Thursday, March 29, 2012

California High-Speed Rail is driving the Brink's Bank Truck full of our money over us

Please forgive my blunt language, but we are getting screwed by all those organizations related to transit mentioned in this article.  Yes, all of them.  They all have their self-serving agendas and those agendas conflict with ours.

There's a new buzz-phrase that's been added to the HSR sales pitch, "early investment."  What that means is a quick grab for HSR funds that actually exist, since it looks like there won't be additional funds for the foreseeable future. It's scheming, manipulation and a betrayal of our trust.

One of the big reasons Caltrain, the Peninsula commuter rail line, embraced high-speed rail and its quest to use the San Francisco to San Jose rail corridor, is that there was a clearly understood quid pro quo.  It was an exchange bargain that said, in return for using the rail corridor in perpetuity with no further costs to the high-speed rail authority, the rail authority would provide electrification funds, grade separation and all the necessary electronics, including positive train control.

Well, now that it looks like this $9 billion state bond issue and $3.5 billion from the federal ARRA Stimulus funds are all the dollars that are going to be available, we see a mad scramble for a piece of the action.  Electrification is a part of this scheme.

We have, in the past, demonstrated why Caltrain as an organization shouldn't even exist and the Peninsula commuter rail line should be integrated into a Bay Area wide basic rail system that circles the entire Bay.  Among Caltrain's litany of misconceptions, seeking electrification as the reason for bailing them out of their structural annual deficits is near the top of the list. 

Notice, in the article, all the other transportation organizations on the Peninsula getting in on the action, not only the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.  Their game is to process money; take in as much as possible, and feed it out. That's bureaucratic power.  Processing these capital development funds requires additional head-count and often salary increases.  "Early Investments" my eye!

Gentlemen (and Adrienne Tissier) of the Railroad bureaucracies, sing along with me: "Money makes the world go round. . . . . .

One of the collateral side-effects is that the 17 cities on the rail corridor have been excluded from any of the decision making about this money grab for electrification.  There is no CEQA EIS/EIR certification yet.  They don't even know if using Prop. 1A bond funds is legal.  Doesn't matter. Shoot first and ask questions later. 

Oh, wait, two cities are heavily involved in these manipulations, San Francisco and San Jose.  Their respective mayors think this is the greatest thing since sliced bread!  In an ideal world, Caltrain wouldn't have to bother with all the cities along the route; only connect San Jose to San Francisco. That's Caltrain's ideal; not the ideal of all those who live in all the towns along the way. 

There are also a number of key players at the local level, most with political ambitions, who are also advocates of electrification of Caltrain.  They see no evil, hear no evil, but they can't stop speaking evil.  

That is to say, they claim they oppose HSR on the Caltrain corridor, yet have continued to do everything in their power to facilitate this, electrification being a first step, along with the "blended system," yet another buzz-phrase of convenience.  We've explained this in a number of postings.  

Discretion keeps me from mentioning their names of this globally scanned blog, but they include the "Friends of Caltrain" gang. Caltrain doesn't need "friends." They need tough love, including demanding their termination of relations with HSR in exchange for our support. 

Stepping back to obtain an overview of all these proceedings creates a very bad taste in the mouth.  There's something seedy, cheesy and cheap about all this.  Whether its Mike Scanlon, head of Caltrain, Dan Richard, head of the high-speed rail authority, or any of the other leaders and spokespeople promoting these massive government expenditures for the pursuit of a project that can never be completed for lack of sufficient funding -- this current thinly veiled series of steps are the very opposite of honest, truthful, well researched, transparent, ethical, rational and reasonable processes and goals. 

There was no substantive basis for seeking to build the high-speed rail in the first place.  It was pushed by greedy politicians. As it began to crumble around their heads, new and quick proposals and actions surfaced to salvage the funding rather than lose it entirely by terminating this "lost cause."  

Because even today, there are so few of us who are protesting this shameless and deceitful behavior, there seems to be no way to stop it.  We can expect no help or relief from our elected representatives in Sacramento. Our only hope is that the House of Representatives stays Republican and continues to oppose any future HSR funding. 

We, the state taxpayers, as well as the federal taxpayers, are being bulldozed by our own government to spend our tax dollars against the best interests of the people of California and the US.

Plan to modernize Caltrain sails through regional commission

Metropolitan Transportation Commission approves an agreement with California High-Speed Rail Authority to fund electrification of Caltrain
by Gennady Sheyner 
Palo Alto Weekly Staff

Caltrain's stalled effort to electrify its tracks flickered to life Wednesday morning when the Metropolitan Transportation Commission approved an agreement with the California High-Speed Rail Authority that includes as its centerpiece a plan for funding the electrification project.

Calling it a major "milestone" in Caltrain's long quest to modernize its system, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission board voted to approve a "memorandum of understanding" with the rail authority that includes $1.5 billion for electrification and new train signals. Under the agreement, the rail authority would supply about half of the funds for the long-awaited project, with the rest coming from local and regional agencies.

The agreement was spearheaded by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the rail authority with participation from a variety of regional agencies, including the Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board (which operates Caltrain), San Francisco County Transportation Authority, San Mateo County Transportation Authority (Samtrans), Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) and the Transbay Joint Powers Authority. It is a key component of the rail authority's "new vision" for the controversial system -- a vision that calls for early investments in the northern and southern segments of the line. The rail authority still plans to begin construction in the Central Valley.

The agreement was heralded by various Metropolitan Transportation Commission board members, local officials and Caltrain advocates as a huge step toward electrification, a project that the cash-strapped agency is banking on for long-term financial stability. With electrified tracks and a new signal system, Caltrain would be able to operate more trains and, as a result, generate more revenue.

"This really is the foundation for electrification and, really, for the future of Caltrian," said MTC board Chair Adrienne Tissier, who also chairs Caltrain's board of directors.

For the rail authority, the new agreement provides a way to appease some of its critics on the Peninsula, where opposition to the project has been particularly fierce. Palo Alto in December adopted as its official position a call for termination of the high-speed rail project. It has also joined Menlo Park, Atherton and a coalition of nonprofit groups in a lawsuit that challenge's the rail authority's environmental analyses for the San Francisco-to-Los Angeles project. Electrification also supports the rail authority's long-term plan to stretch the voter-approved rail system along the Caltrain corridor.

Some local officials form the Peninsula raised concerns about the document Wednesday, arguing that it is not explicit enough in committing the rail authority to a "blended" system in which high-speed rail and Caltrain share two tracks. Burlingame City Councilman Michael Brownrigg said the new contract is "weak" when it comes to rejecting the previously considered four-track alternative.

Richard Hackmann, a management specialist with Palo Alto's city manager's office, told the Metropolitan Transportation Commission board the city sees the new agreement as an opportunity "to rebuild a working relationship with the High-Speed Rail Authority while moving forward with electrification of Caltrain on the corridor." Like Brownrigg, Hackmann said his city would like to see a written agreement specifying that the rail system would not use the four-track design.

"We want to make sure it's done in a way that does not adversely affect communities," Hackmann said.

Tissier said that while the two-track design is not specified in the Memorandum of Understanding, it will be detailed in the rail authority's new business plan, which is scheduled to be released in the coming weeks.

Other critics of the high-speed rail project lauded the new document, which they characterized as a critical step toward improving Caltrain. The agency, which has no dedicated source of funding, has a structural deficit and has been relying on one-time funding sources to keep its service levels intact for the past two years. Yoriko Kishimoto, a former Palo Alto mayor who co-founded the group Friends of Caltrain, was among those who praised the agreement.

"There is much work still left to do, but the day seems to be arriving for Caltrain electrification and modernization," Kishimoto told the board. "I truly thank all of you and all the leaders who have worked to align the stars on this day."

Michael Scanlon, CEO of Caltrain, called Wednesday a "historic day" for Caltrain and said the new agreement provides "the framework, and only the framework, for development of high-speed rail to proceed in a reasonable, pragmatic and, I believe, enlightened way."

"Everyone does not quite agree, but Caltrain staff is fully committed to continuing to working with the stakeholders," Scanlon said. "The work only begins when you start constructing a project and you really have to know how to listen to and work with communities."

Even with the new document, which the rail authority plans to consider next month, Caltrain's electrification is far from a done deal. The project is banking on funds from Proposition 1A, a 2008 measure approved by California voters that devotes $9.95 billion for the new rail system. But while voters approved the bond measure, it is still up to the state Legislature to release the rail funds. With the project enjoying mixed support in Sacramento (and overwhelming opposition by Republicans), it's far from clear when the funds for electrification will be released.

Dan Richard, chair of the rail authority's board of directors, indicated at a public hearing in Mountain View earlier this month that the board doesn't plan to ask the legislature for electrification funds this year. Instead, its funding request will focus on the "initial construction segment" in the Central Valley. The rail authority's plan is to start building the line in the middle and to later stretch it north and south.

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