Sunday, October 26, 2008


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

Earlier this summer the price of a barrel of crude oil hit a record $147. Since then the price has declined dramatically to about $64. Gas prices here in Monterey have fallen from a high of about $4.60 to just under $3. Some might be tempted to argue this makes alternatives to oil less necessary, but that would miss the point - the current decline in oil prices is strictly a product of demand destruction.

What that means is we're in between a rock and a hard place. Our economy has been built on growth made possible by cheap oil. More cars need to be sold, more suburban sprawl needs to be built, more goods need to be hauled by truck in order for the 20th century economic model to continue. If you can't do any of that without risking a crippling oil price increase like that which burst the housing bubble, you are stuck in an economic trough that has no visible way out.

Unless, of course, you start building an alternative to oil.

Besides, the phenomenon of peak oil is going to rather quickly necessitate such alternatives, if OPEC doesn't do so first. If this current respite in oil prices is to be anything other than the eye of a hurricane, we must build our way out of oil dependence.

Just as the oil crisis has not gone away, neither has the climate crisis. Arctic sea ice nearly reached a new record minimum. Global warming continues unabated, as the carbon-burning industry merely takes a short breather.

2008 is therefore an opportunity to start transitioning away from a failed economic model, one that became so dependent on burning fossil fuels that the economy nearly collapsed and severe ecological crisis has taken place. If we are to turn the 21st century into a sustainable century - with sustainable prosperity, built on renewable resources and a better, more sensible ecology, we need to start NOW on producing alternatives to oil.

California High Speed Rail is one of those alternatives. It will:

-Reduce carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to removing 1.4 million cars from the road, and take the place of nearly 42 million annual city-to-city car trips (Final EIR)

-Reduce CO2 emissions by up to 17.6 billion pounds/year (HSR fact sheet)

-Reduce California’s oil consumption by up to 12 million barrels/year (same as above)

According to the Final EIR 63% of intercity trips over 150 miles in California are taken by car (scroll to page 12). This is a major factor in causing most of California to be out of compliance with state clean air goals. Given that HSR would be much faster than driving between California's major metro regions, and will likely be less costly as well by 2018, HSR would make a significant dent in those car trips and therefore in the pollution they spew.

And HSR provides a VAST carbon emissions savings over other forms of transportation:

(Image from Alberta High Speed Rail)

HSR can be powered entirely by renewable energy sources, a goal the California High Speed Rail Authority recently adopted. HSR will provide a guaranteed buyer for renewable energy projects, making their construction more likely and more economical.

Sustainability is also a smart economic strategy. We have talked repeatedly about the economic stimulus it will provide. It will also provide a Green Dividend to Californians in the amount of several billion dollars at least.

Sustainable transportation is both economical and necessary for California's 21st century future. Sure, we have a temporary respite from the worst of the oil price hikes. But does anyone here really want to gamble that such price increases will never return? That we can continue the 20th century sprawl model indefinitely?

If you don't want to make that sucker bet, then vote Yes on Prop 1A.


Anonymous said...

Since everyone of your arguments has been proven wrong or completely exaggerated by the Due Diligence report -- a report of over 190+ pages and with over 500 reference and authored by transportation experts, your post is of no value.

One item you keep bringing up is the savings on fuel. Why don't you talk about autos becoming more fuel efficient, as mandated by law in the future and and the emergence of totally electric autos?

As for total reliance on renewable energy, at this time such energy is 2.5 to 3 times the cost of conventional energy. It will come down in the future, but certainly within the next 20 years or so, it will remain 2 times the cost of conventional electricity.

So the readers here should check out the facts, and not just take your statements as gospel.

One fact seems clear on Prop 1A now. The late arrival of $2 million to conduct a media campaign must mean the bond measure is in trouble. With approximately 1/3 of the votes already cast, the media campaign is awfully late. How much effect will it have?

We will soon know.

bossyman15 said...

ummm the FINAL EIR pdf doesn't work.
says its not pdf or is corrupted.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Thanks for the catch, bossyman15. I had taken that HTML from a post earlier this year, but in the meantime the CHSRA website underwent a revamp. The links should now work properly.

As to your claims, earl g., I'm guessing you never do plan to acknowledge the existence of our Cox-Vranich smackdown.

Anonymous said...


What is right is I don't take anything your "cox-vranich" smackdown says as convincing. Why should I?

You are a history professor and those guys are experts.

Rafael said...

@ earl g. -

the cost of depending on cheap energy has been endless war in Iraq and the worst financial meltdown since the 1930s.

Yes, the war in Iraq was ostensibly due to the fear that Saddam was once again developing WMDs and would use them against the US or her allies. However, the US did not take military action against Pakistan or North Korea when they were doing the same. The difference? Iraq has oil, lots of it.

And yes, high gasoline prices did not cause the housing asset bubble, they merely caused it to burst. However, the reason so many decided to buy McMansions far from their place of work is that gasoline and other forms of energy were cheap until just a few years ago.

Arguing that renewable electricity is 2.5-3 times more expensive than electricity generated from fossil fuels ignores the economic risks associated with depending on the latter. It's penny-wise and pound-foolish.

Anonymous said...

Yesterday in an interview on KCBS, Judge Kopp apparently has now changed the financing plans for the project.

He now says, that the Federal government will pay for one-half of funding the project. No mention of private funds. He also claims that these federal funds will be available.

He talks about the recently passed transportation bill which included funds for High Speed rail --- 1.9 billlion --- over 5 years.

This project by the Authority's own low ball estimates of $33 billion for the core segment would require $16.5 billion for this project. What about the rest of the country?

The Sierra club's Tim Frank makes the statement the other day that 1/3 of the children in the central valley have asthma and that is due to the poor air quality in the valley which is caused by all the auto traffic on I-5. HSR was going to improve the air quality in the valley. He says it is a moral issue, that we must have high speed rail to protect those children's health.

That argument was made here by Robert and of course it is without substance. Yes, you can remove pollutants from autos by replacing some auto trips with HSR. The number projected is at the most 6% of the auto trip being removed.

But then you are going to bring in hundreds of thousands of new jobs to the central valley and with new jobs come new families and lots more autos. The quality of air in the valley goes way down not up.

And of course, the new population will still require the expansion of the highways; there will be no $80 billion saved in highway construction. The Due Diligence report put highway saving at 0.8 billion max.

The project is a fairy tale. Dozens of newspapers have recognized that and have urged a no vote on Prop 1A.

This week will see a media blitz financed by stake holders who stand to gain greatly by one means or another if the project ever undergoes construction.

Only a few days more of this thank heavens.

Anonymous said...


In your comment to Earl g. you say:

"And yes, high gasoline prices did not cause the housing asset bubble, they merely caused it to burst. However, the reason so many decided to buy McMansions far from their place of work is that gasoline and other forms of energy were cheap until just a few years ago.

Arguing that renewable electricity is 2.5-3 times more expensive than electricity generated from fossil fuels ignores the economic risks associated with depending on the latter. It's penny-wise and pound-foolish.

There wre plenty of other reasons then high gas prices that burst the housing bubble. The root cause is that the financing was not sustainable from the very beginning. With no regulation, no money down, escalating interest rates after initial teaser rates expired, these sub-prime loans were doomed from the start. The root cause was greed on the part of developers and lenders, with which fancy schemes involving derivatives Wall street went on a major joy ride.

The high oil price bubble has burst because of a moderate shrinkage of demand. How low gas prices will go remains to be seen, but for sure a year from now, the so trumpeted new wave of train riders will have gone back to their old ways; back into their auto.

Why families bought their large homes and were willing to commute long distances was due to more then low gas prices. It was a life style that was not affordable to them in the urban areas.

Here in Menlo Park a few years ago there were 3 below market rate homes that the City had to buy since the developer could not sell them. Below market rate you understand, well below market rate. The young families that well could afford to buy these homes chose instead to buy larger homes across the bay. Eventually the City finally sold these homes, but there are just many families who don't want to live in higher density complexes, regardless of the price.

On the renewable energy issue, electrical power is about 50% generated by coal fired plants in this county. We have no shortage or dependence on foreign sources for coal. We could also be building nuclear, which is coast effective as well.

Rafael said...

@ morris brown -

"On the renewable energy issue, electrical power is about 50% generated by coal fired plants in this count[r]y."

Not in California, which doesn't even permit imports of electricity from coal-fired power plants any longer. Coal releases twice as much CO2 per kWh as natural gas. Geothermal, solar, wind and biogas are carbon-neutral.

"We have no shortage or dependence on foreign sources for coal. We could also be building nuclear, which is co[]st effective as well."

Since when is nuclear power cost-effective? After 50 years, the civilian nuclear industry still has no long-term repository for its waste products anywhere in the world. The true cost of nuclear power will be borne by future generations.

Besides, you cannot operate aircraft on electricity. Electric cars are expensive and suffer from very limited range. Electric trains are pretty much the only way to shift a significant fraction of the state's transportation sector off its dependence on oil.

Anonymous said...


I look at the electricity power generation on a country wide basis. While California may not permit coal fired plants to furnish any of our electrical power, in my mind it all comes from a huge pot; we just end up paying more on imported power by saying it can't come from coal powered plants.

Yes the chemistry of burning coal is bad on CO2 production. I stick to my guns on nuclear.

Here we are looking to that citadel of forwarding looking countries like France according to this blog, because they have High Speed Rail. They also generate, I think, 80% of their electricity from nuclear plants. Nuclear is coming back; it is cost effective and the waste materials can be handled. I think the Jane Fondas have finally lost this argument.

In point of fact, the huge elephant on power generation is not from what sources it can be generated, but how in the world are we going to be able to generate enough. That is really scary. Read some materials from Nathan Lewis at CalTech.

Robert, I apologize for getting off on a tangent like this -- this blog should stay focused on Prop 1A and HSR.

Spokker said...

I'm for nuclear power as well. I've said before that to fix our country's problems we need nuclear power, high speed trains, and legalized marijuana.

Brandon in California said...

The Due Diligence Report is opinion masked as a credible and objective work. But, it forwards zero original planning work.

Much of the Due Diligence reports is based on claims related to ridership. If ridership is lower, GHGs will be lower, fares would be lower, and required operating subsidy will be higher. It lines California HSR up as if it is a house of cards ready to fail.


The Diligence report forwards zero substantive original work. Its own ridership projection is pulled out of a hat. No background information is provided in how they themselves come up with a number.

It's like... "Oh, I like that number; it tells the story I want to say!"

So, where's the diligence in that?

Nope, instead the diligence report Pulls out all high speed rail rider projections done in the past; and compares them. It sets the latest CHSRA figure aside and says,

“See how this one is so different! It must be wrong! So, here is ours. Never mind that we did not employ a firm experienced in this matter, or we ourselves do not have experience in this, trust us and our 190-page report and pretty graphs and pictures, our number pulled out of a hat is more credible. Never mind that the CHSRA hired one of the most well respected and talented firms in the world (Cambridge Systematic’s) to project ridership, it’s bogus and ours is better.”

Rob Dawg said...

Not in California, which doesn't even permit imports of electricity from coal-fired power plants any longer.

News to the LADWP which gets sometimes as much as 65% of its power from coal fired plants in Nevada, Arizona and Utah.

Anonymous said...

@brandon in San Diego
who writes:

The Diligence report forwards zero substantive original work. Its own ridership projection is pulled out of a hat. No background information is provided in how they themselves come up with a number.

Nonsense good sir:

Just letme add, the FRA and Berkeley came up with about the same numbers as the Due Diligence Report. How many experts are you going to refute?

Joseph Vranich's testimony and some documentation can be found here.

I just keep wondering why you, who lives in a region that is really cut off from this project, supports it. My own opinion is a LA to San Diego routing, and I don't mean by a detour out to Riverside, would be an excellent place for HSR, and not in a phase two, but a primary need right now. That route is heavily traveled and congested, a HSR link would make sense on most criteria.

Tony D. said...

E.G. writes,
"The late arrival of $2 million to conduct a media campaign must mean the bond measure is in trouble." Nice try E.G. of trying to spin a positive into a negative. I, along with many family and friends, have already voted absentee, and I don't know of anyone who's voted against Prop. 1A. The "late" $2 million will prove to be icing on the cake! By the way, how much have the opponents/Howard Jarvis clowns raised against Prop. 1A? Sounds like it's the high-speed rail naysayers and obstructionists who are in trouble.

Spokker said...

"My own opinion is a LA to San Diego routing, and I don't mean by a detour out to Riverside, would be an excellent place for HSR, and not in a phase two, but a primary need right now."

I agree that it is a primary need right now, and if I were in charge, LA-SD would be first. The Surfliner is the second most popular corridor in the Amtrak system. Metrolink and Coaster trains also run through this corridor.

But the question is, where do you put a high speed SD-LA line? The coastal route is filled with beachfront NIMBYs who do not want electric wires in front of their property. San Juan Capistrano also appears to be a bottleneck to Metrolink/Amtrak and would probably pose further problems for HSR. The area is also historical and would be very resistant to cahnge. I wonder how difficult bypassing Capistrano would be.

The other option would be to follow the Metrolink 91 line to Corona and head south through Perris along the 15. But if you're going to do this you might as well plop down a station in Riverside.

The routing through Riverside would still be faster than driving or the current Surfliner service.

Brandon in California said...

If I were in advertising or marketing, I suspect I might be sufficiently satisfied with discussion on ridership in the diligence report. Comparing final numbers in past studies and showing how the latest CHSRA ones are out of whack with them… can ‘sell’ a lot of people.

“The CHSRA numbers are not on the trend line, and, here is my number. Mine IS on the trend line, so people should believe me instead of the CHSRA!” Oh, and please overlook that I don’t provide any of my own original work in coming up with this number and that it’s pulled out of the air. You can believe me; I am on your side as I am a supporter of rail too.

But, my background is more technical, both education and profession. So, I look more closely at the data than the lay person might.

“Where did the numbers come from? What went into them? What’s the methodology? Is it a fair treatment?”

From this perspective, I have no reason to scrutinize the numbers. They are from the bottom-up; based on solid existing data and projected future demographic conditions. Plus, they are from a highly reputable consulting firm. Coincidentally, Kopp said the same thing basically in his Senate T&H testimony.

Instead, what I see is that the diligence report is what it is; an opinion piece presented as analytical report. It says those projections are too high because no other system performs so well today in terms of load factor, passengers per route mile, etc. But, Vranich also admits he doesn’t know the level of service that would be provided!

Go figure that one!

Gee, I don’t know what kind of apple it is, but it’s gonna be bad because the acreage of the field, fertilizer used, and people eat more oranges.

Granted, in the past I looked at the numbers on the back end and at a cursory level asked “How are those numbers going to be accommodated? Longer trains? Double level trains? More frequent service? I believe this is something the authority will need to provide additional information on, but, assumptions can not be made that they could not be accommodated.

On the other question, don’t spend too much time wondering why I support HSR. I believe SD to LA could have a more direct alignment, but that is not a fatal flaw. I also do not subscribe to the notion that San Diego or Sacramento will not get HSR once the initial line is completed. Simply put, elected officials and the public in both areas would not tolerate it. And neither would those in LA, SF, and points in between. As for me, I am like most others that support the project. Some day, I will want to use it to travel for the weekend, for holidays to see family and friends. Or, for work. Or, when I am older, family can visit me in my home for old farts (conceivable in 40 years). I also want to see fewer American dollars sent to the Middle East and end up in the hands of people that hate us and would rather see us obliterated off the planet. In a sense, HSR provides additional national security.

Anonymous said...

@ earl

"You are a history professor and those guys are experts." I've has just about enough of this feeble argument as some kind of valid defense of the "Due Diligence" report by Cox and Vranich. You want to go point-by-point on the refutation of their bogus arguments, fine. Lay your facts out and we'll have a discussion. Decrying "they're experts and you're not" fails to address any of the points that have been raised by this group.

Do you actually subscribe to the notion that that one's "expert" status alone overrides any contradicting research or facts? Since I'm not an expert, and I don't expect you to be satisfied with the above "argument", let me give you some real-world examples from ACTUAL experts:

"I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."
- Thomas Watson
Chairman, IBM (1943)

"This telephone has too many shortcomings to be seriously considered as a means of communication. The device is inherently of no value to us."
- Western Union internal memo (1876)

"There is no reason why anyone would want a computer in their home."
- Ken Olsen
Founder, Digitel Equipment Corp. (1977)

DEC was a LEADING computer company in 1977; clearly their founder was an expert if ever there was one. Those who want to go along with the experts, just remember that when you use the minicomputer down at the office for posting here, you need to keep within your alloted time limits. Conserving company computer time is just as important as not wasting office supplies, after all!

Oh yeah- Those boys at Apple sure had some nerve, going into business in 1976 to build home computers, didn't they. They obviously neglected to consult the "experts".

Anonymous said...

@ ry:

That's the most piss poor argument I've ever heard. You're quoting mistakes that have been made by so-called experts.

Were people like the IBM Chairman and Bill Gates who made the infamous memory comment experts on the demand for computers? No, these are the designers and inventors of certain products. They spent their lifetime inventing, creating, tweaking, and perfecting their products. There are other individuals that Morris and Earl have quoted that spend their lifetimes researching the demand of such products and in this case HSR.

Moreover, by citing specific examples where "experts" have made mistakes does not discredit another report, because honestly, Robert Cruikshank's own opinion is not any more credible than an expert's. In fact, I would take the word of an expert any day over a history TEACHER not professor.

But seriously, if you were going to use those quotes as examples as to why not to listen/accept reports that are written specifically about HSR and then take articles that talk about the New Deal and apply it to HSR, then you're drawing conclusions from the wrong statements.

Anonymous said...

@ qwerasdf

You're missing my point. I am not using those examples to discredit the report itself. I am using those quotes to discredit the ARGUMENT that, because the report was the work of "experts" while the criticism is not, everything in the report should be treated as gospel. My point is that experts still need to back up their claims with real and correctly-researched evidence, otherwise at best, they're just claims; or worse, fabrication.

So, you've got a bunch of non-experts pointing at serious flaws in the C-V report. Either explain the flaws or don't, but re-using the same snobby "he's an expert and you're a nothing" line as the major defense of the documented inferiorities in C-V is becoming a tiresome distraction.

Tony D. said...

Awesome posts! In the eyes of the naysayer and obstuctionist, an "expert" is someone who shares their views only, plain and simple.

Spokker said...

The recent posts by ry, earl, and qwerdasf or whatever his name is, is part of the fun of observing the drama and struggle that is transit advocacy.

Keep it up :)

Anonymous said...

I'll throw in for nuclear power. Gonna need it to power the HSR!

Brandon in California said...

Well, for what it is worth, energy for energy, I'd rather have more nuclear power and less foreign oil imports if I had the choice.

Anonymous said...

California's electric-generation profile in 2007:

Natural Gas - 45.2%
Nuclear - 14.8 %
Coal* - 16.6%
Large Hydro - 11.7%
Renewable - 11%

* Represents a mix of in-state and out of state electricity. In-state electricity production from coal is 1.8% of California's total energy portfolio.

Anonymous said...

The opponents to HSR who put their trust in "experts" should read the tale of the radial tire on wikipedia.
When Michelin launched it in 1948, most tiremakers bought the license
and the old bias-ply tire was soon abandoned in all countries, except the US. Why?
Well, radials had two big defects: less rolling resistance (=less money spent on gasoline) and they lasted twice as long (=less profit for tiremakers). So, a nationwide campaign was started with hundreds of experts showing road tests
proving that radials were dangerous and fragile, and everybody believed them. Until, 20 years later, people started trying radials and discovered the experts had been lying. America went radial like the rest of the world and the irony of it is that BF Goodrich was saved from bankruptcy by Michelin which bought it up.
This shows that you can always find experts ready to affirm anything if you pay them well.
It also shows that blocking progress always comes at a cost.

Anonymous said...

While there is plenty of poking at my relying on Vranich and particularly in this case the projected ridership numbers let me add this.

The report also states that the FRA and Berkeley institute, again experts, agree very closely with Vranich's numbers.

As far as I am concerned this is a blantant case of GI/GO (garbage in = garbage out)

The Cambridge study uses Sensitivity analysis, mathematical models to project their numbers. When you use a fare list $55.00 you drive up the ridership tremendously.

Come on! Today fares in Europe and much higher then $55.00 for similar length trips.

This has all been said before. This train is not going to get close to the ridership numbers using any kind of fare that will permit even close to break even on operating costs. And remember this train is going to operate at major surpluses, such that the private investors can earn a profit and such that these surpluses will fund the expansion of the system.

Believeable? I think not.

If California voters want to fund a project that will cost 60 -80 billion and run a huge deficit every year for operating the train, let that be the will of the voters.

That is not a project I could ever support.