 4 election, she said."

Anonymous said...

4 days for an updated business plan is simply ridiculous unless the people would like fudged numbers and false information. Either way, anti Prop 1A people would sue or sue. Anti Prop 1A, chose not on time plan. Didn't AB3034 also state that bonds would be given out over time and not all at once and cannot be used until matching funds are there?

If so, then there is simply no need to sue because the money will not be released until matching funds are found which will take months to acquire and doing engineering studies. Is a business plan necessary at this moment? I think not. Although I would like it soon to read over as would everyone else.

ian said...

Robert, never say never!

I'd say once California falls in love with high speed rail, the Coast Starlight's route will be HSRified, and there's a good chance Monterey will be on that line — great for tourism and beautiful scenic rides along the coast... or at least it will be heavily upgraded so it complements HSR and isn't just a foil for it, because at the moment the speed pales in comparison.

I wouldn't mind seeing HSR run up to Tahoe / Reno as well... (why not throw in Vegas too? and Portland / Seattle with federal funds? it'd be good to have a standardized system)... it would work wonders for the traffic on 80 during the winter (to Tahoe), since HSR is pretty weather-resistant... [Being from the United States of Slow Trains, I laughed when I saw in Gare de Lyon that, oh my god, the TGV had to slow down from 250 to 200 km/h due to snow.]

And this is not me being biased and persuading everyone to vote for my future employment, at all... (me, Mechanical Engineering major, in love with trains). :)

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 5:36pm -

your complaint that not a single foot of track has been laid after ten years and $60 million spent makes no sense to me. Would you seriously have preferred that CHSRA break ground willy-nilly before finalizing the route and completing the federally mandated EIR/S work?

Btw, just because UPRR isn't in the mood to sell the unused portion of its ROW between SJ and Gilroy does in fact not invalidate the EIR/S. By definition, that relates to a corridor, which is substantially wider than a ROW. As far as the feds are concerned, CHSRA can buy land adjacent to UPRR's - via eminent domain if need be.

As you know, Pacheco Pass wasn't my preferred option, either. The argument that it is the fastest way to get to LA is bogus, since the difference could have been reduced to about 8 minutes by using Santa Clara/SJC instead of SJ Diridon.

However, Pacheco does mean that the Manteca-Chowchilla segment ($1.5-2 billion in construction cost) is now mapped into phase II. That reduces the cost of the starter line, at the significant expense of delaying service to the Delta, bypassing the East Bay altogether and a long detour for the future Sacramento-SF route.

The route via Palmdale was chosen in part because Tehachapi Pass offers more viable alignment variations than the I-5 Grapevine. The route from LA to San Diego was chosen in part because there are unstable cliffs along the existing railroad south of Irvine. The routing decisions also allow HSR to connect directly to both Palmdale and Ontario airports - expanding LAX, John Wayne and Lindbergh field has proven impossible.

@ ian -

what you're suggesting would cost several times as much as the network proposed by CHSRA. The central coast route is sparsely populated and so are the areas north of Sacramento and east of Auburn. I think we should focus on securing voter approval for prop 1A right now.

For your reference, Monterey county is already trying to persuade Caltrain to extend its service to Salinas. At this point, the county has not secured trackage rights on the single-track UPRR line, which is anyhow in a relatively poor state of repair for passenger operations. There once was a spur all the way to Pacific Grove, but the tracks were ripped up south of Sand City.

Iff prop 1A passes, I suspect there will be renewed interest in reviving it for a commuter/tourist train. As usual, the big issues will be NIMBYs and funding.

Anonymous said...

The Sacramento Bee has just published an article titled:

The project is doomed by unrealistic estimates and lack of business plan

by Joseph Vranich, a co-author of the due diligence report on this project.

He writes:

For nearly 40 years I've advocated building high-speed rail lines, including in testimony before Congress and in speeches in Europe and Japan.

But for the first time, I see a project that I can't endorse - the proposed California system. A due diligence report, which I co-authored, found that the state's planners are projecting ridership to be so high as to be absurd. The promoters are understating cost estimates by billions of dollars, are exaggerating reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, and are ignoring the invalidation of environmental reviews as some planned rights-of-way have been lost.

This blog has on several occasions sought to dis- credit this report with statement like, "it is a product of the Reason Foundation" and therefore of no value.

I do note that I have not seen Rafael make any such statement. Rafael, how about your commenting on this due diligence report?

Anonymous said...

Remember when medical research centers used to author reports that countered the claim that smoking caused cancer? Amazing what "experts" will do for money. Seen the billing rates for "expert witnesses" lately?

Kevin Gong said...

Gee mom, can I become an 'expert witness' when I grow up? I wanna be just like Joe Vranich! He's so swell with his conservative arguments and saving us all money!

We should all listen to him just because he's got a fancy degree, not because what he says makes sense! After all, thinking for ourselves is anti-American, just listen to Congresswoman Bachmann out in REAL America!

Seriously deniers, the more you post about your ideological lust for Mr. Vranich, the more I discount your asinine arguments. A report from an anti-rail expert and a report from a political committee written for partisan purposes do not make convincing arguments.

Tony D. said...

The SJ Mercury News just came out in favor of Prop. 1A (Sunday); check out their opinion page.

Anonymous said...

@kevin Gong:

Who writes:

Seriously deniers, the more you post about your ideological lust for Mr. Vranich, the more I discount your asinine arguments. A report from an anti-rail expert and a report from a political committee written for partisan purposes do not make convincing arguments.

Well Mr. Gong, you are just ignoring the facts:

Joseph Vranich of Irvine is the former president of the High Speed Rail Association.

Varnich writes:

For nearly 40 years I've advocated building high-speed rail lines, including in testimony before Congress and in speeches in Europe and Japan.

Now those words surely don't point to an anti-rail expert do they?

Just go ahead and keep your head in the sand.

The fact is, even if Prop 1A passes, this project will never get built. The funding will not be there and the cost as soon as they have to really put construction to bid will be way over these under-state projections. big winner here Parsons/Brinkerhoff. big loser -- the taxpayers of California.

What is sad, is as the LA Times pointed out, the risk is really $2 billion. That risk will be reality -- $2 billion down a rat hole.

Rafael said...

@ morris brown -

if Mr. Vranich has really been advocating HSR for 40 years, why hasn't he managed to convince a Republican governor to put him on the CHSRA board? Why did he wait so long to produce his "due diligence" report?

As for the ridership numbers, SNCF's long distance business unit reported 366 million passengers (see the annual report) in 2007, 26 years after the first TGV entered service. France has roughly 60 million inhabitants.

SNCF's engineers were dreaming of high speed rail as far back as 1964, when Japan's shinkansen entered service. It took the oil crisis of 1973 to get the green light from the government, which also decided to build a large number of nuclear power plants. Before then, France's railroads had been in serious decline.

In the wake of the crisis, France decided to privatize the construction of new motorways. This sharply reduced government expenditure on roads and, the tolls reduced the incentive to make long-distance trips by car.

Today, there is a very extensive local and regional transit system in and around Paris. France's second city, Lyon, has a population of 1.75 million inhabitants and was therefore the first TGV destination. On this route, SNCF operates long bi-level trains with 1000 seats each. Average seat capacity utilization across the whole TGV network was 75% in 2007. The long distance business unit achieved a gross margin of 19%.

CHSRA is claiming roughly 34 million passengers in the first year of operation, which it says would be in the 2018-2020 timeframe. For reference, in 2005 there were some 8.6 million passenger trips between Bay Area and Los Angeles basin airports. HSR could capture a large fraction of that market and, induce additional demand. However, the bulk of HSR trips on the starter line would be within the Bay Area, within the Central Valley, between LA and OC, between the Bay Area and the CV and, between the CV and LA/OC.

By 2030, after the addition of the spurs to Sacramento and San Diego, that would supposedly rise to 65-95 million, depending on the price of gasoline and jet fuel. California has 38 million inhabitants, expected to rise to around 43 million by 2030.

34 million passengers in year 1 translates to roughly 50,000 in each direction on any given day. Not every trip would be between the end points and capacity utilization will be in the 50-75% range, so each of the 96 daily trains running in each direction would need to offer around 300-500 seats - a common range for high speed trains with four seats abreast.

Alternatively, a smaller number of bi-level trains could be deployed, given that passenger volume is expected to. In anticipation of the liberalization of cross-border rail traffic within the EU, due 2010, SNCF and Alstom are currently working on an update to the existing duplex design. It is limited to 186mph, but the new version should support speeds of up to 220mph. JR operates Hitachi's E4 Max bi-level design, but its top speed is only 150mph.

On the face of it, CHSRA's ridership projections don't look all that unreasonable and technologically, the project would make them possible. Alstom, Siemens, Talgo/Bombardier and (I believe) Hitachi all have train designs certified for top speeds of 350-360kph (211-217mph) in commercial service on dedicated high speed tracks.

However, the Authority is assuming that FRA will grant a waiver to operate non-compliant off-the-shelf high-speed train technology, even in the Caltrain and LOSSAN corridors. Given the full grade separation proposed and the recent passage of HR 2095, which mandates the installation of positive train control systems by 2015, I'd expect FRA to find a way to grant that waiver. No-one wants to repeat the Acela Express fiasco.

The bigger unknown is if Californians are prepared to change their transportation culture: given the option, would they switch from cars and planes to high speed trains for their intercity trips? Would low fares prompt them to travel around the state more often, especially if uninterrupted broadband internet service is offered on board (cp. Thalys, TGV Est)?

Assuming the economy recovers long before 2018, chances are gas prices will once again be a significant issue for motorists by the time HSR enters service. Air travel in the Bay Area-Los Angeles corridor will be more congested than today, given that no additional runways can be built. Therefore, public acceptance of HSR should be high, provided the cities and counties served implement sensible solutions for connecting services. The Bay Area and LA county are well on their way there already.

Summarizing, I consider CHSRA's ridership estimate feasible but ambitious. Extrapolations from ridership levels on existing passenger rail services is fairly meaningless because HSR is a wholly different proposition in terms of speed and punctuality.


As for the business plan, CHSRA has said it would produce one within 45 days of the budget passing. That would mean Nov. 8, but Mr. Morshed has indicated the Authority hopes to release the updated plan before the election.

Considering the scale and complexity of the project, this is not really a copout. Credible updates of construction costs, ridership etc. do take time to put together. In the past year, CHSRA was not even able to pay all of its consulting bills after Gov. Schwarzenegger reduced its 2007/08 budget to just $1 million. In addition, the collapse of Lehman Brothers has meant it had to go look for an alternate consulting firm.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Morris, you need to read what we post on this site. Vranich's study was thoroughly debunked here a few weeks back. That study has no credibility and as a result, neither does Vranich, who hasn't met a rail project he doesn't like.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Dunno about the Field Poll, anon. I'm surprised we haven't heard a thing from them since September 30 - on ANY issue - and would love to see a Prop 1A poll, as the most recent one dates to July.

Anonymous said...


Thanks for you evaluation of ridership and other issues on this project. I don't agree with your conclusions, but I certainly respect your opinion.

As for why Mr. Vranich is not on the CHRSA board, he will have to answer to that, but I take him at his word, that this is the first HSR project he has opposed.

On the lack of a business plan, however, I cannot concur. You write:

As for the business plan, CHSRA has said it would produce one within 45 days of the budget passing. That would mean Nov. 8, but Mr. Morshed has indicated the Authority hopes to release the updated plan before the election.

Now that is not what the CHRSA agreed to in July, when they were seeking the votes of the legislators to get AB-3034 passed.

Indeed, the new position of the CHSRA became known only after I requested a copy of the business plan in the first week of Sept. So far as I know, the CHSRA did not disclose to anyone, they were not going to meet the mandated date until after the deadline had passed.

As I have pointed out, Kopp agreed to produce the plan by Sept. The deadline for the plan was written in law in AB-3034.

So to use Morshed's later statement as being the position of the CHSRA is not correct. Right today, the CHSRA is in violation of State law.

I personally gave input on this very issue at the July 1st meeting of the Senate T&H committee. For me it was imperative that a business plan be produced well before the election so voters could have a better understanding of the economics of the project.

How many legislators would have refused to vote passage of AB-3034 if the assurance of a business plan by Sept. had not been written in the law? If you recall, final passage of AB-3034 was held up for sometime because they needed a few more votes to get the 2/3 majority.

It is a big deal. The voters have been short changed. The CHSRA has been arrogant and in violation of the law. The have "thumbed their nose" at the State legislators.

Rob Dawg said...

The list of those getting thrown under the train continues to grow. There appears to be only one litmus test for every question or issue. Now Vranich feels the wrath. It isn't enough to address his concerns. No, the person must be attacked as well.

Brandon in California said...

Every transit system in California has its loons.

Initially people listen. Including the right ones.

But as they continue to speak and forward their perspecives and opinions with increasing passion and energy, their credibility in the eyes of decision makers wanes.

I believe their is a relationship... increased energy and passion on a topic undermines a persons credibility of the information they forward because it no longer looks unbiased.

I have seen it numerous times.

I've also seen almost the opposite; a person constantly speaking before a board on a range of issues. But, their energy and passion is always in check. The result is that that person has a much more willing audience to accept his perspectives in a higher regard...

Vranich has likely exhausted his credibility among decision makers... and could be viewed as a loon. Perhaps his only audience willing to listen are ones that have no experience with him... the voting public.

That is just my hypothesis.

Spokker said...

Why isn't Vranich put in charge of an HSR corridor of his choice and entrusted to deliver a project on time and on budget? I wonder if he would be able to pull it off.

Why isn't he a part of the California High Speed Rail Authority and "fixing" this system? Was he passed up for someone else? Is he jealous of the rail line because he is not a part of it?

I don't know him personally, obviously, but these are the questions I would ask him.

Brandon in California said...

I figure those were rhetorical questions, but I suspect he would not be considered at all because his background is PR work. He was the spokesperson for Amtrak at one point... if I recall xactly.