Monday, October 31, 2011

California High-Speed Rail. $98 billion. That's Insanity!

First it was $25 billion. It went up to $33 billion.  Then, just before the 2008 elections, when the voters of California approved the bond measure, it was $44 billion.  Now it's $98 billion. (I've been predicting $100 billion for over four years.) 

You could say that the voters were defrauded with lies.  The rail authority knew, even then, that it would cost three, four or five times as much.  Let me tell you that even $100 billion is, in today's terms, way too low. Wait until construction gets under way (if it ever does); the costs will go sky high.

$98 billion. That's insanity. This for a train that will carry only people who can afford the most expensive train tickets available. This for a train that most of the population of the US cannot afford and will not ride, ever. 

Contrary to what the rail authority wants us to believe, there will be no rail profits; there will be no private investment, no private lending. There will be no $20 billion from investors, AND borrowing the rest?  From where?  This is sheer nonsense.

Democratic Senator Joe Simitian has consistently supported the rail project even as he has criticized the rail authority for its ineptitude and mismanagement.  One gets the sense in this article that he has no real problem with these new costs.  Where, in God's name, does he think those $98 billion are coming from?  What changes in the plan is he talking about?  Why is $98 billion "good news?"

Has all of California gone crazy?  Will this project not be terminated now, before a great deal of damage is done?

APNewsBreak: Plan says total Calif. high-speed rail system to cost $98B but will make money

By Associated Press, Monday, October 31, 1:23 PM

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The new business plan for California’s high-speed rail system shows the nation’s most ambitious state rail project could cost nearly $100 billion in inflation-adjusted funding over a 20-year construction period, according to a draft copy of the plan shared late Monday with The Associated Press.

But the plan also says the system would be profitable even at the lowest ridership estimates and wouldn’t require public operating subsidies.

The report estimates the actual cost at $98.5 billion if the route between San Francisco and Anaheim is completed in 2033. The plan assumes private investment will account for roughly 20 percent of the total cost, with much of the rest coming from additional borrowing.

The initial estimate to build the system when voters approved bond funding for it in 2008 was $43 billion. In non-adjusted, 2010 dollars that amount is now $65.4 billion, showing the costs have risen significantly.

“This is us telling it like it is to the public — no sugar-coating, no baloney,” said Dan Richard, one of two appointees Gov. Jerry Brown made to the California High-Speed Rail Authority last summer.

The business plan will be publicly released Tuesday during a news conference at the California State Railroad Museum in Sacramento.

It also calls for retaining the most controversial aspect of the proposed rail line — starting construction in the Central Valley. Critics want to start in more populated areas of southern or northern California in case money runs out before the full system is finished, which they worry would create a “train to nowhere.”

But $3.5 billion in federal funding is contingent upon the Central Valley route, and construction must begin before October 2012. That does not leave enough time for new engineering proposals and environmental reviews to be conducted elsewhere, the plan says.

The new business plan says the system will be built in sections than can operate independently and make money, even if no more track were ever built, Richard said. Planners hope each new section will generate momentum — and private investment — to complete subsequent sections.

The business plan also says the high-speed rail system will use existing rail lines to carry passengers on the final legs into San Francisco and the Los Angeles basin. Doing so instead of building new high-speed lines not only saves money but makes the project more politically palatable by reducing neighborhood objections.

Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, had pushed to use existing tracks in urban areas. He said that change in the plan was good news, along with more realistic cost projections in the new report, which he had not seen.

“The good news is they’re at least coming up with a real number; the bad news is that’s a pretty scary number,” Simitian told The Associated Press.

The plan is being released at a politically sensitive time for the rail project.

Governors and lawmakers in several other states have been backing away from costly high-speed rail plans because of ongoing state budget deficits caused by the recession. Florida, Wisconsin and Ohio all pulled back on their rail plans, leading the Obama administration to turn over their federal money to California.

High-Speed Rail: Construction and/or Destruction?

What California got was "seed money."  They are now intent on spending that seed money.  They, the rail authority, and we know that there won't be any more money.  They have less than $10 billion total, to spend on a $100 billion train.  Should they go ahead, knowing they will quickly run out of money, with no further funds becoming available?

They want to use the money they have to lay a little more than 100 miles of track.  That track isn't needed, especially if there will be no high-speed trains to run on it. Should they go ahead with this project?

The FRA requires them to begin building in the low population agricultural region, away from the major population areas where transit ridership is essential. Does that make any sense?

What they intend to build in the Central Valley will come at severe costs to farm lands, businesses and residents.  They will take property, including farm lands, rendering them no longer useful or profitable. They will hurt and close many businesses. Should they build as they intend anyhow?

While claiming to hire many unemployed people, their project will lead to the firing of many people. Should they go ahead with this project?

They will be using state bond funds for this initial construction.  Those bond funds will require the state to pay interest and eventually repay the borrowed funds.  It will cost state taxpayers two dollars for every dollar borrowed.  Should the rail authority go ahead with this project?

Although the rail authority indicates that it has over $6 billion for this construction, that first 100 miles will cost considerably more than the forecast. They will run out of money sooner, and with fewer miles built, than they now predict.  Should the rail authority go ahead with this project?

The train they want to build will be a luxury train for the affluent. Should they use our tax dollars to build this train?

There will be so few riders for this train that it will require enormous subsidies to cover operating costs forever.  Should they build this train?

The answer to all these questions is no.
STATE: Rail-cost wreckage
Published: 28 October 2011 05:23 PM

California cannot build a high-speed rail system on wishful thinking. But the financing plans for the bullet train look increasingly fanciful. The Legislature should derail this runaway project, and protect taxpayers from wasting billions of dollars on an indulgence the state cannot afford and does not need.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority plans to release an updated financial plan on Nov. 1. But a report the agency submitted to the Legislature this month gives some new insights into the project’s financing. And those signals suggest an onrushing fiscal train wreck.

The rail authority proposes a $43 billion system that would whisk passengers between Southern California and the Bay Area at speeds of up to 220 mph. The agency plans to start construction next year on a stretch of track running from Bakersfield to Merced.

But the agency’s financial plan makes no sense. The state’s legislative analyst and others put a more realistic price for the system at about $67 billion, to start with. And the plan counts on infusions of money that look increasingly improbable.
The rail authority’s latest report, for example, says that the $10 billion to $12 billion in expected private funding is unlikely to appear until the system is operating. At that point, the argument goes, the revenue the train produces will bring investors running.

Except that few expect the bullet train to actually make enough money to pay for itself. The rail authority’s ridership projections have faced sharp criticism from several groups, including UC Berkeley transportation experts.

The authority promises updated passenger projections in the new business plan. But without enough riders, there will be no profit to attract investors. And starting the first phase in the low-traffic Central Valley hardly bolsters the chances for booming ridership. So who fills the financial gap if the private investment never materializes?

Nor is the $17 billion to $19 billion in proposed federal funding particularly plausible. The federal government so far has provided $3.6 billion for the bullet train, but federal finances and Beltway politics make more funding unlikely any time soon. If no more federal money appears, the rail agency says it might be able to fund the train through bonds subsidized by the federal government. But no such program exists for railroads, nor would current proposals in Congress be likely to provide enough money. And the federal subsidy would only cover interest costs; someone — California taxpayers, perhaps? — would still have to pay off the principle.

Or the state could just build what it can afford with existing funds, and maybe use the track for faster Amtrak service through the Central Valley — which hardly offers much of a return on taxpayers’ investment.

California has no need for a project that poses huge financial risks while serving no pressing public priority. The state should sideline the bullet train, before the program turns into a high-speed fiscal disaster.

Comparing the Mid-West oil pipeline with the California HSR line

There's one major point to be made with this article from the New York Times and that is, those of us who oppose the High-Speed Train in California, are not unique.  A misconceived, ill-advised project such as HSR is not a singular event. There are other, similar projects facing us that demand out participation in preventing a distaster from happening.

Here is the story of an oil pipeline that the government wishes to impose on a number of states, including Nebraska.  I include the map showing the pipeline route.  It's going to go through major, highly productive farmland.  Attention California's Central Valley. The similarities between this oil pipeline project and our high-speed rail project in California are striking.

What's wrong with this project?

1. It will carry one of the worst forms of crude oil, such as that derived from shale, or tar or sands; in this case, Canadian oil sands. It's hugely costly (and energy inefficient) to extract and process.  Furthermore, any oil spill will be far more harmful than it might otherwise be with other oils of lesser viscosity and more benign (less toxic) chemical content.

2. The oil line will act like just the rail corridor by partitioning farm lands. Eminent domain adverse takings will be employed to do so. The interference will be far greater than suggested by the narrow band of actual property involved.

3. The Ogallala, or High Plains Acquifer, a vast underground lake, supplies the water for America's agricultural heartland. Any oil spill anywhere above that aquifer would be unimaginably devastating. We already know that oil spills do happen.

The state of Nebraska Legislature is now debating whether to deny access for the pipeline's route.  There are so many oil-related issues connected with this story that we don't want to go there other than to point out the basic conflict between a questionable mega-infrastructure project that will generate profits for a small number of companies at the expense of a large number of taxpayers.

What's important for us here is that the state, in this case, Nebraska, appears to be on the side of the residents and farmers, not opposed to them as the government is in California.  


Nebraska Seeks a Say on the Route of a Pipeline
Published: October 30, 2011

With a federal decision anticipated soon on whether an oil pipeline will be allowed to run from Canada through the nation’s midsection, lawmakers in Nebraska are being summoned on Tuesday to an unexpected legislative session over the issue, which has stirred up a level of rancor that few had predicted.

“The public outcry has just continued to get louder and louder, stronger and stronger,” said Annette Dubas, a state senator who is among those who want to consider how Nebraska might regulate such projects, but who seemed as surprised as anyone last week when Gov. Dave Heineman, a Republican, called legislators in to a special session on the issue.

The outcome of the session, which could last for two weeks, seems uncertain. For one thing, no one knows how many members of Nebraska’s 49-member unicameral Legislature will support adding standards that would give the state new control over pipelines within its borders.

At least some of the lawmakers have expressed concern that adding regulations now might land Nebraska in a legal battle over the project, which is known as the Keystone XL pipeline. It would run 1,700 miles from the oil sands of northern Alberta to refineries near the Gulf of Mexico.
In the states that the pipeline would cross, it has sometimes drawn unlikely political allies and opponents.

In Nebraska, a Republican-leaning state that has been deluged with advertising over the pipeline question in recent weeks, some leaders, including Governor Heineman, have called for a shift in the route away from the Sand Hills and the Ogallala Aquifer, a crucial source of water in the Midwest.

Still, even in Nebraska, some leaders had seemed resigned to leave the question in the hands of the State Department, which decides whether transboundary pipelines are in the nation’s interest. The department could decide the Keystone XL case by the end of this year. About a week ago, though, some Nebraska officials’ outlook seemed to shift to one of more active involvement.

“The key decision for current pipeline discussions is the permitting decision that will be made by the Obama administration, which is why I have urged President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton to deny the permit,” Governor Heineman said in announcing the special legislative session. 

“However, I believe Nebraskans are expecting our best efforts to determine if alternatives exist.”

Critics of the governor and some supporters of the pipeline, who see it as creating much-needed jobs, dismissed the special session as political theater — an effort to appear to be responsive to concerns about the Keystone XL project, with little chance that Nebraska would actually step in now.

Opponents of the pipeline, or at least of its proposed route, though, said they were hopeful.

But Shawn Howard, a spokesman for TransCanada, the pipeline company, said it could not simply redraw the planned route at this point. The route, he said, has been through extensive governmental reviews.

“You can’t just scratch off one route,” he said. “A lot of people would stand back and say, ‘If this was such a concern, where were you three or four or five years ago?’ ”

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Is this the beginning of the end for High-Speed Rail in California? We sure hope so.

A very good summary of the California high-speed rail situation as it currently stands, by Mike Rosenberg.  

We already have a fair idea of what the business plan, to be made public on November 3rd, will contain.  They will state that they do have the money to build the sections in the Central Valley extending from south of Merced to north of Bakersfield.  They will say that this is merely the initial construction section and that further funding will be developed with tax credits by the federal government.  They will say that what they intend to build is not intended for Amtrak, but that the passenger rail carrier will be able to use those track until they are connected north to San Francisco and south to Anaheim.

As it happens, the authorizing legislation (AB3034, Proposition 1A) is quite clear about what is required.  The rail authority is obliged to build an operating segment, connecting two of the planned stations with actual high-speed rail running on it.  That means, of course, electrification, positive train control and signalling installed, and actual HSR train sets running on those tracks. And, they must have the money in hand before they begin. 

We already know that they don't intend to do that, and therefore, they will be breaking the law.  Will the Legislature therefore cut off their funding or will they simply ignore these legal violations? That remains to be seen.

I should add here that this article appeared in the Sunday Mercury News.  This paper had, in the past, been strongly pro-HSR and refused to publish critical comments, articles or letters.  They have obviously turned a corner and now see this project in all it's despicable glory.  I commend Transportation Editor Gary Richards, a former stalward HSR advocate, for finally seeing the light.

California's bullet train gamble begins: $9 billion now on the line
By Mike Rosenberg
Posted: 10/30/2011 08:34:22 PM PDT
Updated: 10/30/2011 08:34:24 PM PDT

California's top leaders weighing the fate of the $45 billion high-speed train line will finally get the crucial details they need Tuesday to decide once and for all: Is it time to kill the project or empty the bank account to start building the sleek railroad with no guarantees there will be enough money to run a single bullet train?

Quitting now would force the state to return a massive federal grant if they scrap the rail line. But launching the project in the sparsely populated Central Valley, as is now planned, could mean spending an astonishing $9 billion in taxpayer funds to build only enough track to serve as a brief shortcut for a few thousand Amtrak riders.

And with a deadline looming to start construction by this time next year or lose $2.2 billion in federal funding, the stakes couldn't be higher.

"It's a very tough decision: If you go down this path (and build), you're committing the state to an unknown amount of money," said Elizabeth Alexis, a leading analyst on the project with Palo Alto-based Californians Advocating Responsible Rail Design.

In the works for two decades, high-speed rail will take center stage with the release of its final business plan Tuesday. It will feature new estimates on cost, funding sources, riders and just about everything else associated with the nation's biggest public works project. The plan's approval by the governor and Legislature would allow construction to start in the Central Valley by this time next year.

But the California High-Speed Rail Authority will first need to show it has a realistic shot at finding the money needed to complete the full voter-approved line, which would whisk passengers on the nation's fastest train from San Francisco along the Caltrain corridor en route to Los Angeles. Currently the state only has enough funding to build a 130-mile section between Fresno and Bakersfield, too small to begin service.

Huge costs, little gain?
In a preview of the plan submitted earlier this month to lawmakers, planners said they hope the federal government gives California more funding, to be matched by state bonds, to extend the line to either San Jose or Southern California so train service can start.

But the federal spigot of high-speed rail funds was shut off this year and will only drip a minuscule amount of cash next year. If that trend continues and billions in federal funds don't arrive in the next several years, the rail authority says it would spend all its available money to finish the stretch of track in the Central Valley and then walk away from the bullet train project altogether -- after a huge cost.

To build that first stretch of track, the state's beleaguered budget would be on the hook to repay $2.9 billion in bonds plus nearly as much in interest. The combined debt of $5.3 billion is more than the state's annual payment for both the University of California and California State University systems.

In addition, the debt-saddled federal government will have spent $3.5 billion -- enough to run both the Drug Enforcement Agency and U.S. Marshals Service for a year.

In all, taxpayers would have paid out $8.8 billion to build the tracks, which would be used to provide a 45-minute shortcut for the 3,000 riders on Amtrak's San Joaquin line. Meanwhile, hundreds of properties lying in the way of the tracks, including farms that provide food for around the state, would be wiped out.

"That's not what I bargained for when I voted for high-speed rail," said state Assemblyman Jerry Hill, of San Mateo, one of many Democrats who have been losing faith in the project along with Republicans who already oppose it. He said cutting health services and education to pay for those tracks would be like "abandoning a generation. It has to climb a major hurdle to justify the expenditure of more money."

But the rail authority still sees the first stretch of track as money well spent, adding it's not uncommon for major projects to get under way without the full funding in hand.

"It's not the perfect solution," said deputy director Lance Simmens. "But I can't stress enough how by proceeding like that, you are building something that has real value, has usefulness."

Killing project not easy
Yet it will be no easy task to cancel the project.

First, if costs stop rising and the funding materializes, the state's down payment to launch the project may prove to be a springboard to extend the first leg far enough to start service.

And perhaps most important to politicians, if California does not break ground on the rail line by this time next year, it will have to return more than $2.2 billion in federal stimulus grants, since the funds were tied to producing jobs quickly. For officials under fire to create jobs, turning back that much construction money would anger business and labor groups who have led the call to support the bullet train.

Scrapping the railroad would all but send $650 million down the drain, as the rail authority has spent that much planning the project since 1998.
Then there's the fact that voters already approved the project in 2008. But since then, the price tag has escalated by $12 billion, sources of funding have dried up, projected ticket prices have nearly doubled and expected rider counts have dwindled. In effect, the state isn't any closer to financing the project today than it was three years ago.

Contact Mike Rosenberg at 408-920-5705.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Elephant in the Living Room: Union Pacific vs. CHSRA

Union Pacific, the largest Class 1 freight rail carrier in the US, owns a huge amount of track and rail corridors throughout the Western United States, and particularly, in California.

And thereby hangs a tale.

There are two issues for us in California.  High-speed rail is threatening to join Caltrain on the Caltrain rail corridor.  The reason there is a Caltrain rail corridor at all is because Union Pacific sold the corridor, which it owned, to the three counties in order for a commuter passenger rail service to continue just as UPRR got out of the passenger rail business.  

However, it struck a "trackage agreement" with Caltrain to protect it's own freight service rights on the corridor -- in perpetuity. That right includes the agreement to prevent any interference whatsoever on the tracks to conduct it's freight business, and to have veto-power over the admitting of any inter-city rail service, such as HSR.

There also is a letter from UPRR from March of 2008, even before the November elections of that year which saw the passage of Proposition 1A authorizing HSR in California, absolutely denying any access to HSR on any UPRR-owned rail corridor in the state.  The CHSRA ignored that letter and was taken to court over it, where they lost in their attempt to connect their HSR route from San Jose to Gilroy, 30 miles further south using the UPRR rail corridor.  (You would think that they would have negotiated that in advance. How do you spell "arrogance?")

That trackage agreement and comment letters from UPRR to the CHSRA regarding the Caltrain corridor are now about to play a critical role again.  Up to now, we have heard little from UPRR only because (I believe) the HSR and Caltrain have not yet made any substantive plans that threaten UPRR's rights on the Peninsula.  When, as we expect, they finally do so with clear intent to implement those plans, I'm confident that UPRR will tell Caltrain and HSR where they can go.

Then, there is the Central Valley situation and again, with yet more stunning arrogance, the HSR guys are proceeding as if both UPRR and BNSF, the other major freight rail operator which owns a great deal of the existing rail corridors in the state, will just roll over.  It would not surprise me that, when push comes to shove, UPRR will demand a court-ordered injunction that CHSRA stops any incursions, interference, or even proximate construction which impinges on their business, or creates any potential liability.  What that will do to the CHSRA's plans for the Central Valley is anyone's guess.

Likewise, the intrusive intentions of the CHSRA on the Caltrain corridor, when fully formulated, may very well be reversed by UPRR.

We can only hope.

Union Pacific voices major objections to bullet-train plans

The powerful rail firm says the Central Valley route raises serious safety issues, disregards the company's property rights and would disrupt its freight operations.

By Ralph Vartabedian and Dan Weikel, Los Angeles Times

October 29, 2011

California's bullet train project, already under attack from a giant farming operation in the state, has attracted another powerful critic — Union Pacific, the nation's largest railroad.

Union Pacific says the California High Speed Rail Authority's Central Valley route raises serious safety issues, disregards the company's property rights and would disrupt its freight operations.

The company's comments as part of an environmental review assert that the authority, which is building the $43-billion system, has made a "false conclusion" that the bullet train would not affect the freight railroad's operations during construction or later passenger service. Documents and drawings show encroachment onto the railroad's right of way in Fresno and Merced. The comments were provided to the Times by Union Pacific.

The company is widely regarded as a major political player, making $1 million or more in annual political contributions at the federal level alone and spending more than $5 million a year on lobbying. Former Vice President Dick Cheney served on the company's board before the 2000 elections.

Richard Tolmach, co-founder of the California Rail Foundation, called Union Pacific "dangerous" in its influence. The company's objections are coming "after they warned the California High Speed Rail Authority not to make any plans involving their right of way," he said. "Politically, they could be a problem for members of Congress from the Central Valley who support the project."

The rail authority said it has a good relationship with Union Pacific. "We are working to plan the state's high-speed rail system in a way that ensures their future growth potential is preserved and that the safety, security and reliability of their freight operations remain intact," said authority spokeswoman Rachel Wall.

Union Pacific's concerns come only weeks after J.G. Boswell, the nation's largest farm, asserted that the bullet train could destroy processing plants, irrigation canals and a private airport when it cuts through Kings County. Boswell, which has a long history of fiercely defending its property rights, asked for a six-month delay in the environmental review process. Shortly after, the authority announced that it would issue a new environmental report in six months and allow parties to comment again.

The rail authority released two draft environmental impact reports in August and has received an avalanche of comments, many harshly negative, from cities, schools, churches, homeowners and others.

After evaluating those concerns, the authority could dismiss them or make revisions before releasing a final report. Many critics lack the resources for a legal battle against the project. Boswell, by contrast, has explicitly not ruled out legal action if its concerns are not addressed.

Union Pacific and Boswell both raise concerns about the impact of the rail project on their commercial operations, but Union Pacific goes further, outlining safety risks it says could develop as bullet trains sail past the company's freight lines. The railroad said long portions of three potential routes would run adjacent to its freight corridor, in some cases within 100 feet.

"The authority proposed placing no safety barriers of any kind along the high-speed rail right of way where adjacent freight trains are more than 102 feet away," the Union Pacific letter states. "Where freight tracks are closer, [the plan] merely offers that some type of barrier may be required." That decision, the letter said, "appears to be based entirely on the use of random factual assumptions rather than an engineering study or other reliable authority."

Union Pacific does not detail the potential risks of derailments. But rail safety experts said a crash involving either a freight or conventional passenger train near a bullet train, which would travel up to 220 mph, could be serious. The freight railroad also said the bullet train's plans are "incomplete and contradictory," adding that the drawings of the track alignment show "unmistakable encroachments" on Union Pacific property.

"Union Pacific will not surrender or convey any property that could be used to support freight railroad operations," the letter said. Wall, the rail authority spokeswoman, said that the agency is "clear of their property rights" and that the matter will be resolved when the environmental report is made final.

The bullet train's plans would extensively utilize BNSF Railway property. In its comments to the authority, BNSF said it "remains willing to discuss and explore" allowing the bullet train onto its right of way. But until the impact on its freight operations is known, the company said, it is not willing to agree that the plans are acceptable.

What California affords -- High-Speed Rail -- and what it doesn't afford

In a very tight economic environment, a telling story is to look at what the state believes it can or should afford, and what, by default, it believes it can't afford.

Just about everything makes me angry connected to high-speed rail. Especially in California.  Our Governor is clinging to a project that is fraudulent, a scam on the taxpayers of our state. This state, as everyone knows, is in very deep financial doo-doo.  Our deficit keeps growing, even as budget slashing has cut into various services any reasonable person would say are critical to the survival of this state, like education.  And our debt also gets worse by the month.

However, one area about which there should be no disagreement between Democrat and Republican -- which both Parties should work together to solve -- is the homeless veterans issue.  Read this article. This is shameless. 

I jump to the conclusion that it is reprehensible that a state can't take care of its veterans, but persists in throwing state tax dollars at a stupid, sinking-ship project that never had any real reason for coming into existence, and will primarily benefit the affluent, including those who chose not to participate in the two brutal and costly wars in which this nation has been engaged.

Veterans have been obliged to do the "dirty work" for the rest of us, and, they -- survivors of nightmarish dimensions -- are also residents, citizens and taxpayers in and of our state.  They are our responsibility.  

The status of a nation and of a state must be judged upon how well it serves the least well-off of the population, not the size of its high-speed rail system. And on those grounds, we're not doing so well.

A further argument, which I won't pursue here, is the moral issue of high-speed rail; who benefits and who is harmed.  And, it's not what the train promoters are promising us, I assure you.

Study Finds Slight Decline in Veterans Using Shelters
Published: October 28, 2011
Homeless veterans are most likely to be middle-aged white men with a disability. Younger veterans are more than twice as likely to be homeless than nonveterans in the same age group. And California has the most homeless veterans of any state, accounting for about a quarter of the nation’s total.

Those are among the critical findings of a government report released on Friday that provides some of the most detailed data yet on the nation’s population of homeless veterans, which in 2010 stood at more than 144,000, according to the report.

A joint product of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Veterans Affairs, the report underscored the Obama administration’s halting progress toward fulfilling its pledge to end homelessness among veterans by 2014.

According to the report, the number of veterans who used emergency shelters or transitional housing for the homeless in 2010 dropped 3 percent from the year before, to 144,842, from 149,465. But the report also found that veterans continue to be over-represented in the nation’s homeless population, accounting for 13 percent of all homeless adults in shelters, even though they are just over 9 percent of the total adult population.

Experts say the five-year goal, first outlined by the secretary of veterans affairs, Eric K. Shinseki, a former Army chief of staff, is ambitious at best and perhaps unrealistic. But the administration has used the pledge to advocate expanded measures to fight veterans’ homelessness, including vouchers for supportive housing for disabled veterans and grants to help veterans avoid homelessness by paying for security deposits or back rent.

“We have much work to do, but we are on the right track,” Mr. Shinseki said in a statement accompanying the report.
Among the more striking statistics in the report is that veterans are over-represented in the homeless population, since veterans tend to be more economically stable than the rest of the population, having higher median incomes and a lower poverty rate than nonveterans.

But the researchers found that once veterans fall into poverty, a higher percentage of them become homeless, about one in nine. Government experts said that might be caused by two major factors: many of the homeless veterans are single men with no family support, and most of them have a disability, which could include physical injuries, mental illness or substance abuse problems.

The data showed that more than 90 percent of homeless veterans in shelters are men, and more than half of those men are white and disabled. The largest segment of veterans in shelters, more than 4 in 10, were between the ages of 51 and 61.

Although veterans under 30 represented a small portion of the homeless veteran population, the report found that those younger veterans were twice as likely as their nonveteran peers to be homeless, raising concerns that combat veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan are drifting into poverty and dislocation soon after returning home.

The demographics changed drastically among homeless families, who represented just 2 percent of veterans in shelters. In this group, the homeless were far more likely to be younger women from a minority group who did not have a disability.

The report found that while white men were the largest group of homeless veterans, minorities were disproportionately represented, as is the case in the nonveteran population as well. Experts said that might be due to the fact that nearly 7 in 10 homeless veterans are in urban areas, where the population is more ethnically diverse.

More than half of all the homeless veterans were in four states: California, followed by Florida, New York and Texas, all of which have large populations of veterans.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Who's on First? Certainly not High-Speed Rail

This article is of particular interest to Californians who are tired of being threatened, bullied, cajoled and misled by the CHSRA.  This rail authority has been at it for years and has raised the scamming of the California voters to a high art.

Katy Grimes points out how ridiculous the rail authority's position and self-justifying double-talk appears to everyone, except, of course, the religious worshippers of the high-speed rail God.

HSR advocates persist in their claims and justification for this project -- in the face of incontrovertible evidence to the contrary -- that it will boost the economy and create jobs.  That's not fact based, it's wishful thinking and promotional marketing.

However, what we are learning each day from the rail authority itself suggests that even if the results and outcomes were to be as promised, this project is dead on arrival.  It won't  have enough funds to run HSR for one, single inch. And they know it, despite their self-promoting double-talk.  

In that case, what's the point?  There can be only one answer to this rhetorical question.  It's the basic claim of this blog.

It's not about the train, it's about the money.

NEW: High Speed Rail Spending Alert

Katy Grimes: Yesterday I received an email from the Sacramento Press Club canceling the Nov. 1 luncheon where representatives from the High Speed Rail Authority were to unveil the financial plan. “They did so via email and without offering any reason for their actions, nor have they responded to my request for an explanation,” Board President Rich Ehisen wrote.

I contacted Assemblywoman Diane Harkey, R-Dana Point, for her reaction. Harkey, the Legislature’s high speed rail expert, was planning on attending the luncheon.

Harkey had plenty to say:

The financial and reporting fiasco surrounding high speed rail is reminiscent of a classic comedy routine by Abbott and Costello.  The luncheon, cancelled for the second time, only adds to the comedy routine. It might be funny if the stakes were not so high. Who’s on First, What’s on Second and What Don’t We Know on Third?
The cancelled press lunch is undoubtedly tied to the Governor’s request to fund another $65M to the high-speed-spending crew without additional scrutiny, and without meeting the Legislature’s timeline and requirements passed last session, before appropriating any additional funds. Attempting to assuage Legislative angst, the Authority submitted a nine-page response to the Legislature on October 13th attempting to answer some of the issues. 

The “preview business plan” may be condensed as follows:

1.Subsidy or Revenue Guarantee: We said we wouldn’t need a subsidy or revenue guarantee, so we don’t.  Therefore we don’t have to report on it, but if we did, we can’t because we don’t know about it.

2.Alternative financing scenarios: We said we are not going to have lost revenues therefore it won’t happen – so we have no need to report.  But, if we did, then we build something somewhere and we use up all the money we can as quickly as possible.

3.Initial Construction Section: We have $6 billion of federal and state bond money to begin construction in the Central Valley somewhere, but it won’t really become useful until we build an “Initial Operating Section” for which we have no funding.

4.Infrastructure Bank: Qualified Tax Credit Bonds will not be available, but if they were, we could leverage the $9 billion voter-approved bonds by more than three times what the state could borrow independently from the bond market. We could get more ‘free money” with the Feds encouraging investors with tax credits, and California taxpayers repaying debt with more debt. (note: our State’s debt service has grown from 4% of GF revenues in 2007 to 7.8% in 2011.)

5.Fall-back alternative: We have $6 billion that we want to spend as quickly as possible, so if we do not get additional funding then we can attach the Initial Construction Section to the freight line and hope to complete the operating section later.  It won’t be high speed under California’s definition, but it works for the Federal Rail Authority money.

The Authority acknowledges that recent actions in Washington, DC by Congress make it very unlikely that future federal funds for high speed rail will be forthcoming. The Authority also admits the proposed Initial Construction Section will not be profitable and that private investors will not fund without a revenue guaranty. The Authority has also agreed, under separate action, to delay finalizing the Environmental Impact Report for the Central Valley to allow for an alternate route to be analyzed.

So, who’s on first?  What is the DOF request for additional money actually funding? The money, the route, and ridership are all in question, if not entirely exposed as non-existent. Even the Authority’s fall-back position of connecting the initial 100+ mile section in the Central Valley to the San Joaquin Amtrak, circumventing a segment of freight track, will rip through prime productive farmland, has the potential for funding shortages and may not qualify for dollars under the terms of the California High Speed Rail bond.

The Authority all but admits that there is no acceptable financing plan that would comply with the criteria the voters approved (no state subsidies) and that billions more could be added to Governor Brown’s “mountain of debt.” It’s up to this Governor to signal a halt to high speed spending until we know who’s on first, what’s on second, and clear up the “I don’t know’s” on third.

OCT. 27, 2011

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

California State Senator Joe Simitian calls the next HSR business plan a "watershed moment."

The "new" business plan is due to be released November 3rd. 

It should be a watershed moment, but whether it is or not remains to be seen.  Just a few more days.   By watershed moment, Simitian must mean that if the rail authority keeps jerking the state legislature around with more meaningless double talk, as we found in prior business plans, they can and will cut off their funding.

That's a huge step for the Democrats who have defended this disastrous project in the face of overwhelming evidence of its inherent fatal flaws. The rail authority  has already telegraphed some of its intentions with a recent report anticipating the business plan in which they finally acknowledge that private investors won't touch this project with a ten foot pole.  

Furthermore, the rail authority already knows that there will be no further federal funding to keep construction going, once started in the Central Valley.  So, they're already working on Plan B, which is to lay track usable, not by high-speed rail, but by Amtrak.  That's not acceptable according to the authorizing legislation. Will it be acceptable to Simitian and his committee?

Then, there's the question of those fudged ridership numbers.  If they don't reduce them, since they were found flawed, will Simitian put on the brakes to this project?  Those numbers are critical. They either justify construction of this train, or if too low, won't and the project must stop.  The current number of forecast riders, 39 million annually, is what the rail authority defends even though they are demonstrably unacceptable. 

There are a lot of discreet issues on the table that the business plan must account for and do so legitimately. 

Watershed indeed.

‘Watershed’ moment for rail
October 26, 2011, 03:36 AM By Bill Silverfarb Daily Journal staff

The California High-Speed Rail Authority will release an update to its often criticized and recently delayed business plan next week that will include new projections on construction costs, ridership and passenger fares.

The business plan, first released in 2008, has been called flawed by the rail authority’s detractors for containing lofty ridership projections and unrealistic cost estimates.

“This is a watershed moment for high-speed rail,” said state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto. “After three years, the public is expecting some good answers to some obvious questions like what is the cost and how will it be paid.”

Multiple sources, including the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office, has pointed to flaws in the authority’s original business plan.

“It lacked credibility from beginning to end,” Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said about the 2008 business plan. “Every estimate has been off, way off.”

If the update to the business plan is unsatisfactory, Hill said, it might be time to drop support for the project.

“If the project has changed drastically in scope and magnitude, then voters may need to revisit it,” he said.

The 2008 business plan assumes the entire system will be completed by 2030 and initially called for a four-track system to be constructed from San Francisco to San Jose at a cost of roughly $4.2 billion.

Simitian and Assemblyman Rich Gordon, D-Menlo Park, however, have called for a “blended rail” approach on the Peninsula that will minimize cost and reduce property takings through eminent domain.

Simitian is not sure if the updated business plan will address the blended rail request, which also called for the rail authority to scrap plans for an environmental impact report for the full buildout of the system on the Peninsula, which originally called for constructing a four-track aerial viaduct, soaring 60 feet above ground.

The blended system calls for high-speed trains to mostly share Caltrain’s current two-track system, with the addition of about nine miles in passing tracks to be constructed, likely south of San Mateo.

The rail authority requested the state Attorney General’s Office to determine whether the blended rail request is legal, based on Proposition 1A, the voter-approved bond measure that got the project off the ground.

The Attorney General’s Office has yet to respond to that request, however, Simitian said.

U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto, joined Simitian and Gordon in their request for a blended system, saying it will get high-speed trains into San Francisco quicker and at less cost than the full buildout of the system.

“It is a level-headed approach” that will bring down costs dramatically for the Peninsula section of the project, Gordon told the Daily Journal yesterday.

The 2008 business plan estimated the capital costs of constructing the 800-mile system from Los Angeles to San Francisco to be roughly $33.6 billion but that number has since swelled to past $43 billion and new estimates calculate the overall cost to be more than $66 billion and climbing.

Hill is hoping to see a “credible cost estimate” in next week’s update to the business plan, which was supposed to be released earlier this month but pushed back to Nov. 1, two days before the rail authority’s next board meeting in Sacramento.

Whatever the cost, Gordon said, the plan needs to show the public how the project will be paid for.

“If the project cost is $100 billion then they need to identify how to pay for it,” Gordon said.

The business plan was required to be put in place by the state before voters decided whether to approve a bond measure to fund the project.

With the passage of Proposition 1A in November 2008, Californians pledged more than $9 billion in bond proceeds toward the project based on information in the initial business plan.

The 2008 business plan targeted up to $16 billion in support from federal sources, up to $3 billion in local financial support and up to $7.5 billion in private sector money.

With private investment, there will be a trade-off, Gordon said.

“There has been lots of talk about private investment,” Gordon said. “But how realistic is it to secure private funding? No private individual is going to give us free money.”

The plan estimated, with ticket fares priced at 50 percent of airfares, high-speed trains would carry about 55 million trips in 2030 and generate $2.4 billion in ticket revenue, $735 million of that coming directly from direct trips from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The plan estimates that 4.8 million passengers alone will use the system annually between San Francisco and San Jose that will generate about $54 million annually for the rail authority.

Operation and maintenance costs are estimated to be $1.3 billion annually by 2030, according to the 2008 business plan.

But the state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office has pointed out many inadequacies and flaws in the business plan and its subsequent updates since 2008.

The LAO found the business plan to be at “risk of not realizing the forecasted ridership, revenues or costs” and that “federal funding expectations are highly uncertain.”

A report by the University of California Berkeley Institute of Transportation Studies also slammed the business plan as being unreliable and impossible to predict whether the project will be successful or lead to severe revenue shortfalls.

If the new business plan is unsatisfactory, it could effect the Legislature’s willingness to support the project, Gordon said.

“The Legislature is going to have to make some funding decisions next year,” he said. “If the plan flawed, the Legislature will not be willing to open the purse strings.”

Gordon chairs the Budget Subcommittee on Resources and Transportation in the Assembly and plans to hold a special hearing on high-speed rail funding sometime in November after the updated business plan is released.

The Nov. 1 publication of the business plan will commence a 60-day public comment period, which includes public meetings to be scheduled in November and December.

The authority currently has access to about $6.3 billion, enough to construct the first phase of the project in the Central Valley, with construction expected to get under way next year.

The state Legislature must approve the plan by Jan. 1, 2012. The plan will include new projections on construction costs, ridership and passenger fares. In another report expected next month, the authority also is supposed to identify the sources of money to build the system.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority board meets 10 a.m., Thursday, Nov. 3, City Hall, Sacramento, 915 I St., Sacramento.

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

Learning about HSR from North Dakota and Ohio

Why must we hear the truth about California from North Dakota?  We live in the largest state in the Union where our state government jerks us around with endless PR nonsense about the glories of a project that will be an economic black hole sucking up our tax dollars on a galactic scale. 

Why does North Dakota understand that we should be fixing what we have and what's broken before even considering such wasteful nonsense as a luxury train for the rich?

Then, in the next article, we learn that Ohio gets it, but we don't. It's not "free" government money.  Taking and spending it won't bail us out of our over $600 billion debt or create all those high-paying and permanent jobs.

It's obvious to everyone by now that we can't get it right.  We are on a path to screwing this project up royally.  We are intent upon throwing billions of dollars into busy work that will be next to useless.  Stop it now.


Published October 26, 2011, 12:03 AM
OUR OPINION: To bridge partisan gaps, ‘fix what we have’

By: Tom Dennis, Grand Forks Herald

When the history of high-speed rail in America is written — and from the looks of things, that’s going to be a pretty thin book — the author might want to spare a paragraph or two for Oct. 18 of last week.

That was the date a Minnesota congressman came out against a high-speed rail proposal in his own district, even though the project would have built a sparkling new piece of infrastructure and created thousands of jobs.

Of course, those “new infrastructure” and “thousands of jobs” lines are exactly the arguments that supporters use to support high-speed rail projects.

But Rep. Chip Cravaack, R-Minn., trumped them both with this one in his Star Tribune op-ed: Not enough money.

A high-speed rail line from Duluth — which Cravaack represents — to the Twin Cities is a nice-to-have but not a need-to-have item, he wrote.

Besides, “we just averted a debt crisis, and the solution we reached doesn’t reduce our massive deficit — it merely slows its growth,” Cravaack continued.

“The wisest course of action for us is to not spend money on a venture that can’t pay for itself. Instead, we must first attend to the crumbling roads, the bridges in urgent need of repair and the incomplete highway projects that we have throughout the state.”

Cravaack has a point, and not only about the Duluth-Twin Cities rail proposal. In Wisconsin and elsewhere, Republican governors have balked at the matching funds that high-speed rail projects in their states would require.

As a result, President Barack Obama’s proposal for a national network of high-speed rail lines — a centerpiece of his original stimulus plan — has been sidetracked to a railyard storage area and seems very unlikely to emerge.

The problem is not just financial. It’s also geographic: Considering America’s vast distances, air travel’s speed and the car’s ability to give drivers a sense of freedom, it’s no wonder passenger rail has struggled.

And America would need something besides money — something even more important — before it could embark on a national high-speed rail plan: Consensus.

In 1956, the U.S. Senate approved the bill creating the Interstate Highway System by a vote of 89-1. When America is unified to that degree, it can accomplish just about anything and will find the money to do so.

In contrast, deep splits in the electorate almost guarantee failure for big projects, because our system doesn’t give narrow majorities much power. Health care reformers are learning that fact as Republicans vow to dismantle the all-Democratic health-reform plan.

“Instead of pursuing a new rail line, let’s first spend our time, efforts and limited resources fixing what we have,” Cravaack suggested. He’s right — and maybe, just maybe, that cause of “fixing what we have” can inspire the nationwide, bipartisan and determined consensus that high-speed rail clearly doesn’t have.

— Tom Dennis for the Herald


CA report on bullet train problems vindicates Kasich's call to scrub 3C
John Michael Spinelli 
Columbus Government Examiner
October 26, 2011 

COLUMBUS, Ohio (CGE) - As the battle royal over whether his most important bill to date lives or dies at the ballot box in two weeks, Ohio Gov. John Kasich may not be as happy with the outcome of this year's General Election on the hot-button topic of collective bargaining for some Buckeye public sector workers as he would be after digesting the details of a report issued Tuesday by California's High Speed Rail Authority (HSRA) that, by fessing up to the fatal shortcomings associated with 220 mph trains flying between San Francisco and Los Angeles, vindicates his decision to scrub the very slow-speed passenger train his Democratic predecessor governor lashed himself to the tracks on, to his detriment. 

According to's coverage of the report, California voters, who approved by a thin majority spending more than $9 billion worth of bonds to pay for a high-speed rail system linking California's major metropolitan areas, are being told something they hadn't been told before, namely, the truth, about not only why the $36-85 billion conventional train technology proposal won't happen any time soon but what other options there are for those very precious dollars.

As Tom Elias, the reporter on the story put it, " could say the entire idea of a bullet train in California is now on a new track — call it a backtrack or a slow track." That, according to Elias, is the "upshot of a new report to the Legislature from the High Speed Rail Authority, which has been widely lambasted" for its plan to build the first segment of its system in the San Joaquin Valley, roughly between Bakersfield and Merced.

Required by a new state law, the HSRA report puts the bullet train authority on record for the first time saying there are "plausible, acceptable alternatives to 220 mph trains for spending the bond money and the billions of dollars already committed to this project by the federal government."

Recall that in the stimulus spending sweepstakes of early 2007 that was the $8 billion plan to fund high-speed rail lines around the nation, California came away with the biggest award of the dozens of plans states put forward to convince Obama Administration transportation and rail officials to give freely of funds that would never be enough by themselves to fund even one truly high-speed rail line anywhere in the continental USA. Florida was second, Wisconsin third and Ohio, which was awarded $400 million was fourth.

Early on his administration, former Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland tied himself to the idea that a 39 mph train, running from Cincinnati in southwest Ohio to Cleveland in the northeast with stops in between in Columbus and Dayton and in smaller stations, would create thousands of jobs, be a boon to students and seniors, take cars off the road and wouldn't leave Ohio orphaned in a network of rail lines all leading to and from Chicago, the nation's capital of rail.

Then-candidate Kasich laughed at Strickland's idea to spend the $400 in federal funds on a project that even the biggest booster of them all, Jolene Molitoris, the first woman to lead Ohio's sprawling Department of Transportation as a result of her appointment to the post by Strickland, said would necessarily need a state subsidy of at least $17 million, for untold years, to make ends meet. Soon after he was elected, Gov-elect Kasich told Obama Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to take his $400 million back. Not only did Lahood recall the money, but he redistributed it to other states who wanted it to augment their smaller sums. Indeed, California was one state that said send it their way.

In Ohio as it was in California, true believers for passenger rail said ridership would be way up. In Ohio, one estimate that backers waived before audiences as if it was gospel, said a half-million Ohioans would ride the train in just the first year alone. In California, ridership figures were higher by multiples. The CA HSRA's report admitted what others knew was true in their gut, that the ridership numbers were fudged by special interests who could only benefit if the project moved forward.

Californians were told that a "delay (of) the next phase of system development (would have to wait) until the performance of the existing system can generate sufficient revenues to support future expansion." The inflated ridership numbers, needed to convince CA voters to pass the big bond issue, were outted for what they were, unrealistically optimistic.

Commenting on the report, Federal Maglev leader Rick Canine said California should toss in the towel on its high-speed train, for reasons of money and technology. "California can't do it," he told CGE. "They (HSRA) chose the wrong technology and the wrong business case," he said, adding, "They expected to run the system on ridership alone, which does not work in Europe and it would not work in California."

Canine's magnetic levitation train technology, both proven decades ago and eligible for federal train funding, can do everything the bullet train and Strickland's turtle-train could do, but do it in spades and at speeds exceeding 300 mph. During the debate on high-speed trains over the past three years, Americans learned that while Europe's standard for high-speed is 150+ mph, the standard in here starts at the much slower speed of 125 mph.

Elias wrote that it's remarkable that the "until-now hidebound rail authority so much as acknowledges there's a possibility of building something other than what its 2008 ballot proposition called for. Yes, this does amount to a bait-and-switch on voters who were told they could get a real bullet train for about $36 billion, with the bulk of the money to come from private investors and national government."

Strickland and Molitoris refused to acknowledge, let alone explain, why the many hurdles - a larger number of which coincided with concerns expressed in California - thrown at the 3C by its determined critics were not valid. Kasich derailed the train immediately, although he's a fan of freight rail, as he's shown in his support for a new train project in northwestern Ohio.

According to the report, "there is no interest in the project from private investors without federal investment guarantees or proven high ridership." You don't have to live in either Ohio or California to understand that those things don't exist now, and won't, as long as Republicans who oppose high-speed rail hold a majority or even a significant minority in either house of Congress.

So whether Gov. Kasich will be laughing or crying following Election Day this year, he can always smile knowing he wasn't alone in doubting what status quo rail technology special interests had cooked up on the public's interest in or calling to slow- or medium-speed trains.