Friday, October 23, 2009

California Members of Congress Lobbying Hard for HSR Money

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

As the decision point for awarding $8 billion in federal HSR stimulus nears, and with some $50 billion in applications submitted, California's federal representatives are making a strong push to ensure California gets a significant portion of those funds:

Employing every tool of persuasion from gift books and phone calls to hallway chats and high-level letters, including several to be sent as early as Friday to the White House, the state's lawmakers are making their case for $4.7 billion. But with 23 other states likewise seeking funds, and merit supposedly mattering more than politics, success could be elusive.

"We think because California is further along in this effort, we're well placed to receive federal funding," Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, insisted Thursday....

"We're doing a number of things," Costa said, when asked how California is promoting its high-speed rail bid.

Still, the longtime rail advocate acknowledged that California will "probably" not receive its entire request. Speaking at a U.S. High Speed Rail Association conference Thursday morning, Costa shared the stage with congressional colleagues who have their own plans.

Which isn't unexpected. I would be surprised if we got less than $3 billion, and would be pleasantly surprised if we got $4 billion or higher. There will be pressure on USDOT to distribute the funds widely, but there is also a recognition that if you spread the money too thinly, it won't do much good at all.

Jim Costa has been a longtime champion of HSR, having authored the 1996 legislation that created the CHSRA and got this project off the ground. But our Senators are getting in on the action as well:

"I'm very hopeful we'll get a large portion of what we're asking for," Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer said Thursday. "We're ready for it."

As part of the lobbying effort, Boxer said she, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger will be sending President Barack Obama another letter as early as Friday. It will likely remind Obama that California is providing $9 billion from a bond measure, and it will be accompanied by letters from the Sierra Club and the Chamber of Commerce to show support spanning the political spectrum.

Trying for the personal touch, Costa sent Obama and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel copies of historian Stephen Ambrose's book about the building of the transcontinental railroad, "Nothing Like it in the World." And this week, California High-Speed Rail Authority leaders roamed Capitol Hill and huddled with Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

Since January, records also show, lobbyist Mark Kadesh -- formerly Feinstein's chief of staff -- has been paid $120,000 to advocate for California high-speed rail.

I don't know that a Stephen Ambrose book is going to make the difference - perhaps sending Rahm to Spain to ride a special AVE train with the destinations changed from Spanish cities to California cities ("next stop: Los Angeles Union Station" instead of "proxima estacion: Barcelona-Sants") would have more of an impact - but it does show that CA is making an all-out effort.

Of just as much importance is the fact that Obama Administration officials have repeatedly stated that California is likely to get a significant piece of the HSR stimulus. I am confident they'll keep to that pledge.

Rod Diridon colorfully explained to the New York Times:

"We've likened it to California and the high-speed rail program being the ugliest girl in town, or the ugly duckling, and she was growing up and nobody wanted to be associated with her," Diridon said. "Her uncle gives her $9 billion, and everyone wants to take her to the prom. Well, everyone wants to take us to the prom now."

I'm not quite sure that's accurate. It's more like the attractive boy or girl in your class who you had a huge crush on, but you weren't sure if they were available or not; their parents are kind of strict and tightfisted and might not approve of he or she dating. But now you've heard from the parents that they do approve of the date, and what's more, they're willing to give you some money to buy him or her dinner. Now you know what to do - bust a move.


Anonymous said...

either way we got a date. hooray.

daniel said...

Given that we will likely not get the entire 4.7B, I am wondering if CA has prioritized their Track 2 projects. In other words, if we are a billion short, what projects on the list get delayed until more funding can be obtained?

Unknown said...

OT, but interesting, Honolulu is moving forward with their light rail plan, this graphic on the site is interesting (sorry it's so small):

Relative noise levels of proposed train

I think it would be useful for the CHSRA to create something like that for the places along the route, especially on the peninsula where people seem to think this thing is going to sound like an airplane flying by.

YESonHSR said...

Lets hope that the Senate will agree to the 4billion the house set for HSR.The money would be a huge help and might be announced with the ARRA funds.We should get some from each fund so we might have a good chance at all the funds we need.

observer said...

These politicians must be using a shoot first, ask questions later approach. Iguess they figure they'll put their fingers in their ears, and just push hard for whatever federal funds now, and then explain why California actually can't/won't match (ie: the can't meet the conditions of AB3035 to get the approval for the bond appropriations), how they can't actually finish any parts (because the state ONLY has, at BEST, $14B at its disposal), how the program isn't shovel ready in any way, how they have a failed EIR going back to the drawing board, how the parts that are being funded by the feds aren't actually producing a high speed rail line, how the CHSRA in charge is increasingly being called to the mat for illegitimate practices, etetetc.

The aftermath of this earmark feeding frenzy will make for iteresting theater in the next election anyway.

James said...

Wheres Adirondacker to tell us that Waikiki does not even have as good a service as Hackettstown.

Anonymous said...

Honolulu would be better off spending the extra money to keep light rail on the surface.

A place that depends on tourism doesn't need blight.

Alon Levy said...

Italy is full of picturesque towns with elevated highways and rail lines. Apparently they're not considered blight there.

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Anonymous said...

now thisguess we should start over

James said...

Ok, All my engineering instinct (such as it is) is screaming that that 'thread the o-ring' is a crash waiting to happen. I understand someone has a logical analysis that says it will work but it sure looks wrong. Steel wheels on steel rail is bad enough but having to prove you can hit the next magnetic target every 50 feet is just nuts.

Matt said...

James you are wrong. I don't think anyone has done logical analysis that shows it works. They just suppose that it would even be cheaper than traditional rail. But I don't see that being true.

James said...

It is called Tubular_Rail and the guy who thought of it asked some students to look it over. The idea is to put the rail on the vehicle. They are not considering how they will make the body stiff enough vertically but able to bend in a curve. It will be so stiff vertically that is will not tolerate the slight vertical curve due to banking the track even if there were very closely spaced rollers in any curve. So the body rail will bump into each roller. This does not pass the sniff test. NFG.

James said...

So this is what happens when
try to launch a technical project without bothering to check with engineers if it is even feasible. They formed a board, incorporated, and issued stock. How hard can the engineering be?

They have swapped rail maintenance for wheel maintenance. They have made the wheel flange requirements 10x more complicated, if it can even be done. It is an interesting exercise anyway in what not to do.

Kind of points to the disconnect between those who do and do not have some engineering common sense. Any loud-mouth NIMBY with a keyboard can stir up ignorance and waste the time of the system planners. Some of the anti-HSR arguments are more than a little frustrating in that there are good technical reasons why the project should proceed in certain ways.


Tube rail?? can we get any more silly googy ideas?? its the stupid USA .we havent even done HSR yet..

Alon Levy said...

I think it's sad that in some circles, even linear motor maglev is considered passé - one system is already in operation in Shanghai and another is just outside Greater Tokyo; it's not something the World Class Engineers of the US could reinvent from scratch, letting their own students peer-review the work.

NONIMBYS said...

Even rich China nowt thinks Magel is not going for the next 20 years..than again we still have Beverly Hillbilles type minds here..And you think we can do maglelev?

Brandon in California said...

Maglev and steel-wheel on rail are very very similar at the structural level. Bridges and so forth would be designed very similarly. Their costs will be similar at these levels of design and construction.

Where maglev and rail differ in costs, assuming same design speeds, will be with the technology being implemented

Doh, we know that. But, at this point I am unsure of the magnitude of cost differences are between...

1) steel rail, overhead catenary, substations, and electric trains...


2) lines of magnets, substations, and trains.

I suppose it is possible that maglev trains would require slightly wider ROW... which likely has a marginal change in cost with structures and land.

As for different design criteria, such as speed and implications to minimum curves radii.... I suspect that is one area where maglev would more often be more costly. Fewer options would exist when dealing with curve parameters and structures or geology that may get in the way.

All that said, one area that I feel is a fatal flaw for maglev has to do with switches and crossovers and track stuff.

Maglev does not allow the easy and quick switching of trains to different alignments. The infrastrucre necessary involves the whole structure to move. Such infracture will take up a lot of space, and be much more costly to construct.

Worst of all... the time necessary for switches to adjust. For rail... a fraction of second is needed. For maglev type switches... minutes.

Imo, maglev is not feasible for multi line systems, or systems long in length, or systems with curves in diverse areas.

Andre Peretti said...

With the advent of the Velaro, AGV and Zefiro, maglev has lost its edge, speedwise. All systems have to face the same enemy: air drag, which is proportional to the square of the speed. When you multiply the speed by 3, the air drag is multiplied by 9. About 15% of it is due to air compression and the rest is fluid friction along the whole length of the train.
At 357mph the AGV guzzles 850 amps with a 31kv tension, and I would expect a maglev train of the same dimensions at the same speed to consume roughly the same amount of power.
Maglev can climb steeper slopes but is that really useful for a train which is supposed to transport people (and glasses on tables)? A succession of positive and negative 4% gradients is already more than many stomachs can take. Swedish engineers call it "the puke factor".
The choice will be guided by economic (and possibly political) reasons.
Maglev is costlier to build, but cheaper to maintain.
Both have a visual impact: it's catenaries vs elevated track all the way.
The noise impact is equivalent. HSR is noisier when measured in "raw" decibels, maglev is noisier with the apparatus used to measure traffic noise (according to Wikipedia).
The strongest argument in favor of HSR, the fact it can be interconnected with legacy tracks is not as decisive in America as it is in Europe. As CHSR has to be built from scratch, why not Maglev?

Joey said...

Maglev is still an emerging technology, and quite expensive, may I add. Nothing is standardized about Maglev yet, and just about no off-the-shelf components are available. Everything has to be custom-designed, and a considerable amount of technological research still has to be done. The proposed Tokyo-Osaka maglev would cost near $100 billion, and I wouldn't expect any such system in California to cost anything less. Not only would Maglev cost much more, but it would likely take twice as long to build. HSR is already has standardized technology, so the only research that needs to be done is where and how to build the route. Plus, plenty of the components necessary are already widely available, from trains to switches to overhead wiring. A HSR system can receive incremental speed upgrades over the years too, making the speed benefit of Maglev less apparent.

Alon Levy said...

I invoked maglev purely as a way of saying that the tubular train people are beyond even maglev levels of gadgetbahn.

Peter said...

Re Tubular Train

I guess it goes arrow straight without ever turning the slightest bit? WTF?

Alon Levy said...

No, it can turn - it just has large curve radii. With 25-meter cars, it could have similar curve radii to conventional HSR. The difference is with rigid trains; for conventional rail curve radius is linear in car length, for maglev and tubular trains it's quadratic. So if you tried to run a rigid 200-meter train, it'd need 64 times the minimum curve radii.

Here I'm talking about the minimum radius imposed by the trains, not by their speed. The speed-imposed curve radius depends only on the possible cant, not on the length of the train.