Tuesday, December 21, 2010

High-Speed Rail in the Wall Street Journal and StreetBlog

Just to be clear; our problems are far from over. This article from the WSJ online is a useful heads-up. It tells us about the deceptive verbal games that are being played by the rail authority. So who, besides us, is paying attention?

Despite the endless stream of bad news about the shenanigans and failures in CHSRA management, the project in California grinds on. The Administration in Washington is relentless in its promotion (without actually having to pay for it) of a National HSR network, and that benefits the project in our state.

Sacramento is likewise determined to whitewash the CHSRA's egregious flaunting of the laws. For example, the question of "utility." Proposition 1A language requires that "utility" means high-speed rail utility, not just some tracks for any train coming along. That's good enough for the FRA, but not for AB3034. In other words, it's really illegal for them to build the Central Valley segment. Who's to stop them?

Brown shuts down the Inspector General's office which had highlighted just some of the CHSRA failures. The majority Democrats continue to support the project for political and financial reasons, seeking stimulus and other Washington hand-outs. By now, our Democratic caucus must know all about the flagrant disregard for the law displayed by the rail authority. Yet. . . . .a quotation I love to use is Upton Sinclair's: "It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it."

Most of us haven't really tied together yet what Washington's agenda is and what ours is in California. They are profoundly interconnected. California's project will continue to exist and threaten harm to each and every town it comes near just so long as federal funds are made available to pay for it. Even if the funding sources from Washington can't and won't be sufficient for the entire CA rail system, there is already enough to get started. And, once they start, they will become harder to stop.

So, what can we do about it? Put our efforts into getting this new Congress to cut off this wasteful funding.

The second article is about Ken Orski and his take on the promotional rhetoric of Secretary Ray LaHood, the spokesperson for the national high-speed rail agenda. Note that LaHood made a speech in Florida to prevent Florida from bailing out of the HSR boat, even when Washington is willing to dump money into the state. The loss of a third state from the HSR team, especially Florida, would be hugely embarrassing to the Administration.

In other words, LaHood is using HSR dollars to buy political commitments, as he did in the Central Valley to reassure the re-election of Democrat Jim Costa. Isn't that a definition of "pork?"





DECEMBER 20, 2010, 5:06 P.M. ET

California to Expand First Segment of High-Speed Rail

Associated Press

LOS ANGELES—Officials agreed on Monday to nearly double the length of the first segment of California's planned high-speed rail line to allay concerns that the initial route wouldn't reach major population centers in the Central Valley.

Six members of the California High-Speed Rail Authority board voted unanimously to spend an additional $616 million in federal funding to extend the segment to Bakersfield.

Earlier this month, the federal government reallocated $1.2 billion in high-speed rail funding to California and 11 other states after Ohio and Wisconsin decided not to proceed with their rail projects. The announcement came a week after the authority board approved a staff engineers' proposal to build the first 65 miles of an 800-mile high-speed rail line through California's agricultural core.

The sudden windfall provides the authority a total of $5.5 billion to construct up to 123 miles of track, said authority Chief Executive Roelof van Ark. The latest round of funding must be matched by state funds.

The authority intends to build a 520-mile span tying the San Francisco Bay area to Los Angeles and Anaheim at an estimated cost of $43 billion, Mr. van Ark said. Plans call for eventual expansions to Sacramento and San Diego.

Critics had panned the first 65-mile route as the "train to nowhere" because it would start from the tiny town of Borden, connect to new stations in downtown Fresno and another one east of Hanford before ending in Corcoran, another small town.

Authority board members hoped the expansion to an Amtrak station in Bakersfield, a city of 339,000 on the southern end of the valley, would put an end to critics' derisions.

"This makes a lot more sense," board member Lynn Schenk said. "I'm pleased that we got the money, we thank Ohio and Wisconsin greatly."

The board picked the extension to Bakersfield over another option to go north toward Merced, 50 miles north of Fresno. Mr. van Ark said staff engineers were still studying several alternatives for tracks to Merced.

The Federal Railroad Administration requires that any high-speed rail project be capable of "independent utility," meaning that it can be used by conventional passenger rail services, should the federal funding for bullet train systems run out.

To demonstrate the authority's commitment to expanding the route, the authority said some money will be set aside for station designs in Merced and Bakersfield. Authority spokeswoman Rachel Wall said the amount will be determined in a cooperative agreement with the FRA by the end of the month.

"High-speed rail is about interconnectivity, it's not about building that first portion," Mr. van Ark said. "If we only build 100 miles in the Central Valley, that is not high-speed rail."

Copyright 2010 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved



Monday, December 20, 2010

LaHood: High Speed Rail Will Be Our Generation’s Legacy

by Tanya Snyder on December 20, 2010

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood published an op-ed in the Sunday edition of the Orlando Sentinel, arguing for a vigorous campaign of high speed rail building. He said, “If we work together, a national high-speed-rail network can and will be our generation’s legacy.”

Why run the op-ed in the Sentinel and not a national paper like USA Today or the New York Times? LaHood’s comments were pointedly directed at Florida Governor-elect Rick Scott, who is making noises about following his counterparts in Wisconsin and Ohio in rejecting federal high speed rail money. And the Sentinel is the paper of record in the 7th Congressional district, represented by incoming House Transportation Committee Chair John Mica.

Mica has long said high speed rail is only practical in the Northeast Corridor, where there is sufficient density. He didn’t even want the proposed rail line to go forward in his home state until a recent, unexpected infusion of federal money made the prospects suddenly more appealing.

LaHood won’t be deterred. In his piece in yesterday’s Sentinel, he says a national high speed rail system “will spur economic development and job creation along its corridors.” It will also, he says, integrate cities, ease congestions, reduce oil dependency and emissions, and boost the manufacturing sector through Buy American provisions.

Who can argue with that? LaHood acknowledges the “naysayers” but gets their talking points wrong. According to him, critics think high speed rail construction is moving too slowly.

In fact, many critics think it’s just in the wrong places. Or it’s too expensive. Or it’s not really high speed.

Ken Orski, author of the online newsletter Innovation Briefs, supports passenger rail but told Streetsblog in an interview that the political will is lacking “to sustain a high speed rail program over the number of years that would be necessary to make this vision a reality.”

He’s also not wild about the administration’s approach of “dribbling out money among umpteen states and umpteen grants rather than concentrating them on one or two corridors.”

Orski says as long as passenger rail shares a right-of-way with freight rail – which doesn’t exceed 79 miles per hour – it won’t be truly high speed.

As for Florida’s proposal high speed line from Tampa to Orlando – the target of LaHood’s op-ed – Orski says it won’t work because there’s no transit system at either end to get riders to their final destinations. If people need to get in a car to get to and from the train station, they’ll just stay in their cars and drive the whole way.

That’s not how LaHood sees it. He’s making a full-court press to keep Florida on the high speed rail map. Another loss like Wisconsin and Ohio would be a major blow to the administration. “Florida is poised to become one of the first states with a true high-speed-rail line,” he wrote. “And President Obama has committed to creating or improving 4,000 miles of track as part of his plan for America’s next major six-year transportation legislation.”

He says a world-class high speed rail network is possible, if Congress, the administration and the states keep their eyes on the prize.