Making Way for HSR in Fresno

Sep 17th, 2014 | Posted by

The former Del Monte plant in Fresno is coming down to make way for the high speed rail project. The building is 68 years old, but has stood empty for the last ten years. HSR is thus serving as a kind of redevelopment for downtown Fresno, which is a positive thing for the city and the region. Here’s a photo from the California High Speed Rail Authority:

It’s good to see more tangible signs of construction and progress on the project. Even if Republicans like Jeff Denham, Kevin McCarthy, and Neel Kashkari think the people operating those machines should be sitting idle at home.

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House GOP Wants to Confine HSR to NEC

Sep 16th, 2014 | Posted by

There’s a lot to dislike in the latest attack on passenger rail from the House Republicans, including further efforts to defund the vital long-distance routes. But what’s particularly annoying is their ongoing effort to confine high speed rail in America to the Northeast Corridor, even though other regions have a strong need for HSR as well:

The bipartisan bill also would end federal financial support for high-speed rail outside the Northeast Corridor, which would be permitted to spend up to $1 billion on high-speed rail.

The Northeast Corridor reported $312.3 million in profits in the first 10 months of fiscal 2014, but most other Amtrak routes lose money. For instance, the Maple Leaf that stops in Rochester on its route between New York City and Toronto operated $5.6 million in the red during the first 10 months of this fiscal year….

The bipartisan bill proposed by the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee reflects two years of discussions with stakeholders in the passenger rail industry around the country, Republican Rep. Jeff Denham of California, chairman of the Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials Subcommittee, told reporters.

“We want to have transparency,” Denham said. “We want Amtrak to run more like a business.”

Well that’s the problem right there, of course. Rail shouldn’t have to run like a business. It’s a vital piece of transportation infrastructure that should exist for its own sake and be funded to maximize ridership and provide connections to cities large and small, rather than profit.

Republicans, being ideologically opposed to government subsidies except when they and their cronies benefit from it, don’t want to fund HSR in places like California or Florida or Texas because it would prove that government works. But they believe they can privatize the Northeast Corridor, or at least its operations, and the possibility of private profit is what gets the NEC an exception from the House GOP’s war on high speed rail.

It’s no way to provide a national infrastructure. But then, we’ve been here before. The ideological predecessors of the current Republicans were, ironically enough, the Jacksonian Democrats of the pre-Civil War era. They resolutely opposed government spending on infrastructure such as roads and rails. It was only when Republicans took control of Congress in 1861 after Democrats lost their majority due to Southern secession that they were able to enact legislation providing for a transcontinental railroad. Sure, the way that railroad was paid for was pretty flawed, but it wouldn’t have gotten built without some kind of government subsidy.

We can have a government that doesn’t subsidize passenger rail, or we can have a national HSR network. We can’t have both. Even the private All Aboard Florida rail project is relying on government loans, and I would expect Texas Central to do the same. Unfortunately, Republican ideology is getting in the way of an effective rail network – just as Democratic ideology did 150 years ago.

SF Resolves Dispute With Transbay Developers

Sep 15th, 2014 | Posted by

Some good news for the future downtown extension that will bring Caltrain and high speed rail to the Transbay Terminal:

San Francisco city officials cut a deal Tuesday with downtown property owners who had threatened to sue over a proposed tax district that city officials are counting on to help pay for the $2.6 billion extension of Caltrain into the new Transbay Transit Center at First and Mission streets.

Under the agreement, the city will still collect up to $1.4 billion in taxes from property owners around the new transit center for the Caltrain, and possibly high-speed rail, connection. But the revenue would come in over 37 years instead of 30 after city officials agreed to extend the life of the tax district to make it more palatable for the property owners.

That seems like a perfectly reasonable and fair resolution to the dispute, which at one point looked like it was jeopardizing the downtown extension. Kudos to SF and the developers for figuring this out.

Siemens to Build Florida’s HSR Cars in Sacramento

Sep 11th, 2014 | Posted by

Siemens has long been hoping to add high speed trains to the passenger rail vehicles it builds at its Sacramento plant. Now they will, thanks to All Aboard Florida:

The Siemens plant in South Sacramento will build the locomotives and passenger cars for All Aboard Florida, a high-speed rail system that could begin operation well ahead of California’s….

All Aboard Florida will receive an initial order of five train sets consisting of two locomotives and four passenger coaches. The Florida trains will be diesel-powered, whereas California’s would draw electricity from overhead wires.

So it’s not exactly the same thing as lighter weight electric bullet trains, but hey, at least it creates jobs for Californians and keeps Siemens Sacramento in the intercity passenger rail business. I still think they’ve got a good shot at getting the California contract, though that’s obviously still a few years away.