Thursday, July 30, 2009

US Senate Committee Proposes Fewer HSR Funds

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

Living up to its reputation as the place where good ideas go to die, a US Senate transportation panel proposed only $1.2 billion for HSR in the coming year:

The Senate's transportation bill, shepherded by senior appropriator Patty Murray (D-WA), provides $1.2 billion for the Obama administration's high-speed rail initiative -- $200 million more than the White House's budget request, but significantly less than the $4 billion that the House set aside for that purpose.

Highways, by contrast, got $41.1 billion from the House but $1.4 billion extra from the Senate, for a total of $43.5 billion in spending. Transit would get $480 million more than the White House requested, along with a $150 million infusion for the cash-strapped D.C. Metro system.

Recall that the US House approved $4 billion last week for HSR. So obviously there's going to be a conference committee fight over this, assuming the $1.2 billion for HSR makes it to the full Senate floor (and I expect it will).

This fight isn't going to happen anytime soon - the final bill likely won't be voted on until the fall, and the conference committee report may not come until September or October. The fight over health care reform may well push that timeline back somewhat.

No word yet from either Senators Dianne Feinstein or Barbara Boxer about their position on this. Would be nice to see California's senators help bring home some money for our HSR project. After all, isn't that one of the reasons we keep sending them to DC?


Anonymous said...

To bring back pork.

Why is CA's HSR a federal issue again?

Sam said...

Why is CA's HSR a federal issue again?

Because it will connect two of the largest metros in the country. Seems pretty obvious to me.

Anonymous said...

Dianne will do her best --- after all she was a big reason for the 8 billion stimulus. Her husband part of URS, which hopes to make billions from this pot.

My understanding was the house 4 billion, was not all for HSR --- only 2 billion was so designated.

gabe said...


Kent to London HSR exceeds expectations

We all know no one rides HSR....

Rail>Auto said...

When will Congress realize that investing in rail is a much better solution than dumping it into roads that just rip back up anyways?

Any why is this a federal question?

Because, like the airports, high speed rail needs to think national, not local... We need a NatTrack that makes sure all of these rails are 1. compatable with the every other states and 2. make sure its affordable to go from NY to LA on high speed rail as well.... but then again I think everything is a federal question, not a state question..I don't like federalism.

Spokker said...

Who are your favorite personalities on this blog?

There's jim, very xenophobic and very chatty and very passionate.

Rafael is studious, always serious.

Morris, the ever present old grouch, always ready to rain on everybody's parade.

There's BAR, always confusing, always entertaining.

Clem bridges the gap between the opposition and proponents, who somehow managed to gain credibility with both sides, but can't commit to either.

Richard Mylkarininikik shows up from time to time to tell us why we're all wrong. Take a drink every time Diridon is mentioned.

Robert, the grassroots political blogger, goes off the deep end sometimes, but is always equipped with a bungie cord.

NONIMBYs keeps the NIMBYs on their toes, and will be the last soldier fighting long after this war is over.

Brandon in San Diego, does in fact live in San Diego.

Last but not least, there's Anonymous, the greatest poster of all.

I think we have a great bunch here.

Spokker said...

Now let's try to diagnose each other's mental disorders. Come on, it'll be fun!

Anonymous said...


Rafael said...

@ spokker -

you forgot "colorful linguist"

Rafael said...

@ Robert Cruickshank -

I don't attach much significance to the figures the House and Senate are allocating to HSR right now. Every financial consideration in DC is skewed by the health care debate right now.

Obama has demonstrated that when a bill goes to conference, he will use his influence to steer more money to HSR than anyone in Congress had proposed. He might not push the envelope quite as much in the context of the budget since the next surface transportation bill (a.k.a. pork central) will need to be passed well before 2012. That will be soon enough for California HSR.

The more pressing issue is for USDOT to set up the bureaucratic organization needed to conduct a fair evaluation of the grant applications already made, to actually award grants based on merit and, to implement federal oversight of planning and construction.

There's limited value in throwing ever more money at a problem until you've built an organization that can make sure it's spent wisely.

TomW said...

Spokker said: "Who are your favorite personalities on this blog?..."
I feel left out.

Clearly I should post more often/more loudly/more exteremely.

Brandon in California said...

CA HSR is a federal issue for a couple reasons... money and whatever determinations are needed from the Federal Railroad Administration.

As for funding... I saw the California budget summary. It identified approximately $139million in the FY 2009-10 budget year. I believe, all of it is Prop 1A bond funds.

Thanks to Raf and/or Clem that provided the summaries in previous blog posts concerning why certain alignments do not work or are problematic. I.e. 101 on the peninsula and train horns.

I knew there were clear readily available answers somewhere... and they appear to have researched and described the answer(s) to their appropriate length.

Anonymous said...

You forgot to mention Clem hates Pacheco Pass and San Jose.

Tony D.

Anonymous said...

Today: 2009-07-31 12:04:00
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood today said he will accelerate stimulus spending and announce $1.5 billion in TIGER Discretionary Grants as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act one month early. article

Anonymous said...

today: Two Central Valley mass transit projects on track for federal funds

James said...


Light-hearted yet reasonable and down-to-earth. Your humor serves to bring us back toward reality when we get bogged down in the details of trying to move a good project through the pipes of governments.

I always look forward to the Spokker comments.

Daniel Jacobson said...

Boxer is terrible when it comes to transportation, there's no chance that she'll step up for HSR and a good transportation bill.

Anonymous said...

Boxer is too busy trying to tell African Americans that their only voice should be through the NAACP to be worrying about HSR.

I bet jim, the xenophobe voted for Boxer. Birds of a feather...

We've Got No Money for Toys said...

At last the Senate also understood that we've got no money for toys.

There is nothing left for you guys but write to Santa and ask for a nice little choo choo train next Christmas!
And be good, otherwise you'll get charcoal only! And you know that's not good for the environment!


We've Got No Money for Toys said...

Jim said: "I'm not xenophobic, I just down like all the outsiders taking over everything.... you can't trust them. They are up to no good."

That's the problem with HSR. You also should be against the HSR, so that you can continue to live in isolation with all the pure American Rednex.

If they build it, all those foreigners will come from LA and the Bay Area and invade your Redneckland in the the CV.

What are you going to do then? Move to Utah or Idaho? I'm sure they'll have no HSR there.

political_incorrectness said...

@ we've got no money for toys,

No the senate does not get it, they think we have money for cars. Cars are toys too right? So if we have no money for toys, why are we funding car travel, air travel, and any other mode of transportation?

What we don't have money or time for is 20 lane freeways and health care for the effect of extra pollution.

Winston said...

It's unfortunate the our leaders decided that giving another $2 billion to subsidize people buying cars in the cash for clunkers program was more important than providing fast, clean transportation. Especially appalling is that the most polluting cars - those built before 1981 are excluded from the program. All the cash for clunkers program will accomplish is to make the U.S. vehicle fleet slightly newer and to increase our dependence on imported oil.

dave said...

@ toys

How old are you? Better yet, where did you get your education? You seem to not have much by the simple fact that you don't understand how important HSR is.

NONIMBYS said...

@spoker..until I walk up and buy that first ticket I am going to fight "in the trenches" and remaine "on duty" for HSR!!!

Anonymous said...

We've Got No Money for Toys said...
Jim said: "I'm not xenophobic, I just down like all the outsiders taking over everything.... you can't trust them. They are up to no good."

That's the problem with HSR. You also should be against the HSR, so that you can continue to live in isolation with all the pure American Rednex.

If they build it, all those foreigners will come from LA and the Bay Area and invade your Redneckland in the the CV.

Uh, Duh, I live in the bay area with the foreigners. They are already here. HSR isn't going to make it worse. What HSR will do is allow more of the new people to go live in the parts of the state where they belong and stop clogging up my town with their big behinds.

Spokker said...

"until I walk up and buy that first ticket I am going to fight "in the trenches" and remaine "on duty" for HSR!!!"

Very good, comrade!

dave said...

@ Jim

"and they aren't trying to take back California for Mexico"

That's just wrong and uncalled for. If you haven't noticed we all share the same planet, if that's your basis or the "backbone" of your thinking then you're screwed up buddy.

The only thing I can think of from your statement is that by being here they are trying to make California into Mexico. That's like saying that Canadians are here because they want this to be Canada, I think they just want to be apart of America. You only think that way because you cannot accept their culture. I know A lot of Mexicans and they appreciate being here. So yeah, your a Xeno! Big Time!

By the way, all these Mexicans will be riding HSR. They fly everyday, so they will ride HSR everyday. But don't be alarmed, their human.

Anonymous said...

@ dave takeback

Anonymous said...

and I don't have anything against hispanics whatsoever. I happen to be quite fond of them, work with them and am freinds with them but politically, I know what they are up to. With a majority, and the initiative process, they will be able to change california law. And being overwhelmingly catholic and conservative. That doesn't bode well for other groups in cali.

Andre Peretti said...

"Cash for clunkers" is not special to America. In France, every person who replaces a car over 8 years old gets a cheque from the state. Same situation, same remedies. In developped countries, everybody who needs a car already owns one. So, you have to bribe them into scrapping it to buy a new one. In the US as in France, 1/10 of the population depend on the car industry for their livelihood. Massive layoffs in carmaking would be a major social catastrophe. This industry is now oversized for our future needs, but this problem can't be solved by one vote in the US senate or the French assembly. The solution will take years. For the time being, you can't blame governments for attending to the most urgent needs.

Anonymous said...

I think all the people who drive cars into SF should have to exit the bridge and take a ramp into a gigantic 40 story central parking garage and then pick up a golf cart zip around town on. It would be so much quieter here.

BruceMcF said...

We've Got No Money for Toys said... "What are you going to do then? Move to Utah or Idaho? I'm sure they'll have no HSR there."

Maybe not Express HSR, but if you have seen the proposals to electrify STRACNET and establish 100mph paths for rapid freight, that opens up the possibility of converting the main transcontinental Amtrak lines to an "Emerging HSR" quality of service.

Which would include many "in the middle of nowhere" states like Idaho, Utah, North Dakota, Nebraska ... because you can't get freight from one coast to the other other by land without passing through flyover country, and once you have a Rapid Freight path that supports reliable scheduled service, you have the opportunity for an Emerging HSR passenger service on the same path.

Of course, there are some so committed to maintaining the US in a state of dependency on imported crude oil that they are not in favor of productive investment that would reduce our oil imports by 10% or more, but surely such non-patriotic types would not be found on the California HSR blog.

Rafael said...

@ BruceMcF -

Diesel engines are not the gating item for moderately rapid freight and passenger service.

Unlike Europe, the US has a vast interior that is hard or impossible to reach with ocean-going ships. There are also few artificial internal waterways to supplement available rivers. Therefore, freight rail is the preferred technology for moving bulk goods from the coasts and Great Lakes to the interior (and to a lesser extent, vice versa). However, the interstate system and cheap diesel have created a lot of subsidized competition from long-distance trucking, which is much more flexible in the last mile.

The primary objective is therefore low cost per ton, not speed nor comfort. That is why operators seek to minimize the number of trains and maximize tonnage per train. Automatic train control systems designed to support higher speeds and avoid train-on-train collisions are not considered essential as long as traffic volume is low enough and there are few passenger trains. High axle loads make it expensive to maintain track geometry to the tolerances FRA requires for safe train operations at elevated speeds.

Dual tracking is also often considered a luxury, since freight rail corporations pay property taxes that go up with the number and condition of tracks and signaling infrastructure. It's true that off-road diesel is not taxed, but that break is much smaller than the lowball vehicle license fees the US trucking industry has to pay.

Until and unless the various levels of government involved undo these perverse fiscal incentives to systematically dismantle the nation's legacy rail infrastructure, high speed passenger rail will prove unsustainable except where expected ridership justifies the great expense of brand-new tracks dedicated to passenger and perhaps, strictly regional light freight service.

Finally, many rail rights of way date back to the 19th century. The technology of the day limited top speeds and made the construction of straight tracks through mountainous terrain extremely difficult if not impossible. As a result, many corners are too tight to negotiate at high speed, even with active tilt technology. Excessively conservative FRA rules designed to discourage passenger rail operations plus historically inadequate subsidies for Amtrak make matters worse.

Where tight curves are the reason for low speed limits, electrification will do little or nothing to improve line haul times. Aggregate consumption of diesel fuel would go down, but not by enough to justify the massive investment. The money would be better spent on ROW rectification (or the addition of passenger-only bypass sections) and double-tracking to support strictly regional emerging HSR.

Don't get me wrong, I'm all for rapid rail. However, electrification is only essential where speeds in excess of 125mph are planned. At 79-90mph, it's something of a luxury. You can save plenty of diesel by installing modern signaling and improving grade crossing to the point at which FRA will permit mixed traffic, permitting passenger rail operators to purchase lightweight, aerodynamic equipment.

Btw, the health issues associated with emissions from diesel locomotives will be dealt with by EPA Tier 3 and 4 rules now that ULSD, particulate traps and SCR technology have all become available. A "cash for clunkers" program aimed at the freight rail industry would accelerate the transition to these much cleaner locomotive engines.

Anonymous said...

Now the above comment has NOTHING to do with HSR od the topic and needs to eject key

Anonymous said...

rafael"Dual tracking is also often considered a luxury, since freight rail corporations pay property taxes that go up with the number and condition of tracks and signaling infrastructure"

Id didn't know they paid more taxes on the same land if it has double tracking. So a good move would be to exempt them from these taxes in order to encourage investment in trackage and signaling which benefits both the freight and passenger rail and, by making the movement of freight more efficient and faster, would help boost profits and the economy.

Of course its unfortunate that we are importing so much crap from overseas to begin with. These trains should be going the other way and taking goods to the ports instead of empty containers. But americans would rather have low paying jobs and cheap stuff than high paying jobs and good stuff and with a whole generation of post 1980 folks taking the reigns, who don't even know what american products are, it doesn't bode well for the counties future. America is doomed with these kids taking over. I just hope I get to ride this train before I die.

@anon - anything is possible.

Anonymous said...

off topic but you know some of these city pair travel times are pretty amazing. to think this train won't be a success is hard to believe. For instance google shows an hour and 27 minute commute from palmdale to downtown LA. That's a nightmare commute. But HSR is a 27 minute trip. 27 minutes! You can't go anywhere in the LA basin in 27 minutes. Ever. It takes nearly 27 minutes to cross the street down there. Hell I'd buy a cheap condo in Palmdale if it was only 27 minutes from what is the center of the known universe.

Another one is Burbank to Anaheim. In what previous decade in history did any human being travel from Burbank to Anaheim in 27 minutes? It's never happened. I think its actually a faster trip from cape canaveral to the space station than from burbank to anaheim. Yet hsr will make it routine. that HAS to have a profound effect. San Jose to Fresno in 63 minutes.

BruceMcF said...

@ Rafeal,

Had you read and understood Alan Drake's proposal, you would have seen that whether or not electrification is required for 100mph Rapid Freight Rail paths is entirely beside the point ... the proposal is directed to reducing the structural dependency of the US on petroleum imports (and the massive risk exposure to crude oil price shocks that goes with it). Rapid Freight Rail is not the objective, its one of the means to the end, since Rapid Freight Rail can capture long haul diesel road freight markets that slower freight paths cannot.

And as ought to be obvious, and has indeed been spelled out previously, if the infrastructure constructed in the program is owned by a public authority, funded by user fees, that avoids the cost of additional property taxes on that infrastructure, so the lecture on property taxes, while accurate, is only relevant to the details of how the policy would be implemented - it is clearly not the major hurdle that the lecture seems to suggest.

Anonymous said...

Freight Railroads Join Midwest Governors in Planning for High-Speed Rail

27 Jul 2009

Rafael said...

@ BruceMcF -

no need to get into a flame war over this. IMHO, the best way to reduce petroleum dependency is to shift long-distance freight from road to rail, e.g. by investing in intermodal systems. Trucks use a lot more fuel per mile and ton of freight than trains do.

The French Modalohr system permits trains could support routes with multiple mode transfer points without changes to the consist. Parallel loading and unloading means rapid turnarounds. Unfortunately, the system's flatbed cars are not FRA-compliant.

As in Europe, the national security priority for freight should be to change the externalities. Besides fiscal considerations, that also means being able to run trains coast to coast. Right now, transcontinental rail freight spends as much time in yards in the Chicago area as it does getting from LA to Chicago.

The trucking industry would need to refocus on regional and local haulage and possibly contract in the process. However, new jobs would be created in the freight rail industry due to additional demand. Given that changes would be gradual anyhow, there's no reason to assume they would put significant numbers of people out of work.

Boosting intermodal freight volume would also generate incentives for private rail operators to invest in ROW rectification, additional capacity (e.g. restoring double tracking), modern signaling, grade crossing safety, track maintenance etc. All of that would make improved passenger service a lot easier to implement, with substantially less investment by taxpayers. The exception are places like SF-LA where there is very high ridership potential, but only with a full-fat bullet train network.

It's true the existing freight lines could also be electrified reduce the economy's exposure to oil price volatility even further. However, that should take a back seat to achieving the modal shift.

Rapidly rising oil prices didn't send the economy into a tailspin all by themselves, they just triggered the collapse of the asset bubble. Raising taxes on on-road fuels while cutting those on general sales (or corporate payrolls) would discourage urban sprawl and therefore reduce the chance of a recurrence.

Rafael said...

@ jim -

"I didn't know they paid more taxes on the same land if it has double tracking."

Afaik, the value of railroad land is assessed on both acreage and the value of the infrastructure installed on it. Of course, the cost of maintaining that infrastructure comes on top of that and may well be greater. The bottom line is railroads all over the US have been ripping up tracks and changing secondary rights of way to inactive or abandoned status.

By law, Amtrak enjoys discounted trackage fees so the railroads have too little incentive to retain tracks they don't absolutely need for their own freight operations.

Anonymous said...

Then they need to be given incentives for investing. As for maintenance, they often get maintenance via amtrak's budget. I think, and I can't prove it, but I'm pretty sure they will make amtrak dreadfully late with congestion until amtrak uses its federal money to pay to improve UPs tracks to get rid of the bottlenecks. I think its a weird yet symbiotic runaround on both their parts. ACtually it's how all business is conducted in america now.

Anonymous said...

new loco

new freight solutionsrailex

Anonymous said...

this is waaay to crazy tubetrain

BruceMcF said...

Rafael said...
"no need to get into a flame war over this. IMHO, the best way to reduce petroleum dependency is to shift long-distance freight from road to rail, e.g. by investing in intermodal systems. Trucks use a lot more fuel per mile and ton of freight than trains do."

Sure, "in your opinion", but when working through the numbers, electrification of STRACTNET and establishment of Rapid Freight paths to capture a substantial share of current long haul truck freight does substantially more to cut oil consumption.

I was not trying to start a flame war, I was just pointing out that you were pontificating based on your established information and views without bothering to find out the relevance of the points you were making to the topic you were responding to.

@ jim, there's also property taxes on switches, so if additional sidings to relieve congestion are owned by a public authority, not only is there the substantial capital cost savings from public as opposed to private finance, but there is also an ongoing operating cost saving, since the public authority does not have the same property tax liability.

The most recent bill funding Amtrak established the precedent of rail infrastructure owned by a public authority structured along the same lines as a regional development corporation, so its not as if there is any new legislative language that needs to be created for this.