Tuesday, May 31, 2011

And now, a word from our anti-HSR sponsor; me.

Just a brief editorial comment:  Since last October, there are now 522 blog entries.  Please consider each one merely a brick toward the creation of an edifice and argument why High-Speed Rail should not be built in the United States, and certainly not in California.  All these postings aggregated constitute a "big picture" of the HSR program and project with it's many, many failings.

If you find these articles (I try to read all the new stuff as it's posted in the many search engines) and comments are of sufficient interest to you -- especially if they make you angry about the threat of high-speed rail -- please forward this web-site to as many people as you know.  



Subject: The Boston Big Dig: Parsons Brinckerhoff's Big Dig into our pockets for high-speed rail

It's amazing how many news articles you can find which, at first blush, appear to have nothing to do with High-Speed Rail, unless you lift the surface and peer underneath.  Here's a good one.  The Boston Big Dig  (Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Big_Dig ) was budgeted at around $2 to 3 billion before construction. The final costs?  $22 billion.  "A billion here, a billion there, and pretty soon you're talking real money." (Everett Dirksen)

And who, you may be asking was the perpetrator of this financial disaster?  I'm glad you asked.  It was Parsons Brinckerhoff.

Wait, you may have heard about Parsons Brinckerhoff recently in conjunction with California's High-Speed Rail Project.  Indeed, they are the lead contractor.

So, what do you suppose we are in store for with this business-as-usual global corporation based in the UK, where all their profits flow?  I mean here in California where the current cost projection for the train is now in the high sixties (billion dollars that is) and I'm just guessing maybe twice as much, since no shovels have even hit the dirt yet.

The Boston Big Dig should have been an object lesson for our political HSR promoters in California.  However, their croneyism with PB had advanced too far.  Though not in fact, it was, to all intents and purposes, a sole-source contract.

We read here about sub-standard work.  (Poor materials; inexperienced labor; insufficient labor, lack of inspections and quality control.) That, typically, is the result of expenditure slashing even as the costs go up and disappear into the calculating machine in the sky.

The CEO of the rail authority, Roelof Van Ark, talks about "value engineering." I wonder if such budget slashing is what he has in mind.

Can this financial disaster happen in California?  What makes you think that it won't?


State tossing millions at ongoing Dig leak problems
By Hillary Chabot  |   
Tuesday, May 31, 2011  |  
http://www.bostonherald.com  |  Local Coverage

State transportation workers are struggling to plug Big Dig tunnel leaks that gush as much as 1.4 million gallons of water a month, driving up repair costs in the notorious money pit known as the Central Artery by millions of dollars each year.

Despite what acting highway administrator Frank DePaola of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation called a “vigilant” ongoing effort, the persistent leaks are at least partially to blame for the crumbling fireproofing, corroded lighting and concrete falling from tunnel walls and ceilings that have plagued the Central Artery’s tunnels, according to inspection reports.

“It’s no secret that we still have water saturating the tunnels,” said DePaola, who said state officials corrected a series of critical issues raised in reports almost immediately. “Water is an issue that everyone with underground tunnels has to deal with. .?.?. We manage the water and we make sure it doesn’t cause immediate threats.”

Leaks have repeatedly been an issue over the past decade, with whistle-blowers and internal memos revealing concerns about shoddy material, while Big Dig managers made repairs and insisted the tunnels were safe. One federal engineering report endorsed a Central Artery prediction that all leaks would be sealed by September 2005.

The state has been spending $12 million a year to patch up the leaks for the past several years and doled out $13 million over the past three years to replace fireproofing in the tunnels — much of which has been lost due to leaks, according to transportation officials and inspection reports. Last year’s total for leaks and fireproofing topped $16 million.

Officials pay for the pricey upkeep out of the $458 million Central Artery trust fund created after contractors who built the $15 billion system — originally projected at less than $3 billion — settled criminal and civil charges after a Jamaica Plain woman was crushed to death by a falling ceiling panel. At the current rate of repairs, that fund could be tapped out in less than 30 years, while the tunnels were meant to last 100 years.

“The cost of maintaining this will be horrific,” said Jack Lemley, an engineer and former Big Dig consultant who “wasn’t a bit surprised” by the escalating cost of the leaks.

Lemley said that underground structures are supposed to be as watertight as possible, and the Big Dig construction work is “substandard.”

“The leakage will over time wind up corroding all of the steel fixtures .?.?. lights falling off, fire protection damage, all that will continue on,” Lemley said.

The Big Dig tunnels have been plagued with fireproofing and light fixtures plunging onto the heavily trafficked roadways this year. A 110-pound light crashed onto the road of the Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. Tunnel in February, while a 2-by-2-foot section of fireproofing dropped from the I-90 tunnel in late April.

Lemley said the fund isn’t enough, meaning taxpayers will likely pick up the tab for the leaks.

“I calculated the maintenance costs, and that fund is about $200 million short,” Lemley said.

The inspection reports, all completed in the past year, detailed leak-related problems that include:

• A heavily corroded and rusted electricity box hanging by only a few wires over the I-93 southbound highway under Dewey Square. Inspectors quickly secured the box on April 12 last year, writing, “these abandoned electrical boxes above the roadway should either be properly secured .?.?. or removed.”

• An April 5, 2010, inspection found a light in the I-93 southbound exit ramp to Purchase Street covered with “a heavy buildup of salt encrustation” due to a leak directly above it. Stalactites from dripping water were found on another light nearby.

• A July 7, 2010, inspection flagged a “hollow sounding” slab of concrete on the roof, which readily crumbled away using hand tools, as a “critical hazard deficiency” that needed to be repaired immediately.

Another chapter on the California HSR project compared to the Boston Big Dig

Here's a great blog entry that makes a perfect follow-on for what we just posted in this blog.  He discusses the paradigmatic Boston Big Dig in conjunction with HSR, just as we did. 

I won't go over his many excellent points, but he certainly is talking our language. I've been talking about all this for a long time, but Ed Morrissey does say it much better.   

The one point missing in Ed's discussion is the fact that the prime, lead contractor in both the Big Dig and the California HSR project are one and the same: Parsons Brinckerhoff.

Why is that? Croneyism and arrogance.  If you knew about the Big Dig, would you have selected PB as the lead contractor for this train project?

I also want to ask if those who support this train have any idea just how much a billion dollars really is.  And, in California, this train project will cost over $100 billion.


DoT rejects CA request for flexibility on high-speed rail
POSTED AT 12:00 PM ON MAY 31, 2011 

Earlier this month, I wrote a column for The Week that detailed the unlearned lessons in California from their thus-far expensive flop in high-speed rail.  The Wall Street Journal reports that understanding may finally be dawning on the Golden State’s legislators, even the Democrats who have bet big on fixed-track technology.  

The rejection by the Department of Transportation of a request on construction timing and location has led to the belated realization that further action may leave California taxpayers holding the bag for many billions of dollars:

At the urging of the state watchdog, the rail authority asked the feds for more flexibility about where and when to start building. Last week the Department of Transportation told them to dream on. In a letter responding to the request for more flexibility, Under Secretary for Policy Roy Kienitz ordered the authority to charge full speed ahead since “once major construction is underway and approvals to complete other sections of the line have been obtained, the private sector will have compelling reasons to invest in further construction.” Private sector seems to be the Obama Administration’s code for government.
Even some of the state’s Democrats are protesting the Administration’s mulishness. Democratic state senator Alan Lowenthal told the Los Angeles Times that “there is nothing in the letter saying the federal government would commit $17 billion to $19 billion for the project . . . If it had, we would build the Central Valley segment right now. But the state needs to be financially and fiscally responsible.”

Well, that would certainly be a novel approach for California, but a welcome one indeed.

The private sector won’t invest in high-speed rail because there isn’t any reason for consumers to choose fixed-track transport between the proposed stops, San Francisco to Los Angeles.  Several airlines already service the route and fly twice as fast between the two cities than the proposed train ride (2 hours, 40 minutes).  That means that passengers have a greater selection of outbound and return flights, as well as a number of options on airports, depending on their needs.  The high-speed rail system will be a government monopoly, with resources allocated by political need rather than passenger need, much as we’re seeing already.

Lowenthal’s right that Californians will pay through the nose for a high-speed rail construction that starts off as inferior to the airline services already in place, but that’s not the only cost that California taxpayers will carry.  They could take a lesson from Boston’s Big Dig, another gigantic boondoggle pushed by the federal government that has cost Massachusetts taxpayers billions in cost overruns — and the maintenance costs are already skyrocketing, thanks to poor construction:

State transportation workers are struggling to plug Big Dig tunnel leaks that gush as much as 1.4 million gallons of water a month, driving up repair costs in the notorious money pit known as the Central Artery by millions of dollars each year.
Despite what acting highway administrator Frank DePaola of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation called a “vigilant” ongoing effort, the persistent leaks are at least partially to blame for the crumbling fireproofing, corroded lighting and concrete falling from tunnel walls and ceilings that have plagued the Central Artery’s tunnels, according to inspection reports.

How much will the tunnel cost Massachusetts in annual maintenance?

Officials pay for the pricey upkeep out of the $458 million Central Artery trust fund created after contractors who built the $15 billion system — originally projected at less than $3 billion — settled criminal and civil charges after a Jamaica Plain woman was crushed to death by a falling ceiling panel. At the current rate of repairs, that fund could be tapped out in less than 30 years, while the tunnels were meant to last 100 years.
“The cost of maintaining this will be horrific,” said Jack Lemley, an engineer and former Big Dig consultant who “wasn’t a bit surprised” by the escalating cost of the leaks.

Lemley estimates current maintenance needs at more than $200 million, which means the fund will get tapped out much sooner than 30 years.  And this comes from a project whose initial estimated cost of $3 billion quintupled by the end of the project.  California would do well to heed the lessons of the Big Dig as well as the true lessons of its own report on the high-speed rail project and shut it down before it turns into yet another public-works sinkhole.

Ken Orski's New NewsBrief for May, 31, 2011: High-Speed Rail. Slip-sliding away.

As you know, I consider Ken Orski one of the most astute HSR observers around. Here is his latest newsletter. The way he structures the situation, I am tempted to consider this all good news.  

However, it's not over until it's over.  And we are still waiting for a major, confirming decision, most likely from Washington, that tells us that the HSR game is up in California, as well as elsewhere in the US.

Underlying Ken's careful analysis is the unspoken reality of Party politics.  The Democrats, (oddly enough, led by Republican RayLaHood.  I wonder about his conversations with his Republican croneys.) are clinging to this vision and fantasy in the face of a brick wall of factual reality. One would think that the fundamental ideology of the Democrats is at stake here.  Perhaps it is; at least, that may be the perception of the Republicans who wish to poke a finger in Obama's political eye.

What may become widely apparent is that this project is more and more burdened with misinformation, mismanagement and counter-indicated facts about financials, for example, to the point where it will be far more burdensome for the Democrats to maintain their support, and they will finally be well advised to relinquish it. And take that advice.
Vol. 22, No. 16
May  31, 2011

California's Bullet Train --- On the Road to Bankruptcy  

For California’s high-speed rail boosters including their chief cheerleader, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, the month of May has been a month from hell. 

First came a scathing report by California legislature’s fiscal watchdog, the non-partisan Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO), questioning the rail authority’s unrealistic cost estimates and its decision to build the first $5.5 billion segment in the sparsely populated Central Valley between Borden and Corcoran. That segment, the LAO noted, has no chance of operating without a huge public subsidy, yet the terms of the voter-approved Proposition 1A, explicitly prohibit any operating subsidies.

These concerns were echoed by an eight-member Independent Peer Review Group. [Edit. At last count, only six are in place.] "We believe the Authority is increasingly aware of the challenge of accurate cost estimating," wrote its chairman Will Kempton in a letter to the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s CEO, Roelef van Ark. 

The Legislative Analysts' Office had concluded that if the cost of building the entire Phase I system were to grow as much as the revised HSRA estimate for the Central Valley segment (an increase of 57%), the Phase I system would end up costing not $43 billion as originally estimated, but $67 billion.

The two reports unleashed a torrent of criticism from the press. In sharply critical editorials, The Wall Street Journal and the Los Angeles Times questioned the project’s fiscal viability and the Authority’s poor decision-making. The project is "a monument to the ways poor planning, management and political interference can screw up major public works," opined the LA Times. ("California’s High Speed Train Wreck," May 16). 

"If the state can’t come up with enough money to finish the route, a stand-alone segment in the Central Valley would literally be a train to nowhere and a big drain on taxpayers," said the Wall Street Journal ("California’s Next Train Wreck," May 18). "The legislature needs to kill the train now. Once this boondoggle gets out of the station, the state will be writing checks for decades," added the Journal in its most recent editorial ("Off the California Rails," May 30). The San Francisco 

Examiner and The Sacramento Bee also have been critical in their reporting. Governor Brown needs to "squarely address the issues raised by the legislative analyst’s report," a Sacramento Bee editorial urged.

Even some of the state’s former legislative supporters, such as state senators Joe Simitian, Alan Lowenthal, Anna Eshoo and Mark DeSaulnier have expressed reservations and urged the Authority to rethink its direction. "I don’t want to see an EIR (Environmental Impact Report) completed for a project that will never be built," Senator Joe Simitian told Roelef van Ark at a Senate Budget Subcommittee hearing on financing the first rail segment in the Central Valley.

At the urging of the Legislative Analyst’s Office, the rail authority asked the U.S. DOT for more flexibility about where and when to build the initial "operable" segment. The LAO went as far as recommending that "If the state can’t win a waiver from the federal government to loosen the rules and the timing for using high-speed rail grants, it should consider abandoning the project." 

Not only would the Central Valley segment, by itself, have insufficient ridership and revenues to stand on its own, the Legislative Analyst wrote, but "the assumption that construction of the Central Valley segment could move quickly because of a lack of public opposition has already proved to be unfounded." The LAO suggested several alternative segments that could be more financially viable and economically beneficial than the Central Valley segment. They included Los Angels-Anaheim, San Francisco-San Jose and San Jose-Merced.

But in a remarkable exercise of inflexibility and delusion, the U.S. Department of Transportation turned a deaf ear to the request. "Once major construction is underway...the private sector will have compelling reasons to invest in further construction," the DOT letter stated in an assertion totally unsupported by any evidence.

"California is a test case for whether high-speed trains can succeed in the U.S. — and so far, the state is failing the test," the LA Times editorial concluded. The feds’ refusal to reconsider their position has substantially magnified and accelerated the likelihood of that failure.


Note: the NewsBriefs can also be accessed at <http://www.infrastructureUSA.org>www.infrastructureUSA.org
A listing of all recent NewsBriefs can be found at <http://www.innobriefs.com>www.innobriefs.com
Please feel free to forward or reprint this item with appropriate citation. All correspondence, including requests to subscribe and unsubscribe, should be addressed to: C. Kenneth Orski, Editor/Publisher;  email: korski@verizon.net; tel: 301.299.1996; fax: 301.299.4425. Please make sure that your email account is set up to accept incoming mail from korski@verizon.net 

The National Economic Context for HIgh-Speed Rail. It's not a pretty picture.

News from Southern California.  They don't want it either.

Press-Enterprise Editorials
Rail delusions

Washington's refusal to let California rework high-speed rail plans is a clear signal: The Legislature should derail a poorly conceived project that threatens to become a hugely expensive boondoggle. California does not need to pour billions of public dollars into a train system built on fiscal fantasy.

Contrary to what the HSR promoters want you to believe, HSR is not the solution; it's a huge problem, economically.

When it comes to High-Speed Rail, context is everything.  The state of California is in deep financial doo-doo, among the worst states in the country.  The $10 HSR bond issue will add to California's debt burden at least one billion dollars annually, forever.

But, the bigger problem is the US economy which is expected to pay all the rest of the costs for California's HSR, costs exceeding $100 billion by the time it's said and done. 

Even the Democratic "paper of record," the NYT, is chastizing the Administration.  I happen not to agree with their prescriptions, but never mind.  The problem is dire, and pouring borrowed dollars into California, rather than repairing the fiscal crisis, will only exacerbate it.  And, that's true at both state and national levels.

It's one thing to invest in infrastructure that's essential, like water, and which pays for itself over time.  It's a totally other thing to build something that can only be used by the well-to-do and requires large subsidies forever.  It will not serve the largest number with the "greatest good."

If you think that this article has nothing to do with high-speed rail, think again.  It has everything to do with high-speed rail and whether we should be going ahead, or stop right now, before things get worse.

May 30, 2011

The Numbers Are Grim

A month ago, when an initial gauge of first-quarter economic growth came in surprisingly weak, many policy makers and economists expected the bad news to prove fleeting. But when revised data were released last week, the growth estimate remained stuck at an annual rate of 1.8 percent, compared with 3.1 percent at the end of last year.

More troubling in the latest figures, consumer spending — the largest component of the economy — was especially slow. Stagnant wages and higher prices for gas and food are squeezing family budgets, while falling home equity hurts consumer confidence. That suggests more bad news to come.

When consumers are constrained, so is hiring, because without customers, employers are hard pressed to retain workers or make new hires. A recent Labor Department report showed a greater-than-expected rise in the number of people claiming jobless benefits even as private-sector economic forecasts are being revised downward — both very bad omens for continued job growth.

Republican lawmakers have responded to renewed signs of weakness with a jobs plan that prescribes more of the same “fixes” that Republicans always recommend no matter the problem: mainly high-end tax cuts, deregulation, more domestic oil drilling and federal spending cuts.

The White House has offered sounder ideas, including job retraining, plans to boost educational achievement and tax increases to help cover needed spending. But its economic team is mainly focused on negotiations to raise the debt limit, presumably parrying Republican demands for deep spending cuts that could weaken the economy further while still reaching an agreement on the necessary increase.

The grim numbers tell an unavoidable truth: The economy is not growing nearly fast enough to dent unemployment. Unfortunately, no one in Washington is pushing policies to promote stronger growth now.

The sinkholes in the economy should be obvious. Most prominently, the housing market is still awful, and state and local government budgets are still a mess. Conditions apparently have to get worse before deficit-obsessed policy makers will be ready to address them, including with bolstered foreclosure relief and more fiscal aid to states. More delay would only imperil the recovery, such as it is. And without a strong recovery, it will be even harder to repair the budget. Continued hard times means low tax revenues and high safety-net spending.

If Washington won’t do what is needed to make things better, there are still things that can be done to try to keep the economy from getting worse.

The administration could work to ease the rules for refinancing mortgages owned by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-run mortgage giants. Easier refinancings would lower monthly payments for potentially hundreds of thousands of borrowers in good standing, and in that way, free up spending money to boost the economy.

The Federal Reserve, for its part, must be prepared to continue measures to bolster the economy as needed, even if that means looser policy for longer than it originally planned. Democrats in Congress must lay the groundwork for an inevitable fight over extending federal unemployment benefits, which expire at the end of this year.
There’s a long way to go before the economy will thrive without government help.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Democrats, we have a problem. It's High-Speed Rail. Run, don't Walk to the nearest exit.

Even if it is the Wall Street Journal and it's owned by Rupert Murdoch, it's still a paper that can't be ignored. And, they have come to take a clear editorial position about High-Speed Rail.  They don't like it.  They don't like it in California.  And, they have reasons. 

Someone on this paper does their homework. And yes, I'm am looking for evidence that even my fellow Democrats wake up and wise up to a disaster, which if permitted to continue, and to burn over $1 million each day,  will begin to make those Democrats look very un-smart.  

The California Democrats  have lashed themselves to the mast of a sinking ship, a ship that is sinking due to the malevolence, greed, arrogance and incompetence of the skipper and crew.  

Attention, Democrats.  Cut yourselves loose.  Take to the lifeboats.   Or, go down with this doomed, damned 'Flying Dutchman' of a vessel!

Off the California Rails
Even West Coast liberals are doubting the high-speed train to nowhere.
Monday, May 30, 2011/ 6:14 pm ET 

Even Left Coasters are beginning to grumble about the Obama Administration's ideological imperative for high-speed rail that defies all common sense.

A couple of weeks ago California's Legislative Analyst's Office issued a withering report calling the state's 500-mile high-speed rail project between Anaheim and San Francisco a fiscal crackup ready to happen. (See "California's Next Train Wreck," May 18.)

The federal Department of Transportation has offered $3 billion of stimulus funds with the catch that the state has to begin construction by 2012 and build the first segment in the Central Valley. A stand-alone segment running through a sparsely populated area couldn't operate without a huge taxpayer subsidy, but a voter-approved ballot measure explicitly prohibits any such subsidies.

At the urging of the state watchdog, the rail authority asked the feds for more flexibility about where and when to start building. Last week the Department of Transportation told them to dream on. In a letter responding to the request for more flexibility, Under Secretary for Policy Roy Kienitz ordered the authority to charge full speed ahead since "once major construction is underway and approvals to complete other sections of the line have been obtained, the private sector will have compelling reasons to invest in further construction." Private sector seems to be the Obama Administration's code for government.

Even some of the state's Democrats are protesting the Administration's mulishness. Democratic state senator Alan Lowenthal told the Los Angeles Times that "there is nothing in the letter saying the federal government would commit $17 billion to $19 billion for the project . . . If it had, we would build the Central Valley segment right now. But the state needs to be financially and fiscally responsible."

Which is why the legislature needs to kill the train now. Once this boondoggle gets out of the station, the state will be writing checks for decades.

What we can learn about HSR from Flint, Michigan, and why it should be taken seriously

Here's a letter from a guy in Flint, Michigan.  His perception, while local, is clearly highly generalizable across the entire US, with the possible exception of the Northeast Corridor.   I don't have to repeat all the issues he raises, he states them clearly enough and we certainly concur with all his points.

What I do want to say is that this has become the viewpoint of thoughtful people who don't have some personal stake in HSR.

It is possible for even Democrats like me to oppose this totally ill-conceived boondoggle.  All the advocacy arguments come from a definable number of constituents.

1. All those contractors, consultants and manufacturers  who stand to make money from HSR construction or operation. Also land-speculators.

2.All those elected officials -- Democrats -- who see HSR in four ways:
a. Income redistribution as stimulus for mitigating the unemployment problem.  The  government buying itself out of an economic and unemployment hole with borrowed dollars.
     b. Subscribing to all the advocacy rhetoric, environment, congestion, fuel consumption, traffic reduction, etc. etc. even though, upon close analysis, it's not at all what they promise.
       c. The general idea that herding all of us on public mass transit is inherent in the public good.
        d. Bringing federal dollars into their state and or district as a basis for getting re-elected. 

3. All those government bureaucrats whose salary depends upon their support for HSR.

4. All those nerds and geeks who are in love with railroading and love to tell you how much factual trivia they know on blogs.

5. All those who still live in a world of the past: "The Romance of Railroads."  Also, rich people who can afford the tickets.

6. All those who've been on foreign HSR trains and, without giving it much thought, say, we can afford this here. Let's have it. 

7. Uninformed idiots. 

If you are not one of those people described above, and if you are thoughful and well informed, there should be no question or hesitancy about condemning this HSR program and project for what it really is.

Letter: High-speed rail isn't cost-effective or practical
Published: Monday, May 30, 2011, 4:22 PM
 By Community Voice | Flint Journal Letters 
Voice: Dave Nelson, Flint Township

“Michigan must climb aboard movement to ride the rails,” claim the editors of The Flint Journal, (Sunday, May 1). You made several declarative statements saying this was a good thing, and that we need to do this, but I saw very little in the way of hard facts that would lead me to agree, at least when it comes building additional tracks to move people. I think trains are very efficient for moving freight, but not so cost-effective or practical for most people in the United States.

Your first argument for train travel was speaking of a time “when families from the Tri-Cities could take a train to Grayling for a day of sledding or skiing and return that same night, with nary a care about falling asleep at the wheel on the way back.” While I don’t disagree that many people would find this enjoyable, I don’t think this is a compelling argument for spending billions of dollars that we don’t have.

You also brush away the concerns about hefty government subsidies needed for rail by bringing up the subsidies needed to “keep highways paved and bridges from falling into the rivers they cross.” For me, this is just a reminder that our current infrastructure is crumbling and in need of billions of dollars for repair, and those dollars are in short supply. 
No amount of passenger rails is going to make that bill go away.

I lean toward the views expressed in an opinion piece by Randal O’Toole, published last fall in USA Today. He writes, “The history of transportation shows that we adopt new technologies when they are faster, more convenient, and less expensive than the technologies they replace. High-speed rail is slower than flying, less convenient than driving, and far more expensive than either one. As a result, it will never serve more than a few marginal travelers.” I think “marginal travelers” is the key term here. 

I think the demand for high-speed rail is small, and the benefits few. If for no other reason, it’s a bad idea because our country is broke, and we can’t afford to spend enormous sums of money on a project with such questionable returns.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

California's Central Valley is not Enthusiastic About High-Speed Rail Ruining their Farms

The High-Speed Rail Hustle at Our Expense

You need to get the big picture to appreciate how egregious this issue is.  State Assemblyman Doug  LaMalfa is after the high-speed rail authority, a government agency, for spending tax dollars -- lots of them -- lobbying for more money from Washington.  In effect, this is one government agency, the CHSRA,  using tax dollars to build their empire by seeking tax dollars from another government agency, the DOT.

But, it's really worse than that.  The CHSRA, charged with designing and building a high-speed rail system, has been on an aggressive promotional marketing campaign for years.  The Board consists, not of professional high-speed rail developers (we don't have any in the US), but back-room politicians and their croneys.  They've been at the business of deal making for decades.  Selling is their game.  

This year they hired a public relations firm, Ogilvy,  via a $9 million contract.  They said it was to improve communications with the rest of us.  The reality is that they have been very, very bad at marketing themselves ever since the realities of actual design and engineering revealed their true intentions. 

It wasn't that long ago that the Bush Administration had their hands slapped several times for going out to the media and paying for self-promotional services in order to promote their programs.  This is no different.

The taxpayers should not be paying for self-serving political propaganda.

We are constantly being told that the California voters agreed to building this project in 2008.  Well, maybe not. They were grossly misled with a series of untruths about what this project would be, what and who it would cost, and what it would do.

Californians are wising up to all the shenanigans of this mismanagement organization and its highly destructive agenda. Also, what they voted for is nothing like what they're getting now.  So, instead of fixing anything at all, they are covering up their disastrous agenda with public relations TV Infomercial nonsense; yet another sales job.

But, worst of all, they are hustlers, seeking federal funding to keep their nefarious game going in the face of mounting criticism by numerous government oversight agencies.  They are doubtless selling their bill of goods in Washington also, in hopes of squeezing more dollars to waste here, and using our tax dollars to do it.

Legal or not, this project reeks of unethical behavior and a bureaucracy run amuck.  There should be absolutely no doubt that whatever they build will be in their, not our interests.  The entire basis for their existence is to get and spend as many tax dollars as they can.  It certainly isn't to improve public inter-city transit in California.

LaMalfa investigates High Speed Rail Authority's use of money for lobbying
By Staff Reports
Posted: 05/24/2011 12:20:50 AM PDT

SACRAMENTO -- Sen. Doug LaMalfa, R?Richvale, launched an investigation into the High Speed Rail Authority's possible use of state bond or federal funds for lobbying.

LaMalfa submitted letters to the Committee on Budget and Fiscal Review, the Legislative Analyst's Office and Legislative Counsel, according to a press release issued by his office Monday. He also made public records act requests to the High Speed Rail Authority on the issue.

"It is outrageous that the High Speed Rail Authority has been spending $10,000 a month to pay federal lobbyists, including U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein's former chief of staff," LaMalfa said.

"I will be conducting a full inquiry to determine the source of the funds spent on this federal lobbying effort. Use of federal funds for lobbying may violate legal restrictions, while using borrowed bond dollars to do so may also be illegal and is inappropriate, at the very least."

LaMalfa also authored Senate Bill 22 that would hold the issuance of further state bonds until the project's accounting is available, according to the press release.
"It is time that the Legislature followed through with the LAO's recommendation and cut the funding of this project," LaMalfa said. "When the voters passed the High Speed Rail bonds, they were left in the dark about the true costs of the project. Now that the wasteful spending of over half a million taxpayer dollars on questionable activities has come to light, the authority needs to be held responsible."

Saturday, May 28, 2011

High-Speed Rail Profitable. Who Knew?

If you Google high-speed rail, whatever comes up with have a Siemens ad on it.  Siemens, an old time German manufacturer in the electric equipment business, is very much in the high-speed rail business.  Their lobbyists have been working the halls of government in the US like crazy.  They are advertising at airports and on television.  They see the US as a potential bottomless plastic credit card.

Yes, there's gobs of money to be made on high-speed rail.  Only not for the HSR operators.  They will need eternal subsidies.  But the contractors, consultants, manufacturers and all the ancillary businesses. . . they stand to make fortunes on our tax dollars.

And, that's what this HSR program and project are all about; not the train, the money! And politics is the "rolling stock" for this pork train.
High Speed Rail Nets $10 Billion In Germany

by Aaron Colter, May 28th, 2011
Siemens has signed a contract with German transit company Deutsche Bahn to build up to 300 new high speed trains, in a deal worth reportedly worth near $10 billion. Under the agreement that will remain intact until 2030, at least 130 trains will be ordered immediately, which others planned in the coming years.

The trains, called the ICx, will built in two different models – one a seven part unit with three power driven cars and 499 seats which can travel at speeds up to approximately 125 miles per hour, and the other a ten-part unit with five power driven cars and 724 seats, with a top speed of around 155 miles per hour.

The high speed rail trains, which the companies claim are 30% more efficient than current models in operation due, in part, to being roughly 20 tons lighter in weight, will be manufactured entirely in Germany.

Before full-scale production, two trainsets will undergo 14 months of testing for safety and performance data gathering. The first trains are being planned for public service sometime in 2016.

Is High-Speed Rail going to make a "profit?" Don't be ridiculous!

One of the major misconceptions being perpetrated on the public is that the California High-Speed Rail project is going to generate surplus revenues; that is, what they are calling "profits."  Don't you believe it.  This fake proposition is one of the reasons they keep inflating their ridership numbers.

Passenger rail in the US has never been profitable.  High-speed rail is not profitable anywhere in the world. The best results have come from two rail lines, one in Japan and one in France. They have been breaking even against their operating costs.  You can't call that profitable.

Anyone that tells you that HSR in the US will produce surplus revenues is not telling the truth.

Have doubts about this?  Here is former HSR Board member, Rod Diridon on this topic:

Almost all international high-speed rail systems create a profit after operating costs. California's system is projected to do so too. Proposition 1A, approved by California voters in 2008, provides $9 billion for high-speed rail and requires a public-private partnership investment. If private bidders don't see profits, then there will be no bids, no project, and no debt. California taxpayers are protected.

The article below makes this point succinctly.  The only inter-city passenger rail service in the US is Amtrak.  Only one route on the Northeast Corridor breaks even.  All the rest of inter-city Amtrak is a money loser, costing tax payers over one billion dollars each year. 

High-speed rail will be no diffferent, except it is far more expensive to operate, its tickets will be far more expensive than regular rail, and it will cost taxpayers much more subsidy support.

Some people will say,that's OK. Public mass transit in our cities and population regions don't make money; they are subsidized. For public mass transit, I don't mind serving "the greatest good for the greatest number." Mass transit is a subsidized public utility. Although I must admit that I have been taught that the number of people using mass transit in the US is pathetically small. 

Anyhow, inter-city HSR is certainly not justified due to its stunning costs to build and operate, its truthfully projected low level of use, and for a very small population of the well-to-do.

I still have not heard a truthful explanation of why we need a very fast luxury train for rich people built with our tax dollars.

Friday, May 27, 2011

GOP Proposal to Privatize the Northeast Corridor Meets Resistance
by Tanya Snyder on May 27, 2011

House Republicans, led by Transportation Committee leaders John Mica (R-FL) and Bill Schuster (R-PA), have a plan to take the Northeast Corridor out of Amtrak’s control and privatize it. They’ve long called Amtrak a “Soviet-style operation” that loses money.

Could a private company take over Amtrak's Northeast Corridor? 

Mica said that ridership of the NEC hasn’t changed since 1977, the year after Amtrak took over the corridor: a record he calls “one of the most dismal on earth.” 

Amtrak advocates contend that chronic underfunding has starved the system, creating a situation that would make world-class service impossible. They also point to record ridership system-wide in seven of the past eight years, mostly due to the increase in state-supported service. (Representatives from Amtrak would have spoken on behalf of the railroad but were not invited to testify.)

The Mica/Shuster plan would separate the Northeast Corridor from Amtrak and transfer it to USDOT initially, then spin it off as a separate business unit. A competitive bidding process would determine who takes over the title. That entity would have to establish high-speed service from Washington to New York that takes under two hours (doing it in 15 years, not 30, as Amtrak proposed) while reducing or eliminating federal subsidies. They plan to include this proposal as part of the surface transportation reauthorization bill.

Mica and Schuster stress that organized labor would keep all its protections and that the plan would boost employment, but unions are having none of it. Edward Wytkind, president of the AFL-CIO’s Transportation Trades Department, said Amtrak’s 30-year plan for high-speed rail includes all the private sector participation it needs. “There is no high-speed passenger rail system in the world that operates without significant government assistance,” he said. “Private sector companies simply cannot make a profit without federal support.”

He said private entities taking over the most profitable part of Amtrak’s system would “let the rest of the system wither” and he simply didn’t see what the country would be getting in return for this valuable transportation asset.

Wytkind reminded members of Congress that when Amtrak took over the NEC in 1976, it was because the private company that had been running it had gone bankrupt and no one else wanted it.

Ranking Democrat Nick Rahall echoed Wytkind’s point. “We created Amtrak because the private sector didn’t want to operate unprofitable passenger rail service,” Rahall said. “Private companies did not want to run passenger rail service then and I am not convinced they want to do it now… Just two years ago, DOT issued a request for proposals for private companies to develop high-speed rail in the U.S. Guess how many companies were just chomping at the bit to get their hands on these projects? Not one. Not one single proposal was submitted by the private sector for developing high-speed rail on the Northeast Corridor.”

D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton added, “Amtrak has shown it knows how to run a railroad, because the Northeast Corridor is profitable. And guess what? Those profits are helping to pay for your districts. It’s the only part of the system that is profitable. So you’ve got to ask yourself: What are you going to do about the rest of the country if Amtrak goes private?”

Rahall said Acela constitutes a significant jump in the quality of rail service in the country, that Amtrak has made improvements, that its ridership is up and it is making money on the NEC. “We should be celebrating Amtrak’s 40th birthday,” Rahall added, “not trying to kick it in the caboose by selling off its assets.”

Some speakers saw middle ground options between full privatization and the status quo. Ignacio Jayanti, who served on an Amtrak blue ribbon panel in 1997, suggested that a separate organization should manage the infrastructure but Amtrak should continue to run the operations. He said infrastructure maintenance was the root of most of Amtrak’s shortfall and was harder to attract public support for. However, the federal government would still own and, ultimately, control the infrastructure. It would also lend up to $25 billion in rail funds, to be more than matched by $50 to $60 billion in private sector capital.

Thomas Hart of the U.S. High-Speed Rail Association thought it should be the other way around. “America has a history of investing in state-of-the-art transportation infrastructure with the government funding the base infrastructure and private companies operating the transportation vehicles within that base infrastructure,” Hart said. “That is how our highway system and our aviation systems were built and operate today.”

Of course, all of this is predicated on the idea that Amtrak is consuming too much public funding. But many Amtrak advocates say the problem is that it’s been underfunded and that the expectation that rail should pay for itself is ludicrous, since no transportation mode pays for itself – even cars. “Last year, we spent more than $40 billion on highways,” testified Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ). “Over Amtrak’s entire 40-year history, it’s received just under $38 billion.” Even Carlos Bonilla, testifying from the libertarian, anti-rail Reason Foundation, concurred with that. Some Democrats mused that if the government could bail out Wall Street, which had created a monumental economic crisis, it could lend a helping hand to Amtrak.

Eleanor Holmes Norton urged Shuster and Mica to leave the Amtrak privatization plan out of the transportation reauthorization, predicting that this controversial proposal would kill the bill. Lautenberg later told reporters that the privatization plan “hasn’t begun to get any legs to stand on as I see it” and that it would amount to a “death potion” for the transportation bill, according to the Wall Street Journal. Even Republican committee leaders said the plan could probably pass the House but would fail in the Senate.

Friday, May 27, 2011

High-Speed Rail: Privatize or Publicize? Does it really matter?

To get a clear picture, let me overstate the situation.  The Democrats want the government to do everything, including building HSR.  The Republicans don't want the government to do anything (except defense).  They want the private sector to do everything for profits.  Oversimplified but useful to think about.

Republican Rep. Mica wants to privatize Amtrak on the Northeast Corridor,  because that's the only route that isn't operationally subsidized (we are told), therefore private investors might be interested.  The rest of Amtrak's inter-city passenger service continues to be a financial sink-hole.

You understand that the Democrats don't mind public investment.  They just don't think that the profit-motive is the most parsimonious or effective way to manage large public services like our utilities and our transportation.

Another point.  All US inter-city passenger rail was once privatized. (Now almost none are,) The major train operators, those that are still in business hauling freight, also used to provide passenger service, more as a service than as a revenue producer.  (More like a loss leader.) They were glad to get rid of that financial burden, turning it over to Congress which created Amtrak, which it now has to subsidize annually for over a billion dollars.  

The HSR promoters will argue that HSR is unlike any other passenger rail and will be a big cash cow.  That's nonsense. HSR in this country will be like all other passenger rail service, only faster, more expensive, and cost more to ride.  

That formula guarantees the need for subsidies, even with the most expensive train tickets in the schedule. In other words, it will be the same as in every other country.  China, our HSR role model, has had to cut fares, slow down the trains and strip them of fancy fittings inside. And that's one of the most autocratic countries in the world. 

The bottom line in this article is that the Democrats want government funding for Amtrak and HSR and the Republicans don't. 

Let's state the fundamental HSR issues yet once more.  

1. It costs too much.
2. It won't do what is promised; that is, carry all those passengers, 39 million annually at last count.
3. If build, it will do irreparable harm wherever the route finally goes.
4. It's not really about trains at all.
5. It's really about the distribution of government  political pork, geared toward the 2012 election cycle.
6. If HSR is such a great idea, why hasn't Amtrak built one, since Acela doesn't really count?
7. Who decided that building expensive fast trains for rich people, and with our tax dollars, was such a great idea?


House GOP proposal would privatize high-speed rail along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor

By Ashley Halsey III, Published: May 26

House Republicans want to dismantle Amtrak, giving private investors the task of building and operating high-speed rail service between Washington and Boston.

They believe that an infusion of private capital would enable the system to be built in 10 years, a third of the time that Amtrak projects for completion of the $117 billion project, and that service would improve if operations were put in the hands of a for-profit company.


At a hearing Thursday, House Transportation Committee Chairman<http://mica.house.gov/> John L. Mica (R-Fla.) condemned Amtrak as having “one of the most dismal records on earth for any rail service, particularly in the Northeast Corridor.”

His plan to privatize the operations in the densely populated region from Washington to Boston was pounced on by Democrats and unions who represent Amtrak employees.

“The railroads didn’t want to run a railroad,” said Del. <http://www.norton.house.gov/>Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), pointing to the demise of private passenger rail service more than 40 years ago. “They went bankrupt on passenger service. They begged the government to take it.”

The Republican proposal would strip Amtrak of the most heavily used portion of its system, with almost 250,000 weekday passengers, and the only rail real estate it owns. It holds title to all but 93 of the 456 miles of track between Union Station and Boston. Elsewhere, its trains travel on track owned by freight rail lines.


Mica believes that private investors will step forward to build and operate high-speed rail in the Northeast Corridor, significantly reducing the annual subsidy required to pay Amtrak to run the rest of the country’s passenger rail service.



“Amtrak receives, $1.5 billion in their annual subsidy,” he said. “If you look at their figures, about $500 million goes to operations. So the other billion is pretty much being poured into the Northeast Corridor because they don’t own any other track.”


Ignacio Jayanti, president of the private equity firm <http://www.corsair-capital.com/about.aspx>Corsair Capital, told the committee that it would be possible to raise $50 billion to $60 billion from investors over the 10-year period he said it would take to build high-speed rail in the corridor.

“There are significant private-sector dollars that are available,” Jayanti said.

Mica cited as a success story the privatization of two British rail lines by <http://www.virgintrains.co.uk/>Virgin Trains, saying ridership doubled on lines from London to Manchester, England, and Glasgow, Scotland, and that the service turned a profit while eliminating government subsidies and sustaining rail employees’ wages.

Legislation Mica says he plans to introduce within two weeks will face a partisan split, as was evident at the hearing, where Sen. <http://lautenberg.senate.gov/>Frank R. Lautenberg (D-N.J.) showed up to give a hint of what the proposal might face in the Democratic-controlled Senate.

“Privatizing the Northeast Corridor is not a smart or viable prospect,” said Lautenberg, who sits on the Senate Transportation Committee.

Rep. <http://corrinebrown.house.gov/>Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) was among those who argued that public transportation systems, whether highways, air travel or railways, all required federal financial support.

“There is no form of transportation that supports itself,” Brown said. “I don’t support cherry-picking the best routes in our system and turning them over to the private sector.”

Amtrak’s defenders said the system has been underfunded since its founding 40 years ago.  [What does that mean?]

“It’s a classic starve-the-beast philosophy,” said Edward Wytkind, who heads the transportation division of the AFL-CIO. “You chronically underfund the company and then you expect it to do great things.” 

While Wytkind said he supported private investment in rail service, he said “now is the time to boost investment in Amtrak.”

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