Congress Reaches $2.5 Billion Deal on HSR Funding

Dec 9th, 2009 | Posted by

Just got to my laptop here in a very cold Denver, where I’ll be presenting on HSR to a meeting of the Public Interest Research Group. On the way in from the airport I read that Congress has reached a deal on HSR funding. They’ve found a middle ground – the House had voted $4 billion for HSR in fiscal year 2010, the Senate had voted only $1.2 billion, so they’ve agreed on $2.5 billion.

Obviously this is a letdown – there was a lot of activism to keep the $4 billion but once again, the US Senate’s desire to be penurious when it comes to economic recovery has won out. Over at the Transport Politic, Yonah sees the glass as half-full:

If this news is a let-down, it still is $2.4 billion more than has ever been obligated to fast train development in a congressional appropriations bill. It allows the DOT to fully fund very promising projects from Florida and California and still have billions left for other states with less intensive rail programs. It also implies that Congress will continue to fund high-speed rail at these levels, at least over the next few years.

And I don’t disagree with this point. Over the course of 10 years, assuming the HSR funds aren’t cut by a future Congress, that would generate $25 billion annually for HSR. If California gets half of that sum, we might just have enough to get the SF-LA-Anaheim system built by 2020, especially if we can find the last $5 billion or so from local and private sources.

So this is a start, and better than nothing I suppose, but it shows how much further we still have left to go. HSR needs a more robust and stable funding source for a truly national high speed rail network to be built over the coming decade. The US Senate’s penchant for doing too little may have struck again here, and suggests to HSR activists that we need to redouble our efforts to show Senators that high speed rail is a sensible investment in jobs and in our nation’s future.

  1. lyqwyd
    Dec 9th, 2009 at 11:20

    I think when you wrote \$25 billion annually for HSR\ you meant $25 billion over 10 years for HSR…

    It’s definitely a bummer that they just split the difference… too bad the house didn’t put in $10 billion per year, we’d be at $5.5 billion per year ;)

    But I do like that there is some funding, and hopefully as things ramp up more states will get serious plans for HSR and start pushing to up the funds allocated.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Thanks for catching that!

  2. Bay Area Resident
    Dec 9th, 2009 at 11:27

    So that means CA might get- at most- 500 million from the federal government for this 70 billion dollar boondoggle. wow.

    Rafael Reply:

    What source – other than a certain part of your anatomy – do you have for either figure?

    Bay Area Resident Reply:

    well here is one,

    In September 2008 Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank, Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association and Citizens Against Government Waste published “The California High Speed Rail Proposal: A Due Diligence Report.” The report projects that the final cost for the complete high-speed rail system will be $65 to $81 billion, which is higher than official estimates. It also projects there will be fewer riders by 2030 than official estimates: 23-31 million riders a year instead of 65-96 million riders forecast by the Rail Authority. The report states that no existing high-speed rail train currently meets the proposed speed and safety goals, although the safety systems have not been fully specified, and that the reduction in CO2 emissions would be inconsequential. The time required to reach the proposed speeds and the distances between stops indicates that attaining the proposed speeds would be difficult between the majority of stops.[10]

    Come on, even the wikipedia article says that CHSRA has written it like an advertisement. The entire system was underbid which is the reason for all the angst about takings and CHSRA claiming “they won’t need to take properties” that are 2 feet from the ROW, the reason they WON’T NEED to take them is because the CAN’T take them, they don’t have the appropriate level of funding.

    As far as the federal stimulus money for High Speed Rail, Arnold originally asked for 4.7 BILLION from the federal government, against a proposed 8 billion in total federal stimulus dollars. The rebuttals at that time were that Arnold would get maybe half of what he asked for, that is the conventional wisdom on these things. Well now the TOTAL PIE that they are sharing is 2.5 billion, or approx 1/4 of original amt, which logically means CA should expect 1/4 of what they were formerly expecting= somewhere around 500 million.

    Of course you all can refute this analysis all you want, except you have NEVER been right on cost projections before, nor has Quentin Kopp or Diridon or any of the jokers in CHSRA. My estimates have more credibility based on that fact alone.

    jimsf Reply:

    The reason foundation and howard jarvis taxpayers association are both politically motivated, capitalist right wing organizations. i wouldn’t expect them to ever come up with anything positive to say about projects that benefit the working class. They exist for the sole purpose of advocating for the wealthy wing of the republican party in california and they don’t have any credibility whatsoever.

    Matthew F. Reply:

    Among the other things you’re making up out of thin air: The $8 Billion for HSR in the ARRA is completely different from this $2.5 billion per year in the Transportation bill.

    jimsf Reply:

    See, when democrats lose elections, they deal with it and make the best of it. But when republicans lose, they are the biggest babies on earth. They are so greedy, so shallow, so me me me and my my my money… they are the type of people who will clutch their wallets as they step over the dead bodies on the street. Republicans hate medicare, they would rather let old people die on the street than open their coin purses. Their entire MO is based on Ive got mine screw you. They make me sick. Well, guess what, reason foundation and cato and all, you lost, big, and guess what, we are going to tax you until it hurts and that’s what you deserve. Its going to be a long 8 years for you and I am going to enjoy every single minute of it.

    Rafael Reply:

    “even the wikipedia article says”

    Well, then it must be true. Only the omniscient are permitted to edit Wikipedia articles.

    Bay Area Resident Reply:

    Hey Rafael, you asked for a source, I gave it to you. Now all these people can say is “oh that source is not a good source”, give me a break.

    Matthew F. Reply:

    What can you say? When you base your argument on a lousy source, then you have a lousy argument.

    Rafael Reply:

    Wikipedia is usually fine for definitional stuff, itemized lists of examples etc. I don’t rely on it for financial analysis of ongoing infrastructure projects.

    Btw, the cost estimates CHSRA put together already account for inflation, so the Reason Fundation guy are doing it twice over. That’s in addition to comparing apples to oranges on the deliverables, of course. It pays to read beyond the headline number to understand what it refers to.

    AndyDuncan Reply:

    Ugh, I don’t even know why we’re bothering to respond, it reminds me of those critical reasoning tests where there’s a flaw in every sentence and you have to find them all.

    At some point it’s evident that BAR either has reading comprehension issues or isn’t even trying to be honest. Look at the wikipedia page section on “benefits”. There is a wikipedia flag there, provided by wikipedia editors, flagging wikipedia content written by another wikipedia editor, as “sounding like an advertisement”. That’s wikipedia keeping wikipedia in check. It’s not a critique of the CHSRA system. In fact, if Wikipedia contained an opinionated critique of the CHSRA system, it would also be flagged.

    And don’t get me started on the Reason report, anyone who believes the conclusions in that report obviously hasn’t read it, and certainly hasn’t read through their “references”, which are laughable. It’s sad really, the Reason Foundation is one of the leading Libertarian think tanks, they’re supposed to be better than that.

    With regards to the money, you’re 100% factually incorrect. No need to debate it, you’re conflating two different funding sources.

    As to your last point: you provide me with some actual analysis, instead of hyperventilating FUD, and I’ll refute it.

    Spokker Reply:

    I imagine that BAR is a well-meaning mother from Palo Alto who just got a computer and posts about rail issues while her husband is at work. It’s so much more entertaining that way. She doesn’t even know how Wikipedia works.

    wu ming Reply:

    hey, no need to get sexist. NIMBYs are a target-rich mocking environment as it is.

    ry Reply:

    Oh, that ol’ “Reason” report again. Hey, here’s the original language:
    Capital costs have risen from the CHSRA’s 1999 business plan estimate of $30.3 billion for the entire system to a $45.4 billion estimate in 2008 for Phases I and II alone. Depending upon future plans, costs could increase to between $51.4 billion and $82.3 billion (all in 2006$.) It is likely that HSR will require substantial additional taxpayer funding to complete Phase I, Phase II, the “Missing Phase” and the “Implied Phase.”

    Where did these numbers actually home from?

    Start with the COMPLETE San Francisco AND Sacramento to Anaheim AND San Diego via Los Angeles system (as opposed to the SF-ANA-via-LA system that’s now being designed for operation in 2020). The report states that the the CAHSRA figure for 2006 is $45.4B; then tacks on a segment that’s NO LONGER PART OF THE PROJECT (Oakland-San Jose) to get $50.2B. This is as close as I can get to figuring out where the $51.4B comes from (because I have no idea where the extra $1.2B comes from if they’re working in same-year numbers).

    Then they get out, not a calculator or a slide-rule– BUT A STRAIGHTEDGE, and track out a linear cost inflation (could someone with an actual degree in statistics please explain how stupid this is?), brining us to $68-$75.3B in 2030 (10 years after Phase I should be running, I might add). Oh, and the upper number is to account for the nonexistent Oakland section, btw– this will be important in my next paragraph.

    But the summary talks about “between $51.4B and $82.3B”. I still can’t figure out where they get that $80B-ish number from (sometimes it’s “$82.3 (all in 2006$)” and other times it’s “$81.4 billion (2008$)”. Is this deflation??). The best I can come up with is that they took their own “Oakland” number (75.3-68=7.3), added it onto the “cost inflation” number (which already included it), and called it “$82.3 billion including the Missing Phase.”

    In other words, the numbers used in the “Reason” report are for novelty use only.

    This blog did a decent enough job at pointing out the “truthiness” of this report back in September of 2008:

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Reason Foundation doesn’t count as a legitimate source.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Why at most? The regular appropriation likely includes regular state match requirements, which will ensure, first, that the funds will be spread around fairly widely and, second, that California will be well positioned to win anywhere up to half the funding.

    I assume “$70b boondoggle” comes from the famous O’Toole equation:

    Cost of HSR = [(Number from Evidence)/(Number from Evidence)]*(Number O’Toole Made Up)

  3. BruceMcF
    Dec 9th, 2009 at 11:43

    Slightly better than the $2b I expected – and quite possibly evidence of the success of the $4b campaign.

    That is, we get a 150% increase in the original budget request, but because the House passed a 300% increase while the Senate passed a 20% increase, we get to:

    (1) Paint this as a set back in the fight for $4b/yr but we are going to learn the lessons from this fight, continue to organize, continue to fight, etc. etc. yadda yadda yadda.

    (2) and we get $2.5b appropriated.

    “Over the next ten years” is not really how transport appropriations timelines seem to work – the main ones work on a five years cycle, with variable amounts of gaps in between when the status quo applies except for ad hoc adjustments.

    Even without the infrastructure bank, that would be a likely $12.5b over the next five years, or $15b over the next six years, and then the consequence of that spending helps lay the stage for the next bill.

    If California can grab a quarter of the ARRA funding and half of the regular appropriation – more likely than with ARRA, if normal state matches for inter-city transport apply – that’d be a cumulative $13b, with $3.5b of the state bond funds expended, over $6b in the kitty, and with more Senators than today either looking to expand systems already in operation or looking to turn paper tigers into real projects.

    $4b would have been a massive blow-out win, but this is still a win.

    Rafael Reply:

    The federal funding menagerie is convoluted. It’s not clear – not to me, at least – if the $2.5 billion is a stopgap that applies only to FY2010 or if it sets a precedent/commitment for future budgets. Is this an amendment to the current surface transportation bill or a separate stream of funding?

    Afaik, the Obama administration pushed back on negotiating a new surface transportation bill because Reps. Oberstar and Mica had included a rail infrastructure bank and other program expansion that they wanted to fund with a hike in federal on-road fuel taxes a.k.a. the third rail of politics.

  4. Matthew F.
    Dec 9th, 2009 at 11:47

    Supposing the next transit bill includes the same 80/20 match for rail projects that highways get. Would this be the limit on how much of the highway trust fund is spent on HSR matching funds, or would this be in addition to that?

    Rafael Reply:

    As I understand it, the HSR funds are separate from the highway trust fund.

  5. Daniel Krause
    Dec 9th, 2009 at 12:32

    Also, according to the National Association of Rail Passengers, 2008’s H.R. 2095 (Amtrak Reauthorization) included 1.5B for HSR corridor development (150M – 2009; 300M – 2010; and 350M for ’11, ’12, & ’13). These funds are designed for high-speed intercity passenger rail operating within a high speed rail corridor.

    In terms of competition, I suspect, this 1.5B pot of money will be used for the 110mph type systems being proposed. I am hoping a bulk of the 10.5B from ARRA and the apporpriations are dedicated to real HSR systems.

    Rafael Reply:

    By “real HSR”, I presume you mean “express HSR” with dedicated tracks and top speeds north of 150mph? Only 4-5 of the federally designated corridors have the population to support such expensive high-capacity systems: the Northeast, California (incl. Las Vegas), Florida, Texas and arguably, Chicago-St. Louis. In the other corridors, 110mph isn’t a consolation prize, it’s an economically reasonable objective. Dismissing that as less-than-desirable is missing the point, one size simply doesn’t fit all.

    USDOT is not at liberty to award PRIIA or FY2010 HSR funds in response to requests for ARRA funds. If the application includes a non-federal share of at least 20%, it may just be a matter of tweaking and re-submitting the application under a different heading. Otherwise, applicants will have to go find some non-federal funding first.

    Daniel Krause Reply:

    I never dismissed the 110mph as less-than-desirable, though maybe my choice of words gave off that impression. At the same time you seem to have made quite a jump about the intentions contained in my comment. For the sake of quality dialogue, I suggest asking for clarification of an opinion before attributing motive to the author of a comment if the opinion or argument is not explicitly stated. That said, I agree in some applications 110mph service (let’s call it medium-high speed rail for lack of better term) may make much more sense than “express HSR.” I don’t believe that 110mph service is high speed rail in relation to how much of the world uses the term high speed rail. Therefore, I feel that 110mph service should be classified differently than systems that are 150mph+.

    Rafael Reply:

    They are classified differently. The Obama administration distinguishes emerging (90-110mph), regional (110-150mph) and express (150mph+ top speed) classes of HSR. That nomenclature is a different from the rest of the world, where standard speed is anything up to 200km/h, HSR is 200-300km/h and VHSR anything above 300km/h cruise speed.

    Just because the US classification is different from what you’re used to doesn’t mean it’s invalid.

    AndyDuncan Reply:

    It’s not invalid, but before the administration came out with something saying 90mph trains were “high speed rail”, nobody in the world (including the US) would have considered those “high speed rail”, regardless of whatever qualifier you want to tack onto the front of it (except maybe “not really” or “half as fast as”). That there’s confusion about the conflicting classifications isn’t surprising.

    Rafael Reply:

    Look, I’d also prefer that the US align itself with the international nomenclature but this is a post on getting stuff funded. With the exception of the NEC, the US is about 50 years behind Europe and Japan on passenger rail. Even in the NEC, it’s still stuck with antiquated non-constant catenaries etc. after decades of underinvestment.

    California and Florida HSR will both be based on state-of-the-art technology, most likely imported. They’ll be called express HSR in the US, everywhere else they’ll be considered VHSR. What’s in a name…

    Alon Levy Reply:

    And even 50 years ago, nobody considered 90 mph to be high-speed rail. Lines with top speeds of 160 km/h and average speeds of 130 km/h were considered to be top rate streamliners, but high-speed rail meant 200. The US actually built the world’s second high-speed service by that definition, the Metroliner, but it never bothered to upgrade it until the Acela, so speeds remained at 1960s levels.

  6. Spokker
    Dec 9th, 2009 at 12:34

    It’s a win, but it’s still not enough. Where are the other funding sources? Did we just exhaust federal funding for HSR?

    Rafael Reply:

    No, Congress can increase the amount available for HSR capital projects in future bills. Robert and I have long warned that federal funds would come as a series of grants over the life of the California project, not all at once.

    That’s frustrating because it means CHSRA will have to begin construction on several segments (e.g. LA-Anaheim, SF-SJ and Merced-Bakersfield) before it can be 100% certain that funding for the connecting segments will be forthcoming. Unfortunately, that’s how they make sausage in Washington, D.C.

  7. Rafael
    Dec 9th, 2009 at 12:51

    The $2.5 billion are for FY2010. It’s not yet clear to me if that figure will be maintained for five years, never mind ten.

    CHSRA had budgeted about $33 billion for the SF-Anaheim starter line in 2008. Since then, the LA-Anaheim estimate has gone up by $2 billion, so at the very least they’re looking for $35 billion total. So far, they’ve got $9 billion allocated – but not yet appropriated! – via prop 1A(2008). They’ve indicated they’re looking for a total of up to $3 billion – not five – from the cities and counties the system will serve.

    Prior to the financial meltdown, they were cautiously optimistic that they might get private investors to pony up around 25% of the total sum, most of it coming toward the end of the construction period and some of it in kind rather than in cash. Assuming that share holds true after the economy recovers, that’s another $9 billion at most.

    Deduct the wet from the dry: CHSRA needs at least $14 billion from the federal government. That if everyone else comes through and there are no further cost escalations. On a project this big and complex, it’s risky to assume the best-case scenario. CHSRA ought to set the expectation that it will need $14-$18 billion from Congress, up from a $12-$16 billion range identified in 2008.

    Ergo, 50% of the purported $2.5 billion for 10 years would be enough only if it came on top of the $4.7 billion California has requested against ARRA. Unfortunately, the state has decided to commit to an unnecessarily generous dollar-for-dollar match for the latter. At the regular 80% maximum federal share, the remaining $4.3 billion will only be enough left to leverage an additional $17.2 billion, for a grand total of $21.9 billion possible federal dollars. When you already know you’re going to need $14 billion and perhaps as much as $18 billion before you’ve turned the first shovel, that margin of funding safety isn’t as large as it appears. The margin would be considerably bigger if CHSRA could leverage the $3 billion in city and county funding in the same way. Not that I’m hoping they’ll need to actually use that margin…

    For their part, lawmakers at all levels as well as USDOT officials need to pressure CHSRA to hold the line on cost escalations (tunnels through suburbia, extra-fancy stations etc.) or this project will collapse under its own weight. Going back to California state voters for more money is not an option at the moment and may never be, since prop 1A(2008) proponents promised that bond measure would be the only one at the state level.

    Keep in mind that the construction of fairly long tunnels through mountains with complex geology frequently goes over budget. All the more reason, then, to deal aggressively with known cost escalation risks elsewhere, e.g. freight turnouts in the SF peninsula, regulatory hurdles on buff strength, noise/vibration, incompatible signaling technologies and construction strategies that involve eminent domain for the sole purpose of laying down temporary shoofly tracks. Owners of abutting properties can generate months or even years of legal delays, which cost far more than the ED taking itself. In the constrained rights of way available for HSR, delaying the technical nitty gritty until later on in the planning effort bakes in contingencies, even needlessly expensive lateral and vertical alignment options.

    For example, California needs a senior FRA liaison based in Sacramento to lead the effort to write the rule of special applicability for HSR and render a decision on the Caltrain waiver, identify and resolve conflicts with CPUC on platform height, PTC implementations, ROW surveillance, track fouling risk management etc. etc. etc. If that means paying FRA for the additional headcount and backing it up with funds for consulting engineering by California universities and railways, so be it.

    Another example: measurement of real-world noise/vibration levels in overseas implementations and simulation of airborne and structure-borne propagation paths in a number of generic vertical alignment scenarios, with and without mitigation measures. There’s no need for planners to argue with communities about this. Get some hard data to set realistic expectations and guide the project-level planning process in this regard.

  8. Bay Area Resident
    Dec 9th, 2009 at 12:52

    Matthew F,

    The $8 Billion for HSR in the ARRA is completely different from this $2.5 billion per year in the Transportation bill.

    OK- how much of that 8 billion in the ARRA is Calfornia going to get then? This money in the transportation bill supercedes that, of course.

    TomW Reply:

    @Bay Area Resident
    I think you mean supplements, not supercedes. California is still after a slice of the $8bn from ARRA, and will presumably persue a slice of the $2.5bn too.

    Rafael Reply:

    We won’t know how Ray LaHood decided to allocate the HSR funds in ARRA until February at the earliest. California has requested $4.7 billion with a promise to match that dollar-for-dollar, but there’s a total of $57 billion in request chasing $8 billion in funds.

    Note that Congress already approved $1.5 billion in HSR funds in HR2095-110th (a.k.a. PRIIA), but those funds are on a five-year schedule and limited to a federal share of 80%. I suspect that’s also the case for the $2.5 billion in fresh funds proposed in this FY2010 budget conference report, which does not supersede ARRA. The budget is a separate bill, the amounts are cumulative.

    All three bills include separate capital improvement funds for Amtrak, including the NEC and the Acela Express service on it. However, afaik PRIIA and the 2010 budget allow Amtrak to also apply for the separate HSR funds (along with states) whereas ARRA is limited to applications from states. It’s quite the tangle.

  9. jimsf
    Dec 9th, 2009 at 13:32

    This is why I have to advocate for amtrak to get the operating contract. because amtrak can bring extra money to the table. A virgin, southwest, or some other operator, has to start from scratch, whearas amtrak california already has a statewide customer service delivery system including everything from coach cleaners to mech, to ticket counters, res systems, and on and on, plus all the money, the additional federal funding that amtrak would bring to the table, that virgin or southwest for instance, would not bring. Virgin, southwest etc, would have to work 10 times as hard to turn the operation into an operating profit. Amtrak wouldn’t have to do anything except load the reservations and schedules into our system. We even have our own high speed rail division or workers already. No other company in america has that to my knowledge.
    The stuff that amtrak can bring to the table right up front takes a huge pressure off of the state when it comes to making this system successful. know what i mean?

    AndyDuncan Reply:

    Anyone who has ridden the Acela care to comment on the operations? Given that they are selling out tickets at prices higher than flights, I’m guessing they’re doing just fine, but I’m curious as to how Amtrak has performed with their existing HSR system.

    HSRforCali Reply:

    I had a chance to travel on the Acela a couple of years ago. And I gotta say that it’s one of the nicest trains I’ve ever been on. The inside is really clean and it’s far better than flying. Plus, the over-sized windows offer great views of the entire NEC.

    Rafael Reply:

    No offense, Jim, but all the items you mention amount to peanuts. Airlines already have reservation systems, many train stations around the world have IATA codes. Besides, Virgin Group operates intercity trains in the UK, they wouldn’t be starting from scratch.

    In addition, it’s still entirely possible that a foreign consortium of a railway and vendors will offer a deal in which they invest say, 25% of anticipated cost of the starter line in kind, in return for a monopoly design-build-operate-maintain contract over e.g. 30 years. The state of California would regulate fares and collect negotiated user fees for the public share of the total investment, with the commitment to re-invest those into the construction of the phase 2 spurs. The consortium would also have to commit to investing in that network expansion according to a schedule.

    It’s possible but currently unlikely at best that Amtrak would be able to compete with that kind of deal. It just doesn’t have $9 billion or more in cash and kind lying around.

    AndyDuncan Reply:

    I think the only way that Amtrak is going to end up as an operator is (A) in the highly unlikely scenario that CHSRA isn’t able to get any private investment, or (B) if they split the Design-Build and Operate-Maintain contracts, something they’ve mentioned as a possibility in previous board presentations.

  10. jimsf
    Dec 9th, 2009 at 13:36

    and of course most important, from a traveling public standpoint, amtrak already has a successful brand in cali, a statewide feeder bus system, and would be able to, with the flip of the switch, make sure that all schedules, statewide, are fully integrated to maximize ridership, synchronize transfer points and times, and create thru fares across modes.

    No one else can create a fully integrated statewide system like that. No one. We are the only ones.

  11. jimsf
    Dec 9th, 2009 at 13:58

    ill check some numbers at work.

  12. jimsf
    Dec 9th, 2009 at 13:59

    the biggest saving would be in labor as the labor force is already in place and receives its checks from DC. So there would be no labor cost for chsr.

    AndyDuncan Reply:

    Well that seems unlikely. If Amtrak has a labor force with enough idle time that they will be able to handle the HSR operations and maintenance during their free time, then you guys need to get your budget cut :-)

    jimsf Reply:

    please, they cut staff and pile on more business every year. sure there are more in some crafts, conductors and engineers,, but clerks, they never create a new clerk job. instead they just add those infernal quick track machines and the customers hate them. I can’t get anyone to use them. They all want to talk to me. a real person ( and because Im so fabulous). all the additional ticketing would be absorbed through the implementation of more electronic and on board ticketing while the accounting can be done by the same available staff.

    Im just saying this…. the states dept of transportation already has a working relationship with whom? The state of california has crafted the existing state system including the rolling stock, the feeder buses, and various parts of the infrastructure. The state has a very serious goal of making sure the transportation is fully integrated. so why would the state choose to run and entirely separate system completely detached from its existing system? and plop this completely detached and unrelated new system down on top right in the middle of things.

    and then have passengers running all over the place trying to one ticket from them and a connecting ticket from us at the other window, for shcedules and transfers that aren’t integrated.

    I sure as hell not going to give my time to help some southwest rail passenger plan their trip. Sorry toots, you’ll have to figure it out or go ask that guy in the ugly uniform and shorts over there.

    Chris Reply:

    CHSRA is hoping for literally ten times as many passengers as Amtrak has now, so I’m thinking a few more employees might be needed. Just a few.

    jimsf Reply:

    and rafael, its not a drop in the bucket, its a long term stable funding source compared the airline industy which goes bankrupt every decade and who will have to answer to shareholders and be under pressure to make enough profit to satisfy share holders. and what happens when that becomes the most important thing? why, my goodness gracious, you end up with the very popular and lovely existing situation on the airlines today.. you know , that whole thing where they try to squeeze the last drop of blood and living breath out you, where they make you ride in the cargo hold and take you into the back room for a beating before stealing your wallet and them trying to choke you with poision.

    yeah thats a goal to shoot for.

    oh sure, itll look all hunky dory at first. but it can’t be maintained because that kind of capitalism is nothing but a big pyramid scheme and at some point, it breaks down and fails. every time as they turn the screws on the consumer ( because the consumer’s blood is after all, good to the last drop)

  13. AndyDuncan
    Dec 9th, 2009 at 14:25

    With regards to the $2.5b in funding, it’s a good start, and it’s probably an appropriate start. While $4b would have been even better, I wouldn’t want the gubbermint to go 180 degrees and start funding every project with “High Speed Rail” in the title. I’m all for a change in policy, but throwing a bag full of money at HSR would be disruptive and wasteful. Better to limp in with a couple billion to be allocated to projects like the NEC, the Chicago hub and CAHSR, and give state planning agencies and the populace as a whole a head’s up that funding will be available for projects like this if they get their planning done. Senators do represent states, after all, and as the states start pushing for more HSR funds, their senators will start allocating it.

  14. Walter
    Dec 9th, 2009 at 14:27

    @jimsf Very true. CAHSR/Surfliner connections should be available with on a single fare. Burbank could be an excellent choice to provide efficient transportation from SD, the Central Valley or the Bay Area to Ventura/SB/SLO. Same with a CAHSR/Capitol connection at Diridon–this IS the Altamont extension from SJ into the East Bay. I hope Amtrak really tailors their existing service to serve the population centers that CAHSR won’t get to (East Bay, Ventura County, etc.)

    Rafael Reply:

    It’s perfectly possible to book a single flight with one transfer even if each leg is delivered by a different airline. There may be good reasons to select Amtrak as the operator for California HSR, but this isn’t one of them. It’s just a question of integrating the transaction engines into a single virtual kiosk on the web and physical points of sales. That’s writing an app, not rocket science.

    Indeed, if CHSRA secures IATA codes for its HSR stations, passengers will be able to use airline booking systems to purchase tickets involving an intermodal transfer.

    AndyDuncan Reply:

    “That’s writing an app, not rocket science.”

    Not rocket science, but it is computer science.

    Integrations like that are actually quite hard. Having a single operator makes it an order of magnitude easier. In fact, the European operators are having a hell of a time writing that very app.

    Chris Reply:

    They’re having a hard time because of the political implications, not because actually writing the app is hard.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Yet airlines manage to do it. The “app” is already written. Airline reservation systems don’t care a whole lot if the “plane” is actually a train or a yak cart. It has to arrive and depart at a place that has an airport code.

    Rafael Reply:

    Train stations that are only a short walk or courtesy transit ride removed from an airport terminal are permitted to use that airport’s IATA code. If you have to buy a ticket, that’s an extra leg on your itinerary, making it less attractive to prospective customers. Plain old train stations can get their own globally unique IATA codes as well, by convention they tend to begin with the letter Q, X or Z. That’s not a hard-and-fast rule, though.

    jimsf Reply:

    suppose we don’t want to.

    Peter Reply:

    That is only practical when you have no checked luggage, or a LONG layover. You have to pick up your luggage, check it in again, and go through security again. If you have a carry-on only, it works.

    For most train riders on HSR, I don’t see them as having bulky baggage to check in. They shouldn’t have a problem transferring from one operator to another.

    jimsf Reply:

    too much schlepping. better a one stop ticket window where you buy your tickets that include all your connections including your thruway bus connection, check your bags, and then relax no fuss no muss. thats what people want. they love to check bags. I can’t tell you how many 6 pound hand bags I check from san francisco to stockton everyday. ( we’ve stopped accepting duct taped hefty bags and other unsuitable containers)

    Rafael Reply:

    The trouble with checked bags is that California HSR trains will only dwell for 2 minutes at intermediate stations, 4 at larger ones like San Jose. That gives staff very little time to load and unload bags. They cannot hold a train if they need extra time, as Amtrak can today.

    Carry-ons are the best solution, but passengers headed to airports do often have bulky suitcases etc. One option is to simply increase the dwell times at airport stations to e.g. 10 minutes and, to let express trains bypass these stations. This is possible only if there are at least two platform and two through tracks there. Additional platform tracks are required to handle large numbers of connecting passengers. In California, this will be most relevant for Ontario. It’s not clear how CHSRA will deal with dwell time issues at Millbrae, where Caltrain and BART already have a total of five tracks.

    Another is to go one step further and make the platforms of those sidings secure areas, such that passengers go through airport-style check-in at the train station. Their checked bags are handed off directly to baggage handling at the airport. Example: Vienna City Airport Train, a standard speed point-to-point shuttle service.

    Joey Reply:

    Checking baggage for HSR seems worthless to me. Better to just let passengers bring on their own baggage, possibly providing racks near the doors for oversized items. Baggage check/claim is one of the reasons why I think airports are so slow (these days I never check baggage if I don’t have to). Other HSR systems around the world don’t use baggage check, and I see no reason why ours should.

    On a related note, DesertXPress EIR documents show that they intend to have “baggage platforms” for a trip just over an hour. This seems like an utter waste of time to me…

  15. Andre Peretti
    Dec 9th, 2009 at 14:35

    Seen from Europe, the sums involved look unbelievably low. France alone is going to spend EUR16 billion ($24 bn), evenly split between Bombardier and Alstom, for modernizing regional trains. And the SNCF will later invite bids for the renewal of the TGV fleet.
    When you think that France is just 1/3 bigger than California and probably no richer, that shows how low rail ranks in American priorities.

    Rafael Reply:

    France does have a larger GDP than California, but not per capita. In terms of physical size, the two are roughly comparable but California is more mountainous.

    Note that France made a strategic decision to wean itself off oil – well, in part at least – after the oil crisis of 1973. That’s when it committed to nuclear power and electric high speed rail plus high taxes on motor fuels and private financing of motorways. It’s probably more expensive to drive from Paris to Lyon than to take the train.

    The externalities are reversed in the US, essentially because even now it has significant domestic reserves of oil and gas. There are still plenty of active oil derricks in the LA basin, many artfully concealed behind mock facades. Their number has fallen over time due to advances in horizontal drilling, but the oil industry in California and other states has a vested interest in the status quo.

    Bay Area Resident Reply:

    Well the costs of the systems in the EU pretty much illustrate the issues with HSR for the USA in general. France is spending 24 billion to modernizing an existing system. To be roughly comparable that would mean the USA would need to spend well over 100 billion to do the same thing with the size of this country. That would be roughly 24 billion on the east coast to rival CA, another 24 billion in CA, maybe 15-20 billion in each of Florida, Texas and the Pacific Northwest and then more targeted amounts in the heartland. This would be IF there was an existing railway corridor acceptable to modernize to HSR in those locations, which imho there is not. So add to those figures procuring the land. HSR makes sense in densely populated smaller regions not large regions with sparse populations most of the way through it. HSR would be appropriate for regional transport, for example some kind of HSR addendum to Bart, to take people to Tahoe or something. But as a self contained system the ridership in this country is nil and the costs are too high.

    The entire problem with CHSRA is they tried to cut corners by claiming the Caltrain route was an existing major transportation corridor, hahahah, similar to what France is doing legitimately, and therefore cut costs inappropriately from our system going into it. Bad planning, bad management all the way around.

    Rafael Reply:

    a) Andre was talking about SNCF’s fleet of standard-speed regional trains, not the TGV fleet. Your points regarding the lack of a national HSR network in the US are well taken but not relevant for this comparison.

    b) CHSRA hasn’t claimed the Caltrain right of way is a major transportation corridor today, even though it does see nearly 100 trains and supports nearly 40,000 riders every weekday. It just happens to be contiguous, sufficiently wide for quad tracks in most places and above all, available. I don’t see how CHSRA is cutting any corners in planning to implement HSR there. In fact, it is paying through the nose for the right of way, by footing the lion’s share of the downtown SF station and access tunnel, extending full grade separation to the Caltrain/UPRR tracks, allowing Caltrain to use the HSR tracks for baby bullet service, allowing Caltrain to piggy-back onto the electrification infrastructure, implementing fences and CCTV surveillance for the entire ROW etc. Hopefully Caltrain will be smart enough to also piggy-back onto the state-of-the-art CHSRA signaling system rather than try and roll its own.

    It’s perfectly legitimate for a railroad to upgrade its property and exploit it by increasing service quality and/or frequency or else, partnering with another organization to achieve just that. Anyone who purchased property abutting the PCJPB (previously SP) right of way believing it would never again see any major construction or increase in traffic was taking a risk. That’s what “caveat emptor” refers to.

    AndyDuncan Reply:

    “HSR would be appropriate for regional transport, for example some kind of HSR addendum to Bart, to take people to Tahoe or something.”

    Is that a joke? You don’t support HSR from SF to LA, but you support a ski train from SF to Tahoe? Because it would be more cost effective?

    Walter Reply:

    In his (extremely slight) defense, I think extending in that direction is a valid idea. But:

    1. A line to Tahoe should be in addition to CAHSR, not instead.
    2. It should be from Sac (stop in either Marysville/Yuba City or Auburn then Truckee then Reno).
    3. This is not worth worrying about until about 2025, when there is HSR in Sacramento.

    Rafael Reply:

    Do you have any idea of how expensive it would be to tunnel through the Sierras?

    Walter Reply:

    Amtrak’s California Zephyr already runs between SAC and RNO. A CAHSR extension doesn’t need to be express HSR, just something a little quicker than the Zephyr, which takes 5 hours to cover the 130 miles between SAC and Reno. A train that could span this distance in half that time (average of about 50 mph) would see significant ridership, not to mention the possibility of building out farther along I-80 to SLC, though that probably wouldn’t happen for a long, long time.

    Rafael Reply:

    The speed is probably constrained by the geometry of the alignment, the state of good repair of the tracks and the presence of freight trains. You can’t just step on the gas.

    Walter Reply:

    You’re right. I’m not saying it would be easy. The Zephyr alignment is quite windy and upgrading to HSR would probably involve widening I-80 and using a median for parts, which also means building new track. But it is a worthwhile project sometime in the future. I’m very much looking forward to a nationwide HSR network and there are only so many ways to build eastward from California.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    And the superelevation, and the fact that American trains run at a cant deficiency one quarter that of modern tilting DMUs.

    PeakVT Reply:

    100 billion dollars! OMG! Big scary number!

    Of course that wouldn’t be spent in 1 year; more like 10.

    Meanwhile, people in this country spent $60B on “Jewelry and Watches” last year (line 20 of NIPA table 2.4.5 from the BEA).

    Peter Reply:

    HSR to bring people to Tahoe? WTF?

    Caltrain not a major transportation corridor? Huh?

    I knew that I disagreed with you on policy choices. I didn’t know you were an idiot, too.

    HSRforCali Reply:

    Wow. Saying the Caltrain is not an existing major transportation corridor? What planet are you from? Planet Pathetic maybe? Get over yourself and stop looking for fake excuses on why HSR is a giant boondoggle. Does anyone else think this guy is Richard Tolmach?

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