No, We Don’t Need To Vote Again

Jan 20th, 2010 | Posted by

When I was growing up in Orange County, it seemed like every election we were voting on whether to turn the old Marine Corps air base at El Toro into an airport or not. One year voters said yes, the next year no, and on and on until finally, in the late ’90s, voters again said no to the airport and settled on a plan for a “Great Park” at the old base, to be annexed and developed by the city of Irvine. It was a joke of a process, a mockery of democracy. If you don’t get the result you want at the ballot box, the solution shouldn’t be to try and try again until you do.

It would be particularly unfortunate if high speed rail went down that path. And it’s entirely unnecessary. Voters approved the project route and $10 billion in state bond funding at the November 2008 election. Voters didn’t sign off on every single element of project design, nor should they have to do so. Infrastructure design should not be done by the ballot box (look how well setting tax policy by ballot initiative has worked out for us!). It should be done by a professional staff with public oversight and public engagement.

Unfortunately, some folks think otherwise. An op-ed by Thomas Elias in yesterday’s Mercury-News uses the new fare estimates as an argument for holding another vote on high speed rail. He begins:

It would not be surprising if voters who read the latest report of California’s High Speed Rail Authority feel more than a little bit bait-and-switched.

Really? Because the fares might change, it’s a “bait-and-switch”? That’s the most absurd thing I’ve ever heard. Do people claim that air travel is a bait and switch because some are charging for bags?

Most of that was envisioned in the proposition voters approved. But the latest fare forecast was not. As presented in 2008, fares were to run about $55 one-way between Los Angeles and San Francisco, designed to be competitive with airfares that now often hover just under $60, even though cheaper ones can occasionally be found.

But the new plan calls for a one-way charge of $105, about 83 percent of the $125 the rail authority predicts airfares will run in 2035. That near-doubling of prospective fares would reduce expected ridership by almost one-third. In short, as much fun as high-speed trains are to ride, they would probably never be affordable for vast numbers of Californians.

First off, as we’ve discussed endlessly here, it’s actually very difficult to find a $60 fare from SF to LA on short notice, even if you can it doesn’t take you from downtown to downtown, the travel time is about as long door-to-door, and finally, anyone who thinks that airfares will still be $60 in ten years’ time is out of their minds. Rising oil prices will ensure the cost will be much, much higher.

But in any case, that’s not a matter for the voters, and it’s not a sign that the project is flawed, damaged, or somehow different than what we expected. The issue of what the fares should be is important, but it can and will be addressed through activism as well as legislative oversight and action. Going back to the ballot over this is pointless and unnecessary.

Meanwhile, no change is anticipated in the $647 million annual cost of repaying interest and principal on the bonds. That money will be paid not just by riders and residents of areas the project might serve, but also by non-riders and residents of the vast portions of California who would have to travel as much as several hundred miles just to glimpse a high-speed train zip past. From the moment the first of the bonds are issued, repaying them will become a higher priority for the next 30 years than any state program except public schools.

Actually, most Californians would live within 30-40 miles of an HSR station once the system is fully built out to Sacramento and SD, with many being much closer. Most others will have passenger rail feeder services. Maybe if you live in Lake Tahoe or Eureka you might not see this up close, but most Californians will be able to make use of these trains.

More importantly, they’ll be able to make use of the savings on the cost of driving to vacation destinations within the state, the savings to the state budget from reduced demand for freeway and airport expansion.

And then there are the environmental questions. Cities such as Menlo Park and Atherton are already fighting a plan for an above-ground line dividing their cities along the route between San Jose and San Francisco, where 31,000 riders daily are expected to enjoy commute times of 31 minutes or less. At the time of the vote, the route was known; not the notion of a 15-foot divider splitting many cities on the Peninsula. The need to widen existing rail rights-of-way, spawning likely eminent domain takeovers of an as-yet-unknown number of homes, was also not advertised.

As we know, this is absurd – these cities are already divided by the Caltrain corridor. It makes little difference whether the rails are at-grade or supported by a concrete wall. These issues had been known on the Peninsula in particular before November 2008; even if they had been shouted from the rooftops, it’s likely Prop 1A would still have passed.

Anyone who’s ridden the high-speed trains of France, Spain, Belgium, England and Japan knows how comfortable and convenient and enjoyable they can be. But given the revised fare structure and accompanying ridership estimates, it’s fair to wonder whether they should be partially funded in California by tax money from millions of people who may never ride them.

Of course, those trains are ALL partially funded by public tax money. So are most of our airports, freeways, and other roads. Thomas Elias almost certainly drives daily on roads I have never used and will never use in my lifetime. But I still derive economic benefit because those roads enable him to work, to spend money, to grow the economy. Same thing with police and fire services, schools, on and on. HSR will function in exactly the same way, creating new economic activity and savings that will benefit even those who never once ride the train.

Another question is whether all this is worth it in order to get the flashy transport system that would result and the approximately 600,000 high-paid new jobs the new report says bullet trains would create. Those issues will hang over this plan from now until the system actually opens.

Once again we see the HSR deniers claiming that California doesn’t need job creation. It must be nice to live in their world, a world where jobs are plentiful and no family is sitting over the dinner table freaking out about how to pay their bills because both breadwinners have been laid off and can’t find new work in a state with 12% unemployment.

All of which means it might be wise for the Legislature, which put last year’s Proposition 1A on the ballot, to submit the plan revisions to another statewide vote.

Which is entirely unnecessary. And if Elias is really concerned about state finances, he might want to think twice before advocating this goes back to the ballot – I cannot imagine California’s credit rating will fare well if rating agencies see voters repudiating state debt that they earlier approved.

I have no doubt that if we did go back to the ballot that HSR would again be approved. But there is no need to waste the time and money on doing so. HSR deniers cannot accept the fact that they lost, that the public rejects their views, and that Californians want high speed trains. So they find ways to try and undo the voters’ verdict through other means.

The fact is that Californians want high speed rail and approved high speed rail at the ballot box. Subsequent issues such as fares and exactly how the railway gets built will be hashed out through the usual planning process – you know, the one that built the airports and roads and aqueducts and bridges that California relies on to thrive.

  1. Joey
    Jan 20th, 2010 at 17:07

    Do the deniers even have a chance of getting it back on the ballot?

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Not unless they have $2 million lying around to pay the signature gatherers.

    Once the federal government announces how much we get in HSR stimulus money, the already statistically negligible chances of this going back to the ballot will become zero.

    Brandon from San Diego Reply:

    Further… many many more California’s are familiar with the project. And, where ever you go… you get supporters. On the other hand, the majority of those decidedly no’s… are adjacent to the ROW. Basically, the pool of moving forward with HSR… has grown exponationally. Besides, who opposes job creation right now!!!!

    Peter Reply:

    Whoever already has their’s and needs no more. Therefore no need to do anything to help anyone else to get their’s, too.

    Brandon from San Diego Reply:


    Peter Reply:

    It means that those people who are already set financially have no reason to help other people. Therefore they oppose job creation when it might negatively affect them.

  2. Nadia
    Jan 20th, 2010 at 17:50

    How will HSR get around the fact that Prop 1A specifically says this must be built without subsidies?
    From Prop 1A:
    “The planned passenger service by the authority in the corridor or usable segment thereof will not require a local, state, or federal operating subsidy.”

    I’m not arguing against subsidies and I know you’ve made your case for the subsidies that already occur for every other form of transportation. But that’s not what I want to know.

    I’m asking – legally, how do you see them getting around this issue? The only way AB3034 can be changed is if it goes back to the voters. So, doesn’t it have to go back to the voters anyway to allow the subsidies you feel HSR deserves? Is there something I’m missing?

    At the Senate hearing yesterday, Pringle was challenged on that very point. And, as you know, that is the LAO’s point when he writes that the business plan “appears to violate the law.”

    So again, is there a loophole that exists that we’re not aware of?

    Robert, you wrote you have been working behind the scenes to help this project. Well, if they have to fix this problem by going back to the voters are there other things that HSR should consider changing in order to make the project successful?

    Jathnael Taylor Reply:

    just FYI construction =/= operation…
    They are talking about running the trains with out subsidies, not building it..
    that is according to how I read the rule…but I am no lawyer.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    The key phrase there is operating subsidy, which means the operations of the train – NOT the construction.

    It is a very stupid and inane provision, since there is nothing wrong with subsidizing HSR operations the way we subsidize freeways. But that provision seems absolutely, unmistakably clear that it refers to “operations” and “service” – NOT construction.

    As far as I am concerned there is no issue or loophole here.

    Joey Reply:

    Keep in mind that the chances of HSR requiring an operating subsidy is almost zero, judging from the profitability of all HSR systems currently in operation (including the pathetic Acela).

    spokker Reply:

    Which HSR systems around the world lose money on operations, though?

    Mark Drury Reply:

    Some coworkers from Taiwan told me that country’s/republic’s high speed rail system has been something of a financial disaster in its first few years of operation. Read the “Ridership” and “Revenue” sections of the following wikipedia article for details:

    Interesting tidbits from that article include the fact that initial ridership fell far short of projections: “Daily ridership was around 92,000 in October 2008, corresponding to a load factor of 44.7%,” well below the initial 180,000 (later reduced to 140,000 — sound familiar?) daily riders predicted for 2007.

    And from the “Revenue” section of the article:

    “In 2009, it was revealed that THSR has lost NT$67.5 billion in the two years since opening, equivalent to two thirds of its equity capital. The workforce has been cut from 3600 to 2500, work on the extension to Nankang was halted, and the planned construction of three more intermediate stations was postponed. The company got a new management in September 2009 with the aim to turn around the company’s finances with government help in organizing a refinance. While the government decided that the construction of the three stations should go ahead anyway, the company’s creditors and founding shareholders refused to increase the loan package for the planned refinance. The government took majority control of the company after the election of its new board on 10 November 2009.”

    Definitely a cautionary tale for those advocating CAHSR and the current “business plan” as put forth by the Authority. Regards,

    Mark Drury

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    So, I approved this comment, even though it badly distorts the truth of what is going on in Taiwan. A *far* more accurate and informative commentary was offered by DoDo at the European Tribune last March in what I still believe is the most important post yet authored on the topic of finances, fares, and ridership, titled Puente AVE. I will quote at length:

    As for examples of bad starts, consider the Korea Train eXpress (KTX) and the Taiwan High Speed Rail (THSR).

    Both of these lines were built along corridors with traffic demand well beyond anything we have in Europe. But, due to high population density (translating into high buildup), geological obstacles, and cost overruns, both were rather expensive, too.

    For the KTX, cost overruns were mostly due to the culture of favoritism between the state and large business conglomerates, which one may better term institutionalised corruption. The latest example, just a month ago: after the discovery of cracks, it became apparent that a company contracted to supply sleepers had no expertise at all in the field, and now all those sleepers will have to be replaced.

    For the THSR, cost overruns were largely the consequence of a switch to Japanese suppliers after planning based on European high-speed technology was already well-advanced. The decision was widely rumoured to have been political (and led to an epic political, media and court battle ending in damage payments to Eurotrain), and the overseeing company THSRC did not go with the actual Japanese offer, but stuck to its guns on specifications. Thus f.e. a German maker had to be contracted to supply fixed-track high-speed switches (no need for those on Shinkansen lines with their strictly single-direction tracks).

    Likewise, both lines were opened half-finished: one-third of the Seoul-Busan KTX line was delayed (until 2011, now thanks to those sleepers maybe even further), THSRC started with a reduced schedule, both started with some stations unfinished (for the THSR, including both downtown terminuses!) or without urban transit connections. Also, both lines started with hefty ticket prices that had to be reduced later.

    As a result, on both lines, even last year, ridership barely passed half of the original expectations for the first year.

    Note: KTX’s first year started on 1 April, THSRC’s on 5 January; initial ridership predictions were given as average daily figures, here multiplied by 365

    The failure to meet expectations after the start was widely discussed as a national scandal in both countries. However, you can also see on the graphs that there was steady growth thereafter. And that at the expense of other modes of transport.

    The modal shift was particularly spectacular in Taiwan. In just 20 months, all but one single daily flight between the cities served by THSRC was eliminated (last December, THSRC’s share of the air/rail market was 99.95%…), leaving the highway as only competition. Total domestic air passenger transport fell almost by half(!). The steady uninterrupted annual growth of highway traffic was not only stopped but turned back. In South Korea, too, even the unfinished line was enough for rail to grab almost two-thirds of the total air/rail/road market between Seoul and Busan (up from 38% to 61% by 2005 already), halving air traffic.

    As a consequence of these growths, KTX turned a profit in 2007, while THSRC achieved a positive cash flow from April 2008.

    Then again, THSRC is negotiating for a refinance. For, it is a victim of the financial crisis similar to some US mortgage takers: it took a lot of credit with above-market variable interest rates. Currently, about two-fifths of its monthly income go for operating costs, and the rest for paying interests.

    THSRC’s finances are a horror story worth to mention in some detail. THSR was chosen to be a build-operate-transfer (BOT) franchise, THSRC is essentially a private financial corporation taking credit and contracting out work. They won the franchise with the promise to require zero public money. However, following the 1998 Asian Crisis, it had trouble collecting the needed sum. So it took what it could, including the variable-rate credits, hidden state support in the form of credit and capital from state companies, and the income from selling a 10% share to the Japanese construction companies. The refinancing sought after would involve foreign banks, while the domestic creditors whose approval is needed would prefer a capital increase.

    Notice the key points:

    1. Taiwan relied on too much private funding, so that when ridership reached projected levels and operating surpluses were generated, there still wasn’t enough to service the debt

    2. Taiwan stupidly switched tech in the middle of planning and construction, adding greatly to cost

    3. Taiwan equally stupidly opened the line incomplete, with missing stations and without key segments, ensuring that projected ridership could not have been reached in the first year

    4. Taiwan eventually turned around the ridership issues and has a financially healthy system – except for the need to make huge payments to private investors.

    So what does this mean for CA?

    It means we need to minimize private investment, maximize ridership, build the rails and the stations where the people are (in other words, ignore the people who recklessly argue for following I-5 through the Central Valley), and give the system a few years to reach its ridership. Oh, and it means that even with those issues, HSR is STILL very popular with the public.

    This is all quite doable and workable in CA.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The problem isn’t private investment. Remember – the TGV was funded by selling bonds on Wall Street. The problem is high interest rates. If the feds or the state guarantee low-interest loans, then it doesn’t matter who provides the money. If they don’t, then you can expect CAHSR to perform about as well as THSR and the Channel Tunnel.

    Brandon from San Diego Reply:

    There IS a grey area… that first year or two of operations… when ridership has not yet been built or reached potential.

    I can imagine two things…. 1) seed money will be needed to get things going, and 2) some public funding to fill a probable gap to bridge between fare revenue and operating costs. How either is structured… politically/legislatively is to be determined, but, this is a subject that will certainly be raised as we approach an opening date… for each segment.

  3. Observer
    Jan 20th, 2010 at 18:46

    The senate committe and LAO are talking about the CHSRA’s own statements in the business plan that revenue guarantees for private investors are implied. And revenue guarantees = subsidies unless the revenue guarantees themsleves are coming from somewhere other than the public sector. They will not be allowed to structure contracts that include revenue or ridership guarantees from state federal or local governments – so the question is, for Robert, what is CHSRA’s plans for providing revenue guarantees that are legal under AB3034?

  4. Alon Levy
    Jan 20th, 2010 at 19:16

    I think voting again whenever there’s a major change in plan is a great idea. Can we vote again on the Iraq War, now that everyone realizes that Saddam had no WMD? And can we please vote again on funding for the Big Dig?

    Brandon from San Diego Reply:

    Yes, hind-sight is always 20/20! Can we vote again on the 2000 presidential election? I’d like to… but I don’t think my vote would change.

    Peter Reply:

    We don’t need a revote. Just a recount.

  5. spokker
    Jan 20th, 2010 at 20:26

    Anaheim Meeting Highlights:

    Typical meeting. It went long. Lots of public comment.

    Before I get to that I had a one on one conversation with Pringle. I brought up the argument that why should the rest of us spend a billion more dollars for Anaheim’s tunnel just to preserve their property values and homes? He rejects the notion that tunneling costs are prohibitive. He said once you account for the six grade separations and cost to buy up property, tunneling might be very attractive, especially with new technologies that he is aware of. However, the other staff on hand made it clear that tunneling would result in a lot of cost escalation. His comments lead me to believe he is very much for a tunnel.

    Regardless, I told him that while the project is not perfect, I support it. I said that these kinds of meetings tend to attract people who are not necessarily representative of the Anaheim whole and that there is a lot of support for the project. He said these meetings were just designed to gather public input, and that it wasn’t a vote on the project.

    In general, they were telling people that the line from LA to Anaheim could open in 2017 and that the entire phase 1 project could open in 2020.

    The tunnel and at grade option poster boards were the most popular. I participated in a few discussions going on around them. Most people wanted to know how much they cost and how much land would be taken. The tunnel option is not without impacts, I pointed out. Tunneling requires a massive staging area and an easement on adjacent properties, prohibiting future development by those land owners. Tunneling also precludes grade separation of the Metrolink right of way above. Metrolink is planning 30 minute service between Fullerton and Laguna Niguel on that corridor, I pointed out.

    During the presentation Q&A one woman demanded to know how much each individual staff member at the CHSRA makes. Pringle said as a board member he makes $100 a month. The woman went on to say that in order for us to appreciate the beauty of California that the trains should slow down to below 110 MPH. She was told by some in the peanut gallery to sit down which was kind of funny.

    One woman asked why the shared track alternative was cut. They said something about the FRA and their insistence on crash survival instead of crash avoidance.

    She asked why the CHSRA said that they talked to the historical society when they didn’t. One staff member said they don’t recall that they ever said that.

    One woman asked whether or not anybody asked who is going to ride this thing. She talked about government debt and the value of the dollar.

    There were other questions about cost, CHSRA’s budget, why they couldn’t use freeways, profitability and other stuff. It will cost $42 billion or so (one woman said she KNOWS it won’t cost that much), the CHSRA budget is over $100 million per year. Freeways were ruled out during early studies. I don’t remember the answer about profitability.

    On my way out some people were talking about how the Century Freeway devastated South LA communities. I got a chuckle out of that. Suffice to say I think South LA would rather have a rail line than a super highway dividing their neighborhoods.

    Joey Reply:

    Are the presentation boards from the meeting available online?

    Spokker Reply:

    Not that I can see. I emailed them and asked for them to be put up.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Does Pringle actually know what technologies are used to reduce tunneling costs in countries where subway costs are low, such as Spain? Or is he just engaging in standard decide-announce-defend rhetoric?

    Kevin Reply:

    Of note at the meeting was that the ROW width for the at-grade option through Anaheim has increased significantly. Their presentation boards showed the 50′ ROW section increasing to *one hundred and twenty-seven feet* in width — the current 50′ ROW for Metrolink/Amtrak/UPRR traffic, a 61.5′ ROW for HSR, and a mysterious 16.5′ space in the middle separating the two. Why in the hell does the Authority need all that extra space?

    The answer from the guy manning the poster was that they were designing to a ‘standard’ based on lines ‘in other parts of the world’. What idiot part of the world are they using as their ‘standard’? When I lived in Germany, DB was able to run ICE trains up to 230 km/h between Hamburg and Berlin on a two-track line shared with freight and regional traffic. My feelings that the CHSRA is in over its head are rapidly increasing. And if this *is* what they actually plan on doing, the number of takes necessary for the at-grade option has expanded exponentially …

    (The cross-section for the 100′ wide sections of ROW through Anaheim has ballooned to ~150′ or so — the two existing tracks staying right where they are, with another 61.5′ HSR glued to the side with a small overlap.)

    Spokker Reply:

    Another guy explained that they are accounting for the fact that Metrolink and other railroad owners may not want them that close to their own tracks. Both options are still on the table. Those issues will be hashed out later on.

    Personally I don’t think HSR on 110 MPH will pose much of a threat to existing tracks that they have to be separated so much.

    Joey Reply:

    Mostly I’m worried about the FRA…

    Spokker Reply:

    I’m sure they are as well. I think that’s why the shared track alternative was thrown out in the first place, even though that’s the one they really wanted. I imagine they decided that fighting homeowners was easier than fighting the FRA.

    Avoiding another Acela Express is key.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The FRA regulations for high-speed grade crossings aren’t that bad. Up until 110 mph four-quadrant gates are enough, and from 110 to 125 the standard is “impenetrable barrier,” which doesn’t yet exist in the US and nobody knows what it means.

    I still think that if the FRA is intransigent in SoCal, CAHSR should make people transfer cross-platform at LAUS.

    Kevin Reply:

    I can see a private operator like BNSF telling the CHSRA to take a hike, but I think that for a government-owned section like this one, the CHSRA needs to get tough or at least provide some clarity. I know that it makes me an evil NIMBY for saying so, but I’d prefer not to lose my *entire* neighborhood park just because CHSRA decided that Metrolink *might* get a case of train cooties.

    Spokker Reply:

    As I said, the wider ROW is a contingency. If you think HSR and Metrolink/Amtrak can coexist in peace on a more narrow ROW, let both agencies know.

    I certainly hope you submitted a written comment at the meeting with your concerns.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    I don’t think BNSF would do that – overall it’s been fairly accommodating to passenger rail. (However, it opposes the PTC mandate, like all the other railroads).

    It’s UP that’s against passenger rail.

    Spokker Reply:

    Kevin, here’s some more information on what’s going on.

    Currently in Anaheim there is a 1.5 stretch of 50 foot wide ROW between Vermont Ave. and North St. This must be widened to 100 feet to accommodate four tracks.

    You can see what this looks like here on page 47:

    It says they need an additional 35 feet for a total of 85 feet.

    Here’s the area in question on Google Maps:,+ca&ie=UTF8&hl=en&hq=&hnear=Anaheim,+Orange,+California&ll=33.845805,-117.909133&spn=0.001221,0.00284&t=h&z=19 Where the ROW narrows is very clearly visible. I don’t know who or what allowed that to happen but it’s a big annoyance now.

    What they presented last night was a contingency plan to go wider than 100 feet in case the OCTA, owner of the right of way in that area, decides that they don’t want high speed trains too close to their tracks. I don’t see why this would happen, but it makes sense to plan for it. People freak out and think a decision has been made when it hasn’t.

    jimsf Reply:

    Notice it was all women asking questions. That’s what happens. Its my impression that in the old days, men used to just get things done… you know, without worrying about going slower so we can see the poppies.

    Spokker Reply:

    There were a couple men asking questions but I don’t remember what they asked.

  6. political_incorrectness
    Jan 20th, 2010 at 20:31

    Cost of doing nothing is still not zero! This project will carry up to 14 lanes of interstate highway at a much higher speed! HSR in other countries is popular because you are not having to go through the hassle of security and to think people will not use this system at all is completely ludicrous if the AVE that does trips in a little less than 3 hours between Barcelona and Madrid shaved 40% of the air market in a matter of months.

    There is no need for a revote, otherwise, all the money put into planning work will be for waste! I hate how people continue to say failure this and that. PR nightmare in the Bay Area and major cities. If you want commuter rail to expand service, this project does that and a better way of getting around California! Plus, with cheap fares from Western cities, there is a chance to set an example! I’m glad CA4HSR is pushing the grassroots campaign to fight back against the coalition against this. As I’ve seen, elevated lines are apart of the urban fabric of many cities around the world. I see nothing wrong with this either.

    After all, would you rather see an expensive BART system you pay taxes to for a couple billion more and continue to reduce service?

    Spokker Reply:

    It’s important to note that while some segments of CAHSR can potentially act as commuter services (monthly passes, for example), building this doesn’t preclude the need for other commuter rail links. The fact that nearly a billion from Prop 1A will go to connecting transit proves that.

    Jathnael Taylor Reply:

    Feeder lines are also key to the success of any HSR network.
    Be it heavy rail, light rail or commuter lines..

  7. Dan
    Jan 20th, 2010 at 21:04

    An off-the-wall question:

    If someone succeeds at adding a new HSR vote to the ballot, is that also an opportunity (for supporters) to tweak the language of the original initiative to increase the public money, change the public/private $ ratio requirements, number of station limits, et al?

    HSRforCali Reply:

    That’s what I was thinking. If there is another vote and we add some extra things to it in favor of high-speed rail, wouldn’t be a good thing if it did pass? Maybe a sales tax or extra bond issue?

    Joey Reply:

    Considering that the text of any such ballot measure would probably be dictated by HSR opponents, I doubt we would see much, if any of that.

    Spokker Reply:

    I want the train’s restroom amenities to be spelled out in the language of the new bill. Please make sure it has a strong flusher.

    Jathnael Taylor Reply:

    And make sure it has the Japanese Style Toilet….just to make things all that more fun!

    jimsf Reply:

    and full size tissue. not the narrow stuff.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    If the opponents wrote the initiative, then no. They’ll write it as a straight up “repeal Prop 1A.”

    If the state legislature were to write it as a revote, then those other things become possible, although unlikely.

    Brandon from San Diego Reply:

    I hope so. The original langauage was planned for the 2004 elections. It was postponed twice…. and went in 2008. However, none of the dollar figures changed? And at the same time…. we certainly know the cost went up due to inflation alone. I believe there is a credible argument to increase the bond amount…. from $9b for HSR to somethign that includes inflation and probable and unforeseen project elemetns that look like they will be added…. Anaheim tunnel segment… Altamont overlay…. fix the Transbay Terminal TJPA design…. etc. And, might as well include the San Diego and Sacramento segments.

  8. Spokker
    Jan 20th, 2010 at 22:08

    Saw an interesting comments on the Altamont Press:,37578,37599#msg-37599

    “This weeks hearing on the California High Speed Rail was a real circus-with the CHSRA’s latest “business plan” being laughed out of the room by the Legislative Analyst.

    Among the more amusing analysis is the purported passenger “modeling” showing that LA UPT will generate almost no ridership for the system, but Gilroy will??? And, California ridership (despite almost no contribution by LA County Stations?) will exceed, in its first ten years, the ridership of every other system that has been built recently, in the rest of world, by factors of 4 to 10 fold in this latest “fanstasy” business plan……

    I will try to get the posts of the data presented uploaded for those who want a good laugh. There are no bizarre conspiracy theories necessary on this one-just good old fashioned self serving and clearly ludicrous assumptions, lots of political hubris, and incredible organizational incompetence at the CHSRA.”

    Spokker Reply:

    Here’s what I could find. The TGV had an annual ridership of 45 million boardings per year by 2003 with a population of 60 million. By 2035 the California system is projected to have 41 million boardings per year. By 2035 I imagine the TGV boardings, with all of the extensions, will exceed that by a wide margin.

    By 2020 the California system will see 13.5 million boardings. That’s not unreasonable.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    The TGV’s already surpassed the 100 million mark.

    The part about 4-10 fold is complete garbage.

    Spokker Reply:

    Do you know how Spain’s system is doing in regard to annual boardings?

    Alon Levy Reply:

    No. DoDo may have some data on EuroTrib. The figure I seem to remember is 8 million as of 2008, but under no circumstances should you quote me on that.

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    The population/TGV-ridership ratio is meaningless. More than half of the French population have no access to a TGV line and many ordinary trains run at more than 110mph. They would be called “high-speed” in America. They are almost as fast as the TGV for shorter distances, and cheaper because the regions subsidize them.
    The SNCF’s yearly ridership is a little over 1 billion. Many of these riders would use the TGV if no other fast train was available. They should be taken into account when making comparisons.
    Seen in that light, CAHSRA’s ridership predictions look more than credible.

    Spokker Reply:

    Taiwan High Speed Rail did 32 million riders in 2009. Up from 2007 and 2008 numbers. It’s a 208 mile system.

    So I don’t know what the hell this guy’s “4-10 fold” bullshit is.

  9. synonymouse
    Jan 20th, 2010 at 23:47

    There is no reason for having a re-vote unless it provides for the electorate to select the route they prefer.

    Very few California voters believe the contention that the current hsr scheme will not require operating subsidies.

    The super-rich and the corporations are only interested in the hsr so long as the little people are forced to pay for it. Please try to slap taxes on the elite to pay for it. How about a stiff eco-tax on Larry Ellison’s private jet?

    Joey Reply:

    “Very few California voters believe the contention that the current hsr scheme will not require operating subsidies.”

    Then clearly they are misinformed.

  10. Robert Cruickshank
    Jan 21st, 2010 at 11:24

    Note: I shut off the CAPTCHA for comments for the time being, until I can figure out how to get it to refresh after a comment is posted. The problem is that since we use AJAX comments – which allow you to post a comment and see it there immediately without reloading the page – reCAPTCHA doesn’t know to give you a new CAPTCHA, and so comments from legit users were being caught in the spam filter.

    The CAPTCHA is still there at registration, and once you’re registered, you see no CAPTCHA and comments aren’t held for moderation. I’m hoping that we’re not high-traffic enough to where this is going to open the floodgates for spam, and I still have to manually approve any comment by someone who has never commented before. But I do plan to restore the CAPTCHA for comments for non-registered users at some point soon, once I get this bug figured out.

  11. synonymouse
    Jan 21st, 2010 at 12:06

    I just read the Tolmach group critique of the CHSRA scheme. Thanks for the link. What a breath of fresh air and common sense. Too bad the re-vote crowd haven’t yet realized the current flawed route represents an even bigger problem than the financing.

    The pro-CHSRAr crowd would serve their cause better by fulminating less about “nimbys”and re-examining their plan. Maybe you guys are too close to the problem to see it or you have dug in your ego heels prematurely.

    Joey Reply:

    Yeah, well, at least they’re not taking about terminating at Livermore…

    Spokker Reply:

    Keep in mind that Fremont and Pleasanton were against Altamont, though Pleasanton was open to terminating Altamont in Livermoore.

  12. Dan
    Jan 21st, 2010 at 13:04

    synonymouse — can you provide a link to the report?

    synonymouse Reply:

    Spokker Reply:

    You can read all of their screeds against HSR here:

    For every problem they get right they seem to spread fear, uncertainty and doubt, the same way affluent homeowners near the tracks do.

    Peter Reply:

    Or they mention the lawsuit, but fail to mention that they won on none of their major causes of action. Just noise/vibration and ROW from San Jose to Merced.

    Peter Reply:

    By the way, did anything happen with the other lawsuit? The one regarding the trackage rights agreement?

  13. Peter
    Jan 21st, 2010 at 13:19

    There’s a difference between being pro-CAHSR and being pro-CHSRA. I think most HSR supporters are in favor of the system in general, but not necessarily in favor of the Authority.

    We are in favor of the best implementation of HSR possible with a limited budget and limited political currency.

    If you’ll note on Tolmach’s map, they highlight all the advantages of Altamont – I-5, while highlighting all the disadvantages of Pacheco – SR-99. They do not even mention the disadvantages of Altamont – I-5 or the advantages of Pacheco – SR-99. The article is about as fair and balanced as Fox News.

    Tolmach and Co. seem to ignore the political realities of building a mega-project like CAHSR. The Central Valley would not have voted for HSR if it did not serve their cities. They are in desperate need of economic development and jobs. They understand that HSR will serve those needs. Prop 1A needed all the votes it could get.

    Additionally, it ignores the budgetary and technical reasons for the chosen route: San Jose on main line, serving over a million more potential riders in the Central Valley, ability to cross fault lines at grade, less tunneling in uncertain geology, no need to rebuild the Dumbarton Rail Bridge with its uncertain environmental impacts, etc.

    The current plan has its downsides, but these have been balanced against its advantages. I would have been ok with Altamont, but using I-5 – Tejon simply is not politically, financially or technically feasible.

    Peter Reply:

    This was meant as a response to synonymouse’s post.

    Jathnael Taylor Reply:

    They also don’t seem to grasp that not all trains will stop in all stations.

    Peter Reply:

    Well, you don’t have to take into account facts when your audience is not educated as to the facts.

    Spokker Reply:

    Tolmach’s newsletter trumps European trains, which are great, but they don’t talk about the disadvantages of that approach. We all know about the so-called beet field stations. You mean SNCF built stations out in the boondocks? Why were they so angry about Los Banos then?

    They don’t seem to mention the Japanese style bullet trains, which do travel above neighborhoods. Noise mitigation in that country has come a long way.

    They leave out a lot of easy things that you know they know about. This leads me to believe they are deceptive.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Tolmach opposes HSR. Simple as that. He doesn’t want it built, and instead wants to fund existing passenger rail, upgrade them to about 110 mph, and be done with it.

    Peter Reply:

    From the earlier newsletters, he seemed to be quite reasonably in favor of HSR until they made the decision to go with Pacheco – SR99 – Palmdale. Then he suddenly became rabid. Essentially, he did not get his way and started throwing a temper tantrum.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Well, from what I’ve seen since early 2008, he has been working to kill HSR. He tried to get the Sierra Club to oppose Prop 1A, and failed. He had worked similarly in other organizations to try and achieve the same outcome.

    People who put alignment issues ahead of their overall support for HSR aren’t really HSR supporters, especially when the alignments in question are sensible. As I’ve said before, opposition to SR99 and Palmdale is utterly senseless and fiscally irresponsible. Pacheco v. Altamont is a different matter, but it is also a settled matter.

    Peter Reply:

    I’ll agree on that. It does seem that in many respects he is demanding something that would kil the project overall, while “improving” it.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    There are a LOT of people playing that particular game, sadly.

    Bianca Reply:

    As High Speed Rail moves forward in California, there are going to be a lot of situations where the perfect is the enemy of the good, and concern trolls will attempt to position themselves as supporting the concept while opposing its implementation. Tolmach is the favorite “expert” these Trojans like to trot out to make their case.

    Reality Check Reply:

    I’ve known Tolmach since around 1990. AFAIK, he’s always been a big fan of HSR. While he’s clearly and rabidly anti-HSRA, I still think he’s a genuine fan of HSR done “right”. Many of his acolytes, however, are “concern trolls” and secretly or overtly want nothing more than to kill HSR (or at least as long as it goes anywhere near a backyard or city they are psychologically or otherwise “invested” in). Concern trolls, hiding behind this or that seemingly civic-minded “concern” … are just ordinary NIMBYs or antis too cowardly (or cunning) to admit to the world what their real agenda or motivations are.

    Spokker Reply:

    HSR “done right,” as if the European method is the only way of doing things.

    There are pros and cons for both approaches.

    Bianca Reply:

    If CHSRA had a dollar for every time somebody said “I support the concept of High Speed Rail, but I want it done right” then they wouldn’t have any funding worries.

    jimsf Reply:

    That is correct. I can tell that by the tone. There are some people who are just stuck on conventional rail and I can tell that is his real motivation.

Comments are closed.