Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Derailing politically polarized high-speed rail in Congress

While I'm not yet ready to write off the California high-speed rail project, things sure don't look good.  

If you believe that Democrats and Republicans are further apart than they have ever been, you will find confirmation for that belief in their respective attitudes about high-speed rail in general, and California's project in particular. The Democrats are defending the project at any cost, while the Republicans seek to defeat it at any cost.

And, here's the thing. It's become obvious that what's going on in California is not actually about constructing a train; many have given up on expecting that.  So, it remains a high-speed rail project in name only.  It's pretend-high-speed-rail.

What this is all about -- indeed, what it has always been all about -- is the money. Parsons Brinckerhoff, the prime contractor, received around $50 million last year and anticipates another $50 million this year.  

How do we know it's about the money? Because right now there is a mad scramble by most of the transportation organizations in both the LA Basin and the Bay Area to get their hands on some of the existing FRA award and some of the Prop. 1A bond funds. They know there won't be more and this is their last chance to grab some.

The rail authority has led us to believe that there are three regional segments of this train, the Central Valley, which is where construction is supposed to begin, the Bay Area into the Central Valley, and in southern California, from Bakersfield in the Central Valley to Los Angeles and Anaheim.  

Not that long ago, we understood that the Central Valley would receive all the federal funds and indeed, the DOT affirmed their determination for that to happen. Now, the musical chairs game is on with every local politician and transportation agency grabbing for a chair before they are all filled. 

As we said recently, there are two major fronts for this High-Speed Rail War, the federal government, wherein the Republicans are set on deep-sixing high-speed raill at the national level as well as  California in particular, and in Sacramento, where the Democrats are so desperate for those free federal Stimulus funds that they will accept any alternative route, any alignment, starting construction with any section to put some of the funds into, just so they get the funds. 

It's not a pretty picture.  So, what should our position be about all this?  My fear is that if they ever get to dig holes anywhere, they will have assured their own survival; high-speed rail will not go away in California.  They know that.  The rail authority intentions are to get as many footprints on the ground as possible, to cover as many miles of train route as they can. That is our first and highest priority target.

Mission: To expose the illegalities in the CHSRA efforts to initiate construction in the Central Valley.

The tracks in the Central Valley that they intend to build will be worthless.  They won't support high-speed rail and Amtrak passenger service doesn't need them.  The northern and southern so-called "bookends" will be no more than commuter rail upgrades, such as electrification for Caltrain. Also worthless.  It's a whole story all by itself that we will discuss in future blog entries.  These worthless efforts will cost the taxpayers of California and the rest of the United States billions and billions of dollars.  This is out of control government at its worst!

Published Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012
Obama's high-speed rail plans hit traffic in Congress
By Michael Doyle
WASHINGTON — Congress and the Obama administration are headed for another head-on collision over high-speed rail.

On Wednesday, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood reiterated President Barack Obama's strong support even as a top Republican in the House of Representatives naysayed. Neither side appears ready to steer clear this election year, particularly in differences concerning California.

"We're committed to this; there's no going back," LaHood said at a high-speed rail conference. "We need to keep the momentum going."

But congressional Republicans, even some who've backed high-speed rail in the past, are resisting with equal vehemence.
"If the president thinks his proposal is going to (fly) for high-speed rail, he's pipe-dreaming," Rep. John Mica, R-Fla., the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, told the same rail conference.

Obama has proposed spending $2.7 billion on high-speed rail in fiscal year 2013, atop more than $8 billion previously provided under a stimulus bill that passed while Democrats controlled both houses of Congress.

In part because other states, including Florida and Wisconsin, turned down federal funding, California alone has picked up some $3.6 billion for its high-speed rail plan. The state's initial plan calls for constructing a 220 mph line between Bakersfield and Merced.

Citing a recent trip to California, where he met with state farm, business and political leaders, LaHood said the state was now "well positioned" to proceed. LaHood specifically praised the work of Dan Richard, the newly appointed chairman of the California High-Speed Rail Authority under the administration of Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown.

"He's mending a lot of fences that were broken over the past few years, and he's making progress," LaHood said.
California officials now say construction probably won't begin until at least early next year, instead of the originally scheduled start time of September.

Utterly unconvinced of the project's merits, and skeptical of a total project cost now pegged at $98 billion, congressional Republicans have taken special aim at the California proposal.

"It doesn't serve a populated area, and it's mired in controversy, delay and overruns in the cost," said Mica, who's a proponent of high-speed rail in the Northeast.

Mica is now struggling to write a new multiyear transportation bill, whose fate remains uncertain because of questions over funding and other provisions. He suggested Wednesday that another extension of the current funding program might be needed, if lawmakers fail once more to agree on money and other issues before the current transportation-bill extension ends March 31.

Underscoring the political problems facing high-speed rail, Rep. Jeff Denham, a Republican from Turlock, Calif., won GOP approval for an amendment that bans the broader transportation bill from devoting any funds to California's high-speed rail project.

In a similar vein, Rep. David Price, D-N.C., recalled that he'd offered a $1 billion amendment on another funding bill to assist high-speed rail. He lost in the powerful House Appropriations Committee, on a party-line vote. A drastically scaled-back amendment, offering $1 million merely as a placeholder, likewise failed.

"There are adverse forces out there," said Price, who's a member of the Congressional Bicameral High-Speed and Intercity Passenger Rail Caucus. "There are adverse trends."

The caucus was started last year, with only Democrats as founding members.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

For High-Speed Rail, there's Trouble in River City

This article, by Tim Sheehan, a HSR watcher, suggests some of the sand that appears to be slowing down the machinery of high-speed rail progress.

There are two funding forces at work here. The first is the state, which has committed itself to selling $9.95 billion in high-speed rail general obligation bonds. Those funds, when sold, will provide state funds if they are matched by any other funds.  As it happens, the federal government, per the Federal Railroad Administration, has awarded the California project with $3.5 billion in Stimulus funds, contingent on their being matched with the state bond funds. 

The state can't, obviously, go it alone without the federal bailout funds to at least get the project started.  And the feds. can't give the state money if the state doesn't come up with the promised matching funds.

What Kienitz, the DOT undersecretary, means is quite specific.  If the state withholds it's own GO bond funds, for whatever reason, it will become legally impossible for the FRA to sustain its award commitment, since that match is the basis for the award.

That will be a lawsuit worth pursuing, as will getting the Attorney General of the DOT involved in stopping this federal award.  It would be accompanied by a request for a federal court-ordered injunction suspending the project immediately until a resolution is found. Which it never will. 

In addition to the legal scandal, if the FRA were to ignore the absence of those promised state fund matches, it would bring the house down around their and the Administration's heads. Imagine what the media and the Republicans will make of the DOT continuing to push billions of federal dollars into a state that has retracted its own promised funding. 

You can see what the burden on State Senators Simitian and Lowenthal's shoulders would be if they actually decided to recommend funding suspension or termination. And, you can see why Governor Brown cannot, under any circumstances, turn around and ask for project closure.  There's a great deal more riding on what happens with this project over the next 12 months than the impact within California.

It would appear that if California were to pull out of the HSR agenda so aggressively pushed by the Administration -- which is already having to live with the fact of three governors rejecting the project for their states -- it would end HSR ambitions in the US for the foreseeable future. 

And, it would be a devastating disappointment for all the international high-speed rail developers and manufacturers, as well as countries, who have come to see the US as the next great potential market place for their trains.

"Withholding these matching funds would put California's high-speed rail project in serious jeopardy," Kienitz told state officials last year.

"Serious jeopardy" indeed!

High-speed rail construction likely to be delayed
BY TIM SHEEHAN The Fresno Bee | Tuesday, Feb 28 2012 07:03 PM
Last Updated Tuesday, Feb 28 2012 08:25 PM

Construction of a high-speed train line in the central San Joaquin Valley was supposed to start late this year. Now, officials say, it's not likely to start until early 2013, even if state legislators approve billions in bond money this spring.

At its meeting Thursday in Sacramento, the California High-Speed Rail Authority will learn about an updated schedule for the $6 billion construction project.

The slowdown in the schedule is the result of revisions to environmental reports for the 120-mile Fresno-to-Bakersfield section of the rail line -- part of the backbone of a proposed 520-mile system of electric trains connecting San Francisco and Los Angeles. Later extensions would add lines to Sacramento and San Diego.

About $3 billion in federal stimulus and transportation funds earmarked for the project in 2010 and 2011 were based on construction starting by September 2012. But a 2013 start isn't expected to endanger the funds because the more important deadline is having the work completed by late 2017.

An environmental report for the track segment was issued last fall, but two months of comment and public hearings across the valley attracted a slew of objections, including opposition in Kings County to a route that would take trains through farmland east of Hanford.

That uproar prompted rail authority engineers to withdraw the environmental report in order to revise it with a new alternative that bypasses Hanford to the west. The authority expects to issue the revised draft report this summer, triggering another round of public hearings and comment, months after the authority originally expected to have a final version approved.

Now, a final report is not expected to be ready until this fall, said Jeff Abercrombie, the authority's regional director for the Central Valley. But, he added, a board vote approving the report and making the final choice on route options "is still anticipated before the end of 2012."

Local officials hold out hope for construction starting this fall. Fresno County Supervisor Henry R. Perea, in Washington, D.C., this week to meet with the Federal Railroad Administration, said that "all efforts are focused on awarding contracts and turning dirt by the end of the year."

But as delays mount, that seems more and more unlikely.

A memo to the state rail authority board for Thursday's meeting suggests that a contractor likely won't be chosen nor contracts awarded until early 2013 for the first construction segment -- a stretch through the city of Fresno from north of the San Joaquin River south to American Avenue. That work is expected to cost between $1.5 billion and $2 billion. Later contracts would extend the work north past Madera and south to nearly Bakersfield.

When the Obama administration announced it was awarding federal funds to California for the high-speed rail program, the money came with several strings. In addition to requiring that the money be used to start construction in the valley, where high unemployment created a need for economic stimulus, the grant agreements were based on a project schedule that called for environmental reviews to be finished by fall of 2011 and the start of construction by Sept. 30, 2012.

While there is flexibility for when construction must start, the state faces a firm deadline for the work on its Merced-Bakersfield sections to be completed by September 2017.

"We believe the time allowed is more than reasonable," said Roy Kienitz, undersecretary for policy with the U.S. Department of Transportation, in a letter to the California rail authority last summer. "Deadlines are necessary to ensure that (stimulus) funds are used with all due speed."

Awarding contracts and meeting deadlines will be moot, however, if the state Legislature refuses to authorize the sale of Proposition 1A bonds to match the federal contributions. Prop. 1A, approved by California voters in 2008, provides up to $9 billion to build a high-speed rail system in the state.

"Withholding these matching funds would put California's high-speed rail project in serious jeopardy," Kienitz told state officials last year.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

With the California High-Speed Rail Project, things will have to get worse before they get better.

First, a word about this blog.  I try to post an article with comments at least once a day. Some days, there are several articles worth reading and worth commenting on.  I will, on occasion, skip a day or so, but mostly I do this posting daily.  So, when you read a single article, be sure you scroll down so that you are not skipping over other new postings from that same day or yesterday.

OK. Here's the situation.  It it my guess that the Governor, the Senators and other Legislators and local politicians have come to realize that, a.) there will be no more new HSR funding from Washington, and b.) there is a very strong likelihood that the California project will never be completed.

Reality about this project has finally penetrated even the thickest of skulls. It's price makes this project ridiculous. The need for this luxury train borders on trivial.  If the project goes forward, it will be the text-book standard by which all other boondoggles will be judged in the future.

What that now means is there is an emerging scramble by all the transportation agencies both in the Bay Area and in the LA Basin seeking a piece of the action. 

I mean that there are $3.3 billion in FRA funds already awarded to California but not yet funded.  And, there are $9 billion in general obligation bonds approved by the voters and the legislature.  However, those bond funds can only be matched.  That means they can dip into the state treasury for no more than $3.3 billion to match the available federal funds.  That's all there is, and for building a $117 billion high-speed train, it's a drop in the bucket.

And that's what this scramble is now about.  The Governor has already said that the projected $117 billion for the train is far, far too much. But he also said that it can be done for far less money by using existing rail routes now in operation. Let's not even get into that looney idea.

Since when did the Governor become a railroad engineer? His very own gunslinger, Dan Richard on the rail authority signed off on the $117 in their funding plan.  Well, never mind.  What's taking place, before our very eyes, is that the funds all earmarked for the Central Valley are now fair game for the population center politicians to fight for.  

In the Bay Area they want $1 billion to upgrade the Caltrain corridor and connect it to the under-construction Trans Bay Terminal. In the LA Basin, those politicians want $1 billion for Metrolink upgrades and some other stuff. That would all have to come out of the federal $3.3 billion and it's equivalent match from the bond funds.

As it happens, the previously intended $6 billion for the Central Valley aren't even sufficient to put down around 100 miles of regular track, and not even high-speed rail compatible track at that. Now they are all fighting like sharks in a tank for those dollars to get them spread around in the population and voter-dense regions north and south.

In California, it's the Governor who has his hands on the throttle, even as he knows the limits of the available funds and that there won't be any more.  Shouldn't the Governor be the smartest guy in the room, instead of the dumbest?

It's not a pretty sight.

Our View: Brown: Legacy or lunacy
February 23, 2012 10:30:47 PM
Many people want to "put a dent in the universe," as the late Steve Jobs described his vocation. But few such people also have the capacity to put a huge dent in government finances.

One who does is Gov. Jerry Brown, with the California High-Speed Rail Authority, a project costing at least $98 billion and commonly described here and elsewhere as a "boondoggle." The CHSRA was given a green light by voters in 2008 when they passed Proposition 1A, authorizing $9.95 billion in taxpayer-backed bonds to begin the project. The rest of the money is supposed to come from federal money ($3.5 billion already pledged by the Obama administration), private investment and pixie dust.

According to an Associated Press story, even though the CHRSA came into being before Brown assumed his current office, he has "emerged as the most vocal cheerleader of a project that is as risky as it is ambitious. Building a first-in-the-nation project would provide a lasting legacy for the 73-year-old Democratic governor as he moves into the twilight of a long political career. His father is revered for promoting the construction of California's comprehensive water system and expanding the state's higher education system into a national model."

Perhaps Dr. Phil could help Brown with any issues concerning his late father, Gov. Pat Brown. But circumstances today are so different from when his father governed five decades ago.

"He calls it a legacy; I call it lunacy," Lew Uhler says of the governor's rail advocacy. Uhler is the president of the Roseville-based National Tax Limitation Committee. "It has nothing to do with anything his father would remotely touch."
Uhler pointed out that the California university system was paid for largely through taxes. But the projects most similar to the CHSRA, the state's road and water projects, were paid for by users through gas taxes and charges to water bills. These projects also benefited all Californians.

By contrast, the CHSRA "is such a narrow special-interest kind of thing," Uhler said. "The users are infinitesimal." The CHSRA's 2012 business plan projects 29.9 million to 42.9 million riders a year by the time Phase One is supposed to be complete in 2035. Phase One would run from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The original projection was for 91 million to 95 million annual riders.

And according to a January analysis by the California State Auditor, "However, the Authority's process for overseeing the development of the [2012 ridership] model lacked transparency, which may raise investor concern about the model's credibility. Moreover, the Authority has yet to fully address questions about the accuracy of the model's long term projections." Nobody really knows how many people will board the choo-choo — if it's ever built.

That's different from his father's projects. It was fairly easy to make projections in the 1950s about how many people in coming decades would be using state water, roads and universities.

Finally, Gov. Pat Brown enjoyed a sounder state financial system. There was no structural budget deficit and no looming government-employee pension crisis.

And California's K-12 schools were considered among the best in the country, whereas today they're among the worst.
The state also spent relatively less money. In fiscal year 1964-65, the state spent the equivalent of 3.95 percent of Californians' personal income on the general fund, compared with 6.07 percent for fiscal year 2010-11, the last complete budget year.

The real way Gov. Jerry Brown should imitate Gov. Pat Brown is by running leaner budgets that deliver the services already promised.

Mark Powell's revue of the CHSRA Business Plans, from 2000 to 2012.

Mark Powell, who does a really great blog, has now outdone himself.  This summary of high-speed rail in California, and all the "broken promises" from the rail authority, is required reading for the entire working population of Sacramento, and for all the rest of us voters and taxpayers in California.

Mark has reviewed the several business plans produced by the CHSRA and teased out all the falsities that pervade each iteration.  While he suggests that the earliest version, from 2000 is the most "honest," I respectfully disagree.  

They knew even then what the actual costs would be, and that whatever their early projections, these early cost forecasts would multiply five-fold, with Parson Brinckerhoff's Boston Big Dig as a prime example. They also, persistently, foretold of operating surplus revenues which all existing systems worldwide (except for two) disprove.

The Due Diligence Report, by Cox and Vranich, documented all the rail authority's BS in the earlier business plan.

( I don't even know why they keep calling them business plans, since this will not be a business in the normal sense of the word.  It will be, like all mass transit, a subsidized public utility. That's hardly a business.)

Well, never mind.  The subsequent business plans are shameful enough. And Mark points out how, brick by brick, this crumbling structure was assembled. It's time to take it down before someone gets hurt.

There's not much more to say about this, except to point out that this statement, below, is sufficient reason to terminate this project.


A History of Deceit and Broken Promises

With a lull in news about California’s high-speed rail project as both proponents and opponents await the release of the Final 2012 Business Plan it is worth looking back over the past two decades at the promises and the reality of this project.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority was created in 1996 so that California might “have a comprehensive network of high-speed intercity rail systems by the year 2020.  To achieve this goal it was to immediately “begin preparation of a high-speed intercity rail plan similar to California’s former freeway plan and designate an entity with stable and predictable funding sources to implement the plan.” [Note 1]

Early Promises (2000 Business Plan)

Now mostly forgotten, and with only remnants of the plan still available on the Authority’s website, this plan’s highlights promised:

• 6 years of environmental and preliminary design work followed by a 10 year construction schedule for the statewide system that would connect all major metropolitan areas [Note 2].
• a $25 billion cost (expressed in 1999 dollars) [Note 3].
• a proposal to fund the project with a temporary sales tax increase (? cent for 20 years or ? cent for 10 years) [Note 4].
• ridership of 32 million intercity passengers per year [Note 5].
• a $24 one-way fare from San Francisco to Los Angeles [Note 6].
• an annual operating profit of at least $300 million per year [Note 7].
• 300,000 job-years of employment during the construction period [Note 8].

Although clearly missing the mark on construction costs and fare prices when compared to more recent plans, there was at least a level of honesty in the plan that has been sorely lacking in subsequent plans.

First, the plan actually specified a “stable and predictable funding source” and called on Californians to pay for a transportation system to be built in their state for their use.

Second, the plan made no attempt to confuse “job-years” of employment with “permanent construction jobs” as has been the case with recent plans.

Third, the plan made no specific claim of infrastructure savings offsets.  Instead, the plan simply compared its $25 billion cost to the $220 billion “the state and its subdivisions will raise (based on current rates for fuel and sales taxes dedicated to transportation projects) and spend on transportation over the next 20 years” [Note 9].

Fourth, the plan did not talk of “phased implementation”, “blended operation”, “initial construction segments”, or make claims that any short construction segments would have any utility at all.  However, it did state:

“specific revenue-producing segments could be completed and opened earlier in the implementation schedule.  For example, a core segment from Los Angeles to San Francisco could potentially be completed at the end of the seventh year with completion of the remaining segments to follow.” [Note 10]

In other words, the first segment likely to possess “independent utility”, as mandated for all construction segments by the legislation that later put Proposition 1A on the November 2008 ballot, was the completion of what is now referred to as Phase 1, the high-speed rail system linking Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Contrast that promise with the claim in the Draft 2012 Business Plan that a 130 mile section of non-electrified track running from north of Fresno to north of Bakersfield at a cost of $6 billion will have “independent utility” because it may be suitable for Amtrak trains and might save a half a million riders per year 45 minutes of travel time [Note 11].

With principal and 4% interest charges on $6 billion born by the taxpayer at a cost of $582 million/year for the next 30 years, the taxpayer must find that each Amtrak passenger’s time is valued at $1600/hour if the claim of “independent utility” is to be justified.

Finally, it is worth noting that the 2000 Business Plans cost estimate of $25 billion was the last time the Authority would publicize an estimate of the cost for the entire statewide project.  The plan called for a cost of $14.6 billion to build the San Francisco to Los Angeles segment (including rolling stock) and another $10.4 billion to construct segments connecting to Sacramento and San Diego and purchase additional rolling stock.

Election Year Deceit (2008 Business Plan)

Assembly Bill 3034, the Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act for the 21st Century was signed into law by the governor on August 26, 2008, only 70 days prior to the November 4 election where it asked voters to approve $9.95 billion in rail bonds to help fund construction of a proposed 800 mile statewide system of high-speed rail connecting all large metropolitan areas throughout the state.  In putting the initiative, Proposition 1A – Safe, Reliable High-Speed Passenger Train Bond Act, on the ballot AB 3034 circumvented no less than 10 separate sections of California and Federal Election Code.  The more serious of these violations included prejudicial wording in the initiative’s title and statement appearing on the ballot, and the fact that it was allowed on the ballot at all since AB 3034’s approval by the governor did not come close to the statutorily required 131 days in advance of the upcoming election [Note 12].

Assembly Bill 3034 also called for the Rail Authority to issue their 2008 Business Plan by September 1, 2008 [Note 13]. However, the Authority held back on releasing their business plan until after the election [Note 14]. With the advantages of prejudicial ballot wording, little time for opponents to organize, and no business plan to argue against, proponents of high-speed rail won a narrow victory on election day which to this day the Authority shamefully refers to as a “mandate”.

A quick reading of the 2008 Business Plan, released three days after the election, reveals how voters were fooled on election day.  The business plan proposed using ALL of the available rail bonds to build the section connecting Los Angeles and San Francisco [Note 15], leaving no bond money to help fund the segments connecting to Sacramento and San Diego.  In fact, the business plan provided no cost estimate or timeframe for building connections to Sacramento and San Diego in spite of a reference on the Supplemental Voter Guide made by the Legislative Analyst’s Office that the Authority had told the LAO in 2006 that the cost of the statewide system would be $45 billion [Note 16].

The 2008 Business Plan did promise the voters:

• a 9 year construction schedule for Phase 1 (San Francisco to Los Angeles/Anaheim) [Note 17].
• a construction cost of $33.6 billion (expressed in 2008 dollars) [Note 18].
• a funding plan chiefly consisting of $15.6 billion in federal grants, $7 billion in private investment and use of ALL $9 billion of the approved rail bonds [Note 19].
• 40 million intercity passengers per year [Note 20].
• a $68 one-way fare from San Francisco to Los Angeles [Note 21].
• annual operating profits in excess of $1.1 billion per year [Note 22].
• 160,000 construction jobs to build the high speed train system [Note 23].
• 320,000 permanent jobs by 2030 indirectly resulting from the system [Note 24].
• a savings of nearly $100 billion in 3000 miles of freeway lanes and airport expansions that would otherwise be needed over the next 20 years [Note 25].

This deceitful business plan again clearly missed the mark on construction costs and fare prices when compared to more recent plans while discarding the honesty found in aspects of the 2000 Business Plan.

The plan for a sales tax to fund the system is replaced by bond debt, private funds, and federal grants.  Californians today know that there is no private interest in funding the project, and federal funds have dried up entirely after the token $3.5 billion in federal stimulus funds meant for “shovel ready jobs”.

The term “construction jobs” has leaked into the plan in place of the proper phrase “job-years of employment” as has the category of “indirect jobs” of which the Authority claims there will be 320,000.

Gone from the plan is a comparison of high-speed rail capital costs versus the budget for all state and local transportation projects (both new and repair projects) over the next 20 years itemized at $220 billion in the 2000 Business Plan.  In its place the Authority simply makes the preposterous claim that the development of high-speed rail will eliminate the need for nearly half of these expenditures.

Final Promises (Draft 2012 Business Plan)

In November 2011 the Authority released their latest business plan, a plan more dishonest and less grounded in reality than the previous plans. The Draft 2012 Business Plan continues the trend of promising more high-speed rail benefits to compensate Californians for project delays and cost escalation.

The plan’s highlights include:

• a 22 year construction schedule for Phase 1 [Note 26].
• costs ranging from $65.4 to $78.1 billion (expressed in 2010 dollars) [Note 27].
• costs ranging from $98.5 to $117.6 billion in actual dollars to be spent [Note 28].
• a funding plan deemed “not feasible” by the Rail Peer Review Group utilizing all $9 billion of rail bonds, $11 billion in private capital in exchange for any operating profits  through the year 2060, $3.5 billion from the 2009 federal stimulus bill, and  a whopping $75 to $94.1 billion from non-existent federal programs [Note 29].
• intercity passengers per year are not explicitly stated.
• a $79 one-way fare from San Francisco to Los Angeles [Note 30].
• annual profits through 2060 paid to private investors [Note 31].
• 1,250,000 to 1,400,000 construction job-years [Note 32].
• a savings of $171 billion in freeway lanes and airport expansions that would otherwise be needed over the next 20 years [Note 33].
• no plans complete the statewide system connecting Phase 1 to Sacramento and San Diego.

The facts speak for themselves.  In 12 years the construction time required to build Phase 1 has gone from 7 years to 22 years while start of construction has slipped 6 years.

The cost, in 2010 dollars, has gone from $20 billion in the 2000 Business Plan ($14.6 in 1999 dollars) to upwards of $78 billion.
The vision of a statewide system sold to voters in 2008, including those millions living between Los Angeles and San Diego, and between Merced and Sacramento, has vanished.

Funding the system today with a sales tax would require not a ? cent increase for 10 years, but rather a 2 cent increase for 10 years and so the Authority writes a funding plan based on fantasy federal grant programs.

Infrastructure savings are now portrayed as being nearly as large as the “state and its subdivisions will raise and spend on transportation over the next 20 years” [Note 9].

And estimates of job-years in construction have soared four-fold.

Meanwhile, Californians are expected to put faith in the Authority’s projections of operating costs and ridership, and hence profitability, of a system not expected to be fully operational between Los Angeles and San Francisco for another 22 years.

Notwithstanding the sobering cost projections, construction delays, a public that has now turned 2:1 against high-speed rail [Note 34], the risk of starting a project that may never be completed, and if completed might be highly unprofitable, Governor Brown still maintains his commitment to start construction this year in the Central Valley and build a swath of high-speed destruction through farms, businesses, homes, and families.

Write to the Governor and tell him you know the past and present promises of high-speed rail and based on its history, high-speed rail simply promises to be a disaster for all Californians.

Factual statements made in this article are supported by footnotes shown below:

Note 1:  Senate Bill 1420 High Speed Rail Act, signed into law September 22, 1996, Ch. 1, paragraph (h)
Note 2: 2000 Business Plan, Figure 2.3
Note 3: 2000 Business Plan, Table 2.1
Note 4:  2000 Financial Plan associated with Business Plan
Note 5: Summary of the 2000 Business Plan, page 1
Note 6: Summary of the 2000 Business Plan, page 2
Note 7: Summary of the 2000 Business Plan, page 1
Note 8: Summary of the 2000 Business Plan, page 1
Note 9: 2000 Business Plan Executive Summary, page 2
Note 10: 2000 Business Plan, page 15 section titled “Phase 3: Final Design and Construction
Note 11:  Draft 2012 Business Plan, last paragraph on page 2-10
Note 12: High Speed Railroading of the Public
Note 13: Assembly Bill 3034, page 2
Note 14:  Authority List of 2008 Business Plan Documents and Release Dates
Note 15: 2008 Business Plan, page 21, Figure 26
Note 16: November 2008 Official Voter Information Guide, Analysis by Legislative Analyst, page 5
Note 17:  2008 Business Plan, Figure 25
Note 18:  2008 Business Plan, Figure 26
Note 19:  2008 Business Plan, Figure 26
Note 20:  2008 Business Plan, page 18
Note 21:  2008 Business Plan, page 18 using data in table for LA to SF at 50% of airfare
Note 22:  2008 Business Plan, page 17
Note 23:  2008 Business Plan, page 12
Note 24:  2008 Business Plan, page 12
Note 25:  2008 Business Plan, page 6
Note 26: Draft 2012 Business Plan, Chapter 4, Exhibit 1-2
Note 27: Draft 2012 Business Plan, Chapter 8, Exhibit 8-1
Note 28: Draft 2012 Business Plan, page 8-2
Note 29: January 3, 2012 Peer Group Report
Note 30: Draft 2012 Business Plan, Exhibit 6-4 using 83% of airfare for train fare
Note 31: California State Auditor, High-Speed Rail Authority Follow-up, January 2012, page 2
Note 32: Draft 2012 Business Plan, Exhibit 10-4
Note 33: Draft 2012 Business Plan, page ES-2
Note 34: Field Poll

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Reading China's high-speed rail fortune cookies, and highway tea leaves

Isn't everybody, including the President, the California Governor, the Secretary of Transportation, our senior Senators, our senior Representatives, and all their troops, threatening, over and over, that if we don't build this high-speed train in California, we are going to have to build zillions of miles of additional freeways?

Therefore, dear friends, if we do build this 800 mile high-speed train, we presumably won't have to build all those additional freeways. And, you know what that means. It means that since no matter what the train will cost, highways will always cost more. Put that into your logic pipe and smoke it!

Then why is it that the country with the most high-speed rail miles on the ground and operational in the world, also feels the need to build the most freeway miles, even exceeding our own Interstate Highway System, in which we take such pride? And, although Wendell Cox doesn't mention it, the Chinese are also building more airports and therefore more runways than ever, eventually to surpass ours in the US.

Wouldn't you think that with all their thousands of miles of high-speed rail lines, they wouldn't have to build one more inch of highways? Apparently not.

What's my point?  That this positing of an alternative; that is, matching highways and runways to high-speed rail which supposedly costs ever so much more, is pure hokum.

The rail advocates would have you believe that high-speed rail will take so many cars off the road that we don't even need to repair and maintain our current inventory of highways; we can just let them decay for lack of use.  That is too absurd to even provide a civil response.  


by Wendell Cox 02/22/2012
In some ways, it has been an "annus horribilis" for transport in China (Note). There was the tragic high-speed rail accident in Wenzhou (Zhejiang), the fastest trains were slowed, construction was slowed or, in some cases stopped, and a top railway official was removed for misappropriation of at least a billion Yuan (more than $150 million).

However, China's freeway (motorway) system has achieved a milestone even Deng Xiaoping might have dreamed. In 2011, The Beijing Review reports that China's intercity freeway system became the longest in the world, longer that of the United States, which had been the undisputed leader for at least 50 years.

China added 11,000 kilometers (7,000 miles) of freeway (grade separated and dual carriage expressway) to its national interstate expressway system (National Trunk Highway System) in 2011. With a length of 85,000 kilometers (53,000 miles), China's intercity freeway system exceeds that of the US interstate highway system by 10,000 kilometers (6,000 miles). At the end of 2008, the US interstate highway system was 75,000 miles long.

China has built 83,000 kilometers (52,000 miles) of interstate freeway in just 11 years. Much of the US interstate construction was completed over a period of 25 years, from 1956 to the early 1980s.
It is unclear whether the total length of freeways in China is greater than that in the United States. In China, many urban freeways are not included in the National Trunk Highway System. There are also non-interstate freeways in the United States.  Complete data on these roadways is not available.
Note: This characterization of a "horrible year" was made famous by Queen Elizabeth II in a major speech in 1992.
See also: China Expressway System to Exceed US Interstates, January 21, 2011.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

What's more important for passenger rail, speed or price? We don't need High-Speed Rail

Here is something so good and so to the point that I need to post it.  While the author is addressing the intended HS2 high-speed train in the UK, it certainly applies to us as well.

Here's the point. The California HSR train, if ever operating by 2033 or later, will surely cost over $200. per one way ticket. How many people do you suppose will take this trip on a frequent basis at those prices. Round trip from SF to LA, $400 dollars, maybe more. Will 29 million people do this annually? I really doubt it. 

And, the rail authority has already let us know that they will not be able to meet the Prop. 1A requirement of 2:40 time for the SF to LA trip. It may take as long as 4 hours.  Then, we have to ask, what's the point?

Wouldn't we be better off spending far less money and upgrading our current Amtrak passenger rail system so that those trains can go, say, 150 mph, out in the open and not through towns? And cost far less, and therefore create transit opportunities for far more Americans?

That's why this article says all this so succinctly.

The best way to help understand what's wrong with this HSR project is: 
Don't let the Perfect get in the way of the Good. 

Building a utopian train requires utopian funds.  We can travel much faster than now and it will cost far less if we improve and upgrade our current passenger rail system.  That would not be a boondoggle.  

High speed rail – it’s the price that matters, not speed
Tuesday 21st February 2012, 10:04AM GMT.

I went to London yesterday for a meeting, writes Charlie Cashdan.
I had two options train-wise; one which would get me there in 90 minutes but cost £79, or another train which would take 150 minutes but cost £9.50.  It was a no-brainer really.  I took the cheaper option.

The current service to London from Birmingham is excellent anyway.  There is a train every 15 minutes and 90 minutes or so is perfectly fast enough for most people.

Let’s face it – why do people travel from Birmingham to London?  To visit friends/relatives, shopping, business meetings – none of these things require speed to be of the essence.

Speed only really matters if you are commuting to London regularly for work.  Then yes, high speed rail would make a difference if it opened up the possibility of someone living in Birmingham and commuting every day to work in the capital.

This would allow Midland people to go for the higher paid opportunities London offers without the higher living costs.  But this could only work if high speed travel was really cheap.  And it won’t be.  Therefore, it’s pointless.

Cost matters to people far more than speed.  Can’t the money sidelined for this extravagant project be invested into our existing service and bring down current prices?  This, more than anything, would encourage people to travel to London.

How different is Venezuela's HSR project from ours in California?

But, first, some local news: 

Mission Viejo, a town in southern California (Orange County) opposes high-speed rail and supports Assemblywoman Diane Harkey's AB 1455, the "High-Speed Lemon Law."  There are many other cities in California, north and south that have taken it upon themselves to vote down the high-speed rail project passing through their borders.


But, here's the real story of the day and it's from Venezuela. The article is from the on-line International Herald Tribune.

Talk about social engineering! 

Il Presidente Chavez (who, by the way, now has a recurrence of cancer) has been shoving a new high-speed train down the throats of Venezuelans because his government wants to move lots of people from where it's habitable and where they want to live, to where it isn't habitable, and they don't want to live. Sounds much like the Chinese agenda for their country also. I strongly suspect that if Chavez were to die or retire, the project would vaporize. 

As you read the article, a lot of it will sound familiar to you if you have been a follower of the California high-speed rail project.  

They have dragged the Chinese into this for both loans, construction, and trains. Boy, will they come to regret that.  They are talking about a $7.5 billion deal with the Chinese. 

Attention Jerry Brown, Governor of California: "That’s the thing about Socialist central planners: they don’t start with the world as it is and ask themselves how to make it better for the people living in it. They start with the world as they imagine it ought to be and force that vision onto the people whether the people want it or not." 

Jobs? You want to know about jobs? "Local people perform only unskilled physical work on the line, and they’re grateful even for that."

This story is almost one for the movies. A heavy-handed dictator demands a train to be cut through the jungle infested with all sorts of insects and diseases. They build this train at enormous cost to the country including the cost of many lives. They bring in a foreign dictatorship country to build the train. And like leeches, the builders who lend the funds get to suck vast riches in profits from this jungle country. When it's completed, nobody rides the train. And, slowly, at the end, the jungle takes over the rail-line, overgrowing it with vines, taking it back into the underbrush until it disappears. 

Well, that certainly can't happen here in California, like in the Central Valley, can it?

Oh, and before I forget, here's another article about commuter trains. The lesson here? Trains are not perfect. Stuff happens. And, when trains full of people go 220 mph, the disaster is far worse than we can now imagine. This article is also from today, 2.22.12. 


February 22, 2012, 4:32 AM
Chávez’s Great Train Robbery


ORTIZ, Venezuela — Isolated, scrubby and scorching hot, the edge of Venezuela’s central plains just south of the heavily populated coastal highlands isn’t exactly tourist-brochure material. A few towns and no cities are scattered throughout the area, and agriculture there has been depressed for years. 

Although its sparseness would seem to make this part of the plains particularly ill-suited as the location for a massive new high-speed rail project, sure enough, that’s exactly what state planners are building there: a $200 million railway from Tinaco, a small town about an eight hours’ drive southwest from Caracas, to Anaco, 290 miles to the east.

It’s not just a train to nowhere. It’s a train from nowhere to nowhere.

But never mind that. The Venezuelan government says it will begin passenger services on the line later this year, running Chinese trains that go 135 miles per hour. Who on earth do they imagine is going to ride this thing? New people, people who don’t live anywhere near it yet.

The line is part of a grandiose, multi-decade government plan to “rebalance” Venezuela’s population away from the compact coastal strip, where more than 65 percent of Venezuela’s 29 million people live, and toward the “Orinoco-Apure axis” farther south, where about 17 percent live. The execution is sometimes perverse: about midway on the Tinaco-Anaco line, for example, the tracks pass through Ortiz, a town of 8,000 people, instead of going through San Juan de Los Morros, a town of more than 120,000 people just 15 miles north of here.

Plans have already been put forward to extend the line past Tinaco and Anaco and connect cities that people might actually want to travel to, like Barquisimeto and Puerto La Cruz. But no detailed engineering studies have been carried out on extensions, and construction is years, if not decades, away. The same goes for the other 14 railway lines the government has said it wants to build by 2030.

Still, slogans about reasserting Venezuela’s greatness by populating the plains are repeated incessantly on state television, with little concern for what the people who will be asked to do the peopling think about all this. The reasons so many Venezuelans chose to settle in the coastal highlands rather than the central plains in the first place — quick access to the sea, better agricultural lands, respite from the punishing heat and endemic malaria — never quite enter the picture. Socialist planners in Caracas have determined that too many people have been enjoying a cool, productive and healthy lifestyle for too long.

A Chinese government loan is financing the rail project — part of a $7.5 billion deal — and a Chinese state-owned firm has been brought in to do the construction. This means the engineering and technical work on the line have been carried out by Chinese nationals living in comfortable new compounds, protected from the locals by electrified fencing. At the barracks near Ortiz, the red flag of the People’s Republic of China flutters over the ocher prefab buildings where Chinese engineers are reasserting Caracas’s sovereignty over the plains.

Local people perform only unskilled physical work on the line, and they’re grateful even for that. The towns along the proposed railway are tiny and uniformly poor. Basic road, water and electric infrastructure is precarious, with frequent power cuts. The lack of roads or basic irrigation prevents vast tracts of land from being farmed. But while the needs of the real campesinos living along the railway are going ignored, hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent on a high-speed train network for the notional people whom the government hopes one day to attract away from Venezuela’s urban, industrial heartlands.

That’s the thing about Socialist central planners: they don’t start with the world as it is and ask themselves how to make it better for the people living in it. They start with the world as they imagine it ought to be and force that vision onto the people whether the people want it or not.

Francisco Toro blogs about the Chávez era at