Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Stimulus Update

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

Good news from the floor of the US House of Representatives: the Nadler amendment described yesterday was approved by the full House and is now part of the stimulus. The Nadler amendment would:

According to Nadler's floor speech, 1.5 billion will go to the transit capital formula program, which goes to all states, and 1.5 billion to the new starts program. The AFL-CIO and environmental organizations will "score" this amendment, he said, meaning they'll factor members' votes on this issue into their scorecard ratings for each Representative. Since it was a voice vote, though, we don't know who opposed the amendment, making that impossible.

John Mica (R-FL), ranking member of the Tranportation Committee and the House's leading pro-transit Republican, called this "an amendment we have to support." The Appropriations committee, he said, "took one of the most important parts out: that's the rail and transit." Transit infrastructure creates jobs, he said. "Support the Nadler amendment!"

Transportation Chairman James Oberstar (D-MN) said, "we heard very clearly from the major transit agencies in this counrty. They have options for buses. They have options for railcars that could be exercised within days." Manufacturers can ramp up production and create jobs all across the county.

Apparently members of Congress reported "phones ringing off the hook" about the Nadler amendment. Americans are fired up about passenger rail, and so is the House - which also defeated a ridiculous amendment from Arizona Republican Jeff Flake that would have eliminated all Amtrak funding in the stimulus.

It's true that HSR is not directly funded through the Nadler amendment, but its victory is very important for us anyway. HSR wins when passenger rail wins. The more lines that are built, the more people that ride rails, the more Americans who come to see the benefit of passenger trains and who will support efforts to fund them. Along those lines the Nadler amendment victory also shows that passenger rail is a political winner on Capitol Hill, and that can only help our cause when it comes to actual HSR funding.

Next up is the Senate, where we're likely going to have to fight this battle again. And this is where we will need Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein in particular to step up big for passenger rail.

UPDATE: Corinne Brown's response to the moronic Jeff Flake, who argued that Amtrak shouldn't be funded because after nearly 40 years it hasn't shown a profit:

There is no form of transportation that pays for itself. None whatsoever. Whether we're talking about rail, airlines, cars, none of that. We subsidize all of that.

I love it when someone talks sense like that. The Overhead Wire has more.


Sacramentan said...

Both Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein supported Prop 1A and asked to voters to vote for it. Without Federal support the voters choice could/will be a hallow victory?

timote said...

Off-topic, but interesting read from another blog I read:

Dukakis talking about HSR and lower speed (110-125 mph) service.

Rafael said...

@ Sacramentan -

there's no need to be quite so pessimistic. First, HSR as such cannot spend many billions quickly on anything other than ROW acquisition, which wouldn't put a lot of people to work right away. Some of the related projects, notably the SFTT, the BART extension to SJ, Caltrain electrification and the run-through tracks for LA Union Station may be good fits.

The Senate appropriations committee, of which DiFi is a ranking member, passed its version of the bill earlier today. It cuts highway spending from $30 to $27 billion and adds $2 billion specifically for HSR in the pre-approved corridors. Some of that will no doubt go toward amelioration of the NEC, but California is well ahead of the other corridors in terms of project maturity.

The Senate version also cuts dedicated transit spending by a few hundred million yet bulks up the general infrastructure slush fund that will be more or less at Ray LaHood's discretion* from the $2.5 billion in the amended version passed by the House to $5.5 billion.

*There are general requirements regarding competitive bidding, state contributions and priority for projects that can break ground within 120 days. Otherwise, the Secr. of Transportation is free to select which projects to allocate funds to.

The Senate version of the bill will now go to the full Senate. Whatever that chamber ends up passing must then be reconciled with the House version. It seems unlikely that the total available for infrastructure, incl. commuter and intercity passenger rail, will be cut back down - it's something voters all over the US really want more of.

Rafael said...

@ timote -

how ironic. A post on HSR appears in WIRED's "Cars 2.0" blog.

Also: "The president's $825 billion economic stimulus package includes $30 billion for rail and mass transit projects" - if only! The version passed by the house actually more like $30 billion for highways and $11.5 billion for rail and mass transit plus $2.5 billion not tied to a particular technology.

Still, it's good to see that Mike Dukakis is keeping up to date with rail and transit issues nationwide. In many parts of the country, rapid rail at 110-125mph would indeed make more sense than a California-style brand-new network because it could be done without full grade separation up front. He just seems quite unaware of the difficulties involved in getting the freight rail companies and FRA to co-operate with a resurgence of medium-distance intercity passenger rail.

Alon Levy said...

The stimulus bill just passed the full House without a single Republican vote.

Spokker said...

Korea's stimulus is called the "Green New Deal" according to their Deputy Minister of Strategy and Finance.

"In addition, the Green New Deal is expected to serve as a bridge between Korea's short-term goal of creating jobs and giving a badly needed stimulus to the economy, and its longer-term goal of changing the Korean economy's fundamentals. For example, expanding the railway network, which produces relatively little pollution, may stimulate the economy in the short term. But over the longer term, it would make our transportation industry more energy-efficient, ultimately raising the overall competitiveness of the industry."

Right up front rail is on their minds. China, too, is rapidly expanding their railway network as part of their own stimulus.

Yet we continue to focus on dangerous and inefficient highways. Shrug.

Anonymous said...

This is good news- the amendment and the stimulus. While there are shortcomings, keep in mind this is only the very beginning of the administration and we still have year after year to push for rail spending.

Rafael said...

Thomas page on the 11 amendments to original text of HR 1 that actually made it to a floor vote on Thursday.

Of those that were approved, the ones of most interest to this HSR blog are these two:

1. H.Amdt.12 to H.R. 1 sponsored by Rep. Oberstar (D-MN8) to require that transportation grant recipients enter into obligations amounting to at least 50% of the total within 90 days (was 120 or 180 days).

Note the language: recipients only need to get a construction contract for half their grant signed prior to the deadline. There is no requirement to actually break ground prior to the deadline, though the legislative intent is obviously that the work should commence as soon as possible after the contract is signed.

4. H.Amdt.15 sponsored by Rep. Nadler (D-NY8) et al. to boost transportation spending by $3 billion.

Note that only $1.5 billion is specifically pre-allocated to transit, the remainder is left to the discretion of the Secr. of Transportation (Ray LaHood) for "capital investments" in roads, airports, intercity rail or transit.

Anonymous said...

Rafael's first comment raises a philisophical/moral/political question I think we might want to consider - Would we actually support using the ECONOMIC STIMULUS package for the purpose of EMINENT DOMAIN (ie: ROW aquisition). In a time when people's property values are severely depressed, availability of mortgage credit is very scarce, people are out of jobs, their retirement nest eggs and other sources of back up funds are crippled... (and people who live directly along tracks are generally the lower socioeconimic household in ~any~ socioeconomic area), are we really talking about pushing people out their homes with THIS funding? This would be an astoundingly ugly play by HSR or CHSR. Do we think DiFi, Pelosi, Newsom, Kopp, Diridon, Arnold, etc - would they really stand up behind this? Sounds like political suicide if you ask me. Or are a few people getting a little caught up in the moment, and not really thinking straight here?

timote said...

Anonymous @ 9:50 am-

I don't think that is the intent. The process is on a particular timeline, and obtaining ROW may well coincide with depressed market realities, I'm not sure that can be helped (although for the record I think the number of people "pushed out of their homes" is small - the ROW as it exists is mostly sufficient). What is your proposal? That we wait an additional few years for the economy to recover in order to proceed? That would be exceedingly ugly for everyone in terms of costs.

The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few - that is the whole concept of eminent domain.

Anonymous said...


What the US/California will need to do is to start designing for the future; that is, if the state wants to continue attract high quality business and investment from all over the world.

Clearly, the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) cannot see much more expansion, and the airport was not even originally designed to handle 747-sized aircraft. If a new state-of-the art airport is not planned for in the near term, maintaining current operations will lead to an uncompetitive performance and might even put the Los Angelels global brand at risk.

In the early 1970s, Los Angeles World Airport agency, under the leadership of Executive Director Clifton A. Moore, began buying land in Palmdale for a giant intercontinental airport that could handle 100 million passengers a year and accommodate SSTs, the supersonic passenger planes (which btw, are no longer in service). What this plan lacked though, was a highly efficient rail transportation system linking the new intercontinental airport with greater Los Angeles and the rest of southern California and Las Vegas.

Today, it's time to revive the plans for a massive new airport in Palmdale, which incidentally should be modelled after the new Al Maktoum International Airport; a major new airport currently under construction near Jebel Ali, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates. (i.e. 6 parallel runways, 4.5 kilometres (2.8 mi) in length, each separated by a distance of 800 metres (2,600 ft)).


Also, Los Angeles should copy Oslo, Norway in the way the new Gardermoen aiport took over as the main Oslo airport on 8 October 1998, when Fornebu Airport was closed. The transfer happened overnight, and was a major operation.


Closing LAX and opening the area to commercial real estate development, will also generate substantial economic value to the city.

Now, what exactly have all this to do with the proposed high speed rail system in California?

Because you need to plan for the future which should include a southern California location for a massive new airport designed for the future (i.e. Palmdale), a new twin-track line between Los Angeles' Union Station will not be sufficient no accomodate the massive increase in trafffic. What is needed are four high speed tracks between a redeveloped Union Station and Palmdale. In addition, most stations in souther California should have substantial park and ride (or incentive parking) facilities.

If the California state legislature, as well as the majority of the population in Los Angeles finally would figure out that LAX cannot be included in a transportation master plan for the next 100 years, they should not waste a golden opportunity to combine the high speed rail plans with a new mega airport in Palmdale.

Therefore, the four new tracks , proposed here, between Union Station and Palmdale ( and possibly Las Vegas) should be constructed together with the new airport simultanously; and it should be done within a decade. :-)

Erik, Norway



First, I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.


Let it be clear-and this is a judgment which the Members of the Congress must finally make-let if be clear that I am asking the Congress and the country to accept a firm commitment to a new course of action-a course which will last for many years and carry very heavy costs: 531 million dollars in fiscal '62 -- an estimated seven to nine billion dollars additional over the next five years. If we are to go only half way, or reduce our sights in the face of difficulty, in my judgment it would be better not to go at all.

JFK, May 25, 1961

Anonymous said...

talk about thinking bug, then how bout a massive california super airport in the high desert and close LAX and SFO and the others and turn the prime real estate over to development. Every person who flies to cali flies into the new airport and the rail distributes people from there. no intra state air travel.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous: If you're going to be give people money, why not buy their land off them?

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 9:50am -

not all ROW acquisition involves the exercise of eminent domain. Indeed, most of what the California system requires will most likely be purchased from either freight rail operators or Caltrain. The latter case will be a complicated swap of land and infrastructure upgrades, whereas the former will almost certainly involve large sums of money changing hands.

That said, there are some sections in the Caltrain corridor that are currently considered too narrow for the preferred solution, i.e. four tracks side-by-side. This applies especially where a berm with an embankment or retained fill is being considered to facilitate the construction of shallow underpasses for the cross roads.

Right now, residential real estate is severely depressed, so Caltrain could conceivably exercise eminent domain against properties adjacent to its existing ROW at low cost, for the express purpose of accommodating additional tracks later on. However, in the grand scheme of the whole HSR project, the amount that will be spent on these involuntary expropriations is quite small.

This is probably why HNTB Corporation, the contractor selected for the project-level EIR/EIS work in SF-SJ section, is concerned primarily with ROW preservation and presently not looking to acquire additional ROW until 2012 (slide 10).

There are almost always multiple options for implementation, which differ in terms of cost, vibration/noise impacts, construction impacts and other aspects such as earthquake safety.

For example, running the tracks through Menlo Park at grade would avoid the need to widen the ROW (much), the construction of a raised berm, temporary shoofly tracks for Caltrain and four permanent tracks. On the other hand, the underpasses for cross roads would have to be deep, which entails longer approaches from either side as well as possible problems with the water table, increasing construction cost.

The purpose of an EIR/EIS process is to enable input from the general public on which of the available options should be exercised, subject to technical and economic constraints. If in the end, eminent domain has to be exercised against individual homeowners, it is quite possible that real estate values will at least have had a chance to regain some of their recent losses by 2012.

Wrt the morality of expropriations, they've always been allowed for infrastructure deemed essential for the economic development of communities. Approval of prop 1A by a small but significant margin back in November, after the financial crisis had already dramatically worsened, arguably suggests that voters do indeed consider the very expensive HSR project to be essential infrastructure.

Rafael said...

@ Erik from Norway -

connecting existing airports to the HSR system was one of the objectives in selecting the route. Indeed, connecting to Palmdale was one of the reasons for accepting a 60-mile detour via Tehachapi Pass over a more direct route via the Grapevine, for the Sylmar-Bakersfield section. The other reasons were tunneling geology and a wildlife preserve near Lake Castaic.

Similarly, the route from LA to San Diego runs right past underutilized Ontario airport. The idea is to use it as a relief airport not just for LAX, but also for Lindbergh Field in San Diego. Note that plans for a rail (specifically, maglev) link between Anaheim and Las Vegas via Ontario airport would have used the hwy 57 median, but this is no longer available.

The alternative to the Inland Empire route would have been the existing rail ROW along the coast between Anaheim and San Diego. However, this runs immediately next to the beach in San Clemente and in Del Mar. Residents of these beach cities effectively vetoed the construction of additional tracks and overhead catenaries for HSR, though unstable geology and concern about high surf conditions also presented problems. CHSRA concluded the corridor might be more suitable for diesel-powered rapid rail at 110-125mph (i.e. with level crossings retained) but scoped that out of its own electric-only project.

In the Central Valley, there is the option of running HSR through Castle Airport near Merced. It's an old Air Force base with a single long runway previously used by B-52 bombers and, could be upgraded to 7/24 commercial cargo and limited passenger service as a related but separate project if desired. The terminal building would integrate the HSR station.

Right now, the official position is that the only airports with very close proximity to the HSR network will be SFO, San Jose, Palmdale and eventually, Ontario and Lindbergh Field. Unmanned people movers and/or short shuttle routes will provide connectivity.

Transfers to LAX, Long Beach, John Wayne (Orange County), Oakland, Sacramento Int'l and perhaps Fresno Yosemite will involve longer shuttle routes.

Palmdale is the only existing commercial airport in Southern California that could fairly easily support an additional long runway. Its construction is not currently planned but may become necessary if the LA-San Diego HSR leg via Ontario has to be abandoned in favor of more modest rapid rail down the coast and/or Nevada decides to abandon its own plans for a relief airport in the Ivanpah Valley in favor of a spur linking Las Vegas to the California network near the town of Mojave.

Meanwhile, LAX is (awkwardly) coping with the introduction of the Airbus A380.

Peter said...

Rafael: I find it easier to track bills using govtrack than thomas. It's just as complete, but far more sane of a layout.

Anonymous said...

Rafael, thanks for your well-reasoned response. I have no issues with your arguments, but what I was trying to indicate, was that even if connecting Palmdale to the HSR system was one of the objectives in the route selection, it is still not a good enough plan if Palmdale is not chosen now, or soon, as a new super-hub for southern California, and that the use of LAX should be discontinued at the moment such a new airport in Palmdale would be opened. In this context, therefore, one would reexamine the chosen route between Palmdale and Union Station, and should come to realise that a twin-track line will not be sufficient to accomodate massive increases in passenger traffic between metropolitan Los Angeles and Palmdale, and with this scenario, 4 tracks would be required. This means, of course, that the current projected line would look a lot different, and much more tunneling would probably be required to accomodate the NIMBY's and others. However, in the grand scheme of things, this extra expenditure would likely be relatively minor, and would be much cheaper than building two extra tracks after the HSR system and a new major airport hub in Palmdale are operational.

Now, please allow me to explain why I believe keeping LAX in operation after 2020-2025 will not be to the benefit to Los Angeles in the long term.

First, one should bear in mind that although the introduction of the Airbus A380 at LAX has been "awkward", issues not only exist with the A380, but also other types of aircraft, especially around the Bradley Terminal.

For example:

1. only three gates are capable of handling four engined A340-600s
2. Four engined aircraft cannot use outboard engines in the narrow alleyway
3. taxiway is so narrow that most aircraft (anything larger than Boeing 737-900 or Airbus A321) cannot dock by itself and has to be towed in.
4. the end of the alley is so tight that aircraft parked within the first 3 gates of the main terminal has to pushback "backwards" all the way to taxiway B.
4. vechicle traffic is so busy that anytime an aircraft is pushbacked, it creates a big traffic jam.
5. waiting for 10-13 mins for pushback after door close is apparently the norm.

The well-publicized "awkard" introduction of the A380 is just the excuse LAX officials are using to hide the fact that for a variety of reasons the airport has not been able to expand or modernize as it should have done. LAX is so far behind the curve, partially due to NIMBY's, but there is enough blame to be spread around. Infact, LAX is one of the worst, if not the worst, int'l airport I've ever flown to, or out of, in the Western hemisphere.

Because LAX is currently the key West Coast hub, it is expected to be the #1 US destination for the A380. Either LAX accommodates, or you'll see airlines move elsewhere. In 2012, once improvements to the current A380-800 are implemented, Qantas will bypass LAX at least with one flight per day to provide connections at Dallas/Ft. Worth (DFW).

What will the airport do when the economy recovers, and many more A380 flights are expected? From 2015/2016 Airbus is expected to have launched a bigger and better A380 version. An A380-900R with a capacity of 600 passengers in three classes and with cosiderably more range, will open up the entire Indian sub-continent, as well as the rest of Asia, for direct flights to all over North America. One should note that most direct routes between India and North America crosses the Himalaya/Karakoram range. No twin-engined civilian airliner is allowed to fly over this region directly due to the possible failure of one engine which will force the aircraft to lower altitudes, as that would incorporate a 50 percent of total power and pressure loss, and you can't get low enough due to the high terrain (Tibet). Partly for this reason that twin-engined aircraft will have to take a detour around this high terrain on these routes, it will be the A380, and only the A380, that will make direct flights between India and California economically viable.

LAX has less than a decade to prepare, and then it will still be way behind the curve. Why? I suppose one can say the reason is partly because the people of Los Angeles, in the 1970s, didn't wake up and realized that the 707 was not going to be the mainstay of future airline travel. LAX is simply an urban planning mistake on a large scale and should have been sorted out a generation or two ago. Yet again, todays generation is paying for the short sightedness of previous generations.

In this context, one should note that unlike LAX, London Heathrow (LHR), which can also be considered an urban planning mistake, still keep on planning to upgrade everything in stages. People travelling can see the changes and improvements, and one sadly cannot say the same for LAX. Also, LHR is not the only airport that is slot restricted, large airports like LAX/JFK are as well just in a different way. Slot restricted means more than just takeoff and landing positions, it means parking bays, taxiways, passenger check-in, customs, immigration, baggage halls, and enroute.

Finally, lets not forget, long term planning and forecast, as well as infrastructure investment (more then the next quarterly report) aren't among the top 3 strengths of American business culture. This has lead the US, in some cases, being more comparable to a 3rd world country regarding infrastructure. Also, many companies have chronically underinvested in keeping their factories up to date and efficient, thereby driving out a significant portion of manufacturing. The Obama administration seems to have picked this up. Let's hope that some pieces of the big investment cake can be channeled for not only immediate LAX improvements, but also for the HSR and possibly a go ahead for planning a massive new airport in Palmdale.


Anonymous said...

we should use high speed rail to force the elimiation of all intra california flights to LAX then free up all that space for a special airbus runway and terminal.