Thursday, October 23, 2008

Kopp's Epic Smackdown of HSR Critics

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

On August 26th AB 3034, after a weeks-long delay, was finally signed by Arnold Schwarzenegger. That bill directed the California High Speed Rail Authority to create a new business September 1. Giving the Authority merely five days to come up with the new plan.

Why the delay? The bill was passed out of the Assembly on May 29. From there it languished in the State Senate. Alan Lowenthal put out a nonsense study trying to cast doubt on the plan, but it was Sen. Roy Ashburn who played the central role in delaying AB 3034 into early August. By the time the Senate passed AB 3034, however, Arnold Schwarzenegger had started in on his temper tantrum, refusing to sign any new bills until we got a new budget. Arnold relented on AB 3034 - but had the bill bent sent to Arnold sooner, it would not have been subject to Arnold's tantrum, and there would have been time to produce it.

But it gets worse. As you know, the state budget delay this year was the worst on record - three months long. The state Constitution mandates that a budget be approved by June 15 and implemented on July 1 - the beginning of the new fiscal year.

The Authority's staff consists of 6.5 employees. Not a huge amount of staff to put together a business plan, actually, especially when you give them five days and then withhold a budget from them.

HSR deniers have now tried to use the delayed business plan to claim that Prop 1A and HSR are flawed. Today the State Senate held a hearing about the business plan, likely designed and timed to hurt Prop 1A's chances. You can see the video here. At the hearing Quentin Kopp explained that the plan will be ready around November 8, after proper work goes into its production and review by Goldman Sachs.

Roy Ashburn tried to attack Kopp over the delay, asking "You and your Authority are in violation of California law as we sit here today. If you were in my chair, what would you say?"

Kopp's reply: "If I were sitting in your chair I would use temperate language. Did you ever read the state Constitution? Did you ever read Article 4, Section 12? Do you know what it says? It says...the Legislature shall pass the budget bill by midnight on June 15 of each year. You're in violation of the law. Consider the outcome should a taxpayer bring a suit to recover the money that you eventually drew between June 15 and September 23 of this year. Consider the fact that people don't work without being paid. Consider the fact that my executive director hasn't been paid since January of this year. Consider the fact that when you finally appropriated the money the contractors who expect to be paid can finally begin work on the business plan. I'll tell you why people should believe me. Because I have an impeccable reputation for honesty, integrity, and independence."

Ashburn could not reply to that point. He avoided it and tried to repeat his same points. But the smackdown was delivered, and Ashburn is exposed as a fraud. The state legislature, led by Republicans like Ashburn who held this state hostage for three months, refusing to do their Constitutional duty to pass a budget because they were demanding unspecified cuts, have absolutely NO place to be criticizing ANYONE else in the state government for not following the law. Ashburn is full of it and kudos to Kopp for calling him out on it.

Kopp drank Roy Ashburn's milkshake. I think we're done with this whole "business plan" nonsense, aren't we?

UPDATE: Huge hanks to jwb for turning the key segment into this handy YouTube clip:

UPDATE 2: Kopp then takes on lawsuit-happy HSR denier David Schonbrunn.


Anonymous said...

As interesting as that exchange was, the most articulated argument regarding the business plan was from Director Morshed.

Vranich also seemed to be well prepared with his charts and whatnot but as we know (and as Chairman Lowenthal might know), his arguments were for the most part factually incorrect and his self-confessed love for HSR was at best disingenuous.

Anonymous said...

Robert, the best way to counter your interpretation is to see if any independent press coverage will be forthcoming.

If there is none, the hearing will have been without value in determining whether Prop 1A passes or not.

What I do think it is setting up, however, is removal of the Authority in the very near future. SB-53 is law now, and say what you want, the Authority is in violation of State law. Their credibility is shattered. Legislators are not going to take lightly this group thumbing their nose at the voters of California and the Legislature.

Anonymous said...


Kopp made it clear that it was the Legislature itself that withheld funds from the Authority and therefore prevented the Authority from completing the business plan on time.

Why punish someone for not completing a specified task, when it was you who largely prevented him from doing it?

Spokker said...

The high speed rail authority has generally been underfunded by the state over the years. Finally, Californians will have a chance to say, "Please, fund this project, design it, and build it!"

The Legislature and the Governor don't have the balls to fund this thing. It's going to take the will of the people of California to actually provide the down payment.

I'll be glad to pay my share.

Anonymous said...

HOw can the Authority can claim not to have money for the business plan, and yet have funds to continue to promote the project, and have anyone believe them?

The lack of money is a complete ruse. There are many ways they could have gotten the funds. Their buddies, the Alstons, Parsons/Brinkerhoff -- the gang who has raised over 500K thus far for promotion could have lent them the money.

As a voter, I feel cheated -- I'll be voting against this measure.

Anonymous said...

The Authority did not have the funds "to continue to promote the project" in 2008. According to the HJTA rep, the Authority last paid a particular PR firm in 2003 - well before anybody started requesting an updated business plan.

The construction and engineering companies you spoke of have contributed to the Prop 1A campaign and not the Authority. I do not believe the Authority can request funds from private parties.

Spokker said...

"According to the HJTA rep, the Authority last paid a particular PR firm in 2003 - well before anybody started requesting an updated business plan."

They were no doubt gearing up for November 2004, but it was unfortunately delayed as we all know.

Spokker said...

More lies from Vranich.


The average speed I've read is closer to 160 MPH, not 200.

If it can attain a top speed of 220 MPH in the valley and 100+ in the city, an average speed of 160 MPH is very doable.

Anonymous said...

Vranich is nothing more than a Nixon bitch that was an Amtrak board member set up to kill passenger rail..guess what people like trains..The ASSHOLE is still at it..puts food on his table

Anonymous said...

independent press??? like in the Media News Group?? that republican sewer mouthpiece??? Morris explain why all their papers have the same idea how people should vote on this proposition?

Anonymous said...

Morris..explain how the Reason foundation and your cause found each other?

Rafael said...

According to my Google map, the distance between SFTT and LAUS will be about 450 miles.

With only one stop in San Jose on the express route, the average speed required to cover this distance in 2h38m is about 170mph. That is aggressive but should be just about possible with a top speed of 220mph because the entire length of this brand-new trunk line is dedicated to HSR trains. However, turnouts will be required to let express trains overtake the planned semi-express, semi-local and local HSR trains that stop at additional stations.

For reference, the new Beijing-Tianjin HSR line is 117km (72 miles) long. The 180 daily trains offer 600 seats each and can run at a top speed of 350kph (217mph). When they do, the travel time is just 30 minutes, which translates to an average speed just shy of 150mph. This is less than the goal CHSRA has set itself, but note that a greater fraction of the total distance is used for acceleration and braking.

It's worth pointing out that reliable broadband internet access should reduce demand for even higher speeds, since time spent in transit can be spent much more productively. This is particularly important for business travelers but also useful for everyone else.

SNCF already offers on-board WiFi on Thalys (Paris-Brussels-Amsterdam) and on the TGV Est (Paris-Reims-Strasbourg). The service is free in first class and relies primarily on a geostationary satellite for connectivity - which translates to signal delays that make e.g. video conferencing impossible. In built-up areas, tunnels, stations etc. the system switches to terrestrial transmission based on 3G mobile phone technology.

Other HSR operators are expected to follow suit, especially once purely terrestrial connectivity becomes economically viable. This is something CHSRA really ought to include in its plans if prop 1A is approved. The service could be operated by a third party and be subject to a premium.

Anonymous said...


Actually if you use the CHSRA's own numbers on their site

you see the distance from SF to LA is 432 miles. Yet their site is inconsistent. So that site gives

SF to Fresno 188 miles.
Fresno to LA 255 miles.

That total equals 443 miles.

Now it was my understanding that the 2 Hr. and 42 min. travel time from SF to LA was non-stop, not a stop in San Jose. In any case they have already said they won't go faster than 125 MPH on the SF to San Jose segment of 48 miles.

I have no idea of where they might need to slow down in the LA basin area. Finally, what about through the mountains with the tunnels that are going to be needed.

Their site says Fresno to LA is 255 miles and will take 84 minutes, which is an avg speed of 182 MPH. I find that very hard to believe with the mountains and going through Sylmar etc. down south.

Carfree in San Diego said...

All I have to say is that Kopp's bitch-out was so delicious it must be fattening.

Rob Dawg said...

So, Robert what you are saying is the the condition of the State budget should be a concern for people voting on Prop 1a? I agree.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Nice try to put words in my mouth, rob, but the problem here isn't the budget deficit but the budget delay. For Ashburn to criticize another branch of government for not meeting a deadline, when Ashburn himself did not meet the Constitutionally mandated budget deadline, thereby keeping funds from the Authority to complete its business shows he's full of it and was really out to undermine the HSR project itself.

Rafael said...

@ morris brown -

See e.g. here for some basic info on HSR. Wrt gradients, high speed trains can handle 3.5%. Due to their high initial speed, gravity has less time to decelerate them as they climb a hill - the stored kinetic energy is proportional to the square of speed, but potential energy rises only linearly with altitude.

Also, modern HSR designs feature very high power-to-mass ratios compared to other trains. A fully equipped Alstom AGV weighs 395 metric tons and has eight electric traction motors rated at a total of 12000 kW (~16000 hp).

The combination of high initial velocity prior to hill climbs and high traction power allows high speed trains to maintain high speeds even when tackling gradients well beyond the capabilities of traditional train technology.

Rob Dawg said...

Nice try to put words in my mouth, rob, but...

No but about it. You say that voters should take into consideration that the delay in the updated business plan is at least in part due to the condition of our current budget and budget process. I absolutely agree.

For some reason however you wish that excellent logic to stop there. I don't see how you can honestly assert that budget issues are reason to discount the lack of an updated business plan and not also concede that voters should be concerned with the potential budget impacts of the proposition.

Tony D. said...

Somebody buy Mr. Kopp a beer! It's about time somebody spoke out forcefully against these naysayers and obstructionists. And who cares that a business plan won't be ready when these buttocks-hole hypocrites want it to be ready; I, along with thousands, will be voting yes on Prop. 1A! Ashburn, Morris, and the rest of the deniers be damned!

ian said...



Rob Dawg said...

Ashburn, Morris, and the rest of the deniers be damned!

Now it's religious? Isn't that what they've been saying all along? [just teasing, too clever to let pass]

Seriously, where is my request for a NTE? People who want to keep this about the facts and not the hyperbole need to step up and tell everyone a number they are willing to defend with their own money.

Anonymous said...

Lack of the required business plan just proves what a FRAUD this whole mess has become.

Anonymous said...

For a much more balanced account of the Senate committee hearing I suggest one read an article
from the Sacramento Bee, by Dan Walters.

Spokker said...

Much of the information that would go into the business plan is already on the authority's web site.

They pretty much explain everything in the FAQs section. Why they chose Pacheco over Altamont, how many people will ride the trains, how fast it would be, etc. If you don't accept that info, you won't accept the business plan.

The business plan will still be incomplete by your standards. It won't tell you how they are going to build the system in Menlo Park. It won't tell you how they intend to get over Tehachapi. It's too early in the game to know these things. I don't think you even want a business plan.

Again, voting yes on this bond measure is telling State of California that the Authority needs to be properly funded in order to carry out the process of designing and building a high speed train. I would not expect them to know everything about this complex project at this point.

I'm sure when more extensive engineering and design work is done (after the bond measure passes of course), they'll find problems, and discover solutions. Costs will go up, sure. After all, this isn't the 1800s where you can round up Chinese people and tell them to build a railroad.

Rob Dawg said...

Lack of the required business plan just proves what a FRAUD this whole mess has become.

I disagree. This is the fallacy of perfect being the enemy of good enough. Yes, the lack of an updated business plan is a negative. Don't believe me? Then who here would claim delivery of an updated business plan would not be a positive?

Robert Cruickshank said...

Rob, you're either not reading what I've written or are being willfully misleading. The state budget problems are caused by people like Roy Ashburn who refuse to do their Constitutionally mandated duty and provide the state with a balanced budget by June 15.

The budget deficit is not difficult to close from a policy standpoint. Or even from a political standpoint. The problem is the 2/3 rule and the Republican obstructionists.

Away from the fight on Prop 1A we are working VERY hard to resolve that problem. A measure will be on the special election ballot in the spring to eliminate the 2/3 rule. Dems are close to winning a 2/3 majority in the Legislature in just over a week's time.

In any case, the budget deficit is not a permanent feature of life here. It is a problem deliberately created by Republicans precisely to kill government funded projects like this. If we kill HSR because of the budget problem we are doing exactly what folks like Ashburn and Tom McClintock want.

Unknown said...

I uploaded this to youtube, so people don't have to fish through 90 minutes of crap.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Thanks so much, jwb.

Anonymous said...

On Wednesday, David Schonbrunn of TRANSDEF had an intense debate on KALW-FM with Quentin Kopp, Chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority. In the debate, Schonbrunn identified how the politicization of High-Speed Rail development has resulted in an inferior and unworkable proposal, and why TRANSDEF has concluded that the $9.95 billion HSR bond measure, Proposition 1A, must fail if California is to have viable High-Speed Rail.

You can find the blue-colored link to the podcast file of the debate, near the bottom of the HSR page on our website:

If you need a more detailed analysis of what is wrong with the work of the High-Speed Rail Authority, there is a blue link at the bottom of the same web page to testimony delivered yesterday to the Senate Transportation and Housing Committee by High-Speed Rail expert Joseph Vranich. He concluded by calling for the dissolution of the Authority.

BTW, it was no surprise that the bond measure is on the ballot this November. HSRA could have spent its funds last year on a business plan, rather than on PR in preparation for the election. How much did all those gee-whiz animations cost?

Unknown said...

Much as I like Kopp, the TRANSDEF guy makes the case strongly for Altamont, which was already the alignment I would have preferred.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Schonbrunn is merely parroting the same discredited bullshit - about the UP ROW (we know that the Authority does not and never did need it), that Pacheco was chosen to enrich speculators and sprawl (there will be no Los Banos station), etc.

David Schonbrunn *opposes* high speed rail. He does not want to see this project built. That much needs to be made clear here.

Brandon in California said...

I enjoy seeing the exchange between Kopp and Ashburn once more. But, I think it ended short. The first exchange from Ashburn afterwards was like a kid had his pants pulled down in front of the girls kindergarten class! It, I felt, was the crescendo of the exchange.

As for the testimony against HSR... it appeared that Vranich was confident and sounded like he knew what he was talking about. But 'sounded' is the key word.

So, I was prompted last night to pull out that Due Diligence Report to examine the data for myself. I don't mean the executive summary... b/c that thing says the same thing in each segment, provides no data and only opinion on this or that.

Since many of the arguments against the merit-worthiness of the CHSRA plan relies on ridership projects, including as a business model, GHG reductions, and so forth, I zoomed to that part of the report to see what it had to say.

And what I found... absolutely zero original work!

The entire argument about ridership rests on comparisons to earlier projections and other systems. There is zero original work having any substance. And the argument is very verbose, and seems to want to convince the reader with its volume of argument. It's not objective at all and it's too difficult to take at face value, if at all.

If Vranich truly has applicable experience in rail projects, he should know that the Due Diligence report should forward projections originating from appropriate methodologies and planning work. Instead, only a number is forwarded with no dialogue about where his numbers come from.

Credibility with me is not zero, it's negative.

Btw, I have ridership projections too! I should forward them to appropriate authorities.... after all, if Vranich thinks his have merit, mine must too!

If the report cannot treat ridership projections with its proper due, then how can readers accept other arguments elsewhere in the report?

And, although Vranich made his way into the room with the Senate T&H Committee with such a baseless report, I can understand how. He's attached at the hip with the anti-tax Jarvis group.... and the Senate meeting was put together at Ashburns request, likely. Ashburn was probably the one that invited him too, no doubt.

Anonymous said...

Here on youtube is the audio/video from Joseph Vranich from the State Senate hearing on the missing business plan.

link to part 1:

link to part 2:

link to part 3: