Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Plowing through the farmland of Kings Country, Central Valley California with high-speed rail

This blog entry is about Kings County, which is in the Central Valley of California.  The San Joaquin Valley, or "Central Valley," is the heart of California's agricultural industries.  Farms, Orchards, Dairy producers and related businesses.  They generate California's major cash crop, and are a key revenue producer for the state.

We have learned today that the former cost estimates for this Central Valley first construction, as bare-bones as it is intended to be, were too low. What a surprise! So, what else is new?  We'll talk more about that in the next blog entry.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority has treated people in the Central Valley like dirt, and not in a good way, no pun intended. The people of the Central Valley have been lied to, and critical information withheld. In meetings, the people have been treated with public and documented contempt.  Transcripts of such meetings are making the rounds now.  

The CHSRA intends, despite all manner of constraints imposed by the laws of the state, to take, by eminent domain, thousands of acres of farm land in order to run the trains through them.

The Central Valley, it should be pointed out, has the highest unemployment rate in the state.  The Democratic state and federal elected representatives from the Valley support HSR, not for the train, despite their claims, but for the money from Washington, hoping for relief from such painful unemployment. That's understandable, especially in the short run.  However, what they don't understand is the financial pain for the state in the long run, since this project will be such a huge money black hole. There are already rumors being floated about a possible new bond issue for subsidy support for a train system that will never, ever, be able to pay for its operational costs. 

Here are several discussions about this and some additional web sites.  The first is from my blogging colleague in southern California, Mark Powell.  His well-worth-following blog site is: http://againstcaliforniahsr.com

Here is Mark's take on the Central Valley situation.

California High Speed Rail Authority’s term, “Initial Construction Segment”, consists of well-chosen words.

Members of California’s High-Speed Rail Authority are all aware that no high-speed train can possibly operate profitably on their proposed $6.5 Billion, 115 mile Initial Construction Segment slated to run from slightly north of Fresno to slightly north of Bakersfield.  

In fact, even if additional funds were to suddenly materialize so that the initial 115 miles of track could be extended north to Merced and south to Bakersfield (what the Authority now refers to as the “extended Initial Construction Segment’) , they know that even this 170 miles of track with 4 stations (Merced, Fresno, Tulare-Hanford, and Bakersfield) could not possibly operate high-speed trains at a profit.

If the Authority Board members didn’t know this prior to their July 14, 2011 Board Meeting, they became aware of these facts when former Chairperson and now Board Member Curt Pringle uttered these words:

“We understand we cannot operate independent high speed service within the Initial Construction Segment and make enough money to pay for the operation.  So our next determination is to try to figure out where that initial operating segment will be where we can operate using that (initial) construction segment and beyond to be able to pay for the cost of the operation.” [Note 1]

The Authority Board members and staff are now playing a word game to circumvent a provision of Proposition 1A which states:
“the planned passenger service by the authority in the corridor or usable segment thereof will not require a local, state, or federal operating subsidy.” [Note 2]   
Members of the Authority evidently feel that by naming the first 115 miles (or even the first 170 miles) an “Initial Construction Segment” as opposed to an “Initial Operating Segment” and by NOT planning to run any high-speed passenger service until larger population centers can be reached by their trains, they can legally access Proposition 1A funds.  Moreover, votes were led to believe that “usable segment” meant, in the intent of the Proposition, usable for high-speed rail passenger service upon completion of the segment.  Let’s hope that someone successfully challenges the Authority in a court of law regarding use of Proposition 1A Bonds to build an “unusable segment”  before construction commences and billions of dollars are squandered.

So what does the Authority hope to give Californians for their nearly $3 Billion in Proposition 1A Bonds Funds and more than $3 Billion in federal grants if construction begins in 2012?  Nothing!  According to Project Manager Major General Hans Van Winkle (Ret.) the initial “Initial Constructions Segment” of 115 miles WILL NOT even be sufficient to test high-speed trains.  According to the Van Winkle, only the extended  Initial Construction Segment of 170 miles “becomes, in essence, a future test track” [Note 3]  

However, Californians will get plenty of heartache for their money. The first 115 miles of track will require land takings involving 1100 parcels of land [Note 4] as the Authority deviates from existing transportation corridors and builds its 220 mile per hour path of destruction over homes, businesses, and across prime farmland.  All this without the promise of a single passenger riding a high-speed train.

Project Manager Van Winkle briefed the Authority at their July Board Meeting about what he considered possible configurations for the Initial Operating Section [Note 5].  All require additions to the 170 mile extended Initial Construction Segment.  He first mentioned building north to reach San Jose and thereby access the Bay Area population (via a Caltrain connection) to the Central Valley.  He then mentioned the alternative of  building south to reach Palmdale and thereby access the LA Basin population (via a Metrolink connection)  to the Central Valley.  Neither has a chance of passing the profitability test required by Proposition 1A.  The General lastly mentioned what he called the “Bay to Basin” Initial Operating Segment which involves building both north and south from the extended Initial Construction Segment.

One can easily see where the Authority is heading with their plans.  They need to start spending money and then go back to the state and federal governments for more money so they can avoid having completely wasted the first $6.5 Billion which would have otherwise needlessly ruined farms, businesses, homes, and families.  Once one starts down this road there is no end in sight.  Even a Bay to Basin Initial Operating Segment transiting from Palmdale to San Jose  would not be profitable and so the Authority would seek additional funds for direct lines into Los Angeles and San Francisco as originally envisioned in Proposition 1A.  And if built, this segment would still not be able to operate without a subsidy based on the experience of every high-speed train system in the world. 

What then?  My guess is that Californians would be asked to vote for Proposition 1A’, the Safe, Reliable, High-Speed Passenger Train Subsidy Act and this Californian like millions of others would vote Hell-no!  Not even the trade unions would be in favor of Proposition 1A’ for they would already have been paid for their fruitless efforts.  Californians would be stuck with $9 Billion in bonds to be repaid at a cost of $700 Million/year for 30 years and the world’s most expensive white elephant.

It’s time to put a stop to this project before the Authority starts wasting $Billions rather than the hundreds of $Millions they have already wasted.  Write to your legislators in Sacramento [Note 6] and Washington [Note 7] and tell them the results are in.  California HSR is a bad idea.  It needs to be  de-funded and all work stopped.  Don’t forget to include Paul Ryan (R-WI) [Note 8], Chairman of the House Budget Committee in your correspondence.

Lastly, join the Facebook group,  Californians Against High Speed Rail – Kings County, and make your voice heard.

Factual statements made in this article are supported by footnotes shown below.  Direct links to the source documents are imbedded into this document wherever possible.


Note 1   July 14, 2011 Board Video
 Board Member Curt Pringle statement at 4 hours 30 minutes 0 seconds into video
Note 2 Text from Proposition 1A the “Safe, Reliable, High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act
Section 9,paragraph 2704.8(c)(2)(J)
Note 3  July 14, 2011 Board Video
Project Manager Van Winkle statement at 4 hours 24 minutes 53 seconds into board Video
Note 4  Right of Way Consultants presentation to Executive Committee July 14, 2011, page 2
Note 5 July 14, 2011 Board Video
Project Manager Van Winkle statement at 4 hours 16 minutes 8 seconds into board Video

Note 6   Website to contact California Legislative Representatives

Note 7   Website to contact Congressional Representatives

Note 8    Website to contact Representative Paul Ryan, Chairman of House Budget         Committee



Next is an article from yesterday's The Orange County Register News.

Published: Aug. 8, 2011 Updated: 3:52 p.m.

High-speed rail hits Kings County bump


The Kings County Board of Supervisors has thrown an obstacle in the path of high-speed rail. It’s asking the Federal Railroad Administration to refuse to approve the environmental impact statement for construction of the huge project’s first phase.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority hopes to begin construction next year on a 100-mile segment from Merced County to Corcoran, Kings County in the San Joaquin County. That would be the first part of  a 800-mile bullet-train network eventually stretching from San Diego to Sacramento.

Trouble is, the farmers and merchants of Kings County (population 153,000) don’t like the project. The Kings County supes complain that although a lot of information is available on the project, there has been “no coordination between the authority and the county.”

In a cover letter, the supes accuse the authority of a ” ‘do-now, ask-forgiveness-later’ attitude with billion-dollar decisions.”

The supervisors say they support high-speed rail — unlike local voters, who opposed it in the 2008 election — but they want it coordinated with local plans and along existing rights of way. Current plans show the train alignment going through prime farmland, a political hot button in this part of California.

Before the authority can spend most of its money, it needs an approved environmental impact statement. By asking the federal government to deny approval of that statement, the Kings County supervisors are using a strategy familiar to many farmers: They’re hitting a mule with a 2-by-4.

As we and our colleagues at California Watch previously reported, the High-Speed Rail Authority already is running into budget problems.

It hopes to finish the 200-mph train for $45 billion — nearly five times what the voters provided in a 2008 bond issue. But the non-partisan Legislative Analyst estimates the real price tag could be closer to $67 billion.

And other critics suggest, based on mega-projects such as the “Chunnel” across the English Channel, the “Big Dig” in Boston and the reconstruction of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, that the bottom line could approach $200 billion.


And, finally, a URL to the 21 page letter written by the County Supervisors of Kings County, sending their concerns to Joseph Szabo, Director of the  Federal Railroad Administration, and mentioned in the article above.  They spell out the miserable treatment they have endured from the CHSRA Board. I have advised the Kings County activists to get this information, including the hundreds of additional documentation, to the Department of Transportation Inspector General, that office having already opened a case file on the California rail authority.

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