Saturday, March 31, 2012

If not High-Speed Rail, what should we build?

This editorial comes from the Rail Passenger Association of California & Nevada.  I wonder how many rail passengers there are in California and Nevada. The author, Noel Braymer, is obviously and necessarily a passenger rail advocate, and presumably also a high-speed rail advocate.

As it happens, he does not support high-speed rail in California because it takes away resources from first building a far more necessary expansion of the state's rail network for freight and regular passenger rail. That position is much harder to argue with.

As you read this, you have to remember that these are the words of a passenger rail promoter. Except for local or regional and wide-spread commuter use, I'm not.  I confess to being enough of a "socialist," as my Republican friends call me, to want public transit services -- in all appropriate modalities -- that enable the largest numbers of us to get around to and from work, at the lowest cost, and most conveniently. Such that we no longer commute by car, but are seduced by superior transit modes which, among other things, solve the "first and last mile" problem. 

And I certainly agree with Mr. Braymer's argument that in order to develop a high-speed rail service, we have to "walk before we can run." We cannot bypass what other nations have developed over a century or more; that is, a comprehensive network of rail services, at low cost for passengers to obtain maximum ridership. It is, in those countries, a public service utility.

High-Speed Rail is the icing on that cake.  It's nothing like a mass public service utility. Those who believe it is are being profoundly misled.  

Braymer wants all that passenger rail network for California, as well as high-speed rail sitting on top of it. But, what he describes does come closer to "doing it right" which intends to benefit regional and urban transit in the current HSR climate and rail authority agenda. 

It's a bad approach, however, since the intentions are focused on bringing HSR into the population centers, not upgrading the local/regional transit capacity. And that makes all the difference. 

It bears out my contention that this project is not about doing HSR right, or even completing a functional HSR system.

It's all about getting massive funding into play and creating a permanent HSR industry that seeks and spends federal funds in California.

Building High Speed Rail while making friends and not enemies
March 31st, 2012

Opinion by Noel T. Braymer

Transportation is a very political issue since it usually depends on public monies. But Rarely is it a partisan issue. 

This is because everyone needs  good transportation.  In a disaster if transportation is cut off most stores will run out of inventory in a week or less. Most gas station have less than a 2 days supply of fuel. The growing demand for transportation is so great that there a general consensus that building more roads and airports won’t meet our future needs. 

There is growing acceptance that more rail passenger service is needed. [There's not that much compelling evidence for that.] Despite this the California High Speed Rail Project has run into heavy opposition. The problem isn’t that people don’t want more, faster and better rail passenger service.  It is that the planning for this projects has succeeded in making enemies of land owners and local communities because of the level of land condemnation and impacts from the proposed construction for a project  many people feel they won’t use. [Braymer is confusing freight with passenger rail. Freight is profitable, private, and the backbone of the economy. Passenger rail is public,  subsidized and a very low priority among most Americans.]

About 3 years ago plans for High Speed Rail in Los Angeles and Orange Counties were  presented to the agencies in the region and they were not pleased. Billions of dollars of spending was being proposed for an all new railroad for High Speed Trains going no faster than 125 miles per hour between Anaheim and Sylmar. There were no plans to share any of the new construction for use by Metrolink or the Pacific Surfliner trains even when sharing the same right of ways. It was clear that these plans would have major problems both because of their high costs competing for limited funding for rail passenger service and the impacts from condemned land for parts of the project as proposed. 

The local Southern California agencies went to work and created their own plan that was cheaper, used little condemned land, and was more likely to get something built that shared the improvements with Metrolink and Pacific Surfliner Trains. The trains would stay on the existing right of way between Los Angeles and Fullerton but with 2 additional tracks for High Speed, Metrolink and Surfliner Trains.  From Fullerton to Anaheim the existing tracks with grade crossing would be used with upgrades for High Speed Rail trains. The High Speed Rail Authority didn’t like the local agencies' plan, but they didn’t have a choice. The local agencies’ plan became the accepted plan for Southern California.

Much the same thing over a longer period of time happened on the the San Francisco Bay Peninsula. Again, the High Speed Rail Authority was planning to build separate tracks for high speed trains for a top speed of 125 miles per hour. This too would require condemning land to widen a right of way which generally was wide enough for a 4 track railroad. Soon there was local opposition to the impacts of the plans for High Speed Rail and very little cost sharing for improvements for both High Speed Rail and Caltrain services. 

Recently there has been agreement to build a “blended system” with both services sharing tracks and electrification, which would much less expensive and have fewer impacts on the local communities. [However, those 'blended' plans are only interim due to lack of funding for the full build-out. And even the 'blended' plan will have deleterious impact on the local communities.]

The Brown Administration soon found that when they took over the High Speed Rail Project just how troubled it was and how much opposition there was to what was being proposed. Successful politicians know that to get a bill passed or a project built you need to have more friends than enemies. Politicians usually ask what is in it for them and their constituents when asked to support anything. 

By embracing a blended or shared use of tracks with local services which would lead to funding to improve local as well as High Speed Rail many local leader had more reasons to support High Speed Rail. But is this the right way to build High Speed Rail? Has this been tried before? Actually this is quiet common in most places with High Speed Rail, but the best example is in France which is widely considered a leader in High Speed Rail Passenger service.

The French National Railroad, the SNCF as of 2010 ran over 800 TGV trains a day.  But this should be seen in context of the 12,000 to 14,00 trains a day the SNCF also ran as commuter, regional, long distance conventional and freight trains in France over an 18,000 route mile system in a county slightly smaller than the State of Texas. Almost as important as the TGV trains are the LGV  routes  which are initials in French for High Speed Line. The LGV’s are the routes where the TGV’s can run up to 200 miles per hour and by-pass populated areas. 

The TGV’s serve around 230 cities in Europe, most of them in France. But the LGV’s don’t go through cities. In urban areas where it would be very expensive to build new high speed lines the TGV continue to use already existing commuter, regional and other conventional rail lines. Top speeds on commuter rail lines in France is 75 miles per hour which the TGV follows in Paris. In many places the older conventional railroad have been upgraded to allow speed up to 137 miles per hour for use by the TGV. The 8 LGV lines make up 1,175 miles of the total route miles for the TGV ‘s as of 2010 and another 1,250 miles are under construction.

The big difference between California and France is we still have a long way to go upgrading many of our existing rail lines to be part of a greater high speed network. Building tracks between Los Angeles and San Francisco for train travel in under 2 hours and 40 minutes seem absurd if we don’t at least reduce running times between Los Angeles and San Diego from 2 hours and 40 minutes to under 2 hours at the same time. The reason for this is as a high speed network is created it needs links to feed traffic to it. 

There are long range plans to build High Speed between Los Angeles and San Diego via Riverside but this will be very expensive and some time in the future. A likely first stage High Speed Rail service would run from Los Angeles to Merced. But to make this work it will need connections to San Diego, the Inland Empire, the Bay Area and Sacramento.This could be done with connections to the Surfliners, San Joaquins, Metrolink and ACE. [However, they don't have the funds to do all that. That's why the Central Valley construction will not be high-speed rail; it will be the "initial construction section." No matter where they start or terminate in the Central Valley, it won't connect to either the Bay Area or the LA Basin.  It will be some railroad tracks to "nowhere."]

The way the TGV would do this would be to run trains from day one from San Diego to Oakland and San Bernardino to San Jose. It wouldn’t be high speed all the way but it would be faster and more direct than what is available now. And yes the TGV uses diesel locomotives on non-electrified lines in France. But beyond this there is the need for a larger State wide feeder system using buses to trains stations where rail service is not available for High Speed Rail. This doesn’t only increase ridership and revenues, but it increases support for High Speed Rail service and reduces the opposition to it from areas of the State that sees their tax dollars being spent for something they won’t be able to use.

The whole point of building better rail service is to provide a good service people will want and ride, not to break speed records. The cost of gasoline and transportation are major issues that people want alternatives for. Air travel is not getting faster it is getting slower and more expensive. The fixation on building a 220 miles per hour railroad has created most of the problems for the California High Speed Rail Project and the massive opposition to it. 

Building fast railroads is expensive which is why the TGV has high speed only in areas with low populations and low construction costs. The goal of 2 hour 40 minute or less service between Los Angeles and San Francisco can and should be a long term goal. Transportation planning often have goals up to 50 years in the future. These long term goals are based on priority and availability of funding. We need to build a faster State wide rail passenger network first before worrying about breaking speed records. 

The final service will need a LGV type bypass route that can be built with few or no stations for speeds over 150 miles per hour. The I-5 in the San Joaquin Valley would be a logical place for a LGV type of rail line. But before that that is done the railroads in the San Joaquin Valley should be greatly improved for less money that is being proposed for 220 mile operation for speeds well over 100 miles per hour to serve the most populated area of the Valley.

This entry was posted on Saturday, March 31st, 2012 at 11:22 AM and is filed under Editorials.

Will the State Legislature throw sand into the High-Speed Rail machine? I don't think so.

This article just appeared on my search engine web site. What's going on here?

Governor Jerry Brown wants the high-speed rail project in the worst way.  The reason is that it comes with $3.5 billion attached from the Department of Transportation in Washington.  Had it not been for those ARRA Stimulus awards, now several years old, this project would have died a natural death, so richly deserved.

As it is, those free dollars mean everything to our Governor and his fellow Democrats in the Legislature. They legitimize their effort to rectify the budget deficit and create jobs in the Central Valley with the highest unemployment numbers in the state. (As if!)

So, the Governor, seeking to manage the mismanagement of the rail authority, moved the Chairman of the CHSRA (Tom Umberg) down a notch and replaced him with his right-hand man, Dan Richard.

Richard sought to set the erroneous record straight and issued a more generous cost forecast for this project, from around $45 billion to something up to $117 billion.  O-H-M-Y-G-O-D!  OK, you know what happened then. Women fainted. Little children screamed. Grown men wept uncontrollably.

So, to fix this public-relations boo-boo, High-Speed Rail economist Governor Brown laughingly dismissed those numbers, claiming it would cost nowhere near that much, and there were things that could be done to bring the price down, including using existing rail corridors in the two major population regions.

Excuse me? Isn't that what they were going to use in the first place?  Well, yes. But now it would be a far more Spartan and parsimonious version, without extra tracks and other major expansion requiring land acquisitions or elevated viaduct structures.  The HSR trains would run slower.  (We could call them not-so-high-speed-trains.) Therefore, much cheaper.  Now the whole damn thing, from San Francisco to Los Angeles wouldn't cost the prior $117 billion, but the new and improved $68 billion.

Problem solved. Everybody now happy? Well, not entirely. How did those numbers drop?  They'll give us the details this coming Monday in their new Non-Business Plan (I call it that since they are actually not a business). My conjecture is that by eliminating the infrastructure expansion intended for the Caltrain corridor in the North, and all the Metrolink corridor additions in the South, they claim they will have saved those $30/40 billion. 

For the time being, that is. They don't have the money for those four track elevated viaducts anyhow so why scare everybody.  When they get the money, it will be back to Plan A for both the Bay Area and the LA Basin. 

By then, Senators Joe Simitian, Alan Lowenthal and Mark DeSaulnier will be out of office, Simitian and Lowenthal leaving this coming November. Problem solved again. They won't have to make any Draconian decisions.  They can punt. And that's what they will do either by or after the promised June 15.  

After all, as Senator Simitian pointed out, ". . . the authority "seems to have been listening and making an effort to be responsive."  Well, I'm certainly reassured, aren't you?

The new business plan will be found severely wanting, of course.  As these HSR plans always are. But, that won't stop these hardworking, busy dwarfs from their day jobs. They are getting ready to dig, dig, dig in the Central Valley, because the FRA, in order to hand over the $3.5 billion, requires this as as the commencement site.  And the state legislature will support this project regardless of questionable legalities or sundry dishonesties.

And, the fancy foot-work of the regional and local transportation busy-bees both North and South will have secured additional billions, legal or not, to upgrade their regional commuter lines and call them the "blended system," thereby assuring high-speed rail's presence on their corridors sometime before the sun finally explodes.

Do you remember when we said on this blog that the underlying agenda is not to complete this train?  That's almost unimaginable. But to get the process started and keep it going in perpetuity. That's what a real government money machine looks like. 

You how hard it is to kill the voracious gophers that are destroying your garden? By comparison to this project, that's child's play. Why? Because it's not about the train; it's about the money.

Saturday, March 31, 2012

Posted by David Siders
Lawmakers skeptical about Jerry Brown's high-speed rail revision

California lawmakers expressed skepticism Saturday about the timing and magnitude of Gov. Jerry Brown's high-speed rail revision, saying it may take longer than the governor wants to sort through the numbers.

The administration will announce Monday settling on $68.4 billion, according to sources familiar with the plan, proposing major design changes in and around Los Angeles and the Bay Area in an eleventh-hour bid to improve the project's chances of approval by the Legislature.

But some legislators noted today that just last year the Brown administration itself raised the proposed cost to $98 billion.
"We are a matter of weeks away from various budget deadlines," said state Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto. "When the cost estimates are up and down and up and down by orders of magnitude here, I think folks are going to want to make sure we spend some time to understand how reliable are these figures, and what's the basis for the new estimate."

Simitian, chairman of the budget subcommittee considering high-speed rail, said the authority "seems to have been listening and making an effort to be responsive," but that the Legislature is unlikely to appropriate funding - as Brown is expected to request - before the state budget is adopted in June.

"I think we're going to have to look past the June 15 budget adoption date," he said.

State Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord, said legislative approval of the plan before that date would require a "heroic effort."
"It's the biggest capitol project in the history of the state, and it should be done properly," he said. "Given that the numbers have bounced around so much, it's a lot to ask."

When it comes to truth from High-Speed Rail, it's catch me if you can

Regarding high-speed rail, I can't get Rita Wespi's concept of the law as a key issue out of my head.  

Yesterday she found a comment in Cruickshank's blog by John Nachtigall. We just posted a blog entry about that below this one. The point John and Rita make is that it's no longer about the train, and it doesn't matter whether one is a train supporter or opponent.  It's about the law.  Laws are being broken and will be broken and that should concern each and every one of us, regardless of our train and electrification position.

Since the biggest supporters for this lying project are the Legislature and the Governor, it raises the question: if the cops break the law, where do we turn for justice? If the elected officials in Sacramento can break this law with impunity, they can also do so regarding other laws. 

There's also a corrollary here. And that's lying.  This new forecast number, $68 billion, is arrived at by discounting the higher costs of actually building out the Caltrain corridor up here as well as all the intended construction from Anaheim to Palmdale in SoCal. It's not really cheaper, they just took a few items out of the grocery bag at the check-out counter, only to put them back in later, when they have more money.

Without closer analysis, the forecast price-cut would seem really noteworthy and all the press has picked up on it. The fact is, it's meaningless.  We don't know what's included in that price and what isn't, what has been left in and what has been taken out.

It doesn't mean these intended but suddenly cut build-outs (four track elevated viaduct) are totally off the table forever. Since the funding doesn't exist, what's the point of adding in those calculations?  Better to lie and help us all recover from the $100 billion price-tag sticker-shock that everyone nearly fainted over.  This is all about perception management. Question: How is the CHSRA different than a used-car salesman?

Let me get to the point.  We were lied to with Prop. 1A and all the verbal packaging intended to sell this project to us as the greatest thing since sliced bread. The rail authority, Van Ark, Morshed, the PR staff, the Board. . . all of them, lied to us. They lied about everything.  Even as Board and staff members turn over, they are still lying about everything.  Nothing can be believed.

Does that sound overly dramatic?  Sorry.

Do you believe that the electrification/blended system will obviate further Caltrain corridor build-outs? Even if Caltrain tells you so?

Can you doubt, from everything we all have read, that the final cost for this project, from Sacramento to San Diego, completed in forty years or so, will be well over $200 and possibly over $300 billion? 

"Attention shoppers. Today only. Formerly priced at $100 billion.  But, for the first five callers, the price will be reduced to a ridiculously low $68 billion. Don't wait. Call now!"

Their lies are bread-crumbs for us to follow and constantly analyze. Those figuratively speaking bread-crumbs are deceptive and misleading trails.  Lies are all a part of their public relations packaging, since they depend upon persuasion to sustain our support. It's something that they are obviously lousy but persistent at.  Costs too much? We'll come up with new numbers.  Ridership still too high?  We can make money with only a handful of riders.  And so on. 

Dear friends, we can and we must stop this project. Florida voters, a number of years ago, supported a similar project, only to reject it subsequently.  What Governor Scott did was to repeat what Jeb Bush had done as Governor; terminate the project.

We can't expect our Governor to take such a step, but we can certainly make a massive and concerted effort to get this on the ballot again for a re-vote. It will haunt us forever if we don't try. Our Governor makes two unforgivable mistakes; he cuts the budget for what really matters to people in this state, and he promotes expenditures that will be bottomless and non-productive.

Before it is too late, we must all come together around a single effort to bring this project to termination.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Jerry Brown changes high-speed rail plan, lowers cost by $30
By Dan Smith and David Siders

Published: Friday, Mar. 30, 2012 - 11:00 pm

The Brown administration has lowered the projected cost to build California's high-speed rail line by $30 billion - to $68 billion - as it braces for crucial hearings in the Legislature, according to sources familiar with the plan.

The lower estimate is tied to a series of changes to the project, primarily by relying on existing rail lines in and around Los Angeles and the Bay Area.

The changes are expected to be announced Monday in Fresno, just five months after the California High-Speed Rail Authority estimated the project could cost $98.5 billion. The business plan underpinning that estimate was widely criticized as inadequate. The critics included lawmakers and the rail authority's own peer review group.

Elements of the revised plan were suggested by rail officials weeks ago, including the "blended approach," in which existing tracks in urban areas would be upgraded and eventually used by high-speed rail.

The plan now will rely on a high-speed line down the spine of the state - from Merced to the San Fernando Valley - with tie-ins to improved tracks in the Bay Area and Los Angeles.

The approach could result in the authority spending more than $1.5 billion to improve commuter rail service in and around Los Angeles and the Bay Area, pleasing lawmakers in those areas.

The new plan also will abandon the idea of the so-called "train to nowhere," the much criticized initiative to begin the project with a line from near Chowchilla to Corcoran, in Kings County, sources said.

The federal government, which is contributing about $3.3 billion to the project, conditioned funding on starting in the Central Valley.

Now construction is planned to begin in Merced and move south to Lancaster and the San Fernando Valley.

Gov. Jerry Brown is expected to ask the Legislature to appropriate some $2.3 billion in rail bond funds within weeks. This week, he told reporters he spent "several hours" on the project changes.

"We are striving mightily to get a plan that can pass muster and work, and get the train built," Brown said.

The plan still is almost certain to rely, however, on as-yet-unapproved federal funding in future years, a chief complaint of the California High-Speed Rail Peer Review Group.

In a March 21 letter to legislative leaders, the group said it expected the plan "to be changed in significant ways" and would re-evaluate it when it is approved. The rail board is likely to approve the revisions on April 12.

Public opinion has turned against the project since voters approved $9 billion in high-speed rail bonds in 2008, and critics roared when the authority in November released its $98.5 billion cost estimate, far higher than its previous estimate of $43 billion.

Brown, a Democrat, embraced that business plan. In the wake of the criticism, however, he said the cost would be reduced.

Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, has previously said it would be difficult for the rail authority to produce any plan sufficient to be approved by the Legislature before June, the end of the fiscal year.

When it released its business plan in November, officials said the cost would still fall lower than the cost of airport and highways expansions to accommodate a growing population.

About High-Speed Rail and Caltrain, Rita Wepsi says: "There ought to be a law. . . but why bother"

Below is one of many comments recently added to a very pro-HSR blog. It raises the most important question on the table right now. And, it's not about the train, electrification, or anything else related to transit.  It's about the law.


The legislation that authorized the initiation of the California High-Speed Rail project in 2008 spelled out a lot of constraints in the implementation of those laws. The CHSRA offered a description of the project that was, in many ways, highly specific, including routes, ridership, costs, time of construction, duration of trip, etc. etc. Since that is what the voters were asked to vote for, the ballot measure Proposition1A and the legislatively passed law AB3034, constitutes the laws which the Rail Authority must now obey.

There are others, of course, such as conflict-of-interest laws which would apply, in this instance for example, to Will Kempton who serves as Chairman of the rail authority peer review group as well as Director of the Orange Country Transportation Authority. But, as we've pointed out previously, he's not the only one. Dan Richard has PG&E connections as well as being Chairman of the CHSRA. The rail authority and PG$E have political as well as financial ties.  

All all these laws being obeyed? Well, it looks like they aren't. Actually they have already violated some of the law's strictures and they intend to commit more such violations. So, where is the Justice system to prevent that?  Nowhere to be found.  In the State of California. 

It's not about the train (it never was), it's about the law:  

This was brought to my attention by one of our hard-working, well informed and disciplined colleagues, Rita Wespi, who refers to this concern by citing commenter John Nachtigall and stating her 'mantra.'  "There ought to be a law. . . but why bother."

What she means is, there should be laws regulating this project, and, for that matter, every other project.  However, if these laws exist but are ignored, why bother with the law in the first place?

The answer to the law question is that laws are worthless if they are not enforced. Which raises the question of accountability and oversight.  Where is that for high-speed rail or Caltrain? All we've seen so far are ritualistic hearings and harsh critiques. That's tokenism and political theater.

If there is no justice, it really doesn't matter what the laws are.  (The Soviet Union had a great constitution. 30 million were killed by Stalin's government. So, how did those laws work out?)  

Isn't that one of the important functions of government, the administration of justice? Without Justice, which is the highest moral good, we have barbaric anarchy.  (See: Kohlberg's Hierarchy of Moral Development)

And, not enforcing the laws -- including High-Speed Rail Proposition 1A and AB3034 -- is the position taken by this California Legislature and Governor, for the sake of the money and Party unity.  After all, the other mantra with which we are familiar is, "It's not about the train; it's about the money." The Corollary to that is = "It's not about the law; it's about the money."

If for no other reason, that is why this project is corrupt to its core.


John Nachtigall
Mar 27th, 2012 at 09:30

While I respect Mr. Cruikshank’s passion for the subject matter, I think it is quite telling that even a great supporter of the project can not say that he is 100% sure that the current buisness plan does not violate the law. I think part of the problem is the ad-hoc nature of the discussion. Rather than take each point in turn, the comments and discussion seem to whipsaw between different points at different times without a complete analysis. I would suggest a follow on article were you discuss each point in turn and I think the conclusion you will come to is that it violates the law. you may not like the law…you may wish it was not so specific…but it violates the law.

1. For example, the one argument above is that this is “just the beginning” to paraphrase. I am willing to bet that the revised business plan does not even include the original vision of 200+ mile per hour trains with 1 seat service from SF to LA. They will exclude this to keep the costs low and the whole program more palatable to voters. How can you argue this is “just the beginning” if the plan does not even include this vision? As a practical matter how can you talk about this vision when we don’t even have the money to build the compromised “blended” approach. Just like San Diego was suddenly put in the undefined “Phase 2? now true high speed rail will be lumped in there.

2. The law was clear it was for high speed (200 mph) trains and that funds would be used for that but the initial segment is not electrified and the rest of the money to be used in this 1st round benefits all trains that are not high speed. This is a clear violation, there is not even an argument that these upgrades will allow trains to move at 200 mph, not even a fig leaf…they are clearly just ignoring the law because it is inconvenient. This is not a pot of money for any train service, it is a pot of money for high speed rail, it should be spent on that or nothing at all.

3. Supports defend the ridership numbers to the death, but if you can not run enough trains at the right times even if people are lining up (which is still in question) to get on you wont get the numbers. if your IOS predicts 10 million passengers a year that is over 27000 per day (assuming equal ridership on 365 days which is suspect). At only 2 trains an hour and most people wanting to travel during the day (not at 1am) you really only have 10-16 trains to get that 27000 people on. Per Wikipedia (thank God for Wikipedia) even the busiest route in the world in Japan only has a 1300 seat capacity. This comes up short which will make operating revenue come up short which violates the provision to support itself.

4. The time requirements and end point requirements are clear and are also ignored.

I am sure others that have more knowledge than I can point out other inconsistencies.    

My point is this…regardless of if you support or do not support the train, we should all support the rule of law. While I appreciate that there is some bend in the interpretation of law, in this case it seems clear that these plans do not comply with either the spirit or more importantly the letter of the law. I suspect the Attorney General has said the same thing or they would have released his opinion to the public to try and end these arguments. If you belive the law is flawed, then change it, but until then it should be followed, even if it does not achieve your ultimate goals.

The plan has drifted too far from the law and no longer follows it. If the choice is breaking the law or no spending we should choose no spending. Why make the courts say it when even the supporters can’t defend it?

Friday, March 30, 2012

Buying what we can't afford -- High-Speed Rail -- without any funding. Let the magic begin!

Here's a voice from California's Central Valley that understands the financial implosion promised by the high-speed rail project.

However, I disagree about the fund expenditures as a blanket issue. Funding infrastructure at this time would be a good thing. It's high-speed rail that makes it such an outrageous waste of precious resources.  Indeed, Jeff Taylor does suggest that upgrading existing regional, and yes inter-city, rail systems would offer huge improvements and, since it is the Democratic central goal, create jobs where people would be put to work in the near future, not some distant time when HSR construction begins in earnest.

And, why this does not fall into the category of illegality shows my legal ignorance.  The voters were told; that is, made a number of promises, about what the HSR project would be all about.  How it would look, what it would cost, how many people would ride it, what the ticket costs would be, and so on.  

What we are being offered now is nothing like what the bond ballot measure told us. In effect, we were lied to; we were not told the truth about anything. A small margin of voters supported that bond measure. We now know from polls that those voters, given another chance, would vote against this proposition, knowing now what they did not know then. 

I find it bizarre that no one, with the exception of a handful of Republican Legislators like Doug LaMalfa and Diane Harkey, gives a damn about any of this.

Thursday, Mar 29 2012 11:05 PM
California simply can't afford high-speed rail, now or later

Jeff Taylor

California currently has a $9.2 billion deficit, and the 2012-13 deficit will be larger -- much larger, according to a Feb. 27 report released by the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office. The LAO report states that California's tax revenue will fall $6.5 billion short of Gov. Jerry Brown's January 2012 budget proposal, and that revenue will decrease even more if voters do not approve his income and sales tax hike initiative later this year. So, according to the LAO, our 2012-13 state deficit will be at least $15.7 billion.

In these economically perilous times, how can we even consider obligating ourselves to paying 30 years of interest on state bonds for a $117.6 billion high-speed rail project? Have we lost our minds?

In 2008, 52 percent of California voters narrowly approved Proposition 1A. Prop. 1A authorized the state to issue bonds -- borrowed money -- totaling $9.95 billion to fund approximately one-third of the cost of the California high-speed rail project. The federal government and private investment was supposed to fund the balance of the project. Prop. 1A promised 800 miles of electrified rails for an estimated cost of $33.5 billion. State Auditor's report No. 2009-106 references Prop. 1A by stating, "According to state law, the entire network, from Sacramento to San Diego, is intended to be complete by 2020."

The High-Speed Rail Authority's draft 2012 business plan now describes a project that does not remotely resemble the project that voters approved in the 2008 Prop. 1A initiative. The project is now reduced from 800 to 520 miles and the cost has increased from $33 billion to $117.6 billion. The business plan does not include a schedule or cost estimate for the L.A. Basin to San Diego section of the project or the connector to Sacramento. There is virtually no private investment. The federal government has earmarked $4.3 billion for the project. However, Congress has successfully blocked any future federal contributions. The estimated date of completion is now 2033.

The voters were deceived in 2008. Taxpayers are outraged.

When the state has a budget shortfall, it raids local coffers, reducing funds for police, fire and other services. Redevelopment agencies have been completely eliminated across the state. Funding for other necessary infrastructure construction and maintenance projects will be reduced.

A properly planned high-speed rail system would move large numbers of commuters at high speed from the high-population-density areas of San Francisco Bay to the high-population-density areas of the L.A. Basin, following existing transportation corridors to prevent destruction of community and private properties as required by Prop. 1A.

A properly planned high-speed rail system would not unnecessarily destroy thousands of acres of the most productive farmland in the world, costing hundreds of millions of dollars in annual lost revenue. It would not unnecessarily destroy hundreds of existing Kern County business locations, impacting thousands of jobs. It would not destroy hundreds of homes in Kern County, displacing thousands of residents, and it would not unnecessarily destroy so much community infrastructure. 

This destruction will mean the loss of thousands of existing jobs and millions of dollars of annual lost revenue. Our community tax base will be severely impacted.

Amtrak employs 19,000 full-time people nationwide to work on a network of 23,000 miles of track. So, it is reasonable to assume that the 520-mile-long California HSR project will produce only a small fraction of the jobs that Amtrak's nationwide operation does today.

Modern rail construction is highly mechanized and efficient. It is no longer labor-intensive. Technology-dependent jobs such as construction of high-speed train locomotives and cars will be located in countries that make high-speed trains, such as China. The rails are also likely to be manufactured in other countries due to much cheaper costs.

We have substantial transportation rail infrastructure already in place. Amtrak, BART, Metro-Link and other passenger rail system upgrades would solve the same transportation problems that HSR will supposedly solve for a tiny fraction of the cost. 

The California high-speed rail project is not the answer to California's future transportation needs.

Jeff Taylor of Bakersfield conducts business as a contractor in the construction trades.

Will High-Speed Rail be a permanent drain on the California budget? Is the Pope a Catholic?

Granted that this article doesn't come from the New York Times, the Washington Post, or the LA Times.  Nonetheless, it asks the right questions and perceives the problem for what it really is.

A highly debt ridden state -- California -- is intent on borrowing $9 billion.  That's an enormous amount of money.  And, repaying it with interest over the life of the General Obligation Bond will cost at least $18 billion. Like any mortgage, this is not free money. It promises to be a debt burden for generations to come.

Yes, I understand the Keynesian principle that during economic crises, a nation does well to borrow money to inject into the economy, especially at bargain interest rates.  But, you really have to ask what for? To whom will these borrowed dollars flow in the construction of a high-speed train?

The zillions of promised workers hired for construction and the secondary labor market?  I don't think so.  My anticipation is that these dollars will flow to the contractors and their contractors, to the hundreds upon hundreds of consultants, to the foreign manufacturers of HSR hardware, and to those public as well as private organizations that will be involved in "laundering" these construction funds as they pour through the pipeline.

And all for what? A train that will have its construction costs continue to rise during the life of the construction process.  Now they admit to $117 billion.  It most likely will rise to twice or even three times that amount.  Those are the lessons of the history of rail infrastructure and other development projects in this century, world-wide.  (Bay Bridge: $1.6 billion; now $6.7 billion! Boston Big Dig: $2 billion; now well over $22 billion.)

It will be a train with operating costs so high that even the most costly train tickets available will not be sufficient to cover those costs.  As with almost all high-speed rail systems world-wide, subsidies are a permanent condition of operation.  California's train will be no different.  

If the rail authority tells you otherwise, don't believe them.  They want you to think that the train will be profitable because that is what the law requires.  That is to say, the law prohibits any subsidies. And those surplus revenues generated by HSR are intended to expand the system to Sacramento and San Diego.  How likely is that?

What I find interesting about this part of the law is that it cannot be enforced until the train is fully in operation for a period of time.  And then what?  So, now it's 2035 and Oooops, it's not profitable. They built a $300 billion train and can't pay to operate it. Who are they going to arrest? The members of the California High-Speed Rail Authority? Of course not.  The legislature and the governor -- whoever they are in 2035 -- will pass a subsidy tax law, covering the part of the train operating costs not covered by the train tickets.

That means, your children's taxes will not only go to meet the bond issue costs, but also go to operating a train that most of those children won't be able to afford to ride. And those are dollars not available for, among other things, education.

Which leads me to a final point about legalities and the law.  Many of us are constantly concerned about the violation of the requirements stated in Proposition 1A and AB3034. And we should be.  

However, it should also be clear by now that the rail authority, the Legislature and the Governor are going to spin all their "illegal" actions regarding this project with Orwellian double-speak verbiage that makes the unlawful lawful. 

Don't like it? Sue them!

Bullet train will bleed California budget

March 28, 2012 5:00 PM

The Orange County Register

Voters approved $9.9 billion in bonds in 2008 to partially fund California's proposed $33 billion high-speed rail project. The price since has increased to as much as $118 billion. The completion date has been extended 12 years, to 2032.

To use $3.3 billion in federal funds, train backers need legislative approve to sell $2.7 billion of the bonds. The Legislative Analyst says more than $700 million a year from the state's general fund would be needed to pay bond interest.

Budget-strapped California should not pay for an initial 130 miles of track in the Central Valley that won't connect metropolitan centers, and won't have trains running on it until it does.

The Community Coalition on High Speed Rail, a Northern California nonprofit, doesn't like the idea of a 20-foot-high wall and high-voltage wires 20 feet overhead powering 200 trains a day at 120 mph through neighborhoods. The coalition used the Rail Authority's own questionable ridership estimates to show that even if the hoped-for passengers materialize, to meet realistic costs, "future Legislatures and future administrations will have to provide annual subsidies in the range of billions of dollars."

The 2008 ballot measure forbids operating subsidies. The only alternative, says the coalition, is to price tickets for luxury riders. Voters misled in 2008 into voting for this boondoggle didn't intend to subsidize train operations, or to create a luxury service.

A ballot initiative to de-authorize bond sales is gathering signatures to put it on November's ballot. This costly endeavor isn't guaranteed to succeed. If it does, there will be opposition financed by crony capitalists, seeking billions in government contracts, even if trains never roll.

Those who want the government to force Californians out of their cars and into tax-subsidized trains should ask why no private entity has invested a dime. It is because of operating losses identified by the Community Coalition.

Sadly, there may now be enough legislative votes to approve selling bonds to provide seed money. Rail officials are offering to divert some of the train's billions to finance local rail improvements, north and south. We believe that would be illegal. But cronyism isn't limited to the private sector.

Electrification of Caltrain short-circuits those of us who object to high-speed rail on the corridor

Caltrain has issued an 89 page report on their "Blended Operations Analysis," a first step of which will be to electrify the Caltrain corridor from SF to SJ. 

Caltrain/California HSR 
Blended Operations Analysis 

Prepared for: 
Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (JPB) 
Prepared by: 
LTK Engineering Services 
March 2012 

Please find the Executive Summary and Introduction below these comments.

Some of us had hopes that Union Pacific, the freight operator that has a trackage agreement with Caltrain, would exercise their power to prevent any new inter-city passenger rail operator from using the Caltrain corridor.  Indeed they have that right and their agreement for the CHSRA to use the right-of-way is a required step. 

What we are now reading in this report suggests UPRR's compliance with Caltrain's blended ambitions.  Based on this, I would assume that UPRR will not oppose either the blended system or the advent of HSR's use of the Caltrain corridor.  There is nothing that would please me more than to be wrong about this. 

Here is what UPRR say in their comments, as identified in this report: "Request that UPRR be provided opportunity to participate in future studies involving the blended system. Future studies should include potential impact and possible mitigation to protect freight operations and freight rail customer access."

There are two interested parties, Union Pacific, and their customers who have organized themselves into the "Peninsula Freight Rail Users Group." Their shared biggest concern, as stated in their comments,  is that the blended system must not interfere with full access "to current freight access points."  

Even CHSRA has some concerns addressed in this report that should give us a warning light. In the comments section, they say "Analysis of grade crossings, bridges, tunnels, track structure and alignment is needed before endorsing speeds up to 110 mph."

Why is this so important? The blended system is based on the premise that there will be not major additional infrastructure construction on the rail corridor. That means, after electrification, signalling with PTC (positive train control), and a limited number of additional passing tracks, both rail operators, Caltrain and the CHSRA, can function in a "blended" way on those two tracks. Nothing else would need to be changed. We have learned elsewhere that actually, both train operators will not exceed the current speed limit of 79 mph.  

It should be noted that the CHSRA has not explicitly relinquished its intentions of building out the corridor to four elevated tracks. This is, in their terms, an interim, or temporary accommodation to the lack of further funding. 

Here's the bottom line on this entire exercise. At first, the Peninsula was directly and confrontationally threatened with vastly extended elevated viaducts bearing four tracks.  Such an infrastructure would require massive and highly intrusive construction along much of the rail corridor. The harm to each of the cities would be enormous on a number of measures, including economic, adversely impacting individuals and whole towns along the route.

Let's call that coming in the front door by knocking the door down.  A number of vocal citizens on the Peninsula objected. They (we) having been making a lot of noise over this for nearly a decade.

Also, this "preferred" plan would cost well beyond $10 billion, which the rail authority doesn't have and may not obtain for some while, if ever. So, since our voices have gone unheard, the absence of funds is the most persuasive in Caltrain's and the rail authority's accepting this blended scheme, since it's better than nothing.

So, the CHSRA and Caltrain, along with a dozen local and regional transportation agencies, got their act together quickly and behind closed doors and decided that instead of the front door, high-speed rail could sneak in through the back door. That may not have been the intention of Senator Simitian and his colleagues, or maybe it was. We'll never know.  But that's what the "blended system" provides.  And electrification is the first step into that Caltrain back door.

The rhetoric from the rail authority (Dan Richard) is that, in recognition that there might, just possibly, not be further funding, it would be wise to make investments locally for regional transit systems that will, in the future, provide the "foundation" for high-speed rail. Further, it will subdue angry voices, and please lots of voters and taxpayers in the two major population centers. 

Clever, what? That's what we are calling "take the money and run." 

I have many naive colleagues who have dedicated much time to examining the evolving rail situation and perceive that even if they don't want the threatening elevated viaducts with four tracks, the blended system with Caltrain electrification is a good thing.  

They refuse to acknowledge that it's nothing more than a Trojan Horse.  The cities themselves, even as they submitted their comments, have been decidedly by-passed in this recent flurry of decision-making and fund accumulation by the transit groups, such as the Bay Area's MTC.  Nonetheless, nobody is putting their foot-down.

What do I mean by that? Example: A decision by a town -- no, all the towns -- with track street crossings to deny Caltrain the right to string high-voltage catenary cables across those streets.  Confrontation? Damn right. A national media opportunity? Also right. 

As it is, all 17 of our Peninsula cities along the corridor are lying down and playing dead. Perhaps the cable-ban idea isn't the most viable one, but there is clearly no intention among any of the cities to actually prohibit access to the coming high-speed rail part of this "blending."

It has been clear from the outset of all those who protest and object to high-speed rail's use of the Caltrain corridor, and, indeed, develop as a rail system in California at all (that includes us), that there was painfully little agreement among any of us.  Each town has its own idea and agenda.  Elected leaders continue to devote their time to polite disagreement about how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, if you see what I mean. 

Even when five cities amalgamated themselves into a group called The Peninsula Coalition of Cities (PCC), their purpose was endless meetings and discussions. At no time was, or is, there serious consideration of a unified opposition to high-speed rail on the Caltrain corridor, much less in California.

Indeed, a group formed, called Friends of Caltrain, who are actively promoting the scenario that got all those organizations on the Peninsula started in the first place. We were all anxious about the harm that would be done to the Peninsula, and became opposition activists.  That effort is now being under-cut by the so-called "Friends." 

What a lousy, devil's bargain. You want electrification? You also get high-speed rail.  

This Report, based on a computer simulation model, is conceived as a rationalization for what is intended here; that is, electrification and combining the inter-city and the regional commuter rail operators to share two tracks. It is a justification for getting the camel's nose in the tent.

Such persistent divisiveness among all the cities and among the various protesting organizations plays directly into the hands of Caltrain and the rail authority and enables the implementation of their agenda. 

Thereby I draw the conclusion that there will be no hope of relief from these costly and destructive government driven forces that intend to impose their harmful rail project upon us.  

That is the case at the local level, beginning with my own town of Menlo Park, all the other towns along the corridor who continue to exercise their own understanding of what they do and don't want.  And it is certain that we will not obtain relief at the regional and state level.  We have been outweighed and are being out-gunned and out-fought by our own elected officials and our government.

The only glimmer of relief that I now count on is that there will continue to be a House majority in Congress, since that is the only source of power that resists the growth and development of high-speed rail in California. 

Meanwhile, before this decade is out, the rail corridor will be electrified.  I probably won't live to see it.  It will rest with the generation after mine to see the consequences of the opening Pandora's Box. 

Executive Summary

This report presents the results of detailed operational analyses of multiple “blended system” solutions for accommodating future Caltrain commuter rail and high speed rail services on the Caltrain Corridor between San Jose and San Francisco. These solutions are based on two services sharing rail tracks along most segments of the Corridor.

The operational analysis was based primarily on a computer simulation model of the Caltrain Corridor, capturing the trains, station stop (dwell) times, tested schedules, track, signals and track junctions (interlockings) of the future system. The computer simulation model software used to conduct the analysis, TrainOps®, is a proprietary software application developed by LTK Engineering Services. The model was customized for application to the Caltrain and high speed rail operations analysis.

The virtual world modeled in the simulation software is different than the current Caltrain system. Key differences include electrification of the Caltrain system, new Caltrain rail cars (“rolling stock”) that have electric propulsion and an advanced signal system (CBOSS PTC). With electrification and an advanced signal system in place, the simulation model reflects a Caltrain Corridor with superior performance attributes compared to today’s diesel system. This results in the ability to support more train traffic than can be supported today.

In some versions of the simulation model, limited new tracks in select areas of the corridor to support high speed rail stations and passing (overtake) locations to allow high speed rail trains to bypass Caltrain trains were assumed. Versions of the simulation model also varied in terms of simulated Caltrain and high speed rail train speeds, ranging from 79 mph to 110 mph.

The key findings from the simulation model and associated operations analysis are as follows

A blended operation on the Caltrain Corridor where Caltrain and high-speed trains are sharing tracks is conceptually feasible.

An electrified system with an advanced signal system and electric trains increases the ability to support future train growth in the corridor.

The blended system without passing tracks for train overtakes can reliably support up to 6 Caltrain trains and 2 high speed rail trains per peak hour per direction.

The blended system with passing tracks for overtakes can reliably support up to 6 Caltrain trains and 4 high speed rail trains per peak hour per direction.

Supporting high speed rail trains result in non-uniform Caltrain headways. 

Increasing speeds from up to 79 mph to 110 mph decreases travel times for both rail services.

The findings from this analysis should be viewed as a “proof of concept” in analyzing the conceptual feasibility of blended operations. The assumptions in the analysis should be considered as test inputs for analysis and should not be considered as decisions on what the blended system will look like. It is also important to note that the findings are based on a simulation modeling exercise; additional due diligence is needed to ensure that the findings provide sufficient reliability and flexibility for “real world” rail operations.

With a key finding that the Caltrain Corridor blended operations is conceptually feasible; this technical report should be used as a basis for additional discussion by stakeholders for exploring and refining the many blended system alternatives. Subsequent work to be completed include: engineering, identifying maintenance needs, cost estimating, ridership forecasts and environmental clearance.


This report provides a high level overview and detailed technical assumptions of the feasibility analysis of Caltrain Corridor “blended operations.” The blended operations concept reflects Caltrain commuter rail and California High Speed Rail (HSR) trains commingled on the same tracks for much of the Corridor between San Francisco and San Jose. A number of smaller scale infrastructure enhancements have been suggested to enhance the blended operations concept, allowing a greater number of overall trains on the Corridor and/or ensuring that trains operate with virtually no delay due to congestion on the line.

Blended operations being conceptually feasible means identifying future scenarios where the desired level of commuter and high speed rail service can be accommodated and these services can operate with virtually no delays (increased travel time) from terminal to terminal. The basis for assessing the conceptual feasibility of blended operations must include “practical” – as opposed to “theoretical” – assumptions such that any forecasts operational results are achievable under the inevitable day-to-day variations in weather, passenger loads, rolling stock performance, infrastructure availability and the like.

LTK Engineering Services (LTK), working closely with multiple Caltrain departments and California High Speed Rail Program Management staff, was responsible for performing the feasibility analysis of blended operations. LTK was retained by Caltrain for the analysis and worked closely with both future rail operators to ensure concurrence with assumptions and methodologies before advancing the work.

The blended operations analysis used a computer simulation model of the Caltrain Corridor that spanned the territory from Tamien Station, south of San Jose, to the San Francisco terminal at 4th and King. The model replicated the behavior of trains, station stop (dwell) times, schedules, track, signals and track junctions (interlockings), including the dynamic interaction of these entities in the complex railroad operating environment.

The smaller scale infrastructure enhancements consist of short sections of additional railroad track to be used by faster trains (HSR) to overtake (pass) slower trains (Caltrain). During the morning and evening peak period, the higher volume of both HSR and Caltrain trains means that overtakes happen in both directions at about the same time.

The overall guiding criterion for defining overtake segment options is that operational overtakes should improve integration of HSR and Caltrain services with neither service being routinely delayed at an overtake location by the other service. Other criteria include the following:

Overtake tracks should be located where their construction and operation limit impacts to adjoining communities,

Overtake tracks should be sufficiently long to support 7+ minute travel time difference between commuter and HSR trains; and

Overtake tracks should connect to existing four-track segments of the Caltrain Corridor where possible to minimize capital cost.

The computer simulation model software used to conduct the analysis, TrainOps®, is a proprietary software application developed by LTK Engineering Services. The model was customized for application to the Caltrain and high speed rail operations analysis.

The future “no build” (no action) scenario modeled in the simulation software is different than the current Caltrain system, including differences in propulsion (electrification versus the current diesel propulsion), rail cars (electrified vehicles versus the current diesel locomotive-pulled coaches) and signal system ( advanced communications-based system versus a wayside-only system with discrete update locations along the track). With electrification and an advanced signal system in place, the simulation model reflects a Caltrain Corridor with superior performance attributes compared to today’s diesel system.

An incremental approach was used in the development of blended operations scenarios. The model started with the “6/0” scenarios (6 Caltrain and 0 HSR trains per peak hour per direction), then layered in additional HSR trains.

HSR frequencies were increased from an initial service level of 1 train per hour per direction to up to 4 trains per hour (bringing total Corridor train volumes to 10 trains per hour per direction). At the same time, Caltrain scheduling strategies (i.e. modifying train stopping patterns) varying maximum operating speeds and assumed infrastructure were also tested, with each scenario changing only one variable (scheduling strategies, train volume, infrastructure or maximum operating speed) at a time so that the impact of the change could be precisely understood.

Where a simulated train volume in a given scenario resulted in unacceptable train congestion and delays for a given infrastructure and a given maximum operating speed, the follow-on simulation scenarios with higher train volumes appropriately included additional infrastructure or changes in maximum operating speeds to eliminate the unacceptable train congestion and delays.

This incremental “three dimensional matrix” of service level, maximum train speed and infrastructure produced a very large number of potential scenarios, which was limited to a number that could actually be simulated in a reasonable time by using the results of initial scenarios to guide the study team in identifying subsequent scenarios that showed promise of blended operations conceptual feasibility. By using “practical” (conservative) input assumptions and appropriate schedule margin (“pad” or “recovery allowance”), the Study team had confidence that simulated blended operations conceptual feasibility can be translated into actual operational feasibility in “real world” conditions.

Included in this report are the details of the simulation modeling effort and the key findings. Chapter 2 provides information about the TrainOps simulation modeling tool used for the analysis. Chapter 3 focuses on the assumptions and inputs into the Caltrain Corridor model and the individual scenarios tested. Chapter 4 details the simulation results specific to individual scenarios as well as overall assessment of the conceptual feasibility of blended operations. Chapter 5 summarizes the key findings and next steps.

The report also includes three appendices. Appendix A includes detailed tables of Caltrain tested schedule changes required for certain future simulation scenarios. Appendix B includes graphical time-distance (“string”) charts that reflect the peak period simulated train performance of all of the trains operating in the Caltrain Corridor in each scenario. Appendix C provides a glossary of technical and railroad operational terms for the reader’s convenience. Appendix D includes information about stakeholder outreach and public comments on the draft report.