Monday, April 23, 2012

Prof. Samer Madanat has some choice words for the California High-Speed Rail Project

One of the most reliable and independent sources of information critical about the California High-Speed Rail Project comes from the Institute for Transportation Studies at Berkeley.  

Professor Samer Madanat was a participant in the study that demonstrated how flawed the ridership numbers were as created by the Cambridge Systematics consulting firm. That company was retained by the rail authority to inflate its ridership numbers to demonstrate the efficacy of its financial plan. Higher ridership would mean bigger revenues.

Prof. Madanat was interviewed for this article, as was the president of the high-speed rail promoting organization, US HSR Association.  While Andy Kunz, the founder of this organization, has a personal stake in the success of high-speed rail in California as well as elsewhere in the US -- his job depends upon the funding for these projects -- Professor Madanat has a reputation for independence as well as academic intellectual freedom to protect.

Therefore, what Madanat has to say is quite significant. Not only did his study dismiss the rail authority's ridership claims, but he is also highly critical of the falsely claimed need for this project in California, regardless of the ridership.

I cite Madanat's words not only because they point so accurately at the HSR problem for California, but also because this source has legitimate claims in intellectual independence; that is, no ax to grind.  Therefore, to disagree with him on anything other than technical, factual and substantive grounds is to raise questions about the ulterior motivations for such challenges.

The article, by Carl Franzen, seeks "even handedness" by quoting the US HSR Associations president who spouts the usual press release rhetoric of an organization that exists as a high-speed rail advocacy group. We have not included these other, lengthy passages from the article since they reiterate the sales job perpetrated on us by the CHSRA.


What Does The Battle Over California’s High Speed Rail Project Mean For America?
CARL FRANZEN APRIL 20, 2012, 5:46 AM 


“For congestion within metropolitan regions, the high-speed rail offers no solutions, except that it compliments or substitutes commuter rails in Los Angeles or San Francisco” said Samer Madanat, the director of transportation studies at the University of California, Berkeley, in a telephone interview with TPM.

Madanat and his colleagues at Berkely’s Civil and Environmental Engineering school have vocalized their doubts about the project before. They were asked by the state Senate to do an analysis of ridership projects by the California High Speed Rail Authority back in 2010. Those findings concluded that initial ridership estimates were flawed, and that it was “not possible to predict whether the proposed high-speed rail system will experience healthy profits or severe revenue shortfalls.”

Madanat, for his part, candidly told TPM that if he “were in charge of deciding where to put a high speed rail project, from a technical standpoint, California is not the geographic location in the U.S. where high-speed rail is most needed.”

In Madanat’s perspective, the problems California faces with congestion and gridlock can only be solved by expanding commuter rail systems within metropolitan regions, not between them, as the high speed rail system would seek to do.

“High speed rail is certainly justified in the Northeast corridor,” Madanat told TPM, citing the more fully developed commuter and light rail systems already available in the region, which would be able to augment a high speed rail system.

“A system extending from Boston to Washington, D.C., through New York, Philadelphia and Baltimore would make sense,” he said. “All the appropriate factors are there: population density, existing public transit density. I would start in the Northeast corridor.”

However, Madanat told TPM that the issue was now so politicized, it was out of the hands of technical experts. Madanat said that if the project did manage to get approved and turned out to be a boon for the state and for commuters, it still wouldn’t necessarily prove that high speed rail projects should be undertaken in other parts of the country.

“Each region would need to compare themselves to the conditions that led to success,” Madanat said, “If they don’t have these conditions, then they have an incentive not to go forward.”


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