Monday, June 13, 2011

Cynthia Ward's comments on Joe Vranich's testimony on High-Speed Rail

Do you recall my posting a video yesterday of Joe Vranich testifying to the State Senate Committee on Transportation and Housing IN OCTOBER 2008?  That's before the California voters were to go into the voting booth and decide whether they were willing to have the state try to sell nearly $10 billion in bonds to build the High-Speed Rail. 

Here's the URL again.  Please, please watch this video.  It's 12 minutes long. Joe Vranich warned us of this impending tsunami.

Here is the blog entry where we presented the YouTube video of Joe Vranich's testimony.

We all know what happened.  The voters supported a bond issue ballot peppered with lies and gross distortions.  And here we are today, stuck with this out of control monster which is about to stomp up and down California like in a science-fiction horror movie. Exaggeration?  Just wait until they get started construction in the Central Valley.

Anyhow, this is a great article by our good friend Cynthia Ward from Southern California.  She's as angry about all this as we are.

See also:  for The Due Diligence Report.
HSR Trouble Ahead: Can't Say We Weren't Warned
on June 
By Cynthia Ward (Pamphleteer) on June 13th, 2011

I was recently sent a video of rail expert Joseph Vranich, one of the staunchest advocates for HSR in America, completely eviscerating the CHSRA’s plan for a system from Anaheim to San Francisco. While tales of experts exposing the myths promoted by the CHSRA and their highly paid consultants have become old news, the date stamp on this makes it unique. This video was shot during a State Senate Transportation and Housing Committee hearing…in October 2008, meaning that he was warning our elected leaders of deficiencies in the plan, prior to placing it on the ballot for voter approval.

In this post, Mr. Vranich, transportation author, former CEO of the High Speed Rail Association, and a 40 year advocate of high speed rail projects all over the world, calls for the State Senate to stop this “boondoggle” (his word) before it goes to the voters, saying that the Authority’s work is, “the poorest I have ever seen.” The hearing, on October 23, 2008, was prior to voters passing Prop 1A in November 2008, when Californians were given faulty and unverified information in our ballot statements, leading to the approval of nearly 10 billion dollars in State bonds, with a payback cost of $19.4 billion dollars.

Like a seer gazing into a crystal ball, literally everything said here by Joe Vranich has come to pass. Neighborhood advocates like CAARD and have spent untold thousands of unpaid hours defending our State from the physical destruction and financial devastation that this project is becoming, wasted hours that are especially frustrating when learning that our leaders had already been warned of these results. 

Beyond the financial cost of consultants and contractors and State staff working on a project that leaders knew to be doomed, the mind reels at the productivity taken offline from those valiant advocates, productivity that could have been put to far better use had the Legislature simply listened to Mr. Vranich rather than pushing this meat through the sausage grinder of government. Frankly, every one of the members of this committee who failed to heed the warning posed during this hearing should be held accountable for the hundreds of millions of dollars spent to date on studying a project that will never meet the legal requirements of AB3034. Money that is desperately needed to sustain our State’s most basic services has been squandered on this boondoggle, with no visible end in sight.

In the last few years following Mr. Vranich’s testimony, his claims have proven true, over and over and over again.  Among them; the current proposal is untenable. The train will be slower than they said it would. Will carry fewer people than they claim it will. And will cost much more than they admit it will.

Mr. Vranich calls into question the ridership numbers from the Authority, insisting they are higher than those developed by the FRA and even independent studies from UC Berkeley’s Transportation Center and the (then recent)  Due Diligence Report by the Reason Foundation . In fact, the Authority’s ridership projections are 64% higher than Berkeley’s study, which in itself is more generous than the numbers given by the FRA.

Vranich says, “Moreover, the Authority’s projection of  117 million annual riders is so far from reality that I have to call it what it is, science fiction. “

From there he debunks the Authority’s load factors as being a higher projection than any other system in the world, even over 20% higher than the French system which is touted by many to be the most successful of all.

Since this testimony was given, CARRD’s Elizabeth Alexis has repeatedly testified in her capacity as a professional statician and economist, that the ridership numbers are bogus, which in turn triggered yet another taxpayer funded  peer review study, which the Authority ignored.

Vranich goes after reports on travel time which the Authority claims at 2 hours 40 minutes. Train travel from Anaheim to San Francisco in that range requires an average speed of 197 miles per hour, a feat that has yet to be accomplished anywhere in the world! Add in routing problems (like slowing down for urban centers and let’s not even talk about climbing the grapevine) and we add another hour to the travel time promised voters in Prop 1A!

In order to get those outrageous ridership projections, the authority plugged in numbers based on hyper-discounted fares, with promised ticket prices far below anything else on wheels. In order to come up with those numbers, the Authority claims that their ticket prices in 2030 will be 1/7th what Amtrak charges TODAY!

Vranich goes on to skewer the Authority’s cost projections, estimated at the time to be around $43 billion. He claims the real cost to be closer to the 60 to 80 billion dollar range, and that does not include the billions in interest off the bonds! Over time we have seen that estimate become reality, as costs for the project escalate far beyond what voters were promised in 2008. So far Joe Vranich is batting a thousand.

He goes on to say, “The claims of profitability could not conceivably be credible, under the most optimistic assumptions.” In fact, the proposal claims that later segments will be built with the profits from early segments. But even if every one of the Authority’s projections were accurate, even if the system carried the riders they claim, for the cost they estimate, with no overruns or surprises, there is still not enough profit generated by the Authority’s wildly optimistic numbers to pay back the bonds, much less build additional segments of the line in order to fulfill that mandate of ultimately reaching from San Diego to Sacramento! The California High Speed Rail Authority’s own projections do not equate to their own claims!

In addition, the Authority’s documentation regarding which equipment will be in use is so convoluted that it is impossible to determine impacts to the environment in terms of pollution generated, infrastructure required to support the variety of equipment in use, etc. In trying to track impacts based on the Authority’s numbers, “It’s like looking at a bowl of spaghetti, it’s so jumbled.” How does one go about promising voters that we are reducing greenhouse gases if there is no documentation on which equipment is being used and at what rate of use?

Mr. Vranich goes on to become one of many complaining about the lack of a Business Plan. That alone should have put the kibosh to the project going to voters, as the State required submission of that Business Plan prior to placement on the ballot-and then reneged and sent it to us anyway. Mr. Vranich testifies that Judge Kopp claimed the information that would have gone into a Business Plan is available on the Authority’s website. But Vranich explains to the Senate Committee that information has actually been deleted from the Authority’s website over the last year or so. He asks, “What circumstance justifies the Authority having LESS information available during the very year when more information should be accessible to the voters?”

In the end, Joe Vranich becomes what I believe to be the first rail advocate to argue for killing project, and much to our shock he is seen doing this prior to the ballot box of November 2008!

The author of the book Supertrains goes on record saying,
“I would like to see high speed rail built, but NOT THIS BOONDOGGLE.”
“High speed rail holds great promise in certain sections of the country, but the work of the authority is so deficient that if the current plan is implemented it has the potential of setting back the cause of high speed rail throughout the United States.”
“The Authority has not learned the lessons, what caused high speed rail to fail in Texas (which I supported) what caused it to fail in Florida, what caused it to fail in Los Angeles and San Diego? Because all of the elements, high ridership estimates, low cost estimates, disregard for local environmental impacts, and so forth, they are repeating all of them, as if they never read a single page of history, it boggles my mind which forces me to say, It is time to dissolve the high speed rail authority, give it no more funding than is required for terminating contracts, transferring data and duties to a more responsible agency, and conducting an orderly shutdown.”
“High speed rail in California may be salvageable after all of this poor work, but someone else must be in charge. If the authority is unable to conduct studies that have credibility, how will they ever effectively deliver a mega construction project on time and within budget?”

Joe Vranich’s testimony and its resulting conclusions in 2008 are nearly identical to a report just released by the LAO in which they call for the Authority to be dismantled and placed under the purview of a State department. Sadly, it has taken us several years and hundreds of millions in wasted dollars, not to mention an untold number of wasted hours from neighborhood activists, to come to a conclusion advocated by a rail expert prior to even sending this boondoggle to voters! 

How much time and energy and money have been wasted on a project that our elected leaders were warned about in advance? How many lives have been impacted in battling something that should never have been placed on the ballot in the first place?

Doug La Malfa’s  SB22 was based on the assertion that voters were lied to, and repeals Prop 1A in an effort to prevent even more future damage. We now know La Malfa to be correct, not only were voters deceived by Prop 1A, but our elected leaders were warned about this deception, not by NIMBYS that could easily be dismissed as selfish crackpots protecting their own real estate values, but a train advocate who for the first time in 40 years stood in opposition to a transportation project. 

Sadly, La Malfa’s bill was killed in Committee, and I would urge him to please consider submitting it for reconsideration, with a video tape to his colleagues showing Joseph Vranich’s concerns from 2008.

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