Monday, April 11, 2011

Mark Powell's Journey Along Central Valley's High-Speed Rail Route, Part II

My fellow blogger Mark Powell, has completed his second leg of a personal journey following the promised high-speed rail route from Palmdale to Bakersfied, and now, in this Part II, from Bakersfield to Fresno.  Mark does some simple arithmetic to discredit the CHSRA's endlessly inflated numbers which they obviously seize out of their heads.  It's called Marketing.

Time after time, reality lets the air out of the high-speed rail party balloon.  Inflated ridership numbers are among the most flagrant examples of their hyperbolic pretensions.  The numbers that the rail authority has offered repeatedly, although they continuously diminish in response to ample criticism, continue to be grossly exaggerated.  Mark punctures their balloon yet once more by doing an actual eyeball count of potential ridership in the Central Valley.

The bottom line here is that this $100 billion expenditure for a train will be a total waste for everyone except the beneficiaries who have been promoting it, including the politicians, companies like Parsons Brinckerhoff, and all the consultants and contractors affiliated with the CHSRA. 

There is absolutely no need, not now or in 50 years, for a high-speed rail between San Francisco and Los Angeles.  There are great rapid transit needs right now within those two population centers and surrounding regions.  But, that's not what this project is about.

California's HSR will be virtually useless. And it will drain funds from both the state and national coffers forever.



Part 2 – Bakersfield to Fresno – Non-Existent Riders on a Train Through Nowhere

I continued my journey along the path of high speed rail now following the proposed Bakersfield to Fresno segment.  The description of this path is kept mercifully short as there is little to see, but much to learn about potential high speed rail ridership.

HSR will follow the Union Pacific right-of-way (ROW) paralleling Bena Road (Edison Hwy) north into Bakersfield.  It then breaks from the UP line and turns west following BNSF ROW passing narrowly between Mercy Hospital and Bakersfield H.S.  Turning northwest prior to Rosedale the route eventually follows Santa Fe Way (Hwy 43) and runs either through or bypasses the little towns of Shafter, Wasco, and Corcoran.  

The most recent studies call for HSR to leave the BNSF ROW south of Hanford and swing east of the town through prime farmland before reconnecting with the BNSF ROW near Laton where residents seem more interested in water than in high speed rail.  From north of Laton HSR continues north through the outskirts of Fresno to a proposed station in Downtown Fresno [Note 1].

Who will ride this train through nowhere?  Plenty of passengers will ride it according to the California High Speed Rail Authority as this segment is part of the “backbone” of HSR connecting the Los Angeles and San Francisco regions.  The Authority in its December 2009 Report to the Legislature asserts a need for seven trains per hour during mid-day travelling in each direction between San Francisco and Los Angeles and each carrying 550 passengers [Note 2].  This equates to 3850 northbound and 3850 southbound passengers per hour. I decided to compare these numbers to the number of persons currently traveling on Hwy 99 and Interstate 5.

Detouring from Hwy 43 about 30 miles south of Fresno I stopped at a roadside rest area along Hwy 99 AND LITERALLY COUNTED CARS traveling north toward Fresno at 3pm on Tuesday February 1.  I counted all northbound vehicles (excluding trucks or any vehicle pulling a trailer) for 5 minutes and my count reached 55.  I pulled back onto Hwy 99 and drove 10 miles/hour under the speed limit letting cars pass me so that I could count passengers.  The first 10 cars passing me averaged 1.2 persons per car, but I later rounded this up to 1.3 to account for someone I might have missed sleeping in a back seat.  Two days  later I did a similar survey at a roadside rest area along Interstate 5 directly west of where I had done the previous survey along Hwy 99.  This time I tallied southbound vehicles (again exclusive of trucks and vehicles pulling a trailer) and counted 36 in 5 minutes.  Once again the count was done on a day perfect for driving and at about the same time of day.

For the sake of simplicity I’ll assume that what goes north must eventually go south.  Furthermore, I will make the ridiculous assumptions that ALL Interstate 5 and Hwy 99 vehicles counted in my survey were in fact traveling between Los Angeles and San Francisco AND will ALL switch to HSR.  Calculating potential HSR Ridership is then relatively straight forward: ( 55 +36 northbound and 55+36 southbound) X 1.3 passengers per vehicles X 12 groups of 5 minute periods in an hour = 2800 potential HSR passengers per hour. 
Generous as I am in coming up with this potential HSR ridership, it still pales in comparison to the 7700 passengers per hour the Authority claims will be riding through the Central Valley during “non-peak” hours in 7 HSR trains running in both directions every hour and each one carrying 550 passengers. 

I challenge anyone reading this to take their own survey the next time they drive between Los Angeles and San Francisco.  Caution, you may have to wait years for the opportunity as only in the Authority’s fantasies do each of us make this trek on a yearly basis.

It’s time to stop this high speed rail nonsense.  This project is nothing but a political pay-off to labor unions who stand to get temporary construction jobs and politically connected businesses who stand to gain by building the equipment. 
Engineering studies, detailed cost estimates, and Environmental Impact Reports should be done to determine IF a project is indeed a worthwhile project.  These reports are being completed and they show California’s High Speed Rail to be a costly boondoggle.  Write to your legislators in Sacramento [Note 3] and Washington [Note 4] and tell them the results are in.  California HSR is a bad idea.  It needs to be defunded and all work stopped.  Don’t forget to include Paul Ryan (R-WI) [Note 5], chairman of the House Budget Committee in your correspondence.

Footnotes supporting what is said in this article are shown below.
Note 1  Fresno to Bakersfield Supplemental Alternatives Analysis
 page 2

Note 2  December 2009 Report to the Legislature
  page 66

Note 3   Website to contact California Legislative Representatives

Note 4   Website to contact Congressional Representatives
Note 5    Website to contact Representative Paul Ryan, Chairman of House Budget Committee