HSR Gets $750 Million from Cap-and-Trade So Far

Aug 30th, 2015 | Posted by

California’s cap-and-trade system continues to hum along, and the state has begun to dole out the revenues:

The biggest beneficiary is the state’s high-speed rail line, which so far has reaped $750 million. Transit agencies in the San Francisco and greater Los Angeles regions each garnered $41 million. A reclamation district in Sacramento County received $10.4 million to build wetlands. Other recipients include cities, water districts, affordable home developers, trash companies, environmental groups, schools, farms and individuals.

HSR is slated to get 25% of annual cap-and-trade revenues, which is a significant sum in the coming years, helping put the project on a more stable financial footing.

Not everyone is happy about that:

“There’s a disproportionate amount going to high-speed rail compared to the other needs,” said Bill Magavern, policy director with the Coalition for Clean Air.

The state instead should accelerate funds to clean up buses and trucks that move freight, he said. That would “not only reduce greenhouse gases but provide quick relief to people who are breathing polluted air.”

California ought to do both, rather than undermine HSR and its significant long-term CO2 reductions just because a few people, like Magavern, do not understand 21st century transportation systems. Giving 25% of the cap-and-trade money to HSR isn’t disproportionate at all, it’s a reasonable sum for a project that will not only help meet the state’s long-term CO2 reduction goals on its own, but will catalyze other CO2 reducing projects as a result.

Sacramento Republicans continue to try and strip the HSR funds and redirect cap-and-trade revenues toward road maintenance, but so far Democrats have wisely refused to agree to that absurd demand.

More Hype for the Hyperloop

Aug 23rd, 2015 | Posted by

Wired reported this week that the Hyperloop is “starting to look a little less crazy”. Let’s take a closer look at that eyebrow-raising statement:

The Hyperloop, detailed by the SpaceX and Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk in a 57-page alpha white paper in August 2013, is a transportation network of above-ground tubes that could span hundreds of miles. With extremely low air pressure inside those tubes, capsules filled with people would zip through them at near supersonic speeds. Musk published the paper encouraging anyone interested to pursue the idea, since he’s kinda a busy guy.

That timing lined up with the beta launch of JumpStartFund, a startup that combines elements of crowdfunding and crowd-sourcing to tackle ambitious projects like revolutionary transportation infrastructure. JumpStartFund created Hyperloop Transportation Technologies, Inc, which brought together engineers willing to spend their free time working on the design in exchange for stock options.

The startup plans to start construction on a full-scale, passenger-ready Hyperloop in 2016. The prototype will run 5 miles through Quay Valley, a planned community rising from nothing along Interstate 5, midway between San Francisco and Los Angeles. Ahlborn says he’s got several potential investors….

It remains to be seen how this will pan out, but having these two companies sign on makes it more likely than ever that the future of transportation may not be autonomous vehicles or supersonic jets, but capsules flying through vacuum tubes.

Hmm. Some of this looks rather familiar. The story about a Quay Valley test track circulated back in February and I still don’t see evidence that Ahlborn has the investors he needs to make it happen.

And as we pointed out back in December the Hyperloop Transportation Technologies company isn’t quite as big as the article claims – it has 400 people working on it, but very few are working full-time.

Ahlborn has waved away criticisms of the Hyperloop, but those criticisms still stand. That includes Alon Levy’s claim that the Hyperloop would be a barf ride, which is the claim Ahlborn wants to pretend isn’t true.

The other problem, as has also been pointed out, is that building a small test track on land you own is a completely different matter from gathering together the 400+ miles of right-of-way you need to get from SF to LA in something resembling a straight line.

The media loves to hype the Hyperloop. The combination of Elon Musk and cutting edge technology is irresistible. I’m all for further research into its feasibility. But let’s keep it in perspective. It’s not going to be built anytime soon, and there remain serious obstacles to making it real.


US Servicemen Overpower Gunman on HSR Train in France

Aug 21st, 2015 | Posted by

An AK-47 wielding gunman opened fire today on a Thalys train headed from Amsterdam to Paris. He was subdued by two US Marines three Americans who happened to be on the train:

French media said the gunman had shot a Kalashnikov on board the train, and was also armed with knives.

The local paper La Voix du Nord reported that two US marines on the train had overpowered the man. The paper reported that the marines had intervened when the man was loading heavy ammunition in a toilet on the train. Both marines were reported to have been injured, one by gunfire, the other by a knife.

Two other passengers were seriously wounded by the gunfire, alleged to have come from a 26 year old Moroccan man.

Hopefully nobody dies as a result of this. It’s also unfortunate to see high speed rail becoming the scene of a shooting like this. One hopes this doesn’t lead to TSA-style rules being imposed on American HSR.

UPDATE: Initial reports that the Americans were Marines were incorrect – one is in the Oregon National Guard, another in the US Air Force, and a third was their friend. Much credit to them and to others on the train who helped avert a massacre.

Wednesday Open Thread

Aug 19th, 2015 | Posted by

Continue the discussion here. A quiet HSR summer, unless you’re actually working on the project out in the Fresno heat.