Thursday, October 22, 2009

Thanks to Kevyn for sending this. It's from today's New York Times blog site. (If your email copy turns out to be tiny print, you can always open the real thing from the URL.)

Here's an interesting paragraph:

"Rae stressed that decisions would be merit-based and consider criteria that would maximize public policy benefit, but she also acknowledged a growing political reality that faces Obama in his first year in the White House. "We have to show progress, and we have to show some type of progress soon," she said of the $8 billion in stimulus cash."

The phrase "maximize public policy benefit" is code for political decisions imposed by the more influential in the Congress and the White House. The more important part is Karen Rae's statement that they need "progress" and they need it soon, but with the $8 billion, which they won't even hand out until next Spring, four months from now. What constitutes "progress?" Getting the money out the door, or getting something accomplished?

I really have problems understanding what is going on here. The ostensible purpose of the $8 billion is economic stimulus and providing employment for the huge numbers of unemployed. So even if, say, California gets its funding next Spring, they can't begin construction until late 2012 at the earliest. So, where does the "shovel ready" part come in?

One of the CHSRA line items in its shopping list is electrification for Caltrain. How can Caltrain electrification be considered shovel ready when they are an ineligible urban commuter train, not an inter-city high-speed train? Meanwhile, CHSRA is still in its EIS process, not shovel ready, and it won't be until 2012 or later. So, how can they apply for electrification funds for Caltrain? Beats me.

And, helping the unemployed but not until 2012? I'm confused. Aren't they are unemployed right now? Will they have to sit around in California and wait for the next two or three years?

I've pointed this out before; the FRA has dual and conflicting roles. It's both regulatory of, but also the advocate for, the rail industry. That's an inherent conflict of interest. (Are you watching what's going on with the nation's money industries where former Goldman Sachs executives have been avoiding making regulatory decisions?) The FAA is in the same situation and it's a problem. Having them hand out billions of dollars to HSR promoters who then hand it out to their rail industry contractors and consultants does not seem like a sound way to assure parsimonious, judicious investment. Where's the discussion about that?

In the article, there's a comment by Rod Diridon about ugliest girls, ugly ducklings, an uncle with $9 billion, and being taken or not taken to the prom. It's weird, crass, sexist, arrogant, and mindless. But, what would you expect? It's Rod Diridon.

As I read through the article, I got the impression that Josh Voorhees was somehow amazed at the degree of national interest in high-speed trains. Why would anyone be amazed? The government dangles $8 billion and all the fish jump for it, especially in this economy. There are politicians out there who have never been closer to a train than their Chrismas toy when they were little, and are now champions of and experts on high-speed rail. Where Vorhees gets it right is when he discusses "powerful backers." That explains quite a lot. The CHSRA has a team lobbying in Washington, even as we speak, to steer decisions about the funds in their favor.

There's a discussion about train speeds and what is credible as "high-speed." That's the wrong question to be concerned about. The fundamental question the FRA should be concerned about is who will pay for these trains to be completed so that they can actually run? Our own eagerly anticipated super-train is now billed at $45 billion. (I would say, twice that much!) Even putting every cent of the $9 billion bond money and all of the federal $8 billion stimulus funds into construction, then what? Hey, we're a little short here, $28 billion short.

The last paragraph sums it up. Karen Rae is quoted to say, "We're not going to build rails to nowhere." In that case, what would you call a HSR segment that goes from Bakersfield to Fresno, or from Fresno to Merced? And, with only $8 billion, or even $50 billion for all 11 HSR corridors, you are not going to be building any trains to anywhere.



October 22, 2009

High-Speed Rail Effort Proceeds With Caution

By JOSH VOORHEES of Greenwire

First in a series.

President Obama billed the $8 billion in stimulus funds for high-speed rail as the "first step" toward a nationwide system of European-style bullet trains linking the nation's largest cities.

But now his administration must take the second step: figuring out how and where to spend the cash among more than $50 billion worth of proposals from across the country.

It is a tricky endeavor. If Federal Railroad Administration officials pick too many projects, they risk spreading the cash too thin, leaving little tangible evidence to point to when it comes time to ask for the next round of federal investment. Choose only one or two larger projects, and they could alienate needed political allies that hail from states that are overlooked.

Any near-term failures -- either in moving too slowly or picking the wrong projects -- could threaten to derail the larger effort, according to the leader of the FRA's high-speed grant program.

"That would be a disaster for the beginning of this program," FRA Deputy Administrator Karen Rae said earlier this month at a public transit conference in Orlando, Fla.

Rae stressed that decisions would be merit-based and consider criteria that would maximize public policy benefit, but she also acknowledged a growing political reality that faces Obama in his first year in the White House. "We have to show progress, and we have to show some type of progress soon," she said of the $8 billion in stimulus cash.

While FRA has yet to miss any congressionally mandated deadlines, its grant program is not moving at the speed that Obama had originally promised.

In April, while he was outlining his high-speed plan, Obama said a first batch of stimulus grants would be awarded this summer for smaller planning and shovel-ready projects. But that deadline came and went with no announcements, something FRA -- which has long served mostly as a regulatory agency monitoring safety issues -- said afterward was a result of the unexpected high level of interest in the grant program.

The agency received 45 applications from 24 states for a total of $50 billion in long-term, high-speed rail corridor projects, and another 214 requests from 24 states for a total of $7 billion for the smaller, shovel-ready work.

FRA chief Joseph Szabo told lawmakers last week not to expect any federal funds to be awarded until early 2010 and that the first round will no longer be limited to the smaller projects.

"It was painful to delay because we had given our word," Szabo said at a House hearing. "But in the grander scheme of things, to make sure this is done right and that we look at all of these applications holistically ... a short, three-, four-month delay is minuscule."

The heightened interest is evident not only in the sum of applications, but also from the attendance at recent high-speed rail events across the country. The hearing at which Szabo testified last week was a standing-room-only affair. So, too, were a pair of high-speed rail sessions earlier in the month at the American Public Transportation Association's annual conference in Orlando, at which Rae spoke.

"In the gloom-and-doom days, we couldn't get six people in a room to have a meeting; now we have a meeting, and it's standing-room only," said Frank Busalacchi, the Wisconsin transportation secretary and the chairman of the States for Passenger Rail Coalition.

The bump to high-speed rail's profile comes as little surprise to many in the rail industry, who have watched public attention and private interest in their proposals ebb and flow along with tide of government funding.

Rod Diridon, a board member of the California High Speed Rail Authority, said his state's plan saw a similar flurry of attention when voters approved a $9 billion bond last year to help finance a proposal linking Los Angles and San Francisco.

"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."

'A line on a map'

FRA officials have no shortage of possible projects to choose from, each with their own opportunities and challenges, and all with varying sizes and price tags.

A highly circulated agency map, titled "Vision for High-Speed Rail in America," includes 10 federally designated high-speed rail corridors, mostly located near the nation's two coasts. The document also includes the Northeast Corridor, which technically has never been given the federal designation but is home to Amtrak's Acela service, the only passenger train line in the country that has exceeded the 110-miles-per-hour speed necessary to earn DOT's "high speed" classification.

But the stimulus cash is open to any passenger rail system, regardless of whether it is high-speed, and a number of states located outside of DOT's designated corridors have applied for federal funding. Transportation officials in Arizona, Colorado, Nevada and Utah have formed the Western High-Speed Rail Alliance in an attempt to put their cities on DOT's map.

FRA's "high speed" designation earns corridors small amounts of federal funds for safety improvements but is not a necessity for the stimulus grants. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has attempted to assure those areas lacking the designation that they are still in the national conversation, and FRA officials have urged states to subscribe to their message of "One region, one voice."

"We're at the beginning, so if somebody in the country didn't see their rail line, that doesn't mean that it's not going to be on there," LaHood said in April.

Still, a number of transportation officials remain wary. As Phoenix transportation planner Dennis Smith told the Arizona Republic earlier this month, "If you don't have a line on the map, you're nowhere."

For obvious reasons, many lawmakers would like to see high-speed rail find a home in their own districts, but most have attempted to walk a fine line between supporting a larger, national plan and focusing attention on their state's efforts.

Florida Rep. John Mica, the top Republican on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, was quick last week to stress to FRA officials that lawmakers were keeping the big picture in mind.

"We're not parochial about this," he told Szabo. "We're not campaigning for any site, we're looking for a success for the country."

But later in the same hearing, Rep. Corrine Brown, a Florida Democrat who chairs the panel's rail subcommittee, pointed to FRA's map. "There seems to be a major part not connected -- it doesn't go from Jacksonville to Orlando," said Brown, whose district includes Jacksonville. "We need to update it ... it needs to be connected."

Other proposals have their own powerful backers, as well. Senate Environment and Public Works Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and Commerce, Science and Transportation ranking member Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) hail from states considered to be strong candidates for federal funds. Both have touted the benefits of their states' respective proposals during congressional hearings this year.

And then there is the Midwestern proposal, which would connect Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, St. Louis and several Ohio cities that have all been among the hardest hit by the ongoing economic recession, particularly the withering of the auto industry. The region has been a frequent destination of Obama and his Cabinet for public events hyping the administration's economic recovery effort.

And the Midwest line would be based out of Illinois, a state that as recently as last year was represented in Congress by Obama, LaHood and White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel.

How fast is fast enough?

One of the biggest questions the administration must answer: How fast is fast enough to be high-speed rail?

Some plans -- such as those in Texas, Florida and California -- are calling for the creation of new high-speed-only lines from scratch. Such plans would allow trains to reach top speeds of 150 mph or higher, approaching the speeds of the European and Asian systems that many in Congress have lauded.

But building new lines and securing the necessary rights-of-way to do so is more difficult and expensive than making improvements to existing rail lines that carry both freight and passenger trains.

Some experts argue that incremental improvements to heavily congested corridors -- such as the initial work on a proposed Midwestern system radiating out from Chicago -- would provide a higher rate of return on the investment. But because much of the system would still be shared by freight trains, the passenger rail service would likely max out around 110 mph.

Amtrak's Acela is able to reach 150 mph along small portions of its route from Washington to New York City and on to Boston, but it still only averages 68 mph. According to Amtrak, the southern portion of the route -- roughly from New York City to Washington, D.C. -- currently takes an average of 2 hours and 45 minutes to travel about 220 miles. To cut just 15 minutes off the trip would take an estimated $625 million. To cut an additional 15 minutes could cost as much as $5 billion.

For comparison, Florida submitted a stimulus application requesting $2.6 billion to build a new 88-mile high-speed rail line linking Tampa and Orlando that would operate in excess of 168 mph.

Because the state has previously preserved most of the needed right-of-way between the two cities, it estimates the project will cost a total of $3.5 billion. But the state lacks the same right-of-way advantage for the next stage of its plan, an estimated $8 billion service running from Orlando to Miami.

Lawmakers who will play major roles in future high-speed rail spending are split on what they would like to see, with many coming down on the side of the debate most likely to help their home districts.

Democratic Rep. John Olver, the chairman of the House Appropriations subcommittee in charge of annual transportation spending, wants to see the incremental improvement, which would benefit the Acela service that runs through his mostly rural district in western Massachusetts.

At a hearing earlier this year on high-speed investment, Olver concluded that Congress would be unlikely to secure the massive amounts of money needed to build new lines and should instead focus on the ones already in existence. "With a modest capital investment, we could implement higher-speed rail in a number of intercity corridors."

Meanwhile, Mica and Brown, leaders on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee -- which is pushing for a $50 billion investment in high-speed rail over the next six years -- do not want the nation's rail lines to be "high speed" in name only.

"We cannot take the funding to be invested in high-speed rail ... and try to fool people by giving them anything less than true high-speed rail service," said Mica, who represents a district just outside of Orlando.

Publicly, FRA officials have refrained from taking a side in the debate. "All of these speeds and all of these services are important," Szabo told lawmakers. "This is, in fact, the model that is used in Europe and Asia. Not every single train is going 200 miles per hour. It is important to see how these different pieces fit together."

Ultimately, the decision won't be as simple as how fast the trains move. FRA officials and many in the transit community have echoed Obama in saying that it is pointless to move people from one city to another if they have few options for navigating the streets of their destination once they arrive.

The "last mile" issue would appear to level the playing field between those incremental proposals that link cities with robust transit systems and those that have the ability to build new lines but lack existing comprehensive local transit infrastructure.

"If we have small segments that are not connected, that don't interface with public transportation or airports or our highway system in a logical, rational network way, it's not going to make sense," Rae said. "We're not going to build rails to nowhere."

Copyright 2009 E&E Publishing. All Rights Reserved.

For more news on energy and the environment, visit

Copyright 2009

This article is highly informative. We learn about the present status of the Department of Transportation budget, with different versions in the House and Senate. It tells us the status of high-speed rail thinking at the federal level. It also informs us about the politics; the Democrats and rail lobbyists eager to extract more federal funding to send to the states, the Republicans resisting it. While the article mentions California and Florida, it oddly does not mention the Chicago hub and corridor, which is how the $8 billion got into the ARRA package in the first place.

I wish a greater distinction would be made between regular passenger rail service, up to 110mph, which was more typical of existing service pre-Amtrak, forty years ago, and our current obsession with chasing after Europe and Japan with the 200 mph luxury trains. The difference is highly consequential. Perhaps we ought to recreate the former before we venture out on the latter. It's the icing on the cake metaphor. The Europeans, for example, have a well established "cake" but we don't; thus, we in California intend to create the "icing" but without the "cake" to put it on. Our current state passenger rail service really sucks, but instead of fixing it first, we are essentially ignoring it so that we can have the Disneyland Express.

HSR advocates keep making comparisons with the interstate highway system. Bad analogy. HSR will never be anything as comprehenisve and ubiquitous as our interstate network. Nor should it. We are frequently told that HSR works best between 100 and 400 mile distances. That certainly limits the amount of HSR we can possibly absorb that will be functional. What we should be looking at is a national railroad plan that is a sub-set of a multi-modal national transportation plan. What is happening now flies in the face of any cost/benefit analysis.

I'm not convinced that what John Krieger of USPIRG says is so; that the $50 billion in requests for a piece of the $8 billion is a reflection of the great national interest in high-speed rail. I think it's an interest in grabbing for federal funding for all those cash-strapped states. By the way, USPIRG is the national organization of which CALPIRG is the state version. CALPIRG, if you recall, paid to send poorly prepared college students door to door to promote Proposition 1A bond issue prior to last fall's election.

Krieger says it will take $100 billion to create the national network that the Democrats are advocating. What he hasn't done is add up the length of all the national HSR corridors in question, pick a cost per mile number, and see what he comes up with. He will discover, to his amazement, that it will be at least one order of magnitude larger than his proposed $100 billion. The California 800 miles will cost $100 billion all by itself. Meanwhile, today's Times discusses the conflict between more federal spending and the immensity of the growing US deficit. Is the national deficit bottomless?

Senator Murray's more balanced position at least acknowledges that while we rush to build -- or at least seed-fund -- the latest and greatest whizzy technology, we must not neglect repairing what we've got; which is a deteriorating and neglected transportation infrastructure. And more importantly, she argues for looking at the entire multi-modal transportation picture, not just one photogenic sub-set. We certainly haven't done that in California. But, repeat after me: "It's not about the train; it's about the money."



Advocates for high-speed rail lobby for more after $8 billion in stimulus

By Walter Alarkon - 10/22/09 06:00 AM ET

Just months after winning $8 billion for high-speed rail projects in the stimulus, mass transportation advocates are pressing Senate appropriators for billions more in the 2010 Department of Transportation spending bill.

Transit groups and urban Democrats want the Senate to accept the $4 billion for high-speed rail projects that the House included in its version of the spending bill for the departments of Transportation and Housing and Urban Development.

Senate appropriators thus far have allocated just $1.2 billion for high-speed rail projects, choosing instead to spread more money to other types of transit programs. The Senate level is closer to the White House’s $1 billion request for high-speed rail. The spending bill has yet to go to conference committee.

High-speed rail has already seen a significant boost in support over past years. High-speed rail projects received between $30 million and $50 million annually in spending bills but earlier this year received an $8 billion infusion in the economic stimulus package.

The Obama administration, which had pushed lawmakers to fund high-speed rail projects in the stimulus, is now considering applications for the money from 24 states. California has asked for $4.7 billion for a high-speed link between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Florida has asked for $2.5 billion for a new line between Tampa and Orlando.

The total cost of all the projects that have applied for funds is about $50 billion.

Transportation advocates say the high number of applications is a sign of interest in high-speed rail and shows that more funding is needed to build a modern rail network. How much money Congress sets aside for high-speed rail projects for 2010 will tell the rest of the country how serious it is about high-speed rail, said John Krieger, transportation policy analyst for the U.S. Public Interest Research Group (U.S. PIRG).

“If they were to fund it in a big way, that will help keep the momentum going,” Krieger said. “If they were to do a much smaller allocation, there’s a chance this is a trend rather than the kind of legacy the Obama administration hopes it will be.”

Krieger added it would take around $100 billion from the federal government to build a high-speed rail network.

A coalition of rail proponents, including U.S. PIRG, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) and Transportation for America, has been lobbying senators to support the higher funding level, arguing it will encourage more private-sector investment and create thousands of new jobs.

“When the market opportunity is big, there will be a big reaction from the private sector,” said Arthur Guzzetti, vice president for policy at APTA. “If [the funding level is] a small incremental thing, you will get a commensurate response.”

Top Senate appropriators have sought to spread money around to other transportation sectors.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the sponsor of the Senate’s Transportation appropriations bill, took a “balanced approach” to funding transit projects, providing more funding than the House for highways, railroad safety and multimodal grants, which can be applied to different types of transit projects, said Alex Glass, Murray’s spokesman.

“We also need to improve the conditions of our roads and bridges, to invest in public transportation and to create an overall transportation network,” Glass said.

Both Glass and an aide to Sen. Kit Bond (Mo.), the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations subcommittee for Transportation and Housing and Urban Development, noted that the Senate’s level of $1.2 billion for high-speed rail is still 20 percent higher than the president’s request.

House members have shown bipartisan support for high-speed rail funding. In July, they defeated an amendment sponsored by Rep. Tom Latham (R-Iowa) to cut the funding for high-speed rail projects to $1 billion, the amount originally requested in President Barack Obama’s budget. The amendment lost, 284-136.

In the upper chamber, Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has called on Murray and Bond to meet the House funding level. Schumer and other Empire State lawmakers have championed a high-speed rail link in upstate New York.

“Fully funding this program is critical to expanding public transportation infrastructure in the United States, which in turn helps the country to mitigate some of the environmental, energy and congestion issues that plague our roads and airspace,” Schumer wrote in a letter to Bond and Murray.


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Several decades ago, the entire Bay, north and south, was endangered. It was the dumping place for waste and the opportunity for landfill to create more space for in-fill development.

Beginning with three women in Berkeley, including the wife of the University Chancellor, Dr. Clark Kerr, Kay Kerr, as well as Sylvia McLaughlin and Esther Gulick, they assembled themselves into an action group that expanded into a major movement to Save the Bay.

They were successful, finally winning the support of legislators and other people of influence. The Bay, which was on its way to becoming a landfill and small river, was saved into a federally protected estuary, to the benefit of all of us who live in the Bay Area.

Today, our Peninsula is in great danger. It needs to be saved. The charms of the two-track Caltrain system are about to give way to a four-track expansion of the grade separated rail corridor. They will, in our particular area, also raise the tracks on a 20 ft. retaining wall. The California high-speed train will occupy the rail corridor along with Caltrain and Union Pacific's freights.

This expansion promises to be immensely intrusive and harmful to the communities and their village-like character through which it will pass. The construction period alone could consume ten years. This rail expansion will adversely affect the entire Peninsula.

But, then, one must ask, wouldn't it be better to increase the number of tracks not only to four, but to six, in order to better handle the varying speeds of what will be double the number of daily trains intended for this expanded rail corridor? Any high-speed train station must have extra passing tracks. Won't there be many more trains, all operating at different speeds? So, if six tracks are better, why stop there? Isn't our future in railroads? Isn't that progress? That's what we are told.

From the point of view of the newly formed partnership of Caltrain and the high-speed rail authority -- called the Peninsula Rail Program (PRP) -- they see the Peninsula mostly as an obstruction for their intentions to enlarge the rail system. In effect, we who live on the Peninsula are in the way of their expansionist aspirations, and although intended to be served by these transit carriers, are obstacles to their ambitions. What sense does that make?

Therefore, it is time to say no. It is time to call a halt to what they call progress and what we call imperial exploitation. The fifty miles of Peninsula are threatened to become one large, bisecting railroad yard, cutting a swath of tracks through each town through which it passes, greatly increasing the importance of the expanding, separating rail barrier that divides so many of the towns in two.

We have been, especially after last fall's election, bombarded with rail advocacy messages, outlining the many virtues of the train and the many benefits that will be bestowed on the State and on us. It will save fuel, save power, create jobs, improve the environment, save money and provide economic growth and benefits to California forever. This so-called panacea is marketing hyperbole, too good to be true. Literally!

We are never told about the downside:

•A construction period of ten years or more which will create pollution and GHG throughout California that will set back our environmental efforts for generations.

•That it will cost, not $50 billion, but twice that amount and possibly more.

•That it will be most expensive mega-infrastructure project in the history of the US, and possibly the world, including the great Pyramids.

•That it will never be profitable but will need to be subsidized by the State forever.

•That it will serve only the well to do, since worldwide, HSR is the icing on the rail cake; the luxury, premium rail service with the most expensive tickets.

•That all the cities through which it passes on the Peninsula will be severely penalized in terms of property values, business, and quality of life.

•That the expression, “the other side of the tracks” will become more meaningful than ever, and not in a good way.

•That the promise of the high-speed train and an expanded Caltrain service will become the fertile ground upon and around which developers will thrive with the construction of high-density, high-rise urban in-fill. See their HSR video and watch buildings grow before our eyes as the blue and yellow train whizzes past.

We must organize and say, Save Our Peninsula. We must organize to put a stop to this destructive force, hurling toward us in the guise of shiny metal luxury and speed. We must see it for what it really is and what harm it will do to all of us.

Save Our Peninsula.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Here comes the train; get out of the way

"It is impossible to address the broad crisis facing California without affecting some preexisting plan in some way. Whether it's the transmission lines needed to carry power to cities from a solar plant in the Mojave Desert or the Carrizo Plain or whether it's building a light rail line next to an LA high school or something else entirely, solutions to the economic, environmental, and energy crisis aren't being built on a blank slate. We have to implement them within the built and the natural environment we have, and that means when we want to build high speed rail, it may mean other plans have to be shifted to accommodate it."

Here's the crux of the problem. Whether it's stated in Cruickshank's blog, or in the minds of CHSRA or Caltrain, if we want a high-speed train, other plans, conditions, and facts on the ground must give way. Presumably, regardless of how destructive this train will be, it's purposes are pre-eminent and supercede all other concerns. It's what Diridon meant when he said, "we will overrun you." Well, that's clear enough and posits the entire situation as an either/or set of conditions. All accommodations rest with us, not with the train. And, this is what we have been saying in these emails for years. That is why negotiation with the rail authority, the good intentions of many among us, will be fruitless.

It is also why our task to stop the rail tsunami is so challenging. The HSR has been sold to California as the panacea for all our problems and troubles, like unemployment, the environment, congested highways and airways, and, of course the deficits in our economy. Therefore building it must come at any cost, we are told. It is why Supervisor Sue Lempert once urged the Menlo Park City Council to understand all the sacrifices we few individuals should make "for the sake of the greater good." It is the basis for the voters-passed-the-bond-issue argument, regardless of their lack of awareness of what they were voting for.

Cruickshank's conversation eventually has to come around to us and the use of his favorite word, NIMBY.

"In this way they're not so different from the Peninsula NIMBYs, who seem to prefer a permanent 1975, even at the expense of Caltrain's survival. They're all motivated by a belief that trains bring blight, that trains are not a part of a desirable community. That is a belief unique to the late 20th century, but that belief runs deep. [actually, I would settle for a permanent 2009]

Nobody is yet articulating a truly 21st century vision: one where sustainable land use and transportation, including high speed rail, produces cleaner and quieter communities, bringing economic security for the many and protecting everyone from the looming catastrophes our dependence on oil is about to produce."

Why is it not yet clear that "sustainable land use" is unsustainable? It's part of the sales rhetoric and hype of the developers, along with 'smart growth' and 'vibrant, livable urban environments.'

Cruickshank argues the remarkable and paradoxical, 'more is less' position; that is, more construction, more concrete and steel and more development, is quieter and cleaner. I find the calling of the high-speed train 'green' an oxymoron. To me, 'green' is literally natural and green, like trees and grass. To call one of the largest construction projects California has ever experienced, 'green,' is an affront to logic and common sense. To say that, well, it's more green than this or that, is hairsplitting. Green buildings are not green, they are buildings. Building them is not green. They consume land, which is then not green. Manufacturing all the required materials, whether it's for a building or a train, is not green. We are being sold a false bill of goods! And, Mr. Cruickshank, that belief is not unique to the 20th century. You will hear quite a bit more of it in this, the 21st century.

The final insult to our intelligence comes from this statement: "High speed rail will function as an "organic machine" in California. " 'Organic machine' is like 'wildlife management.'

However, here's an interesting twist of attitude from Cruickshank. Although we are still his NIMBY enemies, some of us, those who support tunneling, are a part of the California future that he sees providing benefits for all of us:

"Ultimately what all this shows is that in building HSR, we aren't battling "NIMBYs." We're battling an obsolete model of California. The key dividing line is whether people see a train as a valuable part of the future, or an unwanted relic of the past. Palo Alto residents who design tunnels for HSR are embracing the possibilities of HSR, whereas those who sue to kill the project just don't seem to want trains around at all - including Caltrain, which their HSR denial is putting in jeopardy."

I'm in favor of a tunnel, but only if we can't stop the train on the Peninsula. And, I'm a Menlo Park resident that doesn't "embrace the possibilities of HSR," by which I mean, specifically this California high-speed train. Ah, well, Robert, it's your blog; you can say whatever you wish. Your basic premise is that the California past is obsolete and undesirable, and that the future of California is embedded in the high-speed train. I respectfully disagree with both parts of that premise.


Recent comments from Richard Tolmach

This is from our good friend, Richard Tolmach. I consider it required reading for anyone with any concerns about high-speed train on the Peninsula and in California. It is a description not so much of the intended train, but the people behind these intentions.

Some of my colleagues have expressed their reservations about all this persistent bad news. Sorry. All I can say, yet again, that this is not a game. These are real, serious people, intent on shoving this project down our throats, regardless of costs or impact on us and our communities. I can't sugar coat this and neither will Tolmach. And, by the way, feel free to blame the messenger. That's what the pro-rail bloggers all do.



Published Tuesday, October 13, 2009, by California Rail News

European high-speed trains don't invade neighborhoods

HSRA's distorted ideas on rail improvements don't resemble Europe's high-speed

rail at all

* Europe targets rail investment to high-speed bypasses

* France builds 5 miles for the cost of 1 California mile

* HSRA's real model: 1960's drive for elevated urban freeways

By Richard F. Tolmach

California cities expecting fast trains to revive their downtowns may get the

opposite, with plans for 217 mph operation through at least 12 cities revealed

by California's High-Speed Rail Authority (HSRA). The politically volatile plan

was unveiled at a workshop in Sacramento August 6.

Project Manager Tony Daniels, the Authority's lead Parsons Brinckerhoff (PB)

employee, showed a train performance table with 217 mph speeds through Morgan

Hill, Gilroy, Chowchilla, Madera, Fresno, Hanford, Corcoran, Shafter, Wasco,

Bakersfield, Lancaster and Palmdale, and indicated it was the basis for the 2

hour 40 minute San Francisco-Los Angeles schedule.

217 mph trains produce 95 to 100 dB impacts almost as loud as noise at the end

of a runway, one reason why European and Japanese railroads avoid operation

above 165 mph within cities of any size. Even 125 mph rail operation is a major

source of blight. Cities with any environmental sense do not consent to become

Thunder Alley, but affected cities are largely unaware of noise impacts,

because HSRA failed to disclose them in the Program EIR process.

Environmental concerns about the project were originally limited to a swath of

the Peninsula where HSRA announced after the November 2008 vote its plans to

demolish and reconstruct on an elevated structure or berm a 40-mile swath of

Caltrain tracks. This would destroy two decades of station improvements at all

intermediate stops, remove thousands of mature trees through upper income

neighborhoods, and install a permanent source of urban blight.

HSRA arrogance invades East LA

HSRA has recently broadened concerns about environmental issues to about 20

other cities via its August 6 speed disclosure and similar heavy-handed tactics

in Southern California. Since July, HSRA has unveiled a new route through

residential areas between Anaheim and Los Angeles without advance notice or

specific details. It also tried to pressure cities to respond by an arbitrary

August 31 deadline.

"None of these plans have been engineered enough for us to articulate about it,"

Steve Forster, director of public works for La Mirada was quoted in the Whittier

Daily News. "Will there be two, three or four new tracks installed? Will they be

at grade or 80 feet in the air?" La Mirada officials indicated they thought the

line should be adjacent to the Santa Ana (I-5) Freeway instead of BNSF tracks in

order to be further away from residents.

Santa Fe Springs City Manager Fred Latham echoed the sentiment, indicating the

train "will go through a lot of residential neighborhoods." Latham said, "The

cities aren't willing to compromise their interest or abandon them to the

fast-track process."

Behind the scenes, HSRA staff has reportedly told Fullerton and Norwalk city

officials that both cities will lose their existing Metrolink stations, and that

they will have to decide which city will get one new replacement stop, a

coercive and destructive position counter to the interests of both cities.

City officials indicate they may put together a joint powers authority to

negotiate with the rail authority, or may use the existing JPA formed to work on

the I-5 widening. Corridor residents have long experience with bad public works

projects, and impacts of I-5 and BNSF trains on the corridor are already severe.

The heavily Hispanic neighborhoods look like they may become the next flash

point in the high-speed battle. This is needless, because BNSF triple-tracking

is capable of producing sufficient rail capacity.

No credible plan for completion

Goldman Sachs' report at the September 3 HSRA meeting revealed there is no

credible plan to stretch $7.5 billion of remaining funding to cover the 500-mile

SF-Anaheim starter line via private sector involvement. The shortfall is at very

least $32 billion, and may be as much as $80 billion. In such straits, HSRA does

not have capital to waste on goldplating existing urban lines with elevated

structures, the sort of project where $1 billion won't stretch to 10 miles of


Financial reality dictates that first priority is to close California's two

major track gaps: Peninsula to Modesto and Bakersfield to Santa Clarita. Closing

these gaps would create productive regional service as a first stage and enable

private capital to define an affordable Central Valley high-speed link. Only by

focusing on cost-effectiveness and allowing private capital a role can

California complete this project.

HSRA's stated priority instead is to replicate existing tracks at a much higher

capital cost, and fill no track gaps at all. HSRA wants to spend $9 billion

(half in Federal ARRA funds) for four projects to goldplate facilities from SF

to San Jose, Merced to Fresno, Fresno to Bakersfield, and Los Angeles to

Anaheim. Redundant overbuilt facilities on these segments have no economic value

to California. The Merced to Fresno line is California's own "bridge to

nowhere," with no BNSF rail connection on either end and no traffic. These lines

would not produce substantial increases in passengers, and provide no practical

benefit. Worst of all, the same gaps in California's rail network would persist,

and most of the bond money would be gone.

Consider how frugally the Europeans use capital. In 2007, $5 billion built 186

miles of 200 mph tracks in France, about half the distance from the Bay Area to

Los Angeles. The new TGV-Est pointedly avoids every urbanized area along the

way, and has only three stops along its spine: two exurban park-and-rides and a

station with future tram service on Reims' southern fringe. TGV-Est acts as a

high-speed link between conventional tracks. It allows direct trains from Paris

to Metz, Luxembourg, Strasbourg, Frankfurt and Stuttgart, cutting travel time

by up to two hours.

HSRA plans to spend $4 billion to obtain just 28 miles, by condemning land,

demolishing houses, and trashing neighborhoods from Los Angeles to Anaheim. The

line would attain an average speed of only 75 mph, saving about 15 minutes over

Amtrak service. Private capital would never consider such a project because

adequate capacity already exists, and the minor time-savings in the Anaheim

market don't justify a multi-billion-dollar expenditure.

California's HSR project wastes its capital on political pork. If California

were to adopt the French policy of prioritizing investment to rural track

segments that can save hours of travel time, our network might cost $15 to $20

billion, instead of the $45 to $80 billion now projected.

HSR redefined as blight rail

Caltrain's 47-mile San Francisco-San Jose track has top speeds of 79 mph, and

serves cities on the corridor very well. Turning it into a quadruple-track

elevated railroad is a wet dream for the Authority, but a nightmare for

residents. Trains would have to be shut down for years while a demolition and

construction project removes tracks and trees from a swath of the Peninsula and

mile by mile erects elevated structures. Once reopened, there would be 300

trains daily, in place of the current 100 Caltrain trips.

Why did Europe stop building elevated trains by about the 1930's? The same

reason California stopped building elevated freeways in the 1970's. The model of

going into a community, condemning a right-of-way, and building a noisy,

blight-producing facility through its heart is dead. No European railway has

dared to do this for years, and even most state highway departments now agree

that elevated facilities through neighborhoods are destructive.

I challenge anyone who reads this to provide us a single instance of a 40-mile

elevated railroad built since the 1960's through any European urban area.

Quadruple-tracking and elevating Caltrain is not only a bad plan, it has nothing

to do with modern rail, let alone high-speed rail.

Europe's high-speed railroads are cost effective because they are on the ground.

They bypass most intermediate cities instead of blasting through them. They use

timed connections or trains that divide, instead of trying to connect every city

with a single line. California's project should adopt European methods, not

build outmoded elevated railroads.

Wasteful detours for developers

The excuse for all those expensive elevated structures in cities is that trains

have to run so fast. Higher speeds are only required because Authority officials

gerrymandered the Bay Area–Los Angeles route, making it nearly 100 miles longer

than highway mileage. The extra miles made it impossible to meet the 2 hour 40

minute run time without raising speeds all the way up the line.

Both the Los Banos detour and the Mojave detour also add unnecessary grades and

difficult mountain terrain. The grade from Tehachapi to Bakersfield apparently

forces a 140 mph safety speed limit for an unbroken 3600 foot descent, which

Tony Daniels candidly calls "no mean feat for a high-speed train."

The obvious question is why trains should run via Tehachapi's tough gradients,

with tunnels totaling over 13 miles. Shorter tunnels parallel to the California

water project would save about 2000 feet of rise and fall, plus over 20 miles of

track and train operating expense. One interpretation of Daniels' statement is

that he is calling Tehachapi the Achilles' heel of the project. This idea is

underscored by the grade's long impact on train speeds shown on the chart below,

and its effect on project costs.

217 mph speeds, grades, and extra miles also undermine claims that HSR saves

energy compared to driving. The California project is likely to increase, not

reduce, energy waste and greenhouse gases because its route is 20 percent longer

than highways and 217 mph trains consume more energy per passenger mile that

conventional trains or autos do.

HSRA's high-speed plan wastes scarce funds to gold plate 80 miles of urban

track, wastes mileage on detours for developers, and ignores modern European

design practice. It eliminates participation of private capital in project risk,

creating a funding gap instead of a buildable project. It is time for California

leaders to give the project to competent rail engineers who have implemented

high-speed rail. It is time to pull the plug on the out-of-control Authority.

217 mph IN CITIES?

Parsons Brinckerhoff's Tony Daniels reveals 217 mph HSRA operational plan with

chart; Rod Diridon pretends table is a theoretical demonstration

By Richard F. Tolmach

On August 6, HSRA Board Member Rod Diridon and Chair Curt Pringle collaborated

to try to deny the reality of the Parsons Brinckerhoff charts and timetables

presented by Tony Daniels showing how the 2 hour, 40 minute run time could be

achieved on the circuitous route only by running at 217 mph speeds through 12

California cities.

Diridon: "I think that we have to stress that these are demonstration diagrams

for our own experience. They're not proposed speed limits or operational

characteristics because we haven't done the studies to determine how we're going

to operate the trains yet. So they're just demonstrations to try to give us some


Daniels had just finished a five minute talk detailing the studies the Authority

had done to determine required operating speeds, and asked the board if they had

any questions.

"The point," said Diridon, "is that I wouldn't want someone to say, `oh, it's

going to go 200 mph through Morgan Hill.' Well, that's not the case. And we want

to make sure that ... everybody knows that these are examples. They're not

actual situations, they're not proposed situations."

Daniels gently tried to tell Diridon the speeds were real: "It's against the

best information we have. The traction motor curves are real. The alignment is

the best alignment we have to date. We will continue to evaluate those, you're

correct, as we move forward. But we've used this, and you'll see in the next

couple slides, as the basis upon which we've drawn a very detailed timetable and

operational plan from which we got the ridership. Okay?"

HSRA Chair Curt Pringle weighed in on Diridon's side, to try to protect HSRA

from charges it has predetermined its plan before project EIRs are complete:

"Okay, we understand that this is a maximum speed defined by physical conditions

but not an operational plan. You're just suggesting that this is what things to

consider in terms of what could physically occur but it's not the operational

plan of the system. Got it."

Daniels' jaw visibly dropped at the willful misinterpretation, but he still

continued to try to explain: "It's likely to be. It's close. You'll see when we

go to the timetable and then the operational plan ... it is close--"

Pringle interrupted him at this point, clearly perturbed at his refusal to

endorse Diridon's cover story: "--could you just proceed with your presentation

as you've prepared it. Thank you."

Monday, September 28, 2009

Learning from the pro-rail bloggers

Here are some powerful thoughts from blogger “Jim” with which I agree, picked out from the most recent comment section from Cruickshank's blog.

"Jim" points out something for which I have a paradoxical statement that summarizes this position:

"You can't teach anyone anything they don't already know and understand."


jim said...

Ultimately none of the arguments on either side are worth much because in today's America you are not going to get any American to change their position by using arguments to support your position.

Americans are no longer interested in solutions to problems. They are only interested in their own ideology on either side of any issue.

Is a kind of mental regression that has become the norm. Rather than aspiring to become more enlightened in the name of facts, truth, science, knowledge, we now look at those things with suspicion.

You are no more going to convince a denier to become a supporter or a supporter to become a denier, than you are to get a liberal democrat to become a conservative republican.

There may be some hidden to the public circles, where actual adults discuss actual solutions to real problems in an intelligent, informed reality based environment, but generally you aren't going to find that among the general public, the blogs, or the media.

We are each now, a party of one, instead of becoming one world, we have become a world of ones.

I'll be the first to be guilty of it... but it’s the truth, and it's part of a very frightening trend, that gives me zero hope for the future.

September 25, 2009 12:18 PM


And this is from Clem's blog, which is usually more substantive and less a political polemic than Cruickshank's.

Clem is writing about Context Sensitive Solutions and their current emerging role in the "outreach" aspects of the public relations agenda of Caltrain/HSR.

As I have repeatedly stated, the rail people are playing an elaborate game with us called "OUTREACH." It's like Monopoly, only with real money; our real money. They pretend to listen to us, and we pretend that we are having an impact on their decision-making. Another name for this game is Charade. Scoping comments is the way the game is introduced. And it is played until the winner makes the decisive decisions. Clem points out that these are made far earlier, indeed before the game even begins, than we think.

One of the problems with this game is that the winning side has one agenda and improvises ways to follow their clearly defined path. Often they will cheat, but, in this game, that is standard practice. We, on the other hand, have many agendas, including personal ones. We lack what my researcher wife calls a "shared mental model."

And, to use more of her jargon, we are failing in our mission due to what is called a "plan-continuation error." Our pursuit of CSS is too little, too late. That means, although the CHSRA is, figuratively speaking creating a massive thunderstorm, and although we are consciously watching it happen, we nonetheless continue to fly into it in the belief that we can survive it.

Did I not mention previously that Parsons-Brinckerhoff has published a book on CSS? How much more do you need to know about this way of making us feel good without anything actually happening that will benefit us?

CSS, in order to be authentic, must be in effect at the beginning of a project, when it is in its conceptual development. Now, it is far too late. The basic decisions have already been made. For the rail guys, it's all detail work from here on in.

The time when CSS might have been effective is the time when we should have asked, where is the State Master Plan for Transportation? Where are the strategic studies, (not the crap that CHSRA keeps putting out as PR) that take the air carriers and highways into account, rather than seeking to eliminate them?

What should the relationship be among trucking, rail freight and passenger transit? What is the multi-modal plan for transit in the population centers and what are the most cost-effective ways of connecting the population centers? What will it take to bring the East Bay and the Peninsula into a comprehensive transit network? Where are these questions that should have been asked long before the suggestion of a high-speed train even comes into the conversation?

Meanwhile, we, on the Peninsula, keep putt-putting along, quarreling, quibbling and trying to impress our neighbors with our insider knowledge. Many of our local politicians play their safe and careful game, not offending anyone. And, that’s where we’ll be, same time, same station, a year from now.

It really puzzles me why the fundamentalist rail fanatics like Cruickshank persist in getting all riled up over our NIMBY-ism. It’s not effective and that’s what matters.



"The CHSRA/Caltrain bulletin uses the words Context Sensitive Design Principles, stopping short of using the Solutions keyword. Semantics? Perhaps, but if the CSS process were being applied to the peninsula HSR project, many community design workshops would already have taken place.

It's getting a little late for that, with the CHSRA preparing to reveal the results of months of design work performed entirely out of the public eye by Parsons Brinckerhoff and HNTB--and then only because NEPA and CEQA laws require all the design alternatives to be fully and publicly documented. While the Authority has collected a large amount of community input through its environmental scoping process, all the exchange has so far gone only one way: into the black box. "Thank you for your comment card."

Key design decisions tend to made early, based on top-level requirements specifications and drawings. A list of these appeared in the CHSRA's July 2009 Program Summary Report, starting on page 54. These documents are very important because they establish the framework under which all design work is proceeding. When that work is made public, questioning a design will be ineffective unless we know what the requirements are that produced it.

CSS principles call for design collaboration and concensus building, early and often. Under CSS, the public would have open access to all the requirement specifications and directive drawings that drive the design. At numerous public meetings, however, the CHSRA and its engineering consultants have deferred, side-stepped or dismissed any specific design questions with a cursory "we don't know that yet." They may be concerned about showing bias, compromising the environmental review process, or inflaming community passions, but such coyness is definitely not among the qualities of Context Sensitive Design."