Sunday, January 30, 2011

Waking the Sleeping Giant in the Central Valley and Other Matters

As you all know, the California high-speed rail project is slated to start construction in the Central Valley in 2012.  The current thinking (I wouldn't call it a plan) is to connect the tracks from north of Fresno (Merced?)  to somewhere near, but not in Bakersfield.

This letter to the editor, below, is from a Bakersfield based blog or newspaper (?).  Since unemployment is quite severe in the rural Central Valley, as high as 15% among construction workers, the assumption is that the HSR project will bring tons of dollars and jobs into the region.  Nonetheless, many people have been doing some homework and have come to realize that there are downsides to this project.  The word is getting around.  Here are some of the issues raised by this letter writer:

• The freight carriers, which dominate the rail corridors in the Central Valley, are less than enthusiastic about HSR for a number of reasons, not the least of which is corridor incompatibility and liability. This problem exists at the national level as well.  Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) has made it clear to the CHSRA that they reject any access to their own owned rail corridors and even wish HSR to be at some distance from their rights of way. 

• People in the Central Valley are beginning to realize the true costs of HSR.  It's not free.  It will be built with borrowed money and with tax dollars.  Their (and our) tax dollars.  Furthermore, they are coming to understand that the blather about this train being profitable/producing a revenue surplus, is just that, nonsense.  It will cost the state to operate this train tax dollars subsidies from all of us, including all of us who will never ride this train.

• It will use electricity and that's not free either.  All that talk about renewable energy is hugely exaggerated at this time and may not become an economic reality for at least one or more generations.  Power costs are rising.  Much of the power is carbon-fuel based.  The California power grid is pretty much maxxed out. One estimate suggests that the HSR will consume as much as 1% of total state electricity consumption.

• Stimulus dollars are borrowed dollars.  Those need to be repaid and there is an interest burden on those dollars. The bond dollars are borrowed dollars.  Each dollar borrowed will cost the state $2 dollars.  Those will be repaid with tax dollars.  In short, the train will increase our state and national debt.  The question then becomes, is that cost/effective?  Is this train the investment with huge returns that Obama and the CHSRA are promising, such as in reducing unemployment and boosting the economy, or are all those promises not much more than promotional hyperbole?  Well, you know the answer to which side we stand on this question.

The Central Valley poses an unacknowledged (by the rail authority) illegality in the current plan intentions.  It doesn't meet a number of the conditions required in the authorizing language of AB3034.  We're watching closely to see how that plays out. 

And on a different, less related matter.  One of the smartest bloggers out there is Clem Tillier.  His blog  pertains to the Bay Area Peninsula Caltrain corridor, which now runs the commuter train and anticipates the high-speed train.  His newest blog posting is about "The Future of Caltrain, Without HSR."

Many of us on the Peninsula don't want the high-speed train on the Caltrain corridor, but do very much wish to preserve a commuter train from San Jose to San Francisco.  But maybe not the one that is currently not well managed by the Caltrain/Joint Powers Board organization, and that is also in charge of managing the deficit that is one step away from bankruptcy.  All of which is to say, that although I disagree with Clem's HSR advocacy, I respect the depth of his thinking and knowledge about all these issues pertaining to the Caltrain corridor.  In my mind, it's the only pro-HSR blog worth reading.
Paging the high-speed rail fairy
The Bakersfield Californian
Saturday, Jan 29 2011 11:03 PM

Regarding Barack Obama's State of the Union address and The Californian's Jan. 26 editorial on that event, "'New' energy, high-speed rail stars of speech," I have several observations.
* The Amtrak passenger rail system already requires massive subsidies year after year.
* Rail-freight companies, with existing right of way and vast know-how, refuse to consider high-speed (passenger) rail.
* I have serious doubts that wind and solar can get below 25 cents per kilowatt-hour without continuing major subsidy.
* I am curious to see what will happen when "1 million (subsidized) electric cars by 2015" get home on a hot, summer afternoon, plug the cars into the subsidized charger and turn on the house's air conditioner.
* I have serious doubts that the "$110 billion that remains from the $814 billion stimulus appropriation of 2009" is really on-hand, cash money, as opposed to more debt.
Speaking of all that, what is The Californian's take on the existence of the tooth fairy?