Thursday, December 29, 2011

Accessory after the fact: The case of the High-Speed Rail project and Governor Brown

Not much to add to this LA Times article.  We already know that the plans for the Central Valley are all smoke and mirrors.

Amtrak's passenger rail service was supposed to be able to use the intended tracks -- which, get this, will not be usable for high-speed rail -- in the interim while the rail authority waits for their federal lottery ticket to win the big one.

The catch, which Amtrak didn't catch initially, is that it would cost them a bunch of capital development money to make use of these tracks that they don't have.  Well, that's not so good.  Amtrak admits that they don't really need those brand new, not usable for high-speed rail, tracks. Anyhow, and this is so typical, Amtrak says that the CHSRA hasn't discussed this with them as they developed their rail plans. 

All of which is to say, simple and clear, the reason for building these tracks is nothing more than to spend the federal dollars that become available, almost $4 billion, plus another $2.7 billion of state bond funds.  

I cannot put this any more emphatically.  This project is not about building a high-speed train.  That may never happen.  This project is about getting and spending federal dollars for political purposes.  When the federal and state governments assure us that this project is about jobs and boosting the economy, do not believe them.  It is not true. 

By now, the evidence is ample and should be convincing.  We have been lied to about this project from the beginning.  That has not yet stopped. The longer the state Governor, Jerry Brown, persists in his support for this corrupt project, the more tainted by this project he becomes as well.  

High-speed rail's backup plan criticized
Rules say the track must be put to use if the project fails. But Amtrak officials are uneasy with that role.

December 27, 2011|Dan Weikel and Ralph Vartabedian

When the Obama administration gave California $3.4 billion in startup money for a high-speed rail system, it insisted on a guarantee that the project would not become a white elephant -- something critics could brand as a train to nowhere.

The first section of track had to run down the spine of the Central Valley and have another use, should the rest of the bullet train project collapse.

Those requirements are now at the center of an intensifying political battle, waged by critics who say the state's fallback plan to use a 130-mile stretch of track for slower Amtrak service is a sham because there's no guarantee the national rail service will ever use it.

Amtrak said it has no agreement to operate on the track and has not analyzed the possible negative effects on one of its most successful rail lines. Still, the California High Speed Rail Authority has estimated 45 minutes could be shaved off Amtrak's current service between Bakersfield and Merced.

"Our purpose is to build a high-speed rail system between Northern and Southern California," said Tom Umberg, the chairman of the California High Speed Rail Authority. "But if there are any delays, I believe the track will have independent utility and provide increased efficiencies in the Central Valley."

In a letter sent last year to the authority, Amtrak officials said they supported the project and interim use of the high-speed corridor. They cited potential improvements in travel time and reliability but also cautioned that cost issues and a need for faster locomotives would have to be addressed.

But now Amtrak says it has no commitment to use the track and has not been directly involved in the planning of the route. No cost-benefit analysis or detailed studies have assessed how switching to the bullet train track, which may veer around existing stations, would affect current service.

Officials note that the state has invested millions of dollars to improve the San Joaquin Valley line and build ridership, which now ranks among Amtrak's five most traveled routes.

Without a viable alternative use for the bullet train's first segment, the controversial decision to start building in the Central Valley is likely to draw more political fire. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Tulare), who is seeking to kill the project, called the assertion that high-speed rail construction would benefit Amtrak "a lie."

The bullet train agency plans to starting building the first section next year between Bakersfield and Merced and finish the work in 2017. But no high-speed service would operate on the line partly because there is insufficient funding for signals, maintenance facilities and an electrical system to power the trains. Another $20 billion or more in funding will be needed to begin running trains to L.A. or the Bay Area.

Starting construction in the Central Valley is growing more controversial as the project nears a groundbreaking late next year. At least four local governments in the Central Valley are rebelling, fearing the effect on their communities. Also, agricultural interests are gearing up for a major legal battle against the plan, while critics in urban areas question why the project is not starting in a major population center with severe traffic congestion.

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