The Hyperloop Has Fans in the White House

Apr 4th, 2017 | Posted by

This was a sad yet unsurprising thing to see come out of this morning’s CEO summit at the Trump White House:

There’s really nothing more fitting than a former Goldman Sachs exec who now has a prominent role in the Trump Administration touting the Hyperloop – which we might now want to call the “Trump Train.”

Infrastructure was a major focus of the meeting, but don’t go getting your hopes up anytime soon that this would mean more money for transportation in California:

Cohn said if cities “sell off” or privatize infrastructure assets, the administration could provide financial support.

“We’re not on the cutting edge of this,” Cohn said. “We’ve got to get a little more comfortable with public-private partnerships.”

This is a recipe for looting on a colossal scale. They’re planning to gut regulations to make this possible, which may signal an assault on the National Environmental Policy Act that some readers here may welcome:

President Donald Trump vowed on Tuesday to cut red tape to speed up approval of infrastructure projects and said his overhaul could top $1 trillion on roads, tunnels and bridges, one of his 2016 election campaign promises….

U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao said at the forum that the administration plans to release a legislative package in May. Investors have become more skeptical that the plan would win approval this year in Congress, which is controlled by Republicans who are traditionally wary of big spending.

Trump said building a highway can require dozens of approvals and take 10 to 20 years, a process he vowed to speed up. Trump said he would not fund projects that cannot be started within 90 days.

I’m not sure there are a whole lot of projects you can just start within 90 days. Oh wait, I know of one: Caltrain electrification!

More seriously, this is going to be a roads and freeways bonanza, with little money for rail. This administration is committed to going down with the ship that is fossil fuels. It is determined to destroy this country by abandoning all efforts to stop climate change and build a more sustainable transportation system. California is going to have to fund that system itself, because the federal government is lost and not coming back anytime soon.

State of HSR – and the Blog

Apr 3rd, 2017 | Posted by

When this blog hit its ninth anniversary last month, I didn’t intend to take a hiatus. But it’s been nearly a month since the last post and it’s time to get back in the saddle.

First, a general update on where things stand with high speed rail:

There are other updates too but those are the big ones for now. None of this is particularly new; you could read through the archives and see posts on these same topics from each of the last six or seven years. Trump’s victory is a setback, but his own recent defeats may make it harder for him to successfully stop the California HSR project.

The blog will see new posting resume, after a very busy March has passed. I continue to get occasional notes about people having problems using the site, and this has been since February or so. Sometimes I have trouble loading it. Others have trouble making comments. (Some of that is me slacking on moderation.)

If you see specific problems or bugs, please note them in the comments here. I am not a web design expert, and this site design is now seven years old. But I’ll do what I can to keep this alive for as long as people are willing to read and comment.

XpressWest Estimates 11 Million HSR Riders A Year

Mar 5th, 2017 | Posted by

Last week XpressWest estimated 11 million people would ride high speed rail every year by 2035:

The figures were based on a $115 roundtrip ticket that would connect passengers on the publicly funded California High Speed rail system to a private line operated by XpressWest, the company franchised nearly two years ago to build a rail segment from Las Vegas to Palmdale….

About 3 million passengers are projected to take roundtrip rides when the first segment between Las Vegas and Palmdale, California, is completed by XpressWest in 2021, generating about $300 million in annual revenue, according to the study.

Those a great estimates. But without governmental funding, XpressWest will need to find another major investor, especially after China dropped out. A completion date of 2021 for tracks from Palmdale to Victorville and Las Vegas is doable, but it requires construction to begin sometime this year – which seems like a longshot.

It’s also unclear whether an anti-rail presidential administration would throw up even more roadblocks to this project. Republicans have attacked this plan in the past, deriding it as a “casino train.”

PS: Several of you have reported problems logging into the site, posting comments, or comments being posted under different usernames. I’m looking into this issue. The site’s WordPress install is fully up to date, as are all plug-ins. So bear with me as I try to diagnose and fix the problem.

Don’t Misread Republicans: They Hate Rail, Not Just HSR

Feb 25th, 2017 | Posted by

There’s a belief some credulous sources have that when California Congressional Republicans got the Trump Administration to screw Caltrain electrification that this was really an attack on high speed rail, with Caltrain as some sort of collateral damage.

That’s not true, as we’ll see in a moment. But that is the story the anti-HSR folks at the East Bay Times would have you believe:

Congressional Republicans want a full-scale audit of California’s high-speed rail because the federal government has $3.5 billion invested in the project. Unfortunately, they’ve lumped in the Caltrain project because it receives money from state high-speed rail funds.

The editorialists support Caltrain electrification, and are trying to salvage something from this mess. The way they do it is to argue that HSR is bad, Caltrain electrification is good, that the California Congressional Republicans just want an audit of HSR, and will help Caltrain electrify once they get their simple, innocuous audit.

Unfortunately for them, one of the Republicans who went to Trump and asked him and his administration to block the FTA grant, made it very clear tonight that they hate Caltrain too:

I don’t know what else it’s going to take for people to accept that Congressional Republicans hate passenger rail in and of itself. This belief that somehow they’re just a bunch of well-meaning anti-waste crusaders who have a legitimate beef with HSR is a delusion that is now causing wider damage to other vital transportation projects in California.

Devin Nunes is spelling it out for us in very clear terms: if California wants more passenger rail, California is going to have to pay for it by itself. With a GDP of $2.5 trillion, that shouldn’t be difficult. But it does require finally undoing the damage done by the tax revolt, Prop 13, and beyond.

If California Democrats are serious about resisting Trump – and I believe they are – then they have to get on this immediately and take the steps necessary to fund these crucial passenger rail projects without relying on the federal government.