Monday, June 27, 2011

Brief Note #11: William Grindley's series of comments about California High-Speed Rail

Apparently, there are new Brief Notes in the pipeline.  This is the last of the current crop, however.  Here William Grindley and his team pick up on the comments made by Joe Vranich before the State Senate Committee on Transportation in 2008, prior to the election where Proposition was on the ballot and passed.  Grindley and we note his prescience.

Vranich's remarks are available on YouTube .

And, as always, all of Grindley's papers can be found on the website: <>

Vranich and a number of other people are now in the very uncomfortable position of being able to say, I told you so. All that does is irritate those who should have listened, but didn't.  Count me among those who worked to oppose this ballot measure and certainly voted against it.

In 2008, all those voters who failed to do their homework on the ballot measure are now bearing the consequences of their ill-chosen decision to support the bond measure.

There's no productive point in chastizing them.  However, they, along with all the rest of us, bear a responsibility to do whatever they can to terminate this project.  There are still far too many who want "it done right" whatever that can possibly mean.  

There are still far too many who see HSR as bailing out the local commuter train on the Bay Area Peninsula, Caltrain.  First of all, that's like catching flies with a sledge hammer.  Caltrain's problems cannot be solved by HSR, regardless of the guise or conditions it comes to the rail corridor; two tracks or four; elevated or not; electrified or not.

There are still far too many Democrats who have hitched their political fortunes to HSR in California for a multitude of reasons which, upon close examination, disintegrate before their eyes.  There are still far too many local politicians who, perhaps from Party pressures that will impact their political careers, continue to pursue HSR as a solution rather than the problem that it is.

It constantly amazes me how much we are willing to continue to believe in the face of mountains of empirical data telling us we are wrong. Or is it simple ambition and greed that helps us to avert our gaze from painful realities?

Brief Note #11 – June 23rd 2011

From the authors of The Financial Risks Of California’s Proposed High-Speed Rail
Project and six Briefing Papers. Available at

Finding: What’s was said about high-speed rail in 2009-2011 repeats 2008.

Background: On October 25th 2008, two weeks before 52.7% of Californian’s ‘spoke’ on
Prop1A, Joseph Vranich testified before the California Senate Transportation and Housing
Committee. 1 As former Director of the High-Speed Rail Association, he has been a highspeed
rail advocate for more than forty years.2 But among his prescient remarks, he made
it plain that “after reviewing countless plans, this is first time I am unable to endorse a
high-speed rail plan” 3

Those who are visually and audio-oriented with twelve minutes to spare, can verify all of Mr.
Vranich’s following statements at

“I’d like to see high-speed rail built, but not this boondoggle”

“The current proposal is untenable, will carry fewer people than they claim it will, and cost
much more than they admit it will.” and “the Authority’s work is the poorest I have ever seen”

“The ultimate costs will be between $65 Billion and $85 Billion (in 2008 $s) and that excludes
the billions of dollars of interest on the bonds”

"Ridership projections are so far from reality that I have to call it what it is – Science Fiction”
and “(CHSRA’s) ridership projections depend on super bargains; far lower than fares in 2007. Their
2030 per mile charges will be 1/7th Amtrak’s charges today. This also cannot be believed.”

“The work of the Authority is so deficient that if the current plan is implemented it has the
potential of setting back high-speed rail 20 years throughout the United States . . .”

“Under the current plan, taxpayers will have to subsidize a poorly designed system in

“It’s time to dissolve the High-Speed Rail Authority . . . give it no more funding . .”

Thirty-three months and about a half-Billion dollars of California taxpayers’ money later,
these comments have been echoed by the Authority’s own Peer Review Group, the
Legislative Analyst’s Office, the State Auditor, and countless citizens and citizen groups. The
same Senate Committee has since been told repeatedly what then-Chairman Lowenthal
asked Mr. Vranich “Why don’t you tell us how you really feel.” 4 Yet the project continues.

Conclusions: Regrettably Californians have been ill served by the Authority and its
Legislative oversight committees. The past Governor was a high-speed rail cheerleader, the
present one an enigma whose budget balancing mantra contrasts sharply with his sphinxlike
attitude towards the project.


1 The Committee’s members in 2007 included, inter alia, Chair Alan Lowenthal and Senator Joe Simitian.

2 Joseph Vranich is also the former Executive Director of the National Association of Railroad Passengers, a coauthor
of The California High-Speed Rail Proposal: A Due Diligence Report, September 2008; and published author
of works on the US rail system, including SuperTrains, Derailed and End of the Line.

3 These and all other quotes in this Note can be viewed in the

4 ibid.

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