Monday, January 16, 2012

Week-end High-Speed Rail Miscellany

Over $8 billion for a 200 mile HSR in the desert from Medina to Mecca, the route taken by Mohammed in the 7th century.

Now a major annual pilgrimage route.  The Arab world is highly stratified and hierarchical. Tribes and clans maintain carefully defined social and economic levels.  This train, to be built by Spain with petty cash from an oil-rich country, will serve the elite on their annual pilgrimage, but also let these princes get to Jeddah, a major oil exporting seaport; that being Saudi Arabia's cash register. Plenty of room to bring all their wives with them.

We also will have our annual pilgrimage from Los Angeles to San Francisco. You could argue that the passion for supporting HSR in California is theological rather than economic or rational.


We've watched it coming.  Having thought we would be rid of this looming disaster on the Peninsula, it's back.  Right now, that means speculation and discussion.  But, we should acknowledge that key players, like Feinstein, want HSR to run into San Francisco and spending nearly $3 billion in the Bay Area will give DiFi, Boxer and Pelosi a lot to crow about.

That Clem, the blog author, wants this is no surprise; he's been an active HSR promoter for the Peninsula from the beginning; it's the whole point of his blog.  His callous dismissal of the CEQA problems are testimony to his glib determination to support HSR on the Caltrain corridor.  "Environmental Clearance: Complete and shovel-ready. Federal clearance is in hand, and state clearance is a simple matter of Caltrain certifying their EIR.  Preliminary engineering well underway."

This is part of his justification for electrification.  Is it "a simple matter?" I was under the impression that there were substantive reasons for Caltrain delaying this CEQA certification.

It seems that he is far more confident of future HSR funding, beyond the available $6 billion, than the rest of us. Thereby building the "book-ends" first and the CV connection last.  Whatever.  Regardless, he sees inherent benefits in Caltrain electrification.

I don't. I don't see that the benefits outweigh the costs. Ridership numbers will not fluctuate up or down with electrification. And electrification will not rectify the miserable management of Caltrain by its executive team and Joint Powers Board.

As I keep saying, they think they are in the railroad business rather than the public mass transit commuter business. They will continue to endure the same structural deficits with electrification that leads to their annual "fiscal emergencies" without it.

This is not the time or place to get into a discussion of how to improve the urban/regional transit network throughout the Bay Area, but that problem may have to be faced sooner rather than later.

All of which is to say that Clem is supporting the approach taken by the "Friends of Caltrain" with which I disagree.  I would rather we were friends of a single, coherent Bay Area Transit System -- REGARDLESS OF MODALITY.  I, for one, am not willing to be taxed to continue to support incompetence. The piece-meal approach we now endure falls far short of what is necessary and worth investing in.  Transit is not a Caltrain or Peninsula problem.  It's a Bay Area problem and needs to be addressed as such.


One of my concerns is the perpetuation of the egalitarian myth for the US.  Ostensibly, we are all the same here, with equal opportunities, unlike the stratified class-intensive world of the Europeans.  Actually, the papers are now telling us that this is nonsense, we in the US are just as income/class stratified as the Europeans. Maybe even more. And the inequality gap has grown vastly wider.

My point is that high-speed rail is the "First, Executive, Class" of commercial aviation.  As we know, European railroads have always had several classes of carriages with distinct cost differences.  HSR merely has added a whole new class level above all those, including their own, distinct, faster train-sets.  Acela does come close to that stratification.

Our intended HSR in California will perpetuate that hierarchical distinction.  All of which is to say, the fundamental model of this project in not -- contrary to all the rhetoric -- an increase in inter-city transit opportunities.  It will be only an increase in the front end cabin of the 747, so to speak, with more fancy luxury seating for the affluent or those on generous expense accounts.  Meanwhile, the rest of California's meager passenger rail  capacity continues to languish; that's the train for the rest of us.

As I keep saying, fancy luxury services like high-speed rail are downright un-American!!!

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