Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Respectfully disagreeing with the President on China-envy and high-speed rail

Market Pulse Archives

Aug. 31, 2011, 11:51 a.m. EDT
Obama says he will push for new infrastructure plans

By Greg Robb

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- President Barack Obama on Wednesday said he wanted to have a "serious conversation" with Congress next month about funding key infrastructure projects. 

"It is unacceptable when countries like China are building high-speed rail networks and gleaming new airports while more than a million construction workers who could be doing the same thing are unemployed right here in America," Obama said in short remarks in the Rose Garden. 

Obama said he has asked federal agencies to identify key projects that have already been funded and could be speeded-up. 

Obama also called on Congress to extend a measure that funds highway construction projects by means of an existing tax on gasoline. That measure could expire at the end of September without Congressional action. 

A similar measure to fund airport construction also needs to be extended. 
With all due respect, Mr. President, I disagree with several of your claims:

1. Why is it unacceptable for China to expand its infrastructure, while a million construction workers here in the US are unemployed?  What does China have to do with it? Why aren't our million construction workers employed -- right now -- on construction such as infrastructure repair and maintenance which we have neglected for decades? What about our Nation's broken utility systems such as water, electricity, and natural gas?  What about our bridges, dams, levees, flood control (see "Irene" for evidence of negligence), and highways? We are talking hundreds of billions of dollars worth of repair, restoration and upgrades.  Shouldn't those come first?

2. We can already see the results of China's massive high-speed rail efforts: major fatal accidents, faulty construction and safety engineering, corruption, excessive risk taking and prestige building obsessions. We have no business being envious of China's high-speed rail program.  They built too much too quickly, took ridiculous risks, charged too much for train tickets and ran empty trains.  That's no role model for the US. We don't have to follow stupid decisions by greedy countries over the same cliff.

3. And yes, we should make major investments in our airports, runways, and air traffic systems (such as NextGen).  Why is there no national program for that, or the R&D, advancement and development of safer highways and non-fossil fuel powered vehicles?  

Your HSR program, Mr. President, is a mindless distraction and totally unaffordable.  Furthermore it will require importation of manufactured goods from overseas and labor forces from outside the US as well, since we have no HSR capacity in this country.  Available federal funding should be spent at home, not in China or anywhere else.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Damn those selfish NIMBYs, standing in the way of HSR Progress

The problem with NIMBYs is that they don't want high-speed trains in their back yard.  They don't want them in their front yard either.  In fact, many NIMBYs don't want them anywhere.  

A lot of people, mostly who don't live anywhere near the future HSR corridor, find that attitude unacceptable. Why should some people object to this train when it's going to benefit everyone else so much?  We have to make sacrifices, don't we?  At least some of us do.  So, what if families get uprooted and have to move to a new house?  It's a small price to pay for all of us to see this train being built, even if most of us will never ride on it.

What's a little inconvenience of a fifty foot high elevated viaduct with four tracks and catenary towers  looming next to and over your house?  NIMBYs are selfish, only thinking of themselves.  Yes, a dozen trains each hour whizzing by at 100 mph or faster make a lot of noise and vibrate the ground.  So what?  After all, the only people who are affected are those living within about a quarter of a mile or so on each side of the rail corridor.  The rest of America won't experience any of that.  So, what if a small minority will have to give up their homes, have them become unlivable and be forced to move away, if it's for the benefit of the majority?

Yes, property values will decline seriously.  Yes, as the article points out, even anticipating HSR near any residential neighborhood adversely affects all the neighboring property values; ask any realtor. But, isn't that the cost of progress?

Of course, when the train viaduct runs through business sectors, they will also be affected. During construction, many will just have to go out of business. Others, if they manage to stay open, will lose business that won't be recoverable.  And the looming presence of the train will depress commercial property values just as much as residential ones.  More sacrifices will be called for.  

Commercial areas through which the train runs will become more industrial.  There will be a ripple effect from the rail corridor outward in both directions within urban as well as rural environments.  That's just the sacrifices those of us adversely affected will have to make. 

Then there are the schools near those rail corridors. We may have to close and relocate them.  The cities and counties and state will, of course, have to pay for that.  Oops. More sacrifices.  

And the farms, such as those in the Central Valley that are a critical part of the state economy.  There will be numerous closings of those.  The state will lose revenue.  Yes, yet more sacrifices. 

Finally, the bond issue that will pour billions into this train will require interest payments and a repayment of principal.  Where will that come from if not the taxpayers?  The train certainly can't recover the development costs.  Guess what, more sacrifices. Sacrifices to the tune of two dollars for every dollar borrowed to build the train. All of California's taxpayers are going to have to make sacrifices, such as lousy schools for their kids. 

Then there are those federal dollars.  Those are given to the state, but borrowed by the federal government, and have to be paid back with interest. All of the United States is being asked to sacrifice for a California luxury train that affluent people who can afford those expensive train tickets can ride.  

Did I mention that the train, in order to operate, must be subsidized by all us taxpayers forever?  Sacrifices for the well-to-do forever?  All us not so affluent are being asked to make sacrifices for those who are well to do, by building them this fancy train and paying to operate it.  That's how it's going to be in the 21st century. 

Damn all those NIMBYs for standing in the way of progress!
Homeowners facing major impacts from High-Speed Rail

frank maccioli
Bakersfield Environmental News Examiner
August 30, 2011 

California's High-Speed Rail project, 800 miles of steel connecting the state's major cities with 220 mph trains, is controversial to say the least. With support from California's voters a few years ago, the project has generated lots of news recently from proponents and opponents alike.

Here in the San Joaquin Valley, the California High-Speed Rail Authority (CaHSRA) recently held workshops to answer questions and accept comments on the Draft EIR/EIS for the Fresno to Bakersfield segment of the project. Referred to as the backbone of the system, initial construction is planned for 2012 if all goes well in the permitting process.

One apparently unavoidable fact of huge public works projects like these is that eventually, private property may have to be taken under California eminent domain laws in order for the projects to be completed. That future reality is being faced already by some Bakersfield residents - even if the project never gets off the ground.

Property owners whose land and/or homes will be taken will be offered fair market pricing for their property. However, what constitutes fair market pricing? Is it the price the property had before there was any talk of a high speed train running through the neighborhood, is it the price now - before construction has begun - or is it the price when the final route has been announced?

Some people think that the mere discussion of HSR being built nearby has aleady lowered property values, making selling nearly impossible. Regardless of whether or not the HSR system will be built, some property owners may feel that they are currently in "limbo" if they want to sell their property now. They may feel trapped and may ask, "Who will buy my property today knowing that they may lose it in another year or two, and at an even lower appraised price?"

Nevertheless, at least those whose homes and property will be taken can at least expect to receive compensation for their loss. But what of those property owners whose "property" won't be taken, those who will suffer visual and audible impacts because of their proximity to the new HSR route?

One of the documents on display at the recent Draft EIR/EIS workshops was entitled Aesthetics and Visual Resources. it details the proposed rail alignments, mitigations that may be made, and unavoidable impacts that can't be mitigated. The document includes several before and after pictures of the project's impacts on some Bakersfield neighborhoods. Some of those photos are attached to this article. Two of them show a portion of a Rosedale/Greenacres neighborhood in Northwest Bakersfield.

Current plans for that area will require blocking off a portion of Palm Avenue, re-routing traffic, and removing some homes. As can be seen by the photos, however, the remaining homeowners will be stuck looking at an elevated concrete rail overpass. In addition to the visual blight and loss of current mountain views, they will be impacted by the noisy rumble of HSR trains speeding by on their way to the new downtown station.

When asked if such homeowners would also be offered compensation of some kind, representatives of the CaHSRA couldn't say. They suggested that the question would be an excellent comment to raise as part of the draft EIR/EIS review process.

Such impacts can be expected wherever the HSR route impacts private homeowners, not just here in Bakersfield. How these impacts are mitigated/compensated will be key to the success of the project.

For more information:

Aesthetics and Visual Resources Document, Fresno to Bakersfield

Fresno - Bakersfield Draft EIR/EIS

More Hanky-Panky with California High-Speed Rail on the Caltrain Corridor

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has been engaging in a lot of Madison Avenue double-talk lately. They've been coining new phrases which are code and highly misleading.
The latest is called the "Blended, two-track Caltrain/HSR Solution." It means they will take the existing infrastructure of Caltrain's two tracks and modify them minimally for running some high-speed trains as well. We'll get back to that in a moment.

The other phrases, like "phased implementation," "initial construction segment," and "value engineering" conceal much more about their intentions than what they reveal. When you read between these lines, what we are actually being told is the following.

a. They will do the cheapest thing possible. The lowest cost will drive the design. This ignores the requirements of mitigating environmental impact and they will double-talk their way around that.

b. They will violate the requirements of the authorizing legislation by not having all the funding in place to build a HSR-usable segment, but will go ahead anyhow by claiming that completion will take a lot longer but they will get a start regardless.

c. They will not build a required, operational segment first, but merely lay as much track in the Central Valley as they have money for. That locks up their "territory" while they lobby for more funds, regardless of how long that takes.

This project could take decades to become operational. Meanwhile, they remain in business and on the government payroll. The more they can put on the ground the soonest, the more their eternal future is assured, even if they never complete and make this train operational. As we keep insisting, it's not really about the train. It's about money and politics.

So, back to this blended business on the Caltrain corridor. "Blended" means squat! They state that they are going to accept the recommendations of Congresswoman Eshoo, State Senator Simitian and Assemblyman Gordon to use only the existing two tracks, and run both high-speed trains and Caltrain during the day. That makes for about ten trains, combined, each hour, or twenty trains north and south. Without grade separations, it will be a show-stopper! By which I mean traffic will seriously back up at intersections.

That, of course, will add to the urgency of grade separations which, in turn, will add to the urgency of elevated viaducts. And if the tracks are going to be elevated, they might as well put all four tracks up there for Caltrain and HSR. Problem solved. (Of course, nobody has asked UPRR's opinion yet, but that's another discussion.)

Ten trains per hour also means that the trains won't go faster than 110 mph (if that fast) and HSR wouldn't be able to meet the time requirements of the legislation. But, who cares?!

In order for this "phased implementation" modification to happen, the rail corridor will have to be electrified, necessary for HSR and a dream come true for Caltrain. The rail authority will also require additional tracks for passing, so it will no longer be a 'true' two track system. (They already have four short additional passing track segments along the whole corridor, but will 'blend' in a lot more.)

While our jolly three politicians stipulated that this 'blended' solution would be the final one, with no future modifications, the rail authority has not accepted that. Remember, their intention is to have four tracks elevated on a viaduct. They are agreeing to this reduced version only because they don't have an extra $6 to $10 billion right now to build the four track elevated viaduct, but they sure will when (if) they get the cash from D.C..

Once they have the funding for that, the 'blended' two track solution goes out the window. The article below tells us that they estimate a cost of around $1 billion to do this blended version. Don't believe that either. It's not as simple as they make it sound.

Oh, yes, and what has been built for the 'blended' two-track version, including electrification, will all have to get torn out once they start building the elevated viaduct.

All this is typical of how this project continues to unfold in California. Lies, deception, false promises, endless, pointless negotiations, threats, and lots of double talk in the rail authority documentation and Senate hearings, as well as their own monthly board meetings.

With all due respect to all our well-intentioned colleagues, we still don't begin to appreciate the determination and ruthlessness of Van Ark and the rail authority. They are arrogant because the know there is no one to stop them from doing whatever they damn please. "Don't like what we are doing? Sue us!"

Let me make a final point here.  Consider the rail authority as a magician with two hands.  One hand is set on building this train and we are keeping our eyes on that hand as we argue that the facts are wrong, the numbers are understated (costs) or inflated (ridership.) We quarrel about which alignment they intend and we want.  We disagree with this or that detail. We threaten lawsuits about environmental report violations.  This is the hand they want us to watch.

Meanwhile, the other hand is not about the train itself, which is merely a distraction, it's about the people and what they are doing behind the scenes to enhance their political or professional careers and enrich their bank accounts.  That's the hand of this magician we are not supposed to be looking at.  That's the hand of corruption and greed, waste, fraud and abuse, political manipulation, contract padding, conflicts of interest and croneyism.  

We've seen a lot of documentation about this (Trainor, Tolmach, Holstege), although none recently.  That warrants some serious investigative journalism.  We had our attention called to it with the State Auditor report but nothing further came of it.

We need to keep our eye on the people, not just the train.

‘Blended’ rail gets boost
August 30, 2011, 04:02 AM By Bill Silverfarb Daily Journal staff

Constructing a high-speed rail system in the Central Valley with nowhere for the trains to go is pointless unless the California High-Speed Rail Authority shifts some funds into the system’s two end points in San Francisco and Los Angeles, according to the rail authority’s Peer Review Group.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has also indicated it may be willing to consider a request by the state to “reprogram” some of the billions committed to the Central Valley section of the project to the system’s two end points, according to a letter from Will Kempton, chair of the California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group to state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, dated Aug. 22.

The Peer Review Group has offered near full support for a “blended” rail proposal for the Peninsula that would limit high-speed trains to essentially Caltrain’s current right-of-way, minimizing property takings and greatly reducing the cost of the project.

Simitian, Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, and U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, introduced the blended rail proposal back in April.

“There is momentum behind the idea,” Gordon said yesterday. “It is a practical approach, cost effective and responsive to local communities.”

Shifting the funds out of the Central Valley to the end points, however, will require substantial debate and discussion, Gordon said yesterday.

Since much of the federal investment into high-speed rail comes from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, much of the funds to get the projects under way will have to be committed toward “shovel-ready” projects by the end of this federal fiscal year in September 2012, Kempton told the Daily Journal yesterday. Kempton is also chief executive officer of the Orange County Transportation Authority.

“There is a quick time frame to make use of the funds but it doesn’t mean all of the money has to go to the Central Valley,” Kempton said.

The governor and rail authority would have to make the request for the diversion of the funds, he said. The Central Valley plans for the project were well developed and thus supported with stimulus funds unlike the segments in Los Angeles and San Francisco, he said.

Caltrain has recently indicated it can accommodate up to two high-speed rail trains an hour in both directions on its tracks and four trains an hour in both directions if about nine miles of passing tracks are constructed somewhere between San Mateo and San Jose.

Initially, the California High-Speed Rail Authority said it wanted to get at least 10 to 12 of its trains into the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco every hour.

But the high cost of the project and a lack of consensus on the Peninsula as to how the system should look has caused the rail authority to suspend a study of the full buildout of the system as it begins work on the project in the Central Valley. Designs for the full buildout of the system locally showed a four-track system running mostly on an aerial viaduct, an idea met with great opposition up and down the corridor.

Residents in Southern California have also greatly opposed building a similar structure between Los Angeles and Anaheim, according to Kempton’s letter.

“If the project is not completed beyond the Central Valley plans, the state would be left with a segment providing marginal service improvement to 1 million passengers per year whereas shifting some investment into a blended approach at both ends would improve service to 28 million passengers as well as those in the Valley,” Kempton wrote in the letter.

A full buildout locally will cost in excess of $6 billion to complete while simply electrifying the Caltrain corridor to accommodate high-speed trains is estimated to cost about $1 billion.

The blended rail idea has gained steam since the three lawmakers first proposed the idea back in April.

Assemblywoman Cathleen Galgiani, D-Livingston, who wrote the language in Proposition 1A, a voter-approved $9 billion bond measure that passed in 2008, told the Daily Journal yesterday that getting high-speed trains from Bakersfield to Gilroy and then to San Francisco on Caltrain’s right-of-way would be a good sign for private investors to prove the state is serious about building the project.

“We need to take advantage of existing infrastructure,” Galgiani said. “The segment from Bakersfield to San Francisco can be up and running, providing service while the rest of the system is being built.”

She said a blended approach would allow the authority to build up its ridership and then gauge at a later time whether the full buildout would be necessary.

Caltrain’s goal is to modernize and electrify its system and is hoping to get the rail authority to foot much of the bill.

Limiting high-speed rail to the Caltrain corridor could save taxpayers billions in construction costs and greatly limit the need for property takings through eminent domain.

“There is a growing chorus that the only way that makes sense for the project to move forward” is to have high-speed trains share the corridor with Caltrain, Simitian said. “The conversation will never be constructive if there are not sensible parameters.”

Simitian called the Peer Review Group’s comments “particularly compelling given the professional expertise and experience” of the group’s membership.

Assembly Bill 3034 established the Peer Review Group to evaluate the High-Speed Rail Authority’s funding plans and prepare its independent judgment as to the feasibility and the reasonableness of it plans.

The rail authority plans to build a system that will take passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles in about 2 hours and 40 minutes.

Bill Silverfarb can be reached by email: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

There is no ceiling on the costs of high-speed rail

We've asked this question before and want to ask it again: How much is too much?  The cost of building the high-speed train in California keeps rising.  Is there some point where even the most ardent HSR supporters will honestly admit that the projected costs are too high? That whatever benefits will derive from the construction and operation of this train are insufficient given the costs?  If one line is the project costs, and the other line defines the benefits, is there some point where the lines would cross on the graph, and if so, where is that cross-over point? It's a cost/benefit question.

The second question is, should they even start building a train for which there is nowhere near enough money?  And, furthermore, there will never be as much money available as this train will cost.    When does something that at first appears reasonable, stops being reasonable and starts being ridiculous and outrageous?  

Unfortunately, the answers that are being cooked up keep changing.  Now it's no longer the surplus revenue that the train will produce, or the huge ridership that will justify its construction and we no longer hear about the vast environmental benefits of a train that will sweep all vehicles off California' streets and highways. Now, we are told it's a jobs program regardless of how much it costs; those are worthy investments in improving the employment picture in our state. 

One of the representatives from KPMG, retained by the rail authority to produce their October 15 business plan (yet again), has explained that the rail authority, to build this train, will require 3 to 4 billion dollars annually for ten or fifteen years, and even that amount also would not be enough.  There needs to be the realization that there is no way that such funds can or will become available from the only source possible, the US Government. 

The article, below, will give you a hint of what I'm talking about.  Clearly CEO Van Ark and the rail authority are on a suicidal self-destruct mission.  Their orders are to keep planning and then building this project until they run out of funds. Consider it high-speed rail martyrdom. Their mission is to spend the money, whether the train actually gets built or not.

The supporting Democratic politicians and our state Governor can always say, well, we did our best with the billions we already had to spend.  We created tons of jobs, and spent the stimulus dollars and now we have a hundred miles of track that could be used by Amtrak (which hasn't asked for them and probably doesn't need them).  BUT, think of all the jobs we created until the money ran out.

The dissonance between the rising cost estimates to build this project -- and there have been no actual bids submitted by contractors yet -- and the persistence of the Governor and the Legislature to keep this project afloat, increases daily.  Rest assured that the project cost increases will jump dramatically with contractors construction proposals. 

The only available explanation is the Democrats' determination to obtain the $3.5 billion awarded but not yet granted from Washington, as well as roughly the same amount matched from the Prop. 1A bond measure.  Such a decision suggests that these Democrats, including our Governor, are fully aware of all the facts -- the incompetence and mismanagement of the rail authority and the stunningly ever higher costs -- but are totally indifferent to these facts.  As we've said, the current rationale and justification being that this project is a stimulus funded social welfare jobs program.

What a waste of funds that could have already been deployed to hire construction workers on shovel ready projects throughout the state that beg for maintenance and repair to our infrastructure.

And, when the funds run out, then what?  It's not like we are talking about Shubert's 'Unfinished Symphony.'  This is going to be an unfinished waste of over $6 billion dollars of taxpayers/ money that could and should have been spent productively.

High-speed rail's costs keep rising

Posted at 09:48 PM on Saturday, Aug. 27, 2011
By Tim Sheehan / The Fresno Bee
For two years, the California High-Speed Rail Authority said it could build 520 miles of high-speed train tracks between San Francisco and Los Angeles for about $43 billion.

But that figure -- long derided as unrealistic by critics -- went off the rails this month when the authority released detailed environmental reports for its proposed Merced-Fresno and Fresno-Bakersfield sections, the first two segments the agency wants to start building next year.

The authority's most optimistic estimates for the San Joaquin Valley sections alone total about $10 billion; route choices could run the price to $13.9 billion.

That's a far cry from the 2009 estimate of $8.1 billion.

If projected costs can rise by as much as 71% in the Valley -- a relatively flat, straightforward stretch -- what will happen when tracks must be built through mountains and across cities in the Bay Area or Southern California?

If costs escalate statewide as much as in the Valley, the price to build the system from San Francisco to Anaheim could leap from the 2009 estimate of $43 billion to as much as $67.3 billion, even before buying any trains.

Some critics are saying, "I told you so," and others worry about even more cost increases in the Valley and statewide before a decade of construction begins in late 2012, as planned.

"It is about time that more realistic numbers are being used," said Elizabeth Alexis, co-founder of Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design, a group that has long doubted the authority's estimates.

Roelof van Ark, the rail authority's CEO, acknowledged last week that the earlier estimates, set forth in a 2009 business plan to the Legislature, were "a little bit optimistic."

Construction plans have changed in the Valley between 2009 and now, van Ark said.

He said that an updated plan due to the Legislature in October will reflect the higher costs for the Valley -- and statewide.

"What you're seeing in the Central Valley, you are going to see in the other parts of the state as well," van Ark said.

"Quite a few of the components [that add to the cost in the Valley] will definitely carry into other parts of the state.

However, some of them could be even larger."

Why so expensive?

The higher estimates in the draft environmental impact reports for the Valley segments are the result of engineers refining the route options and gaining a better understanding of construction challenges, van Ark said.

"We know more now," said van Ark, who was hired by the authority months after the 2009 plan was prepared. "When you start designing systems like this, you look at the alignment, the cities, the rural areas, and you make assumptions.

 ... [But] you don't have the detail to consider what real costs are going to come about."

With that detail in hand, the authority has identified about $5.8 billion in new costs, including:

-About $3 billion more to build about 36 miles of elevated tracks over the cities of Madera, Chowchilla and Corcoran to avoid closing streets.

-About $844 million more for elevated structures, tunnels, bridges, overpasses and undercrossings to cross waterways, streets, highways and railroads along the route.

-About $685 million more for earthworks and retaining walls to raise the tracks above floodplains.

-About $430 million more to purchase right of way along the route and to relocate displaced homes and businesses.

-About $142 million more to realign a two-mile portion of Highway 99 in west-central Fresno to make room for the high-speed tracks.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The MountHelixPatch lists 8 good reasons for killing HSR in California

For a slow news week-end with only the East Coast Hurricane to worry about, here is an noteworthy entry on PATCH, the online news service.  O'Connor cites 8 reasons for closing down the HSR project.  She is quite right, and there are other reasons as well that could be added to that list, as I suggested in the comment thread.

As you will immediately recognize, all these points have been raised in this blog repeatedly in the past.  More press entries are receiving print space to air these concerns and therefore more people are becoming aware of them.  Can there be such a thing as "critical mass" of information in the hands of a "critical mass" of people?  A "tipping point," so to speak?

We continue to hear about the election "mandate" when 4% of the voters spelled the difference by enabling Proposition 1A which launched this project in 2008.  At that time, the electorate knew nothing about the project except the very brief language in the ballot statement.  That statement was filled with untruths, if you know what I mean.  Voters were voting for something that they were not going to get. Bluntly, they were lied to.  

That election vote should have been cancelled and the California Appellate Court found that the Legislature had stuffed too much promotional verbiage into the ballot language for this HSR project. 

That vote was almost three years ago.  We now know a great deal more about everything connected with this boondoggle than we did then.  Isn't it time to ask the voters if they've changed their minds, knowing what can be known now, and given the economy and its extremely uncertain outcome?

8 Great Reasons to Shoot the California Bullet Train
The state's plan to build a high-speed rail system, aka the “bullet train,” is a massive bailout-in-waiting.
•By Colleen O'Connor
•August 26, 2011

It has been called “a train to nowhere,” “a train wreck,” “a boondoggle,” and much worse.

One thing it has not been called is “a shining example.”

California’s plan to build a high-speed rail system, aka the “bullet train,” deserves to be shot. Why?

•The money does not exist. The original cost estimate of $45 billion has already increased to $60 billion—before a single track has been laid. The federal promised money is in serious jeopardy (read: the deficit); the expected private investors’ money has yet to materialize; and the state’s share of funds is nonexistent.

•California state treasurer, Bill Lockyer, doubts the wished-for money will ever materialize, as reported by California Watch.  Furthermore, he can’t find a disciplined business plan that makes any sense, and adds, “I’m not sure the economics work out.”  Plus, the state’s budget mess makes selling any bonds much more expensive.

•The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office report on the bullet train is highly critical. The report suggests asking the federal government for delays, changes in routes, and removing the project oversight from the current directors. Specifically, the report “recommends that the Legislature remove decision-making authority over the high-speed rail project from the HSRA [High-Speed Rail Authority] board to ensure that the state’s overall interests, including state fiscal concerns, are fully taken into account as the project is developed.”

•A study by the Institute of Transportation Studies at UC Berkeley finds serious faults. Even more critical than the treasurer, the UC Berkeley report found the assumptions of any profitability were highly suspect, concluding: “the profitability of the proposed high speed rail system—have very large error bounds.”  The director, Samer Madanat, added, “As such, it is not possible to predict whether the proposed high-speed rail system in California will experience healthy profits or severe revenue shortfalls." The study also dings the overly optimistic ridership projections.

•Insiders are starting to bail. Burlingame City Councilman Jerry Deal, recently named to the Caltrain board, declared, "High-speed rail, as proposed, will bankrupt California and drain all available transportation money from all other transportation projects. You will pay and pay dearly for many years,” as reported by San Mateo County Times.

Others suggest “it's maybe time to start exploring ways to disencumber the state of its high-speed rail obligation. Translation: “Shoot it.”

And, at least, some legislators agree. "Nobody feels at this moment that everything is hunky-dory," commented state Sen. Alan Lowenthal. "We're not going to go forward unless we have real assurances." However, he wants to wait until January for yet another new business plan, according to Reuters.
•Central Valley farmers are fighting back. Acquisition of farm lands needed to start the first leg of the tracks is meeting a wall of opposition from threatened land owners, according to the Examiner.

•Lawsuits are piling up and the cost to defend will be enormous. Even the eco-chic Bay Area is fighting parts of the bullet train costs and right-of-ways, according to California Watch
•Overruns are guaranteed. Costs will escalate. Sufficient funds will not materialize from the federal government, the state coffers, or private investors’ pockets. The bond-debt will be unsustainable.

Simply put, the bullet train, as currently structured, is a massive bailout-in-waiting. Not one taxpayer should fall for the hype. Not one taxpayer in Northern or Southern California (the last leg of the proposed high-speed rail) should ignore the financial train wreck approaching. Every resident will face new “fees,” “revenues,” and “surcharges” to pay for a train that may never arrive in their communities.

The California State Legislature returns to work this week—for four weeks. They should quickly and mercifully shoot the bullet train before it runs over schools, the elderly, the poor and everyone else.

If not, perhaps it really is time to make the legislature a part-time institution and cut the pay accordingly. On that, and according to the Capitol Journal, 65 percent of voters agree.

Martin Engel
12:20pm on Saturday, August 27, 2011

Great job, Colleen O'Connor. There are some other reasons as well, but you certainly hit the important ones.

You might add that the Republicans control the House and therefore the HSR funds; no federal funds, no HSR. There are none now, nor will there ever be private investments without a government guarantee of revenue returns, and that's illegal under AB3034. Eternal and forever subsidies will be required, as they are for every other HSR system worldwide.

The project has been sharply rebuked by the State Auditor who found numerous shenanigans and disappearing funds with their book-keeping. Also the State Inspector General sharply criticized the project, but Jerry Brown closed down that office (!).

Criticism also came from the CHSRA's own peer review committee. The Inspector General of the US Department of Transportation has a case number on this project and is monitoring closely for federal code violations. The possible identification of "waste, fraud, and abuse" hangs over this project as well.

If HSR were a private project, it would have been terminated years ago for an impossible to achieve business model.
My favorite aphorism is: It's not about the train; it's about the money!

Governor Jerry Brown and his embrace of high-speed rail

The article, below, tells us that Brown is making a huge mistake. We've been trying to say this since Brown was elected.  However, we also know it's hopeless.  He can't hear us. 

There are several reasons.  HSR, especially this one in California, is a very high priority for the Obama Administration.  Brown is a Democrat.  The state needs funding from Washington. Get it?

Brown was in on the ground floor, decades ago, when this HSR concept was cooked up by a bunch of back-room politicians.  He certainly won't turn against this project now.

The Department of Transportation has already awarded California with $3.5 billion in stimulus funds to build the train. What Democrat is going to turn that down?

The state passed a $9.95 billion bond issue in 2008.  To activate it with matching funds, the federal dollars can get California to spend those state bond dollars, even if the bonds aren't sold.  What Governor doesn't want to borrow money to keep his state from default even if the state is already in debt over it's eyeballs?

Let's put it this way. Miracles do happen, just not very often.  They won't happen in California.  With a huge Democratic majority in the Legislature, and a Democratic Governor, California will continue to hug this misbegotten project to its collective bosom.  Even though this flies in the face of logic, reason and rationality, as well as economic expediency, those $3.5 billion from Washington are the basic excuse for singularly stupid behavior and decision-making in Sacramento. 

Printed from THE DAILY JOURNAL, dtd. 08/27/2011

Brown errs on high-speed rail plan
August 27, 2011, 01:23 AM — Contra Costa Times

Gov. Jerry Brown wants to go forward with California’s high-speed rail project despite its all but certain failure. He said, “I would like to be part of the group that gets America to think big again.”

That’s an admirable sentiment, but if the state or nation is going to think big, it also must think smart, and there is nothing smart about the high-speed rail boondoggle.

The High-Speed Rail Authority has bungled the project from the beginning with poor management, a lack of a coherent business plan, no realistic estimates of cost, ridership or fares, no final decision on the route and even less chance of obtaining the tens of billions of dollars in private financing that is needed to complete the system.

It is difficult to fathom how Brown cannot see that a high-speed rail system in California is doomed to failure. The estimated $43 billion for the first phase of the project from the Bay Area to Anaheim is likely to be way low.

The $9 billion in bond authority approved by the voters in 2008 won’t even cover a quarter of the cost, and requires matching funds that are not likely to be forthcoming.

Despite all of these problems, the rail authority is moving ahead with plans to lay 100 miles of track in the Central Valley. Even though this is the least expensive and least complicated part of the route, cost estimates already are running way higher than forecast.

Initial reports on the segment that would almost but not quite connect Merced and Bakersfield were estimated to cost $7.1 billion just for the track. Those cost estimates are now as much as $13.9 billion, and this is the easy part of the project.

t would not be surprising if the cost of the complete rail project rose north of $100 billion. No wonder the Legislative Analyst’s Office advised against Brown’s request for $185 million to keep the project alive.

Even with large subsidies, ridership is not apt to be anywhere near what is needed to keep fares competitive with airlines, even with higher fuel prices.

It would make far more sense for California to spend transportation money on urban transit projects such as BART to San Jose than to try to build a high-speed rail system in a region that does not have the population density to support it.

If California continues to proceed with such an obvious waste of billions of taxpayer dollars, how can the state expect voters to ever pass tax increases and extensions?

Brown should have shown some leadership by dropping his request for high-speed rail funds and calling for the entire project to be canceled before any more money is wasted. It’s still not too late to do the right thing and derail the boondoggle express.

How dare California permit this disaster to continue?

This is an outrage blog entry.

I call your attention to what the article, below, and what it means for California.  We are a state with huge debt and deficit problems and huge unemployment problems.  We have seen a decline in our economic engine and a decline in a professionally skilled labor force.  The unemployment figures go up as the education levels go down. 

California ranks sixth on the list of states where children experience "food insecurity."  That does not mean they are actually starving at this moment.  It does mean that they live at or below the poverty level which threatens their nutritional well-being.  They are permanently "under-nourished."  (You can see the graph comparing all the states if you click on the URL for the article.) 

That, in turn, affects they lifetime health, their cognitive development, their potential school levels and performance, and, finally their productivity -- or lack thereof -- in the economy.  The least educated of our children end up in jail, either as youth or adults. The unwanted pregnancy rate is higher than among any other statistical group. 

As Charles Blow puts it "we have a growing crisis among the nation's children."  And that is certainly true in California, with nearly 2.6 million kids in a lifetime of trouble not of their own making.  We have the biggest state population, and so we have the largest number of kids below the poverty level. California has one million more kids below the poverty line than the next largest state, New York State.

"A report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation last week found that “the official child poverty rate, which is a conservative measure of economic hardship, increased 18 percent between 2000 and 2009.” 

This article tells us that  “the U.S. spends almost two-and-a-half times as much per prisoner as per public school pupil.” We know that California has been slashing education budgets from K through college. Our prisons are hugely overcrowded. Yes, it is a zero-sum game. Dollars spent on high-speed rail will not be available for the state's education budget.

And, the most important statement here, quoted from the World Bank,   “undernutrition” in young children has been linked to delayed growth and motor development, lower I.Q.’s, behavioral problems and decreased attention, deficient learning and lower educational achievement."

If you live in California and aren't angry about this, there's something wrong with you!!  

Governor Jerry Brown is determined to spend billions on the high-speed train project which will be a luxury ride for the affluent. (Their kids aren't hurting; many go to private schools and then college.)  

There will be an enormous "vaporization" of funds as they pass through this HSR development system of politicians, contractors, consultants, land speculators, and others. What a waste of precious resources. It's started already.  It must be said yet again; we do not need this train, despite all the myths selling us on the notion of how important it is.  

Meanwhile, as the rail authority approaches construction in the Central Valley, California's kids will get screwed, including those living in the Central Valley.  Isn't that clear?  What is wrong with us as we continue to support the development of this project while we watch the costs for it climb through the roof.  And, remember, construction is still over a year away.  

This project is guaranteed to be a money black-hole.  There will never be enough to complete it.  That means, all those funds that could be deployed to improve the lives of California's children will have been poured down the rat-hole of greed and corruption.

This is not merely a moral or ethical issue; it is an economic issue and our state government is blowing it.

Nice going, California!

August 26, 2011

Failing Forward

Sometimes I push back on my heels, look at this country and wonder aloud: “What on earth are we doing?”

We have a growing crisis among the nation’s children, yet our policies ignore that reality at best and exacerbate it at worst.

According to a report issued this week by the Guttmacher Institute, the unintended pregnancy rate has jumped 50 percent since 1994, yet a July report from the institute points out that politicians are setting records passing laws to restrict abortion. It said: “The 80 abortion restrictions enacted this year are more than double the previous record of 34 abortion restrictions enacted in 2005 — and more than triple the 23 enacted in 2010.” Add to this the assault by conservatives on Planned Parenthood, and what are we saying?

This is what we’re saying: actions have consequences. If you didn’t want a child, you shouldn’t have had sex. You must be punished by becoming a parent even if you know that you are not willing or able to be one.
This is insane.

Even if you follow a primitive religious concept of punishment for sex, as many on the right seem to do, you must at some point acknowledge that it is the child, not the parent, who will be punished most by our current policies that increasingly advocate for “unborn children” but fall silent for those outside the womb.

This is not how a rational society operates.

Aside from the raft of negative outcomes associated with unintended pregnancies, there are a host of other indicators that suggest a perilous world for the nation’s children.

A report from the Annie E. Casey Foundation last week found that “the official child poverty rate, which is a conservative measure of economic hardship, increased 18 percent between 2000 and 2009.”

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the number of children facing food insecurity in 2009 soared to nearly one in four. And ABC News pointed out this week that a breathtaking 49 percent of all children born in this country are born to families who receive food supplements from the federal Women, Infants and Children assistance program.

As the World Bank points out, “undernutrition” in young children has been linked to delayed growth and motor development, lower I.Q.’s, behavioral problems and decreased attention, deficient learning and lower educational achievement.

Yet we wonder why our children’s educational outcomes are so low when compared with other wealthy nations. We even have the nerve to begrudge teachers for not being able to squeeze success out of children primed for failure.

It should come as no surprise that a C.D.C. report this month found a continued rise in the percentage of children being diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or that the country has continued its course of mass incarceration. The prison population in the United States has nearly quadrupled over the last 25 years. In fact, we have the highest incarceration rate of any Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development country.

This isn’t only a moral outrage; it’s also budgetary lunacy. As a report released last month by the Children’s Defense Fund pointed out, “the U.S. spends almost two-and-a-half times as much per prisoner as per public school pupil.”

We simply can’t keep turning to pills and prisons to solve issues of poverty and poor parenting. This is unhealthy, unsustainable and unwise.

We have to do a better, more focused job of teaching sex education and providing contraceptive options (kudos here to the administration for moving this month to require insurance companies to provide birth control services to women at no extra cost). We have to remove the stigma and judgment around sex. Sex isn’t bad or unnatural. It’s one of the most natural things that we do. It just needs to be safe and responsible.

We also have to preserve women’s birth options should they become pregnant, including the option not to give birth. And, finally, for all the children who are born, we must make a valiant effort to give each and every one of them a fighting chance, which includes food and medicine when their parents can’t provide it. We must do this not as a boon or crutch to the parent, but as a selfish investment in the future of this great society.

They need our help now more than ever because the current economic stress may take some time to overcome.

As an updated Budget and Economic Outlook report issued by the Congressional Budget Office this week points out, the unemployment rate is expected to stay above 8 percent until the middle of the decade.

Now is when we need government to step up and be smart.

This is exactly the wrong time to do what the Republicans would have us do. In their 2012 budget, they propose cutting nutrition programs as part of austerity measures so that we don’t leave our children saddled with debt. Meanwhile, they completely ignore the fact that those cuts could leave even more children saddled with physical or developmental problems.

They want to hold the line on tax breaks for the wealthy, not paying attention to the fact that our growing income inequality, which could be reversed, continues to foster developmental inequality, which is almost impossible to reverse.

We have to start this conversation from a different point. We must ask: “What kind of society do we want to build, and what kinds of workers, soldiers and citizens should populate that society?” If we want that society to be prosperous and safe and filled with healthy, well-educated and well-adjusted people, then the policy directions become clear.

They are almost the exact opposite of what we are doing.

I invite you to join me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter, or e-mail me at