Friday, October 24, 2008

Their Past vs Our Future

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

With just over a week until the votes are counted we are about to learn whether California will embrace the 21st century or go down with the sinking 20th century ship.

Proposition 1A and high speed rail are a cornerstone of California's efforts to build prosperity for the 21st century. The infrastructure that built 20th century prosperity - including those paid for with bonds approved by voters in the depth of the Depression - has taken us as far as it can. California's 20th century prosperity was based on cheap oil, which is beginning to run out.

And yes, it is still running out. Neither the summer price spike nor the current price collapse change the underlying facts - we are reaching peak oil which means long-term supply shortages and price increases. The current decline in prices is due to demand destruction, which means that if people take advantage of lower prices by driving more...the price will again rise. And of course OPEC isn't going to take this lying down - the last time gas prices dropped dramatically, in 1999, was merely prelude to a steady, 8-year, 1300% increase in the price of oil.

Well before gas prices hit $4 this summer they had destroyed the American economy. The housing bubble burst in 2006 - at precisely the moment gas prices hit $3. And which areas have seen the steepest home value declines and the highest foreclosure rates? The car-dependent suburbs. Which areas have held their values and had the lowest foreclosure rates? City centers and neighborhoods with mass transit options.

This was clearly illustrated by a recent episode of NOW on PBS, Driven to Despair. The episode contrasted two young couples - one living in Hemet (east of Riverside) and one living in South Pasadena near the Gold Line. The family living in Hemet was facing serious financial distress and a lower standard of living owing to their dependence on oil. The family living in South Pasadena had more disposable income and a happier life because they were free from that dependence.

On a macro level we have already demonstrated the green dividend that results from building mass transit - a multibillion dollar economic shot in the arm. In the case of high speed rail this will be compounded by the significant economic stimulus of HSR - just as the Golden Gate Bridge and Shasta Dam were in the Depression. 160,000 construction jobs is nothing to sneeze at.

We also need to remember the environmental benefits of high speed rail. It seems global warming and carbon emissions have faded a bit from the public's consciousness which is a shame - pollution and carbon emissions cost money and the longer we delay in reducing them and building a sustainable alternative, the more expensive life will ultimately become here in California.

To ignore all of this and embrace the status quo is to look at a broken economy and shrug and hope we somehow magically recover, and that somehow the conditions that caused the economic downturn will magically disappear. They won't. If California wants to enjoy the kind of widely shared prosperity in the 21st century that we had in the 20th we need to reorient this state away from oil and sprawl and toward urban density and sustainable transportation. HSR will stimulate both.

It's no accident that those lined up to oppose Prop 1A are from that shrinking group that still benefits from the 20th century status quo. The right-wingers at the San Diego Union-Tribune don't want to see their anti-government, anti-transit dreams get shot down by voters. Dan Walters is one of the state's leading defenders of sprawl and small government, so it makes sense that he'd oppose Prop 1A as well.

Then there is the Reason Foundation, which is swimming in oil money. They have every reason to want to kill HSR, which would undermine their anti-government, pro-oil, pro-sprawl agenda. Sure, their arguments are riddled with factual errors and their flagship study lacks credibility. But it's all well and good in the service of defending the status quo, which has failed for America but succeeded for their oil company buddies.

It would seem to me that when a project's opponents are the far right and the oil companies, you're doing something right, you've got a winning idea.

But that's not why HSR and Prop 1A are a good idea. They are the gateway to a more secure, more prosperous California in the 21st century. I do not see why we would listen to those who helped create the current economic failure when they pontificate against Prop 1A.


Anonymous said...

Nicely written. Good to see the 30,000-foot perspective. We can't sit still to fix any of our problems, we need to build our way out of them You can only dream of sitting still if you sit behind high walls and gates.

We need to rebuild or retrofit our towns so people don't all have to drive EVERYWHERE. There is a crisis in transportation because we built so many neighborhoods where kids can't walk to school. Getting ferried here and there, not maturing and making their own way to something as simple as school in a quiet neighborhood, what is this doing to their development for when they grow up and have to find their own way.

We need to move forward, and that's what has worked over time. Bridges, BART, aqueducts, the UC system, the moon project, and even WWII. We didn't hide, we took initiative and built something to make everyone's life better.

Thanks for hosting a discussion where everyone (except those who cut and paste repeatedly) can at least come together and shout at each other.... ; )

Anonymous said...

Micheal Kiesling, about what you said about retrofitting our towns so cars wouldn't be so necessary (skip to aroud 7:40):

Anonymous said...

How about an idea that's only 20 years old, instead of 40? Note how the "radical", published in the Whole Earth Review, has become common thinking.;col1

The original model for the Pedestrian Pocket is the SMART rail line, which is also up for a vote on the 4th in Marin and Sonoma counties.

Calthorpe is past his original idea, now is much more about the walkability than the light rail.

Spokker said...

Prop 8 is overshadowing Prop 1A and the rest of the ballot measures so much it's not even funny.

Prop 1A is on nobody's radar. People are too busy arguing about 8, which shouldn't even be on the ballot, and should be struck down by another judge if it passes.

The most I get out of people when I ask them about Prop 1A is either, "Hm, sounds cool." or, "Hm, sounds gay."

Anonymous said...

Gays and Gay-Friendlies for High-Speed Rail!!

Anonymous said...

Prop1a is being overlooked by the presidential election and prop8 in that very little money was recieved for such an important project. If this was on the ballot this spring It would have seen far greater interest and a large win.I think we still will win as the large progressive turnout will cancel all the old brain thinking.

With only a week or so to go and no real campain money its all grass roots like us to try and get it passed and blunt all the oil/nimby naysayers

Brandon in California said...

^^^ There is also the possibility that more republicans will stay home, rather than vote at all, bcause there s very little that is positive for them in this election. Assuming republicans are the main opponents, that could bode well for 1A.

Or, is that what you were trying to say?

Anonymous said...

There will be many more Democrates
voting than Republicans thats what will help.Not all will vote yes then also there will be Republicans
that will also vote yes and even more so in Fresno and Kern counties
I really think that the young votes will pass this by a nose

Anonymous said...

Yes on 1A ads have been running heavily during morning drive on KFOG in San Francisco for at least the last ten days. I don't know about other stations, but KFOG is one of the bigger FM stations in the Bay Area.

Anonymous said...

Germany’s rail operator Deutsche Bahn has taken nearly 25 per cent of its high-speed train fleet out of service following a derailment.

Here is a link to this very interesting story.

Of course, Judge Kopp keeps denying the fatal derailment of a German train about 10 years ago in which over 100 lives were lost, and he keeps climing no lives have ever been lost due to a high speed train accident. Just another indication of how you can't trust this leadership.

Note also the problems with the Germany system is having when trying to get ging with a private partnership arrangement.

Anonymous said...

@anno....How about the 30,000 that die every year on the nations highways?? have any issues about that? How many deaths have there been on highway 99?

Anonymous said...

For those who care to learn why this project is really a disaster you can read, listen or view Joseph Vranich's testimony before the State Senate Transportation and Housing Committee.

I don't expect any favorable response to this, but some reading this blog might have a more open mind.

I note in an article in the SF Chronicle today, that more than 2 million dollars has been raised, about 3/4 in the last 3 weeks to promote Prop 1A. One only need look at the contributors to realize what this project is all about.

How comfortable are you with this contributions from organizations like this Robert?

Anonymous said...

Dear old morris,
when will we be able to comment on your site and discuss the relevance of the posts? Or is that too open of a mind?

Anonymous said...

The majority of tracks that German high speed trains operate on ARE NOT newly constructed high speed rail lines. They are tracks that are used by all types of trains, including freight. There's an interactive map that shows where different types of high speed trains run in Germany (ICE 1, 2, 3.....) and new (NBS) and upgraded (ABS) lines. Note that the common speed on many sections of German railway are good for 125mph.

The crash at Eschede was horrible. Two things to take away from it are that it happened on a conventional rail line and that there were a lot of lessons learned. Every one of those lessons, and the information coming from the current problem with the ICE axels will all be applied to existing and future trains. Unexpected failures happen, sometimes resulting in a tragedy. But we don't give up. How many airline tragedies have come and gone, while we still fly?

Anonymous said...

Oops, forgot the link to the map:

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 10:21am -

the Eschede disaster was the result of a flawed design for a wheel retrofit. To improve passenger comfort at high speeds on legacy tracks, Deutsche Bahn decided to replace the monoblock wheels of certain ICE trainsets with wheels comprised of an inner hub, a thin rubber layer and an outer steel annulus.

This type of wheel had worked well for standard-speed trains but proved tragically unsafe for one high speed train traveling at 125mph. The outer annulus of one wheel suffered a metal fatigue fracture and detached, with one part penetrating through the floor of the car. An elderly passenger noticed this and went looking for the conductor instead of pulling the emergency brake. After she found him, he also failed to engage that brake. Shortly thereafter, the car derailed in a bend just in front of an overpass.

The faulty wheel design is now banned and anyhow only caused problems in combination with high speed operation on legacy tracks, so the whole Eschede disaster has exactly zero bearing on the proposed California system.

As for Deutsche Bahn's decision to take some 70 ICE-T trainsets (the variety with tilt technology) out of service until they could be inspected, it came after a hairline fracture was discovered in one axle of one such trainset during routine maintenance.

Back in July, an ICE-3 (the non-tilt variety) had indeed derailed soon after leaving a station. No-one was injured, but an axle was found to have broken. It is not yet clear if that was the cause of that particular accident or a consequence.

All this proves is that DB has learned from the Eschede disaster in that it is not taking any chances with passenger safety. Besides, car models are recalled and aircraft models downed for safety reasons much more frequently.

Anonymous said...

Review a history of the development of high speed rail in the United States and its potential future at the transport politic.

Anonymous said...


Yes on 1A for High Speed Trains

High Speed Trains for California needs your support (regardless of where you live). Tired of traffic and automobile pollution? Tired of more and more freeways being our only transportation answer? For once in a long long long time you can vote and support an environmentally friendly transportation option.

If passed in November California High Speed Trains will:

# Create 160,000 construction jobs and 450,000 permanent new jobs - American jobs that can't be outsourced.

# Take 92 million vehicle trips off of the road every year.

# Reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 12 billion pounds a year.

# Reduce our dependence on foreign oil by up to 12.7 million barrels a year.

# Increase commerce and tourism throughout the state.

# Take travelers from the Bay Area to Southern California in 2+ hours, with stops in every major city on the way.

# Set the standard for fast, safe, and efficient transportation in the 21st century.

Campaign site, go to: for Maps, Video, Details, Donate....

ACTBLUE page to donate at:

Brandon in California said...

Anon 10:21am..
In addition to what Rafael mentioned... ICE decided to increase their maintenance efforts, particularly with respect to wheel and tire inspections, until the problem is fixed on each car. That effort means that cars are not available for service as they are cycled through maintence shops at greater frequencies.

The 30% figure does not mean cars are shelved.

For comparison purposes, transit systems typically have a spare ratio... whereas the whole fleet is never fully made available for peak service levels. The spare ratio... the percentage held back... is typically in the 15-20% range. The 30% figure essentially means that the peak spare ratio is about twice normal.

I'd call the ICE's repsonse prudent, but not overly burdensome or fatal to the overall service.

Anonymous said...

OK, I've been lurking on this blog for a couple of weeks now. I can tell you, at least IMO, that you're preaching to the faithful and not converting anyone. There are some nuggets of information but one must get past the hateful rhetoric and socialist keynesian theories to get them. Quite honestly, there were several times that I stopped reading and only later came back tried again.

Disclosure: I have a bachelors in Finance with a minor in Economics. I also have a Master of Aeronautical Sciences. I'm currently semi-retired. I don't work for any oil company or passenger airline or any business that would compete with HSR.

You insult anyone who opposes you with name calling ... not a good way to win and influence people.

You then use red herring and non sequitur arguments to distract the reader ... If an oil company EVER gave funding to an organization, then, apparently in your view, the arguments presented aren't valid and should be ignored. ... In reality, the arguments stand or fail on their merits. BTW, many of the organizations that produce studies supporting anthropogenic global warming were given grants from oil companies ... does that make their findings invalid? By doing that, you're preaching to the left and insulting the intelligence of others ... again, not a good way to win and influence people.

Once you get past that, you throw out antiquated keynesian theories. But then, there are a lot of republocrats who still think that, if done properly, the keynesian theories work. I guess you could also say that if marxism was done properly we'd all be living in a worker's paradise. Yea, well, if a frog had wings he wouldn't bump his butt on the ground.

Now, just because you're a liberal, goracle disciple doesn't mean that there aren't some valid points for debate in your rantings. But I doubt most people really want to wade thru it all. And when they do, you typically call them deniers and proceed to rant and rave.

Now, that I've stated all of that, I do have a question. I've seen the 160,000 jobs number several times but is that on an annual basis or over the lifetime of the project?

Spokker said...

And the opposition declares that because engineering firms and construction unions support Prop 1A, therefore it can only be a pay day for engineering firms and construction unions.

Using inflammatory language such as boondoggle doesn't help their cause either. They call it a scam. Yeah, we're really trying to scam California. God-knows-how-old Quentin Kopp sits at home rubbing his hands together hoping his fiendish scheme comes to fruition. *rolls eyes* People who support the project are insulted all the time in comments, editorials, and other rantings.

Neither side of any proposition refrains from using loaded words and inflammatory language.

Keep in mind that this is also a personal blog and not a news organization.

But no, you're the genius. You know how everybody should act. You sit there as an observer and come in at a time of your choosing and tell us how we're doing it wrong.

Sorry, but politicians in Los Angeles develop hissy fits and walk out of meetings about transportation (check out the Bottleneck Blog for more info). If I want to grow up to be in such a power position I better learn how to sling shit now, not later.

Let's say I make two posts. In one post I include a link to a study that I attempt to support my argument with. In another post I call Morris Brown a "NIMBY shithead". Now which one is more effective?

Neither. It's the Internet.

Spokker said...

"I can tell you, at least IMO, that you're preaching to the faithful and not converting anyone."

For the record, I am not interested in convincing anyone that high speed rail is the answer. I will not contribute to any Yes on 1A campaign. I will not go out and hold signs for 1A. I will not buy a shirt, wear a button, or otherwise advocate for its passage. Listen, I won't deny that people will get rich of this project, and I'm not going to help them. They should be helping me!

I'll tell you what I am interested in. I am interested in arguing over the issue of high speed train. I am interested in observing the drama that unfolds over this issue. I like watching and commenting on characters like Cruickshank, Kopp, Diridon, Morshed, Brown, Vranich, and others who argue about the high speed line.

If you think I'm here to circlejerk with supporters of prop 1A about how great this train is and how great we are for thinking how great this train is, you're right on.

I speak only for myself, of course :)

Anonymous said...

So...Allan after your equally name calling post and labeling people..Are you a Republican? better yet you would not happen to be with the Reason foundation? How are you going to vote? whats your opinion of the project? What do you think of the report that the Reason foundation payed for? Do you live in California? All you have done is rant on about blog

Anonymous said...

Disclosure: I have a bachelors in Finance with a minor in Economics. I also have a Master of Aeronautical Sciences. I'm currently semi-retired. I don't work for any oil company or passenger airline or any business that would compete with HSR.

So another old man with an axe to grind. Is it possible that you've already ruined the world enough? Why not let the young ruin their world on their own?

Robert Cruickshank said...

Allan merely proves my point. Those who oppose this do so not because of the merits of the project but because it doesn't fit with their ideological blinders. "Socialist keynesian theories"? Like those that got the Golden Gate Bridge built?


Anonymous said...

See what I mean ... you attack me and didn't answer my simple question.

No, I'm not a republican nor do I work for the Reason Foundation tho I certainly read their point of view as I've been reading yours.

As for being an old fogey ... not quite yet! I was fortunate to sell a lot of my stock before the crash and I'm living off it. I've worked two jobs for most of my life and decided to get out of the rat race early to enjoy life. My house is paid for so now someone else can make the daily commute while I relax.

Spokker said...

He answered your question in his latest entry titled "Investment".

Anonymous said...

If you're referring to the "generating 128,000 to 130,000 direct and indirect jobs during construction" ... then what happened to the 160,000?

None the less, 128,000 with an avg of $50,000 would be an annual payroll of 6.4 billion ... that's eat into the money pretty quickly.

Spokker said...

Well, slavery was abolished decades ago, bro.