Saturday, March 31, 2012

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?

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