Six Months of HSR Progress

Jul 20th, 2016 | Posted by

In this new video from the California High Speed Rail Authority, you can see six months of progress on the HSR project in just six minutes:

Quite a lot of work has been done. Even as the debates over HSR funding continue, even as some dead-enders still think they can kill the project, it’s good to remember that it is finally and actually under construction.

Hyperloop One Is a Dumpster Fire

Jul 14th, 2016 | Posted by

Not only is the Hyperloop a fantasy idea with severe technical and political impediments to ever getting built – the main company working on the project is facing major lawsuits alleging the company is rife with “nepotism, waste, and assault”:

How the relationship between the leading investor and the founding chief executive of Hyperloop Technologies Inc. deteriorated is laid out in a wrongful termination lawsuit filed Tuesday in Los Angeles County Superior Court. BamBrogan and three other former high-ranking officials at the start-up say they were axed or forced to resign for speaking out to higher-ups and shareholders about widespread mismanagement and poor behavior at the Los Angeles firm.

The allegations primarily target Pishevar and fellow investor Joe Lonsdale, who were said to have forced the company into multiple business deals that benefited friends, family members or themselves. Pishevar also regularly turned the Arts District headquarters of Hyperloop One, as the company now refers to itself, into a venue for showboating and personal parties, the lawsuit claims.

I thought this part was especially notable:

The group had tried to convince Lloyd – a former Cisco Systems executive named CEO last September as BamBrogan moved down to chief technology officer – that engineering had become a sideshow to marketing exercises.

I would go further in that last line and replace “had become” with “always was.” The hyperloop is mere hype, a marketing exercise to which engineering is a sideshow. It’s a vomit comet that has already raised suspicions about what’s going on here:

“I sense a bit of hucksterism right now that’s helping companies raise money,” says Ralph Hollis, a research professor of robotics at Carnegie Mellon University who is an expert on maglev tech.

Yep. I sense it too. And this lawsuit would seem to confirm that diagnosis.

If the hyperloop was feasible, it would be cool. But it’s not feasible. So let’s stop wasting everyone’s time and money with this and get back to doing the work to get high speed rail up and running as soon as possible.

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Is A Deal Coming to Save Cap-and-Trade?

Jul 12th, 2016 | Posted by

Ever since the weak May auction for California’s cap-and-trade permits, the discussion in Sacramento about how to save and extend the program has gone into overdrive.

First, a quick refresher. There is some debate about whether the cap-and-trade system needs new legislation to continue operating beyond 2020 – and whether that new legislation requires a 2/3 vote, given the passage of Proposition 26 in 2010. High speed rail in particular needs cap-and-trade to survive, as the program is currently the only long-term source of funds needed to build the system.

Today, the California Air Resources Board issued its draft regulations to extend the cap-and-trade program beyond 2020. It would include various technical changes, including closer links to Ontario cap-and-trade system.

That’s an important step. But ultimately the program’s fate will likely be decided at the Capitol, where Governor Jerry Brown is – brace yourselves – negotiating with oil companies about how to extend cap-and-trade:

Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration has been talking directly with oil companies in hopes of reaching a consensus on extending California’s landmark climate programs, opening a back channel with an industry the governor has harshly criticized as a barrier to addressing global warming.

The dialogue was described by sources who requested anonymity to talk about private discussions and later confirmed by the Western States Petroleum Assn., which represents oil companies in Sacramento.

The organization’s president, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, told the Los Angeles Times that the industry is engaged in “ongoing talks with the administration to improve the state’s current climate change programs.”

If you recall last year’s battle over SB 350, you know Gov. Brown was dealt a rare defeat by the WSPA as they convinced moderate Assembly Democrats to torpedo the proposed new regulations designed to fight climate change. It may have been a major turning point in state politics around climate and carbon issues, and not in a good way.

WSPA surely believes it has leverage now, as Gov. Brown will have a harder time getting the Legislature to side with him against oil companies. Here’s what they appear to want:

Each camp has reasons to come to the table. Brown wants to avoid having his agenda thwarted by an industry that has proved adept at rallying lawmakers to its defense. Meanwhile, oil companies are seeking an opportunity to influence state policy rather than risk more aggressive efforts from Brown, who has vowed to use regulations to keep reducing California’s dependence on oil — whether or not he gets new legislation.

A key issue in the talks has been the state’s low-carbon fuel standard, which requires the production of cleaner gasoline. Oil companies claim the regulation — which is scheduled to require a 10% reduction in the carbon content of fuels by 2020, up from the current 2% — sets an unobtainable target that will raise costs for consumers.

WSPA also fought a low carbon fuel standard in Oregon (they lost) and in Washington State (they won, for now). If they can block it in California they’d win a big victory, at the expense of the future of the planet.

The moderate Assembly Democrats, bought and owned by the oil companies and WSPA, have already begun to speak out against cap-and-trade – which makes you wonder why they’re Democrats in the first place:

“It’s going to have a tough time,” said Assemblyman Jim Cooper (D-Elk Grove), who said he would like to see revenue from the program more evenly distributed around the state. Cooper is the co-chairman of an informal but powerful caucus of business-friendly Democrats in the Assembly, where climate legislation has faced a tougher audience than in the state Senate.

“We all want clean air,” he said. “I’m not sure if cap-and-trade is the best system to get us there.”

Jim Cooper, friend of oil companies, enemy of California’s future.

Atherton Continues To Thwart Progress

Jul 11th, 2016 | Posted by

Last week’s big news was that the Caltrain electrification contracts were officially approved, with completion expected by 2020.

That is, unless Atherton gets its way and stops the whole thing:

Officials in this wealthy Bay Area enclave will decide by early next week if they’ll seek a restraining order to stop Caltrain from going ahead with $1.25 billion in contracts for bringing electric train service to the Peninsula….

Atherton officials contend that Caltrain has not addressed physical and aesthetic impacts of building an electric train system that will run through the community. Electrical towers will require removal of at least 200 trees, Conners said. And because the system is also intended as a step toward high-speed rail — the California High-Speed Rail Authority has committed to $113 million in funding — Atherton officials anticipate future train-related issues.

“High-speed rail has even more impacts because of the speeds at which it goes through communities,” Conners said.

The city will decide by early next week whether to ask a judge for a temporary restraining order to prevent Caltrain from proceeding with the contracts until the dispute over the environmental impact report is resolved, he said.

Caltrain service is bursting at the seams, and so is traffic on Highway 101. Electrification is necessary to add capacity and better service. Atherton, one of the richest cities in North America, is happy to delay or stop those improvements just because of their aesthetic concerns.

If you needed further evidence that reforming the California Environmental Quality Act is needed to stop cities from being able to do things like this, well, here you go.

You probably didn’t need further evidence that Atherton doesn’t care about traffic or climate or jobs and the economy. You also probably didn’t need further evidence that they’re hypocrites, but here you go:

Atherton’s quiet zone, an area a quarter-mile on each side of the Fair Oaks crossing, went into effect on Monday, June 13. The quiet zone is the first in the Caltrain corridor, and many other cities are looking to see what happens in Atherton before they try to do the same.

Residents and town employees say the quiet zone has made a huge difference in the amount of train noise.

But when, a few days after the quiet zone had gone into effect, town officials pointed out to Caltrain that some train horns were still sounding in the quiet zone, the response was not what the town wanted to hear. Loopholes in the law, Caltrain said, mean its train operators are still allowed to sound their horns in much of the quiet zone….

Caltrain spokeswoman Tasha Bartholomew said on June 17 that despite the quiet zone, “Caltrain engineers can still sound the horn through the Atherton station.” The station is next to the crossing inside the quiet zone.

The reason, Ms. Bartholomew said, is that “the Atherton train station includes five pedestrian crossings that require all Caltrain trains to sound horns as they transition the station.”

You know what would solve this? Grade separation. Put the tracks above or below the street, and that also gives pedestrians a way to cross the tracks without actually walking directly on the rails. No people or cars crossing over the rails means no horns.

But Atherton and its neighboring communities have spent ten years fighting to stop any kind of grade separation, unless it’s a long tunnel that someone else pays for.

None of this makes any sense. But maybe it’s not supposed to. It’s possible that Atherton, a town that exists because of the railroad, would prefer that railroad simply not exist. That won’t happen, of course. Let’s hope Atherton makes the right decision and supports, rather than opposes, Caltrain electrification.