Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Diridon speaks ex-cathedra

Diridon does here what he does best; sell a product, albeit a highly flawed one. He's a railroad amateur despite his many junkets overseas to "inspect" the high-speed rail systems of other countries. He should know, better than most people, that there is a vast ocean between, "They have HSR; we should have HSR," and the realities of designing and building a railroad.

The CHSRA marketing job has always been smothered with exaggerations and falsehoods. The building job has been essentially the seeking of funding, designing the route to satisfy the Board's political needs, and wiggling around the enabling legislation.

What Diridon needs here is some 'deconstruction' of several of his statements.

Opinion: U.S. should lead on transportation, not be playing catch up

By Rod Diridon, Sr.

Special to the Mercury News

Posted: 12/28/2010 12:01:00 AM PST

[About that headline. How can we lead on transportation, if we're so far behind, without first playing catch up? And, how can we lead if we buy other country's HSR ideas and experience, as well as their off-the-shelf rolling stock? If you think about it, all this promotional language is gobbledegook; i.e., meaningless and pointless exhortation.]

The modern assembly line, telephone, polio vaccine, airplane, air conditioning, breakfast cereal, shopping cart, integrated circuit, solar cell and more: American inventions all.

America has a long, proud history of changing the world, making it better, leading the way with epic efforts. But that is no longer the case with transportation and, most notably, with high-speed rail.

[I don't know what the point is here. Americans have invented a lot of things. So what? So have other countries. The railroad was invented in Great Britain in the 1700s. But, you can see where he's going with this line of argument. We once had a long, proud history; we were number one in the world. We were the good guys. We led the way. But, no longer.

Especially with high-speed train. So, we ought to be ashamed of ourselves and pay Diridon, our white knight, lots of money to build this high-speed train in California, a train which, he neglects to tell us, will be manufactured overseas. And, once we have this train, he intimates, we will again be the number one leaders of the world and be better than everybody else. Which, he believes, is very important to us. In other words, we're in a peeing contest and we have been losing; but he will put us out in front again. Well, that's certainly worth $100 billion.]

At the seventh World Congress on High-Speed Rail held in Beijing this month, thousands of national transportation officials from around the world shared successes. More than 30 functioning high-speed lines and another 30 in construction were represented, including every industrialized country in the world -- except the U.S. Could we really be the only one right in continuing to rely primarily on petroleum-powered planes and cars?

Since 1964, the Japanese Shinkansen -- the bullet train -- has expanded to nearly 2,000 miles, linking major cities at speeds of up to 200 mph. France's TGV, started in 1981, operates at 220 mph. The TGV links cities across France and other high-speed systems in Belgium, Italy, Spain, Germany, Switzerland, Belgium, the Netherlands, the Scandinavian countries, Poland, Russia, Turkey and beyond.

The Japanese and French trains have carried billions of riders without one fatality. Yet more than 30,000 people were killed and hundreds of thousands maimed on U.S. highways last year alone.

China has completed nearly 5,000 miles of high-speed rail lines and created a new type of train operating at better than 220 mph in only seven years. By 2020, it will have more than 10,000 miles of track.

The Acela, which runs from Boston to Washington, can operate at 150 mph but averages only 82 mph -- indeed, far from world class. The U.S. is lagging. But California is reversing that trend.

[Having introduced the subject of high-speed rail glories in other countries, he now trots out a litany of factoids about all those rail systems and, by inference, how marvelous they are. Aren't we jealous yet? Shouldn't we be hanging our head in shame, and then commit ourselves to spending hundreds of billions of dollars, so that we can be more like them? Fortunately, Diridon (who personifies California in this case) is going to reverse that trend.

Diridon loves non-sequiturs. The Japanese and French trains never killed anybody, but we, on our highways, have killed 30,000. So, Rod, what's your point? American, stop driving your cars. Start riding our train in California? And, by the way, those 30,000 were not all killed in California. Hyperbole and other distortions help to make Rod's case. ]

More than 14 years of exhaustive, federally required studies by the California High-Speed Rail Authority define two choices for California to serve the doubling of our population to more than 60 million by midcentury. We can build 3,000 more lane-miles of freeways and the equivalent of two more international airports at a cost of more than $100 billion, or spend less than half that to build an energy-efficient, safe and fast 800-mile, electrically powered high-speed rail system.

[This is like listening to a door-to-door vacuum cleaner salesman. Exhaustive studies. Federally Required studies. So, they must be telling the truth. Right? Actually, those studies produced exactly what Diridon and Company wanted to hear.

They tell us that we have two choices; one from the angels and one from the devil. And you know why? Because we will have 60 million residents in California by 2050. Feel perfectly free to dispute that projection. It is becoming ever more apparent that we will have nothing of the kind.

So, the choice that these "authoritative sources" tell us is that we MUST either build 3,000 miles of highway lanes and at least two more international airport (equivalents), at a cost of more than $100 billion, or. . . .drum roll. . . . we can build his SAFE and FAST high-speed train,which, coincidentally, will also cost at least $100 billion. He says that it will be half as much, but -- liar, liar, pants on fire -- we know better by now, don't we! The reality behind that false comparison is that we will have to build all those highway lanes and runways regardless, IF the population expansion meets his numbers.]

The airport and freeway systems would require further expansion by midcentury, while rail capacity is increased by adding cars to trains or trains to the tracks with minimal expense.

This alternative eliminates more than 22 million barrels of oil and 18 billion pounds of global warming gases each year.

Earlier this month, the California High-Speed Rail Authority board designated construction on the line to begin next year on a 65-mile stretch in the Central Valley, then extend south to Los Angeles and north to San Francisco. Within days, the federal government allocated to California another $614 million that other states turned down. That extends the starter project to more than 100 miles from north of Fresno to Bakersfield.

California had not expected this, but thanks to the support of President Barack Obama, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and others, almost 20 percent of California's 800-mile system will be under construction by mid-2012. That's more than 85,000 construction jobs and cleaner air for the Central Valley, which has the state's most serious air pollution and unemployment challenges.

[To persist in suggesting that building this HSR monstrosity is the least expensive thing we can do, is a kind of "Hobson's Choice." That is, he really doesn't present a choice at all. He also spouts a lot of numbers, like 22 million oil barrels and 18 billion points of GHG. Those numbers are based on nothing; they are worthless; a fabrication.

When Diridon says, "California had not expected this. . ." what is he talking about? Is he saying that this is a pleasant surprise party they were not expecting? BS! He and other Board members have been grovelling/lobbying for stimulus funds since early 2009.

Diridon's hopes and vision are the build-out of the Caltrain corridor running from Downtown San Francisco to Diridon's bespoke Inter-Galactic Train Station in San Jose. That the funding won't begin there but in the Central Valley instead must be a profound disappointment for him. That's not what he expected. Even his hopes to connect from the Central Valley to San Jose (so that he can start on his super-station) fell through with this last round of federal funding. And, let's just say about all those numbers, it's easy to know stuff when you make it up!]

When Obama announced his multibillion-dollar plan for rebuilding America's infrastructure in October, he said: "There is no reason why we can't do this. There is no reason why the world's best infrastructure should lie beyond our borders. This is America. We've always had the best infrastructure. This is work that needs to be done." California can be the place where America gets back on track.

[You get it? America is off track. Rod Diridon and his croneys will get America back on track. We've always been the best. How dare other countries have better infrastructure than we do? What we are reading by Rod Diridon is the hyped-up marketing rhetoric of late night infomercials where they offer products that can convert ordinary, lazy people like you and me, with almost no effort, into glorious, gorgeous physical specimens envied by everyone. Isn't this what it's all about, Mr. Diridon; appearances? Oh, and the money. Don't forget the money!]

ROD DIRIDON SR., executive director of the Mineta Transportation Institute at San Jose State, is a member and past chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority board. He wrote this article for this newspaper.