Monday, March 23, 2009

Arnold Schwarzenegger on HSR; and an Unusual Poll

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

So, I don't quite know what to make of this poll, but I'll pass it along anyway. The San Francisco Examiner is reporting on a poll done by BW Research Partners. The poll is about HSR, but takes what I would consider something of an odd tack - asking if Californians would support HSR even if it meant limiting air travel to do so:

Would you support limiting flights to cities in California and having passengers use a high-speed-rail system to get to destinations in Central and Southern California?

Support: 56%
Oppose: 17%
Not Sure: 26%
No answer: 1%

Would you still support limiting flights if you knew that the high-speed rail would cost about the same as air travel, but would take 2½ hours to get to Southern California?

Yes: 79%
No: 8%
Not sure: 12%
No answer: 1%

The survey by BW Research Partnership, a public-opinion research firm, asked as many as 2,000 registered voters questions about how they would envision the future of the major airports in San Francisco, Oakland and San Jose.

Umm...OK. I'm not quite sure that the issue is "limiting flights", since the experience of HSR on major corridors (Madrid-Barcelona, or London-Paris) is that the travel market shifts and flights decline as a response to changing ridership patterns and not to legislative mandates. I'm not aware of any efforts to officially limit flights in order to help build HSR, so I really don't know what generated this poll. Nor do I know who paid for it.

It is worth noting that HSR will be integrated with air travel in California - at SFO, SJC, potentially PMD (Palmdale) ONT and SAN. SFO's administrators welcome high speed trains, and we're seeing similar support emerge among San Diego airport planners.

Still, the poll does show that at least in the SF Bay Area, Californians strongly support HSR even if it were to be framed as undermining air travel.

Public support as shown in this poll (for whatever it's worth) is bolstered by support from leading American politicians, including Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, as expressed on Meet the Press yesterday morning:

Schwarzenegger was joined on the Sunday morning show by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Pennsylvania Gov. Edward G. Rendell, who are part of a bipartisan coalition of elected officials pushing for increased infrastructure investment.

"Look, everyone gets stuck in traffic. There is no reason why we should get stuck in traffic," Schwarzenegger said on the show.

More than once during the interview, the three elected officials spoke of high-speed rail.

"This country desperately needs to build a high-speed rail passenger system," Rendell said, adding that other infrastructure projects also were of vital importance.

You can see some of Arnold's remarks on this, including his desire to use public-private partnerships to fund this (but also willing to consider a higher gas tax), here:

Of course, Arnold tends to play a governor on TV but not off screen. He is notorious for playing up his leadership when the cameras roll, but for not being willing to assert leadership within government for important projects or bills. If Arnold wants HSR to be built, he could for example ensure that the CHSRA gets the $29.1 million it needs to continue operations, or help produce a solution to the Transbay Terminal mess, or help resolve the dispute on the Peninsula. That's more valuable at this point for the HSR project than going on Meet the Press yet again to show how awesome he us.


Rafael said...

I saw the same poll earlier today. The Examiner article doesn't say who commissioned it, a piece of information I consider vital when interpreting survey results. It's also important to know how the respondents were selected: many Gen-Xers don't have a land line and, respondents in the Central Valley are much more likely to favor HSR than those in say, Atherton.

If CHSRA paid for the poll, it could be that they wanted to underline just how keen Californians still are on riding HSR, even if that means airlines will offer (far) fewer flights within the state. Without any meta-information, that conclusion is unsupported.

If it was commissioned by someone else, they might have been trying to ask a leading questions, hoping to paint HSR as reducing choices for those who frequently fly within the state. If so, that appears to have backfired. An overwhelming majority claims they would ride HSR trains even if fares were no cheaper than airline tickets.

In practice, that's unlikely and at odds with the updated ridership analysis performed for CHSRA's 2008 business plan. Ridership is substantially higher when low fares are available. The TGV concept really took off only after SNCF switched to a rating engine optimized for capacity utilization (cp. budget airlines). In marketing terms, this repositioned the TGV as a service for everyone rather than just wealthy businessmen. Total revenue initially went down but profitability went up.

The reason is simple: debt service on the infrastructure represents the lion's share of operating costs and is fixed. By comparison, buying a few more trains and spending more on maintenance and electricity amounts to peanuts. The starter line may be off the operators' books but the politicians who persuaded taxpayers to foot the bill want to get re-elected, so there is always pressure to grow ridership.

In addition, growing an HSR business beyond a certain saturation level requires constructing new lines. In California, debt service on phase II spurs are supposed to be funded entirely out of operating profits.

As a result of the switch to budget pricing, initial opposition to expansion of the TGV network turned into strong demand for it. This meant the environmental clearances to build new lines were easier to secure. By now, mayors in France regard having a TGV station as critical to attracting inward investment, so SNCF's biggest problem is having to say no to small towns on the route that would dearly like to have a station.

For example, the TGV Est line was long considered a marginal proposition but has proven successful thanks to cross-border service into Luxembourg and Germany plus higher speed (320km/h, with scope for 350) the new WiFi-on-board service originally developed for SNCF's Thalys service.

Anonymous said...

Why not just lean back, take a deep breath, forget the asinine views some people express on this blog and CELEBRATE that most people asked in this poll support HSR?

Rabid nimbys fought a Trader Joes in Berkeley saying the $2 Chuck would support alcoholism with the homeless and underage kids and claimed the chain was owned by an ex-nazi. The Trader Joes, now under construction, replaces a strip mall with a pet food shop and car parts store with over 100 units of transit oriented housing and a Trader Joes.

As the planning process unfolds, remember we are just at the scoping (asking what needs to be studied in the EIR) portion of the exercise, I think a rational plan will emerge that most everyone will support. It just takes time.

So relax and enjoy the support the poll shows.

Randy said...

I actually think that it would be a great idea to tack a $10 - 20 landing fee (Ideally given to the HSR) on flights that are closely matched train ride, 1) a easy to avoid carbon tax, and 2) to open get runway space available for long hall flights.(The airports might even support it.)

Brandon in California said...

I feel this site makes too much of connectivity with airports and airlines.

Such connectivity appears only valuable or worthwhile for travelers destined to locations out of the HSR network area. Someone from Fresno can take HSR to SFO for a flight to Hawaii or Chicago, for example.

However, how big is that market? I feel it is small relative to the provision of good connections with major cities and the market therein... i.e. connections made at downtown locations, or well established/connected burgs.

Having conenctions at airports at the expense of those... strikes me as the tail wagging the dog.

If an effecient connection can be mnade without harming the HSR network and service levels, fine, but I feel thsi site makes too much of these possible connections.

Now that that is off my chest, the poll strikes me as being quite promising for HSR. Hypotheticaly we can only speculate now, but what if it were an airline that commissioned the poll? Har har har.

Brandon in California said...

Btw, AnsaldoBreda thinks they can get into the true HSR business and create a manufacturing plant in downtown Los Angeles.

See last couple paragrapghs of this LA Times article:

Villaraigosa seeks a second chance for rail car maker

Andrew Bogan said...

More involvement from our "star" politicians from both parties is most welcome, whether it is Governor Schwarzenegger and his infrastructure allies in Pennsylvania and New York, or President Obama and VP Biden (who are both train fans). Both the Governor and the President regularly talk about the importance of High Speed Rail in their television appearances, but neither has really bothered to use up any political capital on pushing for the project on the Peninsula, overcoming confusion about the Transbay Terminal, or on securing funding not just immediately, but over the next decade. Hopefully they see the media appearances as important groundwork for building broad support, which the polls suggest. But there will soon come a day when our elected leaders will need to stand up and counterbalance the obstructionists more directly.

Spokker said...

I think it's more of a reflection of how awful the perception of air travel is in America. I think if you said, would you ride a 220 MPH donkey through the Central Valley for the same price as an airline ticket they would answer yes.

Anything, anything but that goddamn airplane!

Anonymous said...

My impression of where the airlines are headed is this - world wide interest and construction of high speed rail in markets of a few hundred miles is increasing because it makes more sense. Flight delays are rampant and primarily caused by too many flights per hour scheduled from limited terminal and runway space (as well ATC limitations, we can assume) The push now is for these super size aircraft which carry more people at once. If one international departure can take the place of three, you reduce congestion, fuel consumption, increase profits, decrease environmental impact and so forth. The combination of high speed rail and larger planes frees up space at( and makes for more civilized) airports. ideally all non auto intra-california travel would be via hsr and local rail, and all international and out of state arrivals and departures would be spread more evenly between the primary and secondary airports. LAX and SFO would have most of the international prestige flights leaving the airports free of the greyhound bus station feel. Domestic flights would use oakland, ontario and so forth, with some exceptions. The whole system of rail and air could be properly managed to distribute the passenger mix most efficiently. Having said that. That could only happen if you left the whole mess up to real live experienced transportation experts ( that means no politicians and no public referendums - just railroads, airlines, architects and engineers) they can give us a call when its done and will send them the final payment. ( yes I know this will NEver happen in california or anywhere else in america - we don't have that kind of potency anymore)

Anonymous said...

While we have waited 20 years for half of a small bridge to be built. and are still only talking about a high speed train ( arguing about its affect on watching high school football games) The rest of the world was moving into the 21st century a decade or two before it arrived after reading 9 and this is a short list) pardon my frustration but I have been really struggling to understand why it is again, exactly, that we are the "greatest" county? I'm not seein' it. Just what DO we do these days?

---Deep beneath the Alps, the Swiss are building a high-speed rail link between Zurich and Milan. It will include, at 57 kilometres (35 miles), the world's longest tunnel. A key feature of the project, which is new to alpine transport, is the fact that the entire railway line will stay at the same altitude of 500 metres (1,650ft) above sea level
n 1991, the Danish and Swedish governments signed an agreement to establish a fixed link across the Øresund. The agreement was ratified by the two countries' parliaments in August of the same year. Øresundskonsortiet, a joint venture between A/S Øresund and Svensk-Danska Broförbindelsen SVEDAB AB, constructed the permanent link between Sweden and Denmark. The project cost more than DKK12 billion and comprises a 16.4km (10-mile) link between Copenhagen and Malmö consisting of a tunnel, a bridge and an artificial island.

Millau Bridge: Towering 1,125ft above the Tarn Valley in southern France, driving along the Millau Bridge, the largest cable-stayed vehicular bridge in the world, is said to feel like flying. This Foster + Partners marvel is slightly taller than the Eiffel Tower, took three years to build and opened to the public in 2004. While it may provide picturesque views of the valley below, once the mist descends it is not a route for the faint hearted! The Millau Bridge has a total length of 8,071ft with the longest single span at 1,122ft and a maximum clearance below of 886ft; in short the bridge is massively impressive both on paper and in real life. The deck is lofted on 7 pylons and weighs 36,000 tonnes. A series of 7 masts, each 292ft tall and weighing 700 tonnes, are attached to the corresponding pylons

The Shimizu TRY 2004 Mega-City Pyramid is a proposed project for construction of a massive pyramid over Tokyo Bay in Japan. The structure would be 12 times higher than the Great Pyramid at Giza, and would house 750,000 people. If built, it would be the largest man-made structure on Earth in history. The structure would be 2,004 meters (6,575 feet) high and would answer Tokyo's increasing lack of space.
Fehmarn Belt Bridge: Germany and Denmark have agreed upon building a 19km long bridge in between the two countries in the Fehmarn Belt region, and in that way shorten the trip between Scandinavia and central Europe. The construction of the bridge will be financed mostly by Denmark, with 4.8 billion euros, and Germany with 800 million Euros. The bridge will have two levels, one for road traffic, and one for rail. The start of construction is expected in 2011, and its opening in 2018. (Source:-
Bering Strait Bridge: The 55 mile long bridge across the Bering Strait would connect Asia and North America for the first time since the continents touched each other. At an estimated cost of 15 to 25 billion dollars this proposal is not only expensive but fraught with challenge. Ice breakup after each winter is violent and would destroy normal bridge piers. Specially shaped massive piers along the ocean floor would be needed to keep the bridge stable. (video - Map

Anonymous said...

@spokker" I think if you said, would you ride a 220 MPH donkey through the Central Valley for the same price as an airline ticket they would answer yes." -- and the donkey would at least be more comfortable.

Anonymous said...

how to get through PA:

Anonymous said...

Rafael: "The reason is simple: debt service on the infrastructure represents the lion's share of operating costs".
How true! This explains while it took until last year for the Channel tunnel to break even. Margaret Thatcher (who hated trains) demanded and obtained that "not a penny of public money" be spent on the project. She also repeatedly declared that a railway tunnel would never be profitable because the future was in cars, not trains. Thus, the venture was perceived by bankers as a very high risk investment and they priced their contribution accordingly.
As you have no California equivalent to Margaret Thatcher, I suppose CHRA will get better terms from private investors.

Rafael said...

@ jim -

the regularDoD budget is over $500 billion and Obama is raising it by 4%, i.e. more than $20 billion. That's over and above the cost of fighting two wars, the VA and other assorted military-related spending.

His budget also calls for an additional $1 billion for high speed rail construction for each of the next five years, on top of the whopping $8 billion in the stimulus bill and $1.5 billion in last year's Amtrak re-authorization bill.

And Obama's a fan of high speed rail. The reason the US has decrepit infrastructure is that defense contractors bankroll the political campaigns of members of Congress. Pure and simple.

F22 fighters won't help defeat Al Queda, but they will get Sen. XYZ re-elected.

Anonymous said...


As an answer to your posting:

"If CHSRA paid for the poll, it could be that they wanted to underline just how keen Californians still are on riding HSR, even if that means airlines will offer (far) fewer flights within the state. Without any meta-information, that conclusion is unsupported.

If it was commissioned by someone else, they might have been trying to ask a leading questions, hoping to paint HSR as reducing choices for those who frequently fly within the state. If so, that appears to have backfired. An overwhelming majority claims they would ride HSR trains even if fares were no cheaper than airline tickets."

I asked and found out that:

The survey was paid for by money from the three commercial airports, the
Metropolitan Transportation Commission and from a grant from the FAA.

As an aside I take great issue with your condemning defense spending. 9-11 needed to be answered. However, defense is so pork ridden, that you make a good point.

Rafael said...

@ Brandon in San Diego -

despite the name, AnsaldoBreda is not a Dutch but an Italian train manufacturer. Among other products, they worked on the ETR500 for the Italian railways.

They're currently 3 years late in delivering eight V250 trainsets to NS Hispeed, a joint venture of the Dutch national railway and KLM. Every manufacturer has had to deal with customer satisfaction problems in the past, but this particular one appears to have more of them (relative to delivery volume) than competitors. Not sure if it's an entirely fair perception.

The eight V250 trainsets for NS Hispeed are now three years late. This particular Pininfarina design has been nicknamed the "Albatross". The V300 looks sexier but I'd still think twice about volunteering to be the first customer, just considering the source.

Here's their promo video and web page for the V250. I'm underwhelmed by the seating layout, just three seats abreast. Admittedly, that's a direct result of constraints imposed by track configurations in Holland and perhaps, Belgium.

Still, CHSRA should select a vendor that already knows how to make good use of the generous minimum track centerline (14') required by the CPUC. Japanese shinkansen trains have five (narrow) seats abreast in economy class.

Note that AnsaldoBreda also makes subway and light rail equipment, perhaps that's what LA wants from them. I'd recommend picking proven models they've already worked the kinks out of on someone else's nickel. Just sayin'.

Unknown said...

Well, the LATIMES today has a story on High Speed Rail. Hopefully they continue to talk more about it.,0,2177731.story

Rafael said...

@ an answer -

have you seen or read "Charlie Wilson's War" yet? The rise of the Taliban and Al Qaeda is directly linked to the fact that the US and Saudi Arabia funded - by way of then-islamist Pakistan - the mujaheddin resistance to the Soviets only as long as it served their purposes.

When you use an entire people as pawns in some grand game, sooner or later that's going to come back to haunt you. The US didn't ask for 9-11 nor does history make its perpetrators any less culpable. But in hindsight, it shouldn't have surprised anyone, any more than the next retaliation event should.

The US cannot win its struggle against the Taliban unless it offers the people of Afghanistan and Pakistan a demonstrably more attractive alternative. Like installing some indoor plumbing, training a cadre of teachers in math and science, building/fixing roads, clearing land mines and restoring irrigation infrastructure. All done using local labor supervised by US expats, at a fraction of the cost of waging war.

Or, you could buy yourself another glitzy weapons system and sit on your thumb until the next 9-11. Your choice.

Infrastructure = defense.

Alon Levy said...

Rafael, the US tried that kind of development in Vietnam. It failed miserably, because it was run by people like McNamara, who thought technocratic expertise was the only thing they needed. They ripped out entire villages and placed their residents in rural housing projects surrounded by barbed wire. They gave advice to the existing South Vietnamese government, until it became obvious it was too corrupt and intransigent.

On another note, VA spending isn't military spending, but health care spending. It only counts as defense if you believe that the government has no business providing health care for anyone.

Andrew Bogan said...


Thanks for sharing the link to the LA Times article for those of us up North who rarely read the LA Times.

I agree that Japan has fantastic trains, especially their shinkansen network, but the article's focus on the future maglev project from Tokyo to Nagoya misses some critical points:

1. The Japanese government, despite its fondness for infrastructure, was unable to see the benefits of maglev outweighing the costs and rejected public support for the project last year.

2. JR Central, the private company that plans to continue its maglev line construction without public funding support has lost a lot of investors due to the anticipated costs and seen its shares slump.

3. So little right of way is available for the new Tokyo to Nagoya maglev line that JR Central plans to basically tunnel the entire line! This has led many in Japan to call it the "world's fastest subway". The cost of tunneling those distances would be staggering.

4. In light of the above, I continue to doubt the Japanese maglev gets built anytime soon. The maglev in Shanghai is a fun, fast ride, but it is more like a Disneyland ride than about sensible cost/benefit analysis. The (slow) train in from Hong Kong's new airport has vastly higher ridership since it terminates in downtown in two new stations, unlike in Shanghai where the maglev stops just short of a major housing complex on the eastern edge of Pudong.

Anonymous said...

French trains only please.

Anonymous said...

So many of the european platforms are curved.. why cn they esxtend the length and capacity by curving the platform and using more of the radius.