Friday, April 22, 2011

Van Ark sticks his tongue out at Eshoo, Simitian and Gordon about playing in the Caltrain corridor sand-box.

The Palo Alto Daily POST does not use a web-site.  That makes it hard to reproduce their HSR articles on this blog.  As it happens, they have the most consistent anti-HSR editorial policy of any paper I know.

What Roelof Van Ark said, that the Eshoo/Simitian/Gordon jointly used two track solution for both Caltrain and the HSR, was an idea similar to his, is, of course, untrue.  

The Rail Authority always has (since their program-level EIS/EIR) determined that they need four elevated tracks on the Caltrain corridor.  The only reason they are now agreeing with the two track arrangement is that, a.) the FRA has mandated construction to begin in the Central Valley which will consume all available funds, and b.) they have no funds to build the elevated structure on the Caltrain corridor at this time.  Necessity is the mother of fibbing, right, Mr. Van Ark?

Their newest buzz phrase, "Phased implementation," is like "strategic retreat."  It means that since there is no funding to build it now -- if ever -- they will 'phase' it in. It also means that Van Ark will build what he is mandated to build and has funding for. He will get to the rest of it with more funding.  "Phasing" makes this improvization sound intentional. The goals have not changed.  Elevated four-track viaduct.

We've said this before. The Simitian/Eshoo/Gordon performance, which I'm sorry I had to miss, was a public performance to assuage their respective constituents who had so much concern about both rail systems.  Their words were meant to assure us that they are on the job and looking out for our interests.

I'm going to say this many times: Until and unless those three elected officials actually tell us that they oppose high-speed rail and that it is a terrible idea that California does not need and cannot afford, I have no use for anything else they may have to say on this subject.  

Eshoo appears to be poorly informed, as illustrated by her need for $1 billion to "fix" Caltrain.  She points out that her highest priority -- HIGHEST PRIORITY -- is getting federal funding into California. Did I not tell you so?  What does she think $1 billion will buy? To her, it sounds like a lot of federal dollars.  But, the reality is quite different.  One billion won't buy anything.  To electrify and grade separate the Peninsula with new rolling stock, PTC, and signalling for Caltrain will cost as much as $8 to $10 billion. 

That means, that actually don't really care about how terrible this project is for California; how much it will cost California in the future.  They only care about their appearance as successful fund generators for the state.

Simitian has often scolded the rail authority and Van Ark, but has only acted decisively once, when he and Lowenthal postponed payment of half their annual budget for four months.  That's not even a serious slap on the wrist.  I do not expect any decisive actions from any of these politicians who all believe that this project can be "done right."  

The fact is, the high-speed rail system in California cannot be done right under any circumstances.  There is no way this project can be acceptable to the taxpayers of California. William Grindley and his team have documented, repeatedly, that this project simply doesn't pencil out.  Why my fellow Peninsulans persist in babbling around this central point is a mystery to me. If the arithmetic doesn't add up, how can it be done right?  What does that even mean?

I cannot believe that all the do-it-right advocates manage their own home accounts the same way this project is being funded, will be operated and administered.

The bottom line is that regardless of anything we are hearing from anyone, the inexorable, inevitable plan of the rail authority is to build an elevated structure for four tracks on the Caltrain corridor, as soon as they have enough funding for it.

Step one: Acknowledge that the rail authority has no brakes and can only be stopped by a stone wall. 

Step two:  Don't like it? Stop kvetching and do something about it. Take an action. For starters, tell Simitian, Eshoo and Gordon. 

 Daily Post 4-22-2011
 Disagreement over rail plan 
 Rail authority still wants four tracks in the long term
 Daily Post Staff Writer

 A Palo Alto official said yesterday he doesn't believe California High- Speed Rail Authority CEO Roelof Van Ark is fully on board with a proposal to run high-speed rail on improved Caltrain tracks.

Van Ark told the Post that the proposal by Congresswoman Anna Eshoo, state Sen. Joe Simitian and Assemblyman Rich Gordon was similar to his plan for the two railroads to initially share tracks, then add more tracks when demand for high-speed rail increases over the years. He called the plan “phased implementation."

5-10 years for full buildout 

Palo Alto Deputy City Manager Steve Emslie, who attended a closed-door meeting with Van Ark Wednesday, said the HSR chief was using a bit of wordplay.

Emslie said Van Ark told the gathering of officials that phased implementation could take about five to ten years, and at that time the rail line would have four tracks. He added that Van Ark emphasized that is dependent on ridership.

Van Ark told the POST that the trains could run on two tracks for a period of time, “but not in the long term.”

 An 'entitlement' for four tracks

He further said the authority had to investigate the four-track system as required by the California  Environmental Quality Act. Palo Alto officials said they fear that will give the rail authority an “entitlement” to build two additional tracks eventually.

Van Ark also said sharing the tracks will have to be a first step because the 2008 ballot measure that authorized the state high-speed rail system requires trains to travel between L.A. and San Francisco in 2 hours and 40 minutes.

Burlingame Mayor Terry Nagel, who also attended the meeting, said Van Ark's phased implementation plan was as “clear as mud.” She said the timing of the plan was murky.

There's also disagreement over the use of aerial structures for the train. The Eshoo-Simitian-Gordon plan rules them out, but Palo Alto council member Pat Burt told the Post that such structures are still being considered by the high speed rail authority.

While most Peninsula voters supported the high-speed rail state proposition in the 2008 election, many residents later said they regretted their vote when they learned the new railroad would mean that homes and businesses near the tracks would be seized by the state. Residents have complained that an elevated railroad would mar views and divide the communities through which the new train would travel. The plan by Eshoo, Simitian and Gordon was an attempt to respond to those complaints.

 High-speed rail faces other problems, too, such as how it will raise the $43 billion to build the system at a time when federal funding for such projects is becoming less likely.