Saturday, July 25, 2009

Freakonomics: High-Speed Rail and CO2

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

by Rafael

Ceci n'est pas un TGVEric A. Morris has published a post on the Freakonomics blog of the New York Times entitled "High Speed Rail and CO2". IMHO, his is a poorly researched and extremely biased article since it completely disregards research commissioned by CHSRA.

Before I explain my gut reaction to Mr. Morris' hit piece, please bear in mind that reducing CO2 emissions is not the core objective of the California HSR project. Rather, its principal purpose is to enhance population mobility at the medium-distance scale by giving residents and tourists a safe, affordable and environmentally responsible alternative to long drives and short flights.

The CO2 emissions avoided during construction and operations are a result of rail technology, i.e. making do with just a narrow strip of land, avoiding asphalt and using grid-electric traction. Personally, I think of any direct reductions in CO2 emissions as icing on the cake.

What follows is a cross-post of my comment on the NYT blog.

  • First of all, Mr. Morris' article portrays the cost estimate of $80 billion produced by one person in Minnesota as gospel while failing to mention that the California High Speed Rail Authority's (CHSRA) own forecast is around $33 billion for the SF-San Jose-Fresno-LA-Anaheim starter line and another $12 billion total for the phase II extensions to San Diego, Irvine and Sacramento, respectively.

    It also neglects to mention that phase II construction will be funded with non-state bonds backed by operating surpluses from phase I. It is completely disingenuous to report that California taxpayers will be burdened with the cost of funding the entire network. Indeed, the language of California AB3034(2008) includes numerous safeguards to ensure the state's contribution remains limited to $9.95 billion, of which $950 million is reserved for capital projects of local and regional agencies that operate connecting transit.

    All this must be compared to the cost of doing nothing and also to the cost of building more roads and runways instead. Both alternatives were estimated to be much more expensive, with the cost of the no-build alternative measured in lost productivity and other opportunity parameters. This aspect of the program EIR/EIS study did not even include the option of providing reliable broadband internet access to HSR passengers.

  • Second, wrt to CO2 emissions: it beggars belief that the author should compare a study for HS2 in the UK - which assumes the extra electricity would be produced mostly from coal - with the California situation. CHSRA decided before the election last fall that the entire system would operate exclusively on renewable electricity, with new wind turbines being the cheapest way to implement that. Using renewables will eliminate most of the 19.1 million barrels of oil equivalent* that would otherwise be required each year (vs. 24.3 for the no-build and 24.5 for the modal alternative). CHSRA estimated the additional power requirement for peak period operations in 2020 is 480MW, about 0.6% of total generating capacity in the state at that time.

    As for the energy required for construction, CHSRA estimates 152 trillion** BTUs, equivalent to 26.2 million barrels of oil equivalent. That's comparable to about 16 months of operations - not trivial, but not terribly significant relative to a system life expectancy measured in decades. For reference, the construction of highway lane-miles and airport runways under the modal alternative would require 37% more energy. Again, the overwhelming majority of total energy is consumed during the years of operation.
For more details, please consult the document library at the CHSRA web site.

* CHSRA Final Program EIR/EIS Chapter 7.1.1 (Library -> Archived Materials)
** The document actually interprets 1 MMBTU as 1 million BTUs but that strikes me as a clerical error.


Morris Brown said...

David Levinson, the quoted Minnesota scholar, is a true transportation expert. He was at Berkeley some years ago. He is an academic, with no political or partisan yokes to bind him.

His 80 billion estimate for the project is certainly to be taken seriously. The CHSRA has been deceiving the public from the beginning about costs. A prime example is the quoted 4.2 billion for the SF to SJ segment. This is in face of CalTrain's estimate that it would take 4.8 billion to electrify their 2 tracks, and fully grade separate their corridor from SF to SJ.

Now Robert is going to come back stating you have to believe the CHSRA, they have done the work. The truth of the matter will only be revealed when millions and millions have been spent, and when contract bids are requested and they come back with real numbers.

Kopp through out the Prop 1A campaign, kept saying the 9.95 billion from the bonds would be all that California voters would have to provide.

Now we hear a different tune. Local cities are supposed to help or fully fund stations. SF is expected, according to Kopp,pay for the tunnel from 4th street to the new trans bay terminal in SF.

Other work by Levinson, revealed the grossly inflated ridership numbers.

This kind of deception is exactly why a peer review panel, not consisting of political appointees is needed, but a peer review board from the academic world, which would really give true projection of what this project is going to bring or not bring to California.

On CO2 production, it is indisputable that the faster you go, the more energy is consumed, therefore the more CO2 is generated (either locally via combustion engines or remotely generating electricity). This is not a linear function, but rather goes more like the square of the increase. The point here is, if you want low CO2 generation, you don't go 200 MPH but 125 MPH; the latter speed will of course not at all be competitive with alternate modes of transportation.

You also don't plan a system that goes through the state more like a snake, than a straight line, thus adding a considerable amount of extra distance to the route.

Just because Mr. Morris's article draws different conclusions from those of Robert, certainly doe not make the article "not well researched"

YESONHSR said...

We also have "true" transportation experts at the Reason foudation and Cato that have very antirail views..that makes what they say the truth? ALL these types get funding for their work..and BIG OIL
has lots of it..

Rafael said...

@ Morris Brown -

the BIG difference between a random blogger like myself and a bona fide NYT journalist is that the latter gets paid for researching multiple sources and arguments when writing up an article. Just because his article is published on the web does not mean he can flush his ethics down the drain.

Note that my criticism was not directed at David Levinson's work as I am not familiar with it. My point was simply that the "paper of record" ought to know that quoting only one source is the very definition of bias.

As for CO2 production, the whole point of renewables like wind power is that there is none, except for the relatively small amount that accrues during construction. Traveling at higher speeds does indeed require more generating capacity - power demand actually rises with the cube of train velocity - but as long as all of that is produced renewably, the resulting CO2 emissions are still zero.

Note that CHSRA's business plan is to buy renewable power at the higher price that commands on the wholesale market. The Authority has no intention of building or operating a private power plant. If the green cachet of renewable electricity results in even moderately higher ridership, there won't even be a need to charge passengers higher fares.

Matt said...

MB: David Levinson, the quoted Minnesota scholar, is a true transportation expert. He was at Berkeley some years ago. He is an academic, with no political or partisan yokes to bind him.

How can you be sure? Is it not possible that he has received grants or has investments in companies that would benefit from his opinion. I am not saying he does, but just because someone works in an academic setting does not mean they are beyond reproach.

Fred Martin said...

David Levinson knows his stuff. It would be worthwhile to actually read his work. I suspect Robert and Rafael would rather just dismiss him as an "HSR Denier", a "Hooverist", or some other name, but what HSR can and cannot do must be fully understood, especially considering the enormous sums of public money involved. The empty rhetoric and posturing is tiresome and ultimately deceptive.

James Fujita said...

This is the same Eric A. Morris who spent several blog posts trying to convince people, among other things, that Los Angeles is not sprawling, that the area's freeway system is actually quite small and that Los Angeles' transit system is quite large. He accomplishes this through a combinating of semantics and extremely misleading statistics.

Rafael said...

@ Fred Martin -

Robert Cruickshank coined the term "HSR Denier" but I have never applied it to anyone nor will I.

As I said, my beef here is with the author of the NY Times blog post, Eric A. Morris. He should have referenced CHSRA's research as well, otherwise he might as well go work for one of Rupert Murdoch's rags.

Morris Bfrown said...


Regarding Prof. Levinson's position. I don't know if he has an income source from oil or other interests; what I do know is he is an academic who has done a lot of research on these issues and at least to best of my knowledge his credentials have not been questioned.


I couldn't recall for sure if it was the cube or square of the velocity change, and chose the latter to be on the safe side. (being lazy today)(just to be plain then, a train going 200 MPH as compared to one going 100 MPH will consume 8 times as much power to go only twice the distance)

In any case, this project will not run on truly renewable energy sources alone or even mostly.

The CHSRA can buy and pay more for their power claiming they are getting only power from renewable sources. But the power they need will simply be renewable power not available for others to use. We are a long way from the point in energy production, in this country, where renewables can make up the whole or even the majority of electricity production. We have rejected, up to now, nuclear for the most part. In a country like France, they get most of their electrical from nuclear; while that may not be truly renewable, it certainly doesn't bear the burden of CO2 production, which now seems to be on everybody's minds.

The wiliness of the CHSRA to pay a premium (at this point renewable power costs 2 or 3 times as much to produce as fossil burning plants), could change. As far as I know, there is noting in law that states they must purchase renewable power. It certainly was not stated in AB-3034.

The Authority did spend $25,000 to examine building their own power plants -- that idea was a real loser.

Peter said...

I think this article shows that he's been trying for a long time to do his part to kill the project. Name of the publisher says it all.

Bianca said...

Morris Brown said (referring to David Levinson): His 80 billion estimate for the project is certainly to be taken seriously.

From David Levinson's blog: "the project, if completed, would balloon to at least $80 billion, particularly if the trains run underground on the Peninsula. (emphasis mine.)

Rafael is entirely correct to take issue with how Eric Morris presented the facts. In the blog post on the NYT, Eric Morris leaves out the detail that David Levinson's $80 Billion tab assumes tunneling on the Peninsula. And that is a big detail to omit.

BruceMcF said...

Step aside from the cost figure ... the piece itself plays multiple misleading games.

For example, after citing the UK study, Morris says:
"But the major caveat is that all of these figures consider emissions from operations only, without taking into account the very large amount of pollution that will be created in the construction of the HSR system."

This is simply false ... the only question is whether Morris is being negligent, thick as a brick, or is deliberately lying. The figures do consider emissions from operations of ROAD and AIR alone, but they include emissions from construction of HSR. Here is an example graphic from the UK report that he cites (jpg).

Even in areas with no population growth, we cannot assume that existing road are a sunk cost over a 30 to 60 year time frame ... so the proper emissions comparison is operation and construction emissions on both sides, as Rafeal rightly notes and as Eric Morris either mistakenly or deliberately neglects to do.

But rail wins the emissions race .... conventional rail against roads, and HSR against air ... even on a biased comparison where only rail has to justify its construction costs and we pretend that airport and road infrastructure are built with no carbon emissions at all.

BruceMcF said...

Morris Bfrown (sic.) said...
"The CHSRA can buy and pay more for their power claiming they are getting only power from renewable sources. But the power they need will simply be renewable power not available for others to use."

This is assuming that there is a fixed amount of renewable electricity available, and that there are no opportunities to increase the supply.

That assumption is false ... and if there are customers willing to pay a premium for carbon-free power, that will increase the return to installing the equipment to harvest sustainable power, and so help make more sustainable power available.

YESONHRS said...

He went to UCBerkley?? well I see a connection..A certain "expert" in "transportation" at Berkley had more than a few Anti-HSR articles against Prop1A that were ran numerous times in MediaNewsGroup papers..somebodys mentor here???

flowmotion said...

Similar logic was applied in a study of BART, where it was determined that construction of the system consumed more energy than would ever be saved by moving people out of their cars.

It is a correct point that any environmental claims need to be grounded in science. Otherwise it tends towards "feels good" "greenwashing" employed by the likes of bottled water marketers.

traal said...

Morris Brown wrote: "SF is expected, according to Kopp,pay for the tunnel from 4th street to the new trans bay terminal in SF."

No, that tunnel is optional. Nobody has to pay for it if nobody wants it.

Rafael said...

@ traal -

the DTX tunnel is the only way HSR trains can possibly reach the new SF Transbay Terminal, which AB3034 explicitly defines as the northern terminus of the phase I starter line.

Ergo, it is anything but optional, whatever Quentin Kopp has said regarding 4th & King being "good enough" as far as he is concerned. The concept of the tunnel and train box at SFTT isn't really at issue.

Rather, the problems are a flawed design (constrained throat throughput due to extremely tight corners, a forest of poorly placed columns and a failure to use turnouts in curves) and extremely high tunneling cost (approaching $1 billion/mile). The current tunnel design calls for three tracks in a single, wide, odd-shaped tube rather than two single-track tunnels.

Note, however, that HSR trains could initially terminate at 4th & King. There's nothing in the law that prevents revenue service from beginning before phase I is completed. However, construction on the phase II network extensions probably can't begin until the DTX tunnel and SFTT train box are at least fully funded. Hopefully the design is improved long before that decision needs to be made.

Ted said...

As far as cost - how can they make any estimates when they still don't know if the FRA will allow them to operate next to freight?

In the LA to Orange County segment, the Alternatives Analysis shows a safety wall between Metrolink and HSR. They use a 115 ft ROW.

Let's assume the alternative on the Peninsula is the same - it runs above ground but needs a safety wall. And, as we know, the MOU between Caltrain and HSR says that Caltrain must keep running during construction.

Therefore the ROW is much wider than the 100 ft initially considered. Plus you need shoofly tracks which there isn't much wiggle room for in some spots (I'm thinking of Alma in PA right now). What is the cost now that we've considered these things?

Now, let's assume something different - let's imagine that UP is bought out. I know - many don't think it is likely - but let's guess. If UP is out of the picture - then perhaps HSR will fit easily in the peninsula ROW - but it is likely to send the cost WAY up. UP isn't going to give that up for cheap.

My point is - there are too many what ifs! They can't possibly guess the cost because there are too many unknowns - beginning with what regulations FRA will decide upon.

They can't even get a business plan together. How can they when they don't know basic things like how many tracks might be needed on a particular segment!

Aaron said...

My God, anyone who mentions this business plan nonsense should just be banned on the spot. It's only marginally better than the "Obama isn't a natural born citizen" garbage.

This blog has seriously been taken over by trolls. It's a shame, we used to have good discussions here.

BruceMcF said...

flowmotion said...
"It is a correct point that any environmental claims need to be grounded in science. Otherwise it tends towards "feels good" "greenwashing" employed by the likes of bottled water marketers."

That may be the claim, its just that proceeding to crudely misrepresent the statements of the studies that you are citing as the source of your information - as Morris has done - is either lying or gross incompetence.

"normal rail" is quite clearly projected to emit less for operations and construction than for road operations alone, which indicates that the emissions from engaging in roadworks in place of "Emerging" and "Regional" HSR in transport capacity will all be excess emissions compared to the rail option.

"HSR" ("Express HSR" in the DoT parlance) is clearly projected to emit less in operations and construction than for rail operations alone, which means that the investment in the alternative air transport capacity will all be excess emissions compared to the rail option.

And that is without taking into account which transport technology can be most effectively shifted to carbon neutral power sources with the widest variety of existing carbon neutral power sources and the widest variety of sources under development.

Anonymous said...

An SF to LA railroad that detours thru Fresno and the Tehachapis is neither express nor high speed.

You have to wonder why the crooked Reason Foundation would oppose crooked Palmdale developers and crooked Bechtel. A gang war? Gotta just be political theater, a smokescreen put up by the machine that runs California. Parasites all three of them and a pox on all their houses.

Rafael said...

@ anon @ 12:03am -

you're completely missing the point. The hwy99 corridor wasn't included as a compromise to get more votes for prop 1A(2008). It was included because the Central Valley has lousy road and air connections to the Bay Area and the LA basin, so people there will use HSR more frequently than anyone else. The CV may be flyover country but non-express high speed trains can easily make a stop or two there.

The Antelope Valley was included in the route primarily because analysis of the complex geology of the Grapevine yielded just a single viable alignment with a maximum gradient of 3.5% that crosses both the Garlock and the San Andreas faults at grade. Even that result was based on the best currently available information about that geology, which may be inaccurate at the meter scale. Tunneling is always like a box of chocolates: you never know what you're going to find.

By contrast, there are literally thousands of alignment alternatives for the Tehachapis route. If exploratory tunneling shows that a particular one is not viable after all, it's at least possible to backtrack a little and choose one a few meters to the left or right. In other words, the construction risk is much lower.

I'm pretty sure LA county did lobby hard for the Tehachapis route as the Palmdale-Lancaster area was growing very rapidly at the time. Now that the housing bubble has burst, pressure from developers has evaporated. The prospect of pumping even more water uphill to the High Desert was anyhow always questionable.

That leaves Palmdale airport as the primary fringe benefit of routing the trains through the Tehachapis, one that will materialize only if LAWA does not permanently handicap the resumption of commercial aviation with a solar thermal plant on airport property.

Finally: running down the I-5 corridor and across the Grapevine would indeed shave 15-20 minutes off the SF-LA line haul time or else, permit trains to run at a slightly lower top speed. However, 220mph is the state of steel wheels HSR today, never mind 2020.

Moreover, 2h40m is quick enough to win a large fraction of the SF-LA market, in addition to ridership between the Central/Antelope Valley and the Bay Area/LA basin. This will be doubly true if passengers are offered reliable broadband internet access, a service their counterparts on Thalys and TGV Est in Europe already enjoy.

To sum up: the route is acceptable, CHSRA has rightly moved on to implementation details.

David said...

(1) For the record, I am not funded by oil companies or anti-rail interests whatever those are.
My funding comes from transportation agencies and various scientific funding sources. The only consulting I have done in the last year was on road pricing. I have never done any consulting on HSR, I just keep getting asked because ...

(2) I did work on the study on the full cost of High Speed Rail in California in the 1990s, when I was a graduate student at UC Berkeley, linked here:

(3) I did work with Professor Garrison after the above study on the book The Transportation Experience, which touches on HSR, but is primarily about the deployment of transportation technologies

(4) I don't partake of religious wars of the 800 wheels good ... 4 wheels bad sort. Some technologies are more flexible, some are faster, some serve some markets better than others. Both costs and benefits matter. If the benefits exceed the costs, then great, do it.

(5) The cost estimates in question when I was quoted in the newspaper article which was requoted by Eric Morris do in fact come from Reason Foundation (you get interviewed by a newspaper and see how many of your comments actually make it through the back end). I do think they are ballpark, and expect the official estimates are quite low, as they usually are in MegaProjects.

(6) The appropriate question is: If you had $80 Billion to spend on transportation, what would you spend it on?

(7) If HSR uses clean electricity, that's of course wonderful, they will bid higher for clean electricity and someone else will use the dirty electricity. Does that really change emissions? Can you really track an electron through the electric grid?

BruceMcF said...

Dave: "(7) If HSR uses clean electricity, that's of course wonderful, they will bid higher for clean electricity and someone else will use the dirty electricity. Does that really change emissions? Can you really track an electron through the electric grid?"

I realize that blogging is not the most formal of settings ... but really, doesn't tossing out as blatant red herring like "Can you really track an electron through the electric grid?" tend to undermine your credibility?

In terms of CO2 emissions, if the new renewable power generation added to the grid as a result of a premium paid for renewable power equals or exceeds the power consumed, that is additional power without additional CO2 generation.

Now, the institution must of course be designed correctly to ensure that the premium is, in fact, an effective inducement to invest in new capacity to harvest renewable power, but it is misleading to pretend that an ability to track electron from production to consumption is required for that.

So "Can you really track an electron through the electric grid" is a misleading piece of rhetoric. It remains an open question whether you are misleading or have been misled.

Ari said...

Before we throw around numbers willy-nilly, let's compare apples and, well, apples. How much did the Interstate Highway System cost, anyway? Per person, and adjusted for inflation? Was it considerably more than high speed rail?

According to the wikipedia site about Intersates, the highway system cost $425b (inflation-adjusted) to build over a period of 35 years. In 1950, the population of the country was 150m, and in 1960 it was 180m. So, in 2007 dollars, the Interstate system cost about $2600 per person alive at its inception (425b/165m, the approximate population when the highway system was funded, in 1956) to build. Per year, it cost about $75 per person.

Now, estimates for California's High Speed Rail system range from $40b (perhaps optimistic) to 80b (definitely pessimistic), in current dollars. California has a population of approximately 37m. Running these numbers, California's HSR system would cost about $1100 to $2200 per person, spread over a period of about twenty years. Per person, it would cost less than the Interstate system—perhaps considerably less. Per year, it would be between $55 and $110—quite comparable to the Interstate system.

There is one minor difference between the Interstates and High Speed Rail. Say what you want about CAHSR's business plan, but as far as I know, the Interstate Highway System never had a business plan which showed the system making a profit.

(This comment has been cross-posted at my blog.)

Ari said...


Well put. Whether you can or can't track an electron through the grid is a straw man. In the same way that you can't track a gallon of oil through the oil market. No fuel source is perfect, but electricity can be produced from clean sources. Petroleum will continue to pollute no matter what, and will continue to come from unstable, foreign sources.

Spokker said...

The interstate highway network would probably cost more than $425 billion as construction costs have outpaced the general inflation rate.

Rafael said...

@ David -

thank you for chiming in on this discussion. It must be frustrating to have your findings misquoted after an interview.

Wrt your points:

(6) The appropriate question is: If you had $80 Billion to spend on transportation, what would you spend it on?

I'd spend it on technology that moves millions of people and/or significant freight tonnage each year without consuming any crude oil in the process. That's because history has shown that an excessive dependence on that particular commodity leads - directly or indirectly - to extremely expensive armed conflicts.

For the moment at least, electric trains are the only thing that fits the bill. Of course, that does not mean cost overruns in constructing the requisite infrastructure should be expected, let alone accepted a priori.

Historically, large projects are more susceptible to overruns but that's typically because too little was spent on planning and preliminary engineering. In particular, late engineering change orders to satisfy intransigent regulators or litigious NIMBYs can really jack up the price. Contractors bid low to get the contract, then pounce on change orders to increase their profit margins. The key to cost control is therefore to get all the ducks in a row before turning dirt.

(7) [...] Can you really track an electron through the electric grid?

Fortunately, there is no need for that. All CHSRA needs to show is

(a) that the additional demand for electricity the HSR system creates prompts someone to invest in sufficient additional renewable generating capacity to nominally cover peak demand and,

(b) that over the course of e.g. a year, that new capacity actually generates exactly as many MWhs as the HSR operator purchases.

The objective is to avoid additional emissions of CO2 due to HSR operations. However, in terms of climate policy objectives, moment-to-moment fluctuations in exactly how utilities choose to meet the electricity demanded by HSR are irrelevant, provided they verifiably cancel out on a timescale relevant to climate science.

Btw, much the same logic applies to biomethane and synthetic natural gas fed into a distribution infrastructure designed for fossil natural gas, cp. the situation in the EU.

Adirondacker12800 said...

I'm open to the argument concerning diesel machines for agricultural use being unfairly hit by this, but, otherwise, meh.

I used to be legal and probably still is, to run your machinery - farm and construction equipment - on untaxed fuel. They dye it red so road inspectors can easily detect if it is being used in road vehicles. It's widely available in the Northeast and Midwest, No. 2 heating oil.

YESONHSR said...

ITS the made up numbers that drive me nuts!! I can make up any number I want ..its only going to cost 14 Billion and write it..that does not make it true..Yet newspapers will print this and because many see it all of sudden its "fact"
and reprinted over and over again.
And Im sure your very aware of Oil funded think tanks..CATO,Reason foundation..enough I think..and they use your work.

Bianca said...

(7) If HSR uses clean electricity, that's of course wonderful, they will bid higher for clean electricity and someone else will use the dirty electricity.

An analogy: If I buy fresh vegetables for my family to eat, that's wonderful, and of course I will pay more for fresh produce and someone else will eat the cheap processed crap.


If there is a growing demand for clean energy, then there is an incentive to generate more supply. And over time that would, in fact, lead to fewer emissions.

Morris Brown said...


You should not evade the point that renewable energy is not even remotely competitive with conventional (fossil fuel production), generation plants. As I wrote before you are looking at a 2 or 3 times greater cost in production.

Now I don't know what percentage of the operating costs for this train is going to be the cost of electricity, but it is a major operational item. (most likely the most costly item of operation)

So here you want to go nearly twice as fast as say 100 MPH, which will consume about 4 times the energy for the same distance at 1/2 the speed. Then you are saying that the CHSRA will obligate itself to only consume renewable energy, which will cost at least twice as much as competitive power. (BTW, this is all going to be at ticket prices at 60 to 75% of the cost of air fare)

Yet, the system is going to generate billions and billions of operational profits, while paying off the equity and profits from the as yet unknown private investors; and will pay for the capital costs to extend the line to San Diego and Sacramento.

Amazing. Absolutely amazing.

Morris Brown said...

The question of language for high speed rail in the budget,that was finally approved by the legislature was of much interest here a bit ago.

I copy the final version below -- credit for finding this to an un-named source, who wishes to not take credit.

ABX4 1 2009 budget bill:

SEC. 148. Item 2665-004-6043 of Section 2.00 of the Budget Act of 2009 is amended to read:

2665-004-6043--For support of High-Speed Rail Authority, payable in accordance with and from the proceeds of the Safe, Reliable High-Speed Train Bond Act for the 21st
Century, payable from the High-Speed
Passenger Train Bond Fund................... 139,180,00

The High-Speed Rail Authority
is required to post in the
2009-10 fiscal year and
annually thereafter its budget
on their Internet Web site in
order to insure public access
and transparency.
Of the funds appropriated in
this item, $139,180,000 is
appropriated to the High-Speed
Rail Authority for the
following purposes: project-
level design and environmental
review, program management
services, financial planning,
and public-private partnership
Of the funds appropriated in
this item, $69,590,000 shall
be available for expenditure
only after January 1, 2010,
after the submittal of a
revised business plan to, and
a 30-day review by, the Joint
Legislative Budget Committee
that, among other things,
addresses, at a minimum: (a) a
plan for a community outreach
component to cities, towns,
and neighborhoods affected by
this project, (b) further
system details, such as route
selection and alternative
alignment considerations, (c)
a thorough discussion
describing the steps being
pursued to secure financing,
(d) a working timeline with
specific, achievable
milestones, and (e) what
strategies the authority would
pursue to mitigate different
risks and threats. The
authority shall submit the
revised business plan to the
Joint Legislative Budget
Committee no later than
December 15, 2009.
The revised business plan
shall also provide additional
information related to
funding, project development
schedule, proposed levels of
service, ridership, capacity,
operational plans, cost,
private investment strategies,
staffing, and a history of
expenditures and
accomplishments to date. In
developing this revised
business plan, the authority
shall work in consultation
with the appropriate
legislative policy committees
and the Legislative Analyst's
Office to respond to specific
aspects in the plan.
Notwithstanding any other
provision of law, funds
appropriated in this item from
the High-Speed Passenger Train
Bond Fund, to the extent
permissible under federal law,
may be reduced and replaced by
an equivalent amount of
federal funds determined by
the High-Speed Rail Authority
to be available and necessary
to comply with Section 8.50
and the most effective
management of state high-speed
rail transportation resources.
Not more than 30 days after
replacing the state funds with
federal funds, the Director of
Finance shall notify in
writing the chairpersons of
the committees in each house
of the Legislature that
consider appropriations and
the Chairperson of the Joint
Legislative Budget Committee
of this action.

flowmotion said...

BruceMcF says:"HSR" ("Express HSR" in the DoT parlance) is clearly projected to emit less in operations and construction than for rail operations alone, which means that the investment in the alternative air transport capacity will all be excess emissions compared to the rail option.

Perhaps you're missing an "all other things being equal" qualifier, but I don't believe that statement is obvious (or even that relevant).

Any sort of relative claim about emissions is something that should be studied before a conclusion is assumed.

Andre Peretti said...

@Morris Brown @David
The fact that an article is written by an assistant professor doesn't automatically render it scholarly. The academic rule is that any assertion has to be documented which is not the case in David Levinson's articles.
Example: "Japanese and European HSRs are heavily subsisised". Documents? Of course none, because it's a lie, and thus can't be documented. A real scholar would have produced documents explaining why HSR doesn't have to be subsidised in France or Japan but will have to be in America. Of course, exploiting people's ignorance is easier and a big lie will do the job. How academic.
Another example "trains are noisier than cars" makes me wonder whether he has ever approached one of those trains he writes so expertly about. My own experience is that when a TGV line runs along a highway the noise of the train is completely masked by the rumble of the traffic. Or maybe his comparison is one to one: one train, one car.

BruceMcF said...

flowmotion said...
"Any sort of relative claim about emissions is something that should be studied before a conclusion is assumed."

I am referring to the misrepresentation made by Morris of the study that Morris cites.

He is the one that sets out the UK Ministry of Transport commissioned study as his authority, a study that quite clearly includes emissions of construction in its estimates ... that graph I linked to is from page 3, and a similar one for London/Edinburgh is to be found on page 4 ... and then claims that emissions of construction is not taken into account.

If Morris did not even get to page 3, he really has no business citing the study as his primary source.

BruceMcF said...

@ Andre Perreti ... when the term "heavily subsidised" is being used, its a reference to the capital subsidy, which is often required ... clearly, "work" done by the Reason Foundation will only refer to operating ratios when they are under 100% ... in order to divert from the fact that most HSR corridors return an operating surplus, the focus for HSR is shifted to the capital subsidy (which is, of course, common to all rival inter-regional transport systems as well, which require both capital and operating subsidies).

Robert Cruickshank said...


Thanks for chiming in here. Any chance you will "show your work" and explain in detail how you arrived at the $80 billion figure?

Without that evidence, your claim of $80 billion is simply not credible.

Robert Cruickshank said...

Morris, thanks for reporting on the HSR funding language. It does seem like a mixed bag - the "HSR killer" appears to be gone, but Senator Lowenthal has succeeded in his silly and potentially financially reckless demands for unnecessary and duplicative levels of planning and study. As far as I can tell what he's done is written his "no money until I see a business plan I like" mentality into state law.

Which is unfortunately how things seem to work these days in Sacramento, in our totally broken state government. It's an argument for greater independence for the CHSRA from a legislature that doesn't work.

Andre Peretti said...

TGV lines are built without subsidies. The Paris-Lyon line was financed with 10-years bond floated on the international financial market (mostly Wall Street and London) because the French state was against the project and refused to advance the funds. The bonds were paid off in 8 years because ridership was higher than anticipated.
The other lines received funds from regional councils. In fact RFF resorts to a sort of blackmail: it designs a route avoiding built up areas and then asks cities to pay the extra cost if they don't want to be by-passed. Some accept, others don't. That explains why some stations are like airports in the middle of nowhere. This has made RFF very impopular with local politicians and the state will probably have to subsidise future lines to some extent.

Board Watcher said...

@Robert -
The Board was aware of the budget bill language and didn't have a problem with it, except for the one sentence which took them by surprise. The rest of the conditions were laid out to them during legislative hearings and budget subcommittee hearings. Diridon himself said he had no problem meeting the conditions. I don't see why the language should bother you - a little oversight might be good for them, don't you think?

Robert Cruickshank said...

Oversight is good in theory. But the California Legislature is incapable of effectively exercising oversight. (This is because it is a broken institution incapable of governing the state, and is by no means unique to HSR.)

The CHSRA may be OK with this, but I'm not.

Board Watcher said...

So it's the broken leading the broken -- is that where we're headed?

I perceive the CHSRA as a dysfunctional organization with corrupt leadership, and the legislature is attempting to address that problem. What makes you think they'll be ineffective in achieving oversight?

Robert Cruickshank said...

The Legislature cannot effectively make financial decisions for the state. Term limits have produced a legislative body that is disincentivized from implementing a long-term project such as this. The way the Legislature currently operates enables people like Roy Ashburn and Alan Lowenthal, who will happily undermine the will of the voters in order to pursue their own ideological or parochial concerns.

While that behavior is not unique to the CA Legislature, the current rules under which it operates have removed any countervailing force. In the 1950s you had state legislators working hard to get the State Water Project implemented, and they stayed around to oversee its construction and operations over the following two decades. They provided effective oversight because they cared about getting it right.

The way the Legislature works right now actively undermines that kind of long-term project management. What does Alan Lowenthal care about an intrastate fast train? He won't be around in 2018 to see it open. But he might have a political career in local government in Southern California, where a train to SF won't help him one bit, but where improved Metrolink service will.

Fred Martin said...

At least Alan Lowenthal is democratically elected; that should count for something. State elected bodies should have control over state money -- what's surprising about that basic concept?? Quentin Kopp and Rod Diridon certainly are not democratically elected, and Rod Diridon has a huge personal interest in the HSR project: directing billions of dollars to "his" namesake station.

TomW said...

Fred Martin said: "State elected bodies should have control over state money"
I quite agree. Which is why CHSRA can't spend a dime more than the elected leglislature gives it. However, once a budget has been decided, I want experts appointed by elected officals to decide how best to spend it.

BruceMcF said...

Andre Peretti said...
TGV lines are built without subsidies

Of course, SNCF already had the kind of metro access via existing rail corridors that the California system is required to build ... and the first corridor faced no capital costs like the tunneling project between the Central Valley and the LA Basin.

Most HSR projects around the world are built with some form of capital subsidy. However, because of the ability to generate an operating surplus, they do not require a 100% capital subsidy and, as you point out, in some cases the operating surplus is sufficient to fund the majority of the capital cost of the corridor.

SNCF is also facing a market in which car transport is much less heavily subsidised, with gas taxes sufficient to cover the majority of the costs that motorists impose upon society. By contrast, in the US, cars are not even required to fund the full cost of road maintenance, and get a total free ride on the external costs that they impose.

Fred Martin said...

TomW, I hope you are not suggesting that Quentin "BART-to-Millbrae" Kopp and Rod "father of North America's worst light rail system" Diridon are "experts"???

TomW said...

@ Fred Martin...
I want experts appointed by eleceted officials, which isn't always what I get...

Spokker said...

Eric Morris' analysis works if it is assumed that there isn't a capacity problem on existing roads and airports and no new capacity must be created. But that simply isn't true.

That a lot of pollution will be created to build the goddamn train is true. So what? It's irrelevant because something has to be built, whether it's another airport or more runways, or more highways and wider highways.

If Eric Morris wants to get hardcore with his marginal analysis, what is the marginal utility of an extra lane of highway? Does adding a lane to a six lane highway really add as much capacity as the first or second lanes did? Probably not, as you invite more merging and more cars, which means more accidents and more pissed off drivers.

Building new capacity in the form of rail is the right way to go because current infrastructure is so clogged. You can't widen highways much more. You can't build many more airports. To feed a growing nation's thirst for travel, we gotta go rail. Hell, there's plenty of abandoned right of way to resurrect. That's capacity going to waste! It's just sitting there waiting for a big construction company to turn it into something useful.

There is also potential for induced demand, that is, trips that will be taken just because the high speed rail is there, trips that weren't being taken because roads and airports were so congested. On these trips people spend money on crap, which stimulates the economy, and as the project nears its 100th birthday and we're long dead, so much money will have been spent on these induced trips alone that the beneficiaries would be singing the praises of the high speed rail network if only they were aware of this hidden benefit.

HSR is a public good, and it allows your small business owning ass the opportunity to sell a worthless trinket to some fat tourist in San Francisco who would have never driven there or flown there otherwise. So kiss my fat ass Eric Morris.