Friday, December 5, 2008

CHSRA Board Meeting December 2008

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

Peter Nelson attended the California High Speed Rail Authority Board Meeting in San José on Wednesday and filed this report. The agenda is here and Peter has organized his report according to each item. Scroll down for some media files - an MP3 of the CHSRA lobbyist's report on federal funding prospects, and a PPT of the Work Program. My comments are in italics. Lots to chew over here!

Peter's report:

1-2, closed doors.

3. Approve Oct. Meeting Minutes - I noticed that at the meeting "Frank Guzzo from Siemens presented an overview of Siemens' progress in high-speed train technology." This sounds like it would have been an interesting presentation, but unfortunately the Authority does not seem to video tape their own meetings. It would be nice if they had something like SFGTV, where every single SF meeting is recorded and placed online. [Robert: Yes, this would be a very good way to encourage citizen engagement and continue to promote a culture of openness at the Authority.]

4. Something about compensation for meetings, I didn't listen.

5. Member's Reports - this was most of the patting themselves on the back. Really nothing of substance. There were also a bunch of people like the San Jose mayor and a Silicon Valley Leadership Group representative that gave generic reports / congratulations.

6. Executive Director's Report. This was the start of any actual substance.

  • They decided they will produce an annual report to the legislature with the past year's progress. Very good idea, and kinda cool that they brought it up on their own without being told to do so. I assume like the other major filings this will appear online (after a few weeks delay).

  • BNSF has indicated that they are open to negotiation and sharing of their Right of Way, unlike most other companies that own track.

  • The executive director is in the process of negotiating a Memorandum of Understanding with Caltrain defining both sides rights/responsibilities. This is so that the shared Caltrain corridor is developed in a coherent fashion by a single joint entity. Along with Caltrain, it was explicitly mentioned that this would involve also talking with the Transbay Joint Powers Association to get to the Transbay Terminal. So despite the media reports, the Transbay Terminal is still their plan. [Robert: Yes, this was indeed always the plan. As we reported last month there are some turf wars going on between CHSRA and the TJPA, some of it over legitimate issues. But conversations continue to happen, which is very good.]

  • The FRA has given a Record of Decision signing off on the SF/Bay Area EIR.

  • All future meetings will be on the 1st Thursday of the month in Sacramento, so this looks to be the only meeting I'll be attending. [Robert: That's probably a sensible cost-savings move, although it would be good to have a few meetings in other locales around the state each year. I'm going to try and make as many of these meetings as possible. Yay for the Capitol Corridor!]

7. Cooperative Agreement with Caltrans. There was some argument about this agreement. The idea was basically to utilize some of their expertise in RoW acquisition and construction inspection, by contracting the work to them. One board member was quite against giving anything to Caltrans that could be done by a private firm, basically anything related to construction. The main concern though was if Caltrans could actually meet reasonable schedules to expedite the work. It was decided that the executive director would negotiate a contract with Caltrans and then bring it back to the board for approval.

8. Federal funding. Most of the meat managed to be within a single 5 minute presentation by one Mark Kadish, the CHSRA's lobbyist in Washington DC (used to be Dianne Feinstein's Chief of Staff). Click here for an MP3 of his presentation. He mentions a number of different funding sources that are being looked into:
  • The Amtrak re-authorization bill with $1.5 billion in it.

  • The new HSR bill Kerry introduced with billions in it.

  • The economic stimulus package everyone is expecting to come into Washington with Obama that will be mostly transit related. Initial wording of the stimulus though is for things that can turn dirt within 180 days, which we are nowhere close to. He mentioned this horizon might be expanded, and they're looking to see if there's anything useful that could be done so quickly (I can't think of anything). [Robert: We'll see about this. There is a lot of momentum and support for a broader stimulus, especially given the likelihood that this recession is going to last a while. Still, this Congress is not known for its grasp of policy or forward thinking, so we will have to work hard to ensure HSR gets stimulus money.]

  • Doing this as an annual appropriation is not realistic, we need to build it into the baseline.

  • Build a coalition for a national program, not a 1-state HSR program. Need to get other states closer to the the CA level in both planning and funding. This will help us get the funding we want, by helping others.

[Robert: As you can hear in the clip, Kadish believes that striking while the iron is hot and ensuring that HSR is part of a stimulus package is key to getting this funded. This site will be part of a grassroots effort come January to ensure that happens.]

There also was a lot of talk about getting more early private investment and reviewing the state of the private investment workings, especially since Lehman Brothers is no more due to going bankrupt. Conclusion was to have a report at the next meeting.

9. Work Program update. Unfortunately this was the point that they broke for lunch and I left. Before leaving I managed to snag the PPT that was going to be presented, and it looks like it would have been an interesting update. Without any notes the PPT by itself is somewhat limited in usefulness, but I've attached it anyway. [Thanks for getting it Peter!]

So ends Peter's report.


Marine Layer said...

I'm reposting this from an earlier comments thread. I came in during prior to the Work Program update:

I attended part of the meeting during my lunch break. I guess I got lucky because board member Curt Pringle had a weather-delayed flight from SNA. Some of the more salient points/questions of which of I took note:

1. Rod Diridon asserted there was a sort of chicken-and-egg scenario regarding trainsets and FRA regulations, which don't quite exist yet in North America for service above 150 mph. Looks like the project team will look to UIC standards, but Diridon wanted to push the envelope, saying "European standards were negotiated to the lowest common denominator for interoperability."
2. The "packaging" of the segments for bidding and operation will be interesting. The urbanized segments should attract lots of attention because of their complexity and potential. What will the operating structure look like in the end?
3. There's hope for early service in the Anaheim-LA and SF-SJ segments.
4. Chairman Kopp wanted to clarify whether the test segment (Merced-Fresno/Bakersfield) would be first. The answer was a bit dodgy, but I think it was affirmative. While it might get built first for testing purposes, there would be no operation until the one or more urbanized sections was complete. It's possible that the urbanized sections, especially SF-SJ, would operate first. The board will have to make a decision on this at some point.
5. When asked about the status of RoW acquisition, Mehdi Morshed replied, "We will need procedures in place, they are not in position to determine which segments are critical." I realize that it's still early in the game, but they have a fairly short period to get all of the planning complete, and RoW acquisition is going to be painful.
6. Some crucial prelim eng work couldn't be completed because of the state budget crisis.

Couldn't stick around for the public comments.

Anonymous said...

Maybe this was answered elsewhere, but regarding stimulus money-

Couldn't they electrify and upgrade the Caltrain tracks? It seems like the electrification has been in the pipeline for a while, so it would seem to be a good candidate for stimulus. Especially if they want the SF-SJ segment to be one of the first. Any thoughts?

Peter said...

Thanks Marine, between the two of us we got the full meeting!

One addition to the Caltrans bit, apparently the original text of Prop 1A mandated that all construction work be done through Caltrans. Thankfully they realized the project would never be done if that was the case, so removed any mention of Caltrans from Prop 1A.

Anonymous said...

I like it that BNSF is willing to share ROW. I wonder if the entire valley route could follow it just the like the current Amtrak trains.
It could switch in Fresno as there is way more room over there for tracks than current station.

Peter said...

Davisgrad: not really. As I mentioned CAHSR and Caltrain are working on a MOU between the two parties. Once that's complete and after some more engineering work, the corridor will be electrified for both parties at once. It doesn't seem very useful to start doing anything exclusively for Caltrain, and then tear it down within 3 years to start HSR work.

Alex M. said...

Wow, a lot of great stuff in here. I would bet on the Merced-Bakersfield segment being completed first. It's a relatively simple (I think) segment and will set the wheels turning (pun intended) towards approval for the trainsets, something the urban section obviously need to begin service. Starting SF-SJ and LA-Anaheim service early sounds like a fantastic idea, although the trains would have to terminate at 4th and King. Although the TTC will most likely be completed by the time electrification/renovation is completed on the Caltrain route, the DTX won't be. If they are able to get these services up and running around 2015 it would bring money in while construction was still progressing on the other parts of the route. Both urban segments would be extremely successful right off the bat (the Caltrain baby bullet became extremely popular after it opened on the SF-SJ route). It will be interesting to see how all of this plays out. Thanks for the info!

Alex M. said...

This is where I got 2015 by the way.

Brandon in California said...

I can understand the reasoning for Federal requirements that stimulus funds being used for substantive things, such as turning dirt. Things of substance get money into the economic stream faster and get us back on a road to recovery.

The faster the better.

However, purchasing ROW from PRIVATE entities could do the same thing. PRIVATE entities is highlighted intentionally and I am sure the reason 'why' is evident.

Private parties, like ma and pa, or the corner business owner, can turn those funds around faster to put them back into the market. This could have a similar affect as turning dirt.

Marine Layer said...

One other thing I picked up from the board's questions: there's a collective feeling that in order to get all of the money they're going to ask for, they need to quickly show progress. That's why a lot of the discussion was about trainsets and the test segment. The quicker they can get the test segment built and have trains at or around 220 mph, the better everyone will feel about the project. It's truly a shame that in this country, we have no companies pioneering in the rail industry. Even from a purely political lobbying standpoint it'd be helpful.

bossyman15 said...

heh nice the powerpoint ends with a quote from christopher reeve

Rafael said...

1. What the Obama transition team can do to facilitate turning dirt early:

- make Joe Biden Secr. of Transportation in addition to his role as VP

- let him hire a competent FRA chief who will steer the agency toward a more neutral position on passenger vs. heavy freight rail services

- make it clear to freight railroads that co-operation with selected passenger rail projects, e.g. offering ROW on reasonable terms, will be rewarded, e.g. via breaks on property taxes, grants toward cleaner locomotives etc.

2. What the state of California can do to grab a large slice of stimulus funding:

- draw up a list of all infrastructure project that have already been approved and secured funding at the state level

- sort these projects by maturity, beginning with those that have already broken ground, followed by those that are ready to break ground etc.

- define a legal path to map bond authorities and tax hikes tied to specific projects that could be eligible for stimulus funding to less mature projects like HSR. This switcheroo may well require explicit omnibus authorization from voters, since the proposition process earmarks bond authority for specific projects.

Example: say, a levee project in the Sacramento river delta is already active and currently funded by GO state bonds. Take whatever portion of that specific bond authority is not yet exercised and map it to HSR, to be exercised at a later date. Then, use federal stimulus funds to proceed with the levee project.

This has two advantages: first, it allows California to better leverage its large portfolio of relatively mature infrastructure projects to maximize its share of any near-term federal stimulus package.

It's much easier for Congress to support those than it is for them to give California a bridging loan to meet recurring expenses. The top priority for Congress is to stimulate the economy via projects that yield tangible and valuable public assets.

If in addition, the arrangement ensures that "sexy" projects like HSR that also address national energy security will get built without additional federal funding several years down the road, it becomes that much easier for Congress to prioritize California over other states that have fewer mature projects in the pipeline.

Second, a switcheroo would let California defer the actual sale of additional GO bonds to a time when the credit markets will be more willing and able to lend to the state again. That should not only reduce the cost of borrowing, but also prevent GO debt service from eating the state budget alive during the recession. This way, the state will not have to put active and near-term infrastructure projects on hold simply because it has a cashflow problem and is constitutionally bound to balance its budget.

Andrew said...

Maybe this is crazy, but I wonder if there's any impetus to get some big foreign investment in CAHSR? I was thinking specifically of JR, perhaps if they were offered a decent stake in the project they could send some engineers with seismic safety expertise and arrange for easy acquisition of the Kawasaki trainsets. SNCF or Deutsche Bahn might be worth approaching as well.

I've heard noises about a CAHSR forum or wiki being made around here, have either of those gotten off the ground?

無名 - wu ming said...

JR would be especially appropriate, given the same seismic issues.

Rafael said...

@ Andrew, Wu-Ming -

investment by a foreign operator seems unlikely, but foreign HSR technology vendors will likely be asked to invest in kind, i.e. they receive shares rather than cash for their wares, incl. overhead catenary, signaling, anti-trespass infrastructure and engineering consulting services.

Another option is for them to lease rather than sell trainsets etc. There's a spectrum of possibilities for them to take on some ridership risk.

BruceMcF said...

@ Brandon ... the focus on actual government spending on newly produced goods and services is because of the tendency of some people receiving cash in a time like this to pay down debt rather than spend it on consumption ... $700b on "stimulus payments" could lose $200b or $300b of impact that way. With direct government expenditure, the first round gets its full impact first, before there's a chance for it to start leaking out.

@ Rafeal ... logrolling to make the regional transport and transit pies bigger, and to ensure that rail is not squeezed out of its share of share of either, is likely to be more successful than focusing on expanding California's share. The more states with a stake in "High Speed Rail" (so-called) projects continuing to get funding, the easier it will be to get funding for real HSR.

Rafael said...

@ BruceMcF -

I am very supportive of other HSR efforts around the US. However, the only one that appears to have any legs at all is in the NEC. And even there, the EIR/EIS work that must be done before ground can be broken is nowhere near completion - they haven't even decided on a route yet.

Florida, Texas, the Midwest, Atlanta-Chattanooga-Nashville and Las Vegas-Disneyland are all in embryonic stages at best.

So frankly, I don't see how being supportive of other HSR projects will increase California's chances of securing stimulus funding earmark specifically for its own HSR project, since that is a longer-term project. If "logrolling", as you call it, facilitates the flow of billions of federal stimulus dollars into the California economy such that HSR can still get built, what's wrong with that?

Of course, if California can get the Feds to chip in on both near-term levee and road projects (e.g. seismic retrofits)now and HSR later on, no logrolling will be required. I just suspect that Congress' appetite for infrastructure spending will be short-lived, simply because the total amount of public debt has gone through the roof under the Bush administration and, is set to rise sharply due to the various bailouts and stimulus packages. At some point fairly soon, Congress will start to get fiscal indigestion.

Anonymous said...

Well todays google news has some peeks at the stimulus plan and at least in the media nothing about high speed rail,just the usual roads and bridges and retofiting govermnent buildings.
Is there any rail project as far along as CAHSR? I wonder if this project will get any money out of this as it not ready in "180days"

Rafael said...

@ yeson1a -

precisely, no other HSR project is anywhere near as mature as the one in California, and even that is still a couple of years from breaking ground.

That's why logrolling would permit indirect federal funding of HSR in the context of immediate stimulus spending.

The state of California should argue that it already has billions of dollars worth of infrastructure projects in progress, far more than most other states. It needs stimulus money to keep all of these projects on track because its tax base is shrinking so fast and it is obliged to balance next year's budget. No federal money = more unemployed.

The quid pro quo would be that California funds a larger fraction of HSR itself, an arrangement made possible by remapping already existing bond authorizations in response to receipt of federal stimulus funds.

Rafael said...

For context on how this stimulus program will work, see PEBO's Dec 6 address.

Key phrase: "use it or lose it", as in "use it asap".

At first glance, that would appear to rule out directing federal stimulus funds to core components of HSR, such as the SF-SJ and LA-Anaheim sections. It wouldn't be very useful to electrify Caltrain or to raise platforms right away if much of that had to be redone later on in the context of adding HSR tracks and grade separations.

Therefore, I stand by my earlier suggestion of "logrolling" for the bulk of federal matching funds for HSR if indeed, the full sum is available now or not at all.

However, there are perhaps some aspects of the HSR project that could break ground within 180 days.

Tunnel construction is one such aspect. There is some 80 miles total (40 miles x 2 tubes) in the starter line. It is very likely that tunneling will be the long pole in the tent. Therefore, it's a good idea to get as early a start on that as possible.

CHSRA has already conducted preliminary studies of the available alignment choices using QUANTM, a specialized software package developed in Australia. Now, it would finalize the alignments after conducting additional seismic testing and exploratory drilling in the candidate area to gain better insight into geological details. ROW isn't an issue for tunnels as such, but it is for the approaches to them, so it is important to ensure that doesn't become a problem later on. BNSF has indicated it is interested in negotating, but UPRR - which owns the preferred alignment between LA and Merced, has not.

This also relates directly to the construction of the test track between Merced and Bakersfield, with the additional complication of how to implement the section through downtown Fresno.

The future maintenance facility, reportedly to be sited at Castle Airport near Merced, would be another opportunity for breaking ground in the near term.

Finally, the TTC in San Francisco is close to breaking ground. Federal funds to secure construction of the DTX tunnel (or an alternative approach via 101 from Brisbane) would help avoid potentially expensive delays.

SJ Diridon, LA US and Anaheim ARTIC are other stations on which work could perhaps start sooner rather than later.

SJ Diridon will need to accommodate not just UPRR, Amtrak, ACE, Caltrain and HSR but also VTA light rail and BART plus buses, taxis, parking and bicycle infrastructure. I'm not sure how far along the plans for that building are.

LA US needs run-through tracks, perhaps some of those can be built even before the new station architecture is finalized.

ARTIC should be built such that the upper level is strong enough to support a future alignment along hwy 57, perhaps extended along I-5 to Torrey Pines and on to San Diego. A solution for getting passengers to the region's biggest attraction, Disneyland, should also be part of the design.

My personal preference would be a tunnel under the Magic Kingdom so Metrolink can run trains between LA US and Anaheim via Paramount and Cypress. A spur from Paramount to a subway loop past the terminals at Long Beach airport, with access from both LA US and Anaheim could be part of that HSR feeder project.

Note that the $950 million earmarked for HSR feeders in prop 1A are, in principle, eligible for federal matching funds. BART to SJ is also eligible for a federal contribution and probably ready to break ground real soon now.

Anonymous said...

I was under the impression that Fresno-bakersfield is to follow the BNSF ROW at least on the 2008 plan. It could follow this the entire Merced-Bakersfield route avoiding a fight with UP. Fresno is the only problem as the BNSF is narrow there.I know they want Downtown stations though working with BNSF things could be underway much faster than a long court fight and maby would count towards getting some of this money

Anonymous said...

yeson1a - I don't see a problem with using the BNSF ROW for the initial segment. The problem is with the Sacto spur. The BNSF ROW only serves the outskirts of Modesto, and BNSF has no tracks north of Stockton. From Stockton to Sacto, UP is the only game in town.

Rafael said...

@ yeson1a, mike -

my understanding was that CHSRA wanted downtown stations throughout the CV, which would imply the UPRR corridor. Fresno wants all heavy rail in that corridor, freight and passenger.

This is also the route described in the final program EIR/EIS and in the 2008 business plan (chapter 2).

Now, if UPRR absolutely refuses to play ball, they may have to switch back to the UPRR alignment between Fresno and south Stockton. That would put the Merced and especially the Modesto station outside the downtown areas, though.

On the plus side, Amtrak San Joaquin service would be a useful HSR feeder in its current corridor. The BNSF ROW also runs right past Castle Airport, the proposed site of the central maintenance facility.

South of Fresno, CHSRA had decided on the BNSF ROW via Wasco anyhow because it provides better access to Bakersfield station.

That leaves the section inside Fresno as the trickiest bit. HSR may have to run along an aerial on top of the UPRR tracks there. The BNSF ROW runs through residential areas of Fresno, making express service at 220mph through there a problematic proposition.

BruceMcF said...

Therefore, I stand by my earlier suggestion of "logrolling" for the bulk of federal matching funds for HSR if indeed, the full sum is available now or not at all.

The term logrolling means a group of legislators all supporting each other's projects so that they can all get through, when each one on its own would be at risk of failing to get through.

(And as an aside, the political scientists have much better technical terms than economists do ... logroll and pork barrel and brine barrel and gerrymander, compared to real GDP and optimal price and marginal cost benefit ratio ... there just is no competition.)

The Kerry-Specter bill is a classic logroll, where the California and Northeastern delegations each get support for their HSR project by agreeing to set up a class of project that both fit inside, and then that is logrolled by combining that funding with funding for a broader range of semi-HSR projects.

Its easy to see how Arlen Specter is the Republican co-sponsor, with the NEC running through Philadelphia and the Keystone Corridor running from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh.

Anonymous said...

looking at the CHSRA site google map it is an aerial they have planned for the center of Fresno. And the BNSF thru Fresno is tight
They could use BNSF all the way and cut over North of the city and then take the BNSF south as planned
The Downtown station for some of the Valley cities might be oversold
as people there really use there cars/trucks for everthing and just like going to the airport they are going to want to drive and park at the HSR station with the least amount of hassel.It should be easier to build along the BNSF instead of UP intown ROW and might look kinda like French LGV lines. And that sounds nice!

Anonymous said...

Sorry its Bakersfield that they have an aerial line

Anonymous said...

I should also note that although UP is the only game in town from Stockton to Sacto, they actually have two corridors between these two cities. The corridor to the west (which is what I believe CHSRA wants to use) is the old Western Pacific ROW while the corridor to the east is the old Southern Pacific ROW. So even if CHSRA uses the old WP ROW, UP still has room to add additional track on this section. Furthermore, there's actually a third corridor to the east of the old SP ROW that is owned by Central California Traction Company. It's not in use, but it's being reserved for future use if necessary. So definitely no shortage of potential capacity between Stockton and Sacto.

Anonymous said...

Who knew this was gonna be so complicated. well of course we all did. Still, it seems like they should start building now. all these agencies vying for power. And not to mention, what is the plan for dealing with palo alto and Atherton - the folks there are having a hissy fit about the train going though and "ruining" their towns. they are gonna sue. I do think there needs to a campaign of people contacting congress to really push to include this in the initial stimulus. I also think that obama may be holding back right now an playing it safe until he gets in. If he starts including things like special sexy stuff - hsr for cali - people may be critical. highway talk is always a safe bet. lets wait and see.

Rafael said...

@ BruceMcF -

ah, I misinterpreted the term "logrolling". What I was referring to is shifting the funding of current projects from state to federal and that of future projects like HSR from federal to state, such that the total state burden remains unchanged (though partially deferred).

@ yeson1a, mike -

I'm not sure just how much flexibility CHSRA still has, the EIR/EIS refers to specific corridors that are usually not all that wide. They had initially selected the BNSF alignment between Fresno and Stockton but then switched to the UPRR ROW.

North of Stockton, the idea was to bypass Lodi and then approach the new Sacramento station from the east, via Elk Grove.

@ Jim -

those towns were founded after the railroad was built. Atherton is suing against the Bay Area to Central Valley EIR/EIS in a vain attempt to delay to stop the project. Palo Alto is split on whether it wants a station, many residents fear that would create a lot of additional traffic. I'm not aware of plans to sue, though.

Anonymous said...

I would like to see some construction start somewhere asap, I think it makes sense to just use BNSF since they are cooperative and UP is a real pain. the MCD to BFD test track should be first along with the storage and maintenance facility at MCD. Thats the core and will be most incentive for the urban areas to hook up to it quickly.