Thursday, February 16, 2012

Mr. Simmens defending the indefensible High-Speed Rail Project in California

Here is as good a summary and explanation of the CHSRA's position, by Deputy Director of Communications Lance Simmens, as any you can find, in this interview. 

Although I wasn't invited to the interview, here are my answers to Mr. Simmens' answers anyhow. He and his employers will probably disagree with my responses.  If they didn't, I wouldn't be doing my job.  

My two cents can be found in blue within brackets, below.

Q & A With The California High-Speed Rail Authority

Hannah Madans | February 15, 2012 | 4:15 p.m. PST 
Associate News Editor
California’s high-speed rail project has become incredibly controversial. The main contention point is how much the project will actually cost. Other are concerned about what land will be used for the project and why Phase One is starting in the Central Valley.
I spoke with Lance Simmens, California High-Speed Rail Authority’s Deputy Director of Communications, about these issues and all things related to the project.  
NT (NeoTommy): Why did California decide to do this project?

LS (Lance Simmens): The purpose of the high-speed rail system is to essentially connect northern California with southern California with a state of the art, high-speed rail transportation system. [In order to be  state of the art, it will have to be far better than what's on the drawing boards right now, since the train won't be operating until 2033.  What they are conceiving now will be obsolete by the time it's operating.] 

And the reason why high-speed rail is important is because it relieves congestion on the highway and takes away the necessity of having to create more freeway lanes to deal with the increasing population growth which is expected in the state in the next 30-40 years.  [Congestion is on the freeways, highways and roadways within the greater metropolitan regions, north and south. Not between them. In short, this train will make absolutely no difference to the number of cars in California or in the Universe. The need for additional highways will be a function of the population expansions in the major metropolitan areas. ]

And, secondly, it also has a rather robust environmental advantage over fossil fuel burning vehicles, whether they be airlines or automobiles. This is a 100 percent renewable energy-generated mode of transportation. And, keeping more cars of the highways and keeping airline flights down between the busiest corridor in the United States, which is between San Francisco and Los Angeles, can save annually 3 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere.[100% renewable energy is as much a fantasy as this train is. Electric power in California is over half fossil-fuel generated. That will only increase. Meanwhile, fossil-fuel consumption for both cars and aircraft are declining rapidly, contributing to the reduction in crude oil requirements, and they will do so more dramatically over the next twenty years, before this train ever becomes operational. Oh, and the corridor between LA and SF is by no means the busiest in the US. That award goes to the corridor between Washinton, D.C., New York City, and Boston. Mr. Simmens makes things up to sustain his faith in the necessity of HSR.  It's a religious, not scientific thing.] 

NT: How long has the project been in the works?

LS: The High Speed Rail Authority in California was established in 1996. So, there has been planning efforts undertaken for the last 15-16 years.

NT: Some key players in the project resigned not that long ago. How has that effected the project?

LS: The resignations of the chief executive officer and the chairman of the board, even though the chairman of the board stepped down and stayed a member on the board, but resigned his position as chairman and the appointment by Governor Brown of two board members back in August of last year, Dan Richard, who has extensive experience as a member of the Bay Area Rapid Transit Board and Mike Rossi, who’s a former vice chairman of Bank of America bringing a lot of business and financial expertise to the task have really helped generate an enormous amount of enthusiasm for building a business case for why this project should carry forward.
[However, neither Richard nor Rossi has had high-speed rail experience. It is already apparent that their professional experience and skills are not fungible into the world of high-speed rail, about which they apparently know very little.]

And Dan Richard, of course, has been elected the new chairman of the board and we are in the process of the search for a new CEO. But, Mr. Richard has brought an enormous mentality and helped spur support by the governor for a project which is, needless to say, controversial because of its cost and its long-term outlook and long-term approach to things. But, there’s been an enormous resurgence of energy and a new change in direction in the authority since Mr. Richard took the chairmanship.

NT: An independent review committee released a pretty poor critique of the project and said it was “not financially feasible.” What changes, if any, have been made since the review came out?

LS: Well, first of all, the cost certainly of this 20-plus year project is pretty costly.
[You think? It's twice as costly, per mile, as any other HSR construction in the world. And, we're far from finished calculating. ]

 But, as with all mega-projects, as with all large-scale transportation projects of a long-term nature, they are going to have enormous cost, but the benefits to future generations, to people like yourself and my kids and your kids, the benefits to future generations far outweigh the costs. [Simmens inadvertently got it right. It is for people like his interviewer, his kids and the interviewer's kids. And that's the problem. They and their income class will be the only riders who can afford it.  It won't be for everybody, like a highway. And, his cost/benefit analysis is totally incorrect. He's making marketing-driven assumptions. It will cost all of us taxpayers, but benefit only those who need it the least.]

In fact, if you were to choose an alternative to building high-speed rail, i.e. to accommodate the demands, the infrastructure and transportation demands of a population that is expected to grow from 38 million today to between 50 and 60 million by mid-century, you have to build 2,300 additional freeway lanes, 4 runways and 115 airport gates.[Here's the tiresome 'alternative' argument, which has been already dismissed as as fraudulent 'construction' by Parsons Brinckerhoff.  This comparison is filled with false assumptions rigged to give them the answer they need.  If this project were to cost one trillion dollars, they would discover that the alternative costs two trillion dollars.]

The operations and maintenance costs of just building freeways to accommodate capacity and growth over the next 50 years would $80 billion. And, the cost of actually constructing these alternative facilities, whether they be airport gates, runways, freeways, could run as high as $170 billion. So, the fact of the matter is you’re going to have to make investments to accommodate the demands of future growth regardless. [Remember, when the cost of the project was stated to be $33 billion, the alternative costs were said to be $70 billion. Once they acknowledged the HSR costs to be $117 billion (still too low, of course) that's when the alternative costs jumped to $171 billion.]

And, then the question is if you want to invest smartly and wisely into a system that 24 other countries in the world either have done or are in the process of doing, or whether you want to continues business as usual which has far higher economic costs, but also a higher environmental cost. So, if you look at the long-range perspective, this is a very wise investment. [So, Mr. Simmens gives us a choice between "smartly and wisely," or "business as usual." The word "wise" describing this  "investment" comes up yet again. However, it seems that no private investor is "wise." Many of those 24 countries, like Spain, now have ample reason to regret having put all those borrowed funds into a money-losing train they are stuck with. Spain, by the way, has a 50% unemployment rate for their 18 to 34 yr. old population. Those people are not riding their HSR. ] 

Now, the legislative report was questioning: where’s the money coming from? We realize that federal government has a very large role to play in helping to finance this.[Does the federal government have a "very large role to play to finance this?"  How does at least 90% sound as a very large role? The fact is that they knew all this from well before this latest legislative report. The real question is, should they start construction when there is no further federal funding on the horizon?]

In traditional transportation projects, the central government has largely funded projects like this with 80 percent federal dollars, 20 percent state mint and other revenue sources. In some instances, you have the government fund 90 percent of major infrastructure projects. We already have $9.9 billion identified through Proposition 1A and state bonds. [Why should the national taxpayers support, up to 90% and beyond, an infrastructure project that only benefits the state that it's in?
Hoover Dam's electric output and water management serves a number of states.]

And, we’ve already secured $3.3 billion from the federal government to help with building the first construction segment. So, we have essentially, in essence, $12 billion dollars. It is true that the federal government is going to have to be a willing partner to help fund this project in the long-term. [No, they don't have $12 billion. They have $3.3 billion from the FRA that they can match with  Prop. 1A bond funds. Without dollars to match the bond dollars, they do not have more. They are choosing to use only $2.7 billion of the state bond funds. At this time, it looks like the federal government is not willing to be a "partner" to fund this $200 billion boondoggle long-term.]

We did not build into our business plan, which we released in November, we did not build into it any additional federal funding over the next three years. We thing that’s a very realistic and credible assumption given the state of our budgetary, economic situation at the federal level. But we have also maintained that we are not going to build additional segments beyond the first one until we have additional funds identified. So, we think we are being very realistic and very credible with our economic and budgetary situation, both at the state and federal level. The first construction segment, which is a 130-mile segment between north of Fresno to north of Bakersfield will cost about $6 billion. [Their so-called "credibility" to which Simmens refers is driven by the realities of no further funding. They intend to spend what they have, regardless of what they actually build or whether it has any value or not. That 130 mile segment is a section, not a segment, which has larger meaning in Prop. 1A language. What we are reading from Mr. Simmens is spin, pure and simple.]

We will use the $3.3 billion we’ve already got from the federal government and hopefully $2.7 billion out of the Proposition 1A funds, which was passed in 2008 by the state to fund that first segment which will being construction hopefully later this year. We have every intention and plan to have shovels in the ground in late fall 2012 and that first segment would not be completed ‘till 2017.
NT: Some key players in the project resigned not that long ago. How has that effected the project? NT: Some key players in the project resigned not that long ago. How has that effected the project?

LS: There are federal constraints on the funding stream which dictate that we start in the Central Valley. But, in building a large project of this size connecting northern California and southern California, you have to go through the Central Valley anyway and there are two reasons why it makes sense to start there. First of all, the property that you can obtain there is cheaper. And, second of all, you need a relatively flat, long stretch of track to use to test and operate the high-speed trains which are capable of doing an excess of 240 mph and testing to make sure you have a system that will be operating at full capacity. So, you have to go through the Central Valley anyway, and given the cost issues and the testing issues it makes economic sense to start the system the. [Here is an outright lie and Mr. Simmens knows it. The Central Valley imperative is not to build a "test track" since this section of track will not be able to operate high-speed rail. It will consist only of tracks, without electrification, signalling, PTC, or maintenance facilities. Also, no rolling stock will be involved.]
NT: An article in the O.C. Register earlier this month estimated that 1,000s of families and businesses will have to move for the land for the project. Do you know if this figure is accurate or what will happen to these parties? 

LS: We’re going to make every effort to have a right of way process and a mitigation process which does everything that we can to make those private properties and businesses properties remain whole and provide relocation costs to make sure that individuals who will be displaced by the construction of this high-speed rail system will, one, be made whole, and two, will be treated as fairly as we can possible treat them. [The simple truth is that the Central Valley folk are going to get screwed via eminent domain adverse takings which they will exercise against the will of those residents and farmers. Mr. Simmens can put lipstick on a pig, but it will still remain a pig. ]
NT: Farmers were especially concerned because land in the Central Valley has certain nutrients that make growing some crops easier. Do you have an idea how many farmers, specifically, the rail will effect?

LS: We have an agriculture working group established in the Central Valley and we are working very closely with farmers to determine what the impacts are and what the needs are and we are going to continue to work very closely with farmers to make sure, once again, that they are made whole and that there is as little disruption to their activities as possible. [You need to ask the Central Valley farmers how this see this. Mr. Simmens is not a farmer and his agenda is to take their land. He doesn't have a clue to what the adverse impact will be when the rail authority takes their property.]

NT: The project is somewhat controversial and there are polls, such as one in Reuters that say nearly 59 percent of voters are no longer in favor of the project. What are you doing to address public concern or to get the public to view the project favorably again?

LS: The governor has stated on numerous occasions now that he wants to build this project quicker and wants to do it cheaper. And, what we are trying to do right now, we released a plan in November and that plan went to a comment period of 60 plus days. We are in a process of putting together comments, critiques, and suggestions and criticisms and incorporating them into the revised plan which is due out in the next month or so and trying to conform the project to deal with the criticism and the suggestions that we think can help the public better understand how this system actually effects them. So, we are in the process of issuing a revised plan which we hope will assauge many of the criticisms and complaints and make sure that the public fully understands how this project will benefit them and future generations. [It's a good question and Simmens didn't answer it. The Governor, and therefore Mr. Simmens, don't give a rat's ass what the people think about this project.  Jerry Brown is determined to obtain those $3.3 billion from Washington and that's ALL he cares about.  The rest of Simmens' statement is pure malarkey.]
NT: What obstacles still stand in the way of the project?

LS: We will have to identify funding. That is, obviously a primary concern of ours. We need to get the first construction phase underway and we are looking at modifying our business plan to maybe look at some other suggestions which have been made particularly for the highly populated areas of San Francisco and Los Angeles and start making some early investments which will improve the local and regional transit systems which can be blended into this state-wide system. The large obstacle, of course, is going to be finding funding to continue with the project and we hope that as we proceed, we’ve already identified funding for the first segment of the project, and we’re hoping that as we proceed we will see both public opinion continue to support this project, just like the did in 2008, and we will see a federal government that is continuing its commitment to help fund what is truly going to be the first high-speed rail system in the United States. [It comes down to this.  The Republicans in the House oppose this project.  They will work to prevent further funding be made available for California's HSR project.  There will be no "local" investments. There will be no "private" investments. Everything else is empty words.]

NT: Is there anything else you think people should know about the rail? 

LS: We are building a system that will greatly benefit future generations and, in a short-term environment, thinking long-term sometimes can be very difficult indeed, but we’ve had big ideas in American which has generated and prompted us to become the great nation that we are. Whether it be the transcontinental railroad, which was itself started during the Civil War, so during kind of extreme financial and physical and economic stress in this country.

We built the interstate highway system, we didn’t start in New York or California, we started it in Missouri and we built out and towards a unified system. And it’s hard to even imagine where we would be as a country without the interstate highway system today. All the funding was not identified when Eisenhower decided to embark on an interstate highway system in the early 1950s, and it took many, many decades to complete that system. This is long term thinking.

The California water project, the University of California education system, the Golden Gate bridge, the New York subway system, all these large projects certainly encountered many obstacles, but it’s almost unfathomable to think where we would be today without them: the Panama Canal, the Suez Canal, these require visionary thinking. We have a governor who is thinking bold and thinking with vision and that is important to make us competitive with an increasingly global economy in the 21st century. [All these projects had funding built into them. We could even throw in the Erie Canal for good measure. Also the Transcontinental Railroad.  The latter was also one of the major fraudulent projects in US history. Maybe that's why Simmens didn't mention it as an example.  Also, what made sense in the 19th and 20th centuries doesn't necessarily make sense in the 21st century.  Furthermore, all those other projects were intended for the use of all Americans, not only the affluent. 

It was someone else, perhaps the Governor, who cited the Egyptian Pyramids as a good example for this project.  I'll say!!! Where are those 100,000 Hebrew slaves when you need them?]
Reach Associate News Editor Hannah Madans here.

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