Barbara Boxer and Ray LaHood Talk HSR and Transit in LA

Feb 20th, 2010 | Posted by

Yesterday Senator Barbara Boxer and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood were in Los Angeles to discuss transportation projects. There was a press conference, but the most interesting news came at a subsequent town hall meeting at the Metro offices.

Some of the news focused on the “30/10” plan, LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s effort to get the Measure R projects originally planned to be done over 30 years (things like building the Subway to the Sea) built over the next 10 years, and Senator Boxer and Secretary LaHood both pledged to work toward that goal.

More relevant to us HSR supporters was Boxer’s comments on the Transportation Bill reauthorization and LaHood’s testy exchange with RailPAC president Paul Dyson. First up is the Transportation Bill, as reported by Damien Newton of Streetsblog LA:

As for reauthorization, Boxer signaled her intent to pass her MAP 21 legislation, which would replace SAFETEA-LU, by the end of the year. However, Boxer had no answers to questions about funding the new transportation trust fund, nor would she commit to any funding formula such as a guaranteed set-aside for transit. She also avoided discussing the legislation being offered by the House Transportation Committee Chair, Minnesota Democrat James Oberstar; suggesting that a bicameral plan to support reauthorization hasn’t been created yet.

What I read this to say is that they plan to reauthorize the Transportation Bill by December, before the current Democratic majority in the Senate is either weakened or entirely lost. That’s the right move, but it also matters what’s in that bill. It needs not only a guaranteed set-aside for transit, but some sort of long-term funding source for high speed rail projects. Looks like we’ll have plenty to do this year as we work to include HSR in that bill and get it reauthorized by the end of 2010.

Boxer and Metrolink chairman Kevin Milhouse sparred over funding for positive train control. Milhouse wanted Boxer and LaHood to guarantee funding; Boxer said the feds would fund it but then turned it around and attacked Milhouse and Metrolink for not having safe practices in the meantime, such as having only one engineer in the front of trains instead of two.

Next up was Paul Dyson of RailPAC, and his exchange with Boxer on Metrolink set up his even more testy exchange with LaHood on HSR:

Dyson took up for Millhouse, claiming there were many examples of crashes being caused by a pair of engineers distracting each other. Boxer asked Dyson to send along those instances, but seemed doubtful they existed.

Having riled Boxer, Dyson turned to LaHood and questioned the $2.25 billion High Speed Rail Grant given to California. Dyson pointed to the huge cost of the project to connect Anaheim to the Bay Area, nearly $40 billion and commented that the grant was too small to be useful in construction and to high to not be wasted by bureaucrats.

Pausing here for a moment – Dyson has written before of his concern that the $2.25 billion in funding won’t be enough to get HSR done, and that operating segments of the system until the whole thing is open is not a good idea. (Unfortunately, Dyson has also made some flawed statements questioning why HSR would serve passengers and communities between SF and LA.) With that as background, let’s see Ray LaHood’s response to Dyson:

This is the first time I’ve ever heard someone say they didn’t want $2.25 billion after working on high-speed rail for 10 years…Your argument is ridiculous. The reason that we gave that money to California is because you’ve done a good job. If you think it’s being mismanaged, come forward and tell us about it. We don’t find that to be the case.

I think we can expect LaHood to be flooded with comments now from NIMBYs and HSR deniers about this and that form of “mismanagement” of the HSR project, but in the absence of any hard evidence (which critics have so far been unable to produce) LaHood intends to move forward with support for California HSR – which is as it should be.

That being said, there is a legitimate debate over the issue of whether HSR funds should be spread out broadly, or concentrated in a few places. It would be interesting to hear LaHood’s comments on that matter.

Damien Newton of Streetsblog LA had this take on the Dyson-LaHood exchange:

This is a somewhat amazing claim, as there has been plenty of criticism of the High Speed Rail Authority in California covered in such small local papers as the San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times. While LaHood dismissed Dyson with a joke about sending those complaints along with his proof that engineers can distract each other along to Boxer; he managed to get a laugh and show a disconnect with the local debate all at the same time.

I’m not sure I agree with Newton here about the “local debate.” It’s not been much of a debate so far. The primary “debate” in California over HSR revolves around NIMBYs who don’t want the trains running through their neighborhood. That has spawned a series of secondary discussions – or, more often, accusations – about elements of the HSR plan, designed to weaken or stop the project so as to appease the NIMBY critics.

Foremost among these are the debates over the Authority’s ridership numbers. So far critics have totally failed in their efforts to find fault with those projections. Their most high-profile claim, that a coefficient was manipulated to produce ridership estimates favoring Pacheco over Altamont, turned out to be little more than a typo; we haven’t heard anything about the coefficient since. Even then, critics had never successfully explained what was flawed about the reported coefficient, nor had they been able to prove it led to ridership stats that didn’t hold water.

In other words, I don’t see anything wrong with LaHood’s claim that they are satisfied with the work being done on HSR here in California. There isn’t really a debate among HSR supporters over the project – there are attacks on it from people who oppose the project, and a small group of rail advocates who do not seem particularly interested in having high speed rail service connecting California’s major metropolitan areas, whose primary focus is on other forms of passenger rail and who see HSR as at best a distraction from those services.

Ultimately the event demonstrated Senator Boxer’s and Secretary LaHood’s commitment to California high speed rail. It’s good that we have both of them in Washington DC to advocate for the cause.

  1. Roger Christensen
    Feb 20th, 2010 at 11:12

    Kudos to Boxer and LaHood for their efforts and also to Denny Zane of Move LA and Mayor Villaraigosa for the agressive “30-10” scheme.

    However I remember a year ago when Boxer would have no conversation about reauthorization until “after health care passes”. We have since lost a lot of political capital.
    2010 is indeed a crucial year.

    Roger Christensen Reply:

    …but then there are the Conservadems who want to hold reauthorization to 2011 because they haven’t the guts to support realistic revenue for transit and are afraid to be labeled “tax and spend” liberals”….

    YesonHSR Reply:

    Yes the health care was a huge gamble just like Clintons and is a no needs done slowly. Now HSR is something that is much more doable and exciting with many more people for it than against and key people in bolth parties hoping to make it a reality. I hope Boxer is well aware of that and our need for this long term funding do come thru late this year or very early in 2011

    jimsf Reply:

    Actually the dems are considering doing what they have have done to begin with. Shove health care down the republicans throats with reconciliation. As I and many others who have written to our democratic representatives have said, ” get it done or your out anyway. you may as will go out with some guts and glory.” Democratic voters are going to dump them if they can’t show some guts. I certainly am.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    The basic problem with health care, as with HSR, as with almost every other proposal to solve the worsening and serious problems this country faces, is that we live with a political system that now functions to prevent almost any change from occurring. America, and California in particular, used to be places that valued innovation, where efficiency and building a better mousetrap were not only welcomed but extolled.

    Now that sort of thing just doesn’t matter, not if it offends some wealthy interest or challenges the existing powers and privileges of the elite. Those who believe the status quo is perfectly fine and can be extended indefinitely are those with power. The rest of us, the majority that understands significant changes are needed and would very much like to put in the work to make them happen and succeed, are those without power.

    It’s nuts. And so far, DC Democrats generally are unwilling to accept this, or are spending their time trying to hold back the tide.

    jimsf Reply:

    well, seems to me, If the writing isn’t on the wall now, it never will be. If americans can’t put their collective foot down after the cute little journey washington and wall street have taken us, and the rest of the world, on in the last decade, then we may as call it a wrap and accept the fact that the american people will roll over for anything. And quite frankly I think the media, who are suppose to keep the electorate informed, are just as culpable when it comes to the current state of political disfunction. They spend more time instigating than investigating or accurately reporting.

  2. Brandon from San Diego
    Feb 20th, 2010 at 17:22

    Honestly, I wish I heard more of a commitment. In an ideal world I would greatly like to hear a greater commitment for funding transportation in the next bill. I certainly understand Boxer, or any other senator, not wanting to get nailed down on something right now…. for fear of loosing latitude and dealing themselves a loss.

    On a separate note, Boxer’s bill seems would be competing with Oberstar’s… and since I seem to hear more about Oberstar and transportation…. he seems to have more authority/standing on this than Boxer.

    Victor Reply:

    Unless Senator Boxers bill is bigger, I like Rep. Jim Oberstars(DFL) transportation bill at $500 Billion, Better, But HSR should get $100 Billion and not Mass Transit, $50 Billion for that sounds more appropriate to Me.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    $50b for mass transit and $100b for HSR would be upside down priorities for a re-authorization … and of course suggesting a jump up from $2.5b/year to $20b/year for HSR in one step is getting well into the silly range.

    Victor Reply:

    So You think $50 Billion is per Year for 6 years, Ok I thought It was the total amount, Obestars bill would do this:

    The Surface Transportation Authorization Act would provide $337 billion in funding for highway construction, $100 billion for public transit and $50 billion to build a nationwide high-speed rail system.
    “The reality is that the administration does not have a program.”
    – Rep. Jim Oberstar

    The proposal would increase transportation spending by 38 percent. The plan’s blueprint states that it will create or sustain approximately 6 million jobs.

    Oberstar’s transportation bill a direct challenge to administration

    The article didn’t say how to pay for this, Bonds seems to be a good way to Me. As long as they don’t push the deficit up or the national debt, In the county I live in We have an addition to the sales tax that is for highways in the county and only in this county for any city or unincorporated area that was approved by the voters and then reapproved by the voters.

  3. Robert Cruickshank
    Feb 20th, 2010 at 22:47

    Don’t mind me, just testing the comments.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Looks like it worked. Only one reply button now – should cut down on the number of misplaced replies, help discussions flow more effectively.

    Matthew F. Reply:

    He’s talking to himself… I think it’s time to send him on a Sunset Limited to Orlando.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    That would be a long wait since the Sunset Limited only runs between Los Angeles and New Orleans these days….

  4. synonymouse
    Feb 21st, 2010 at 10:25

    Your “Holiest of Holies”” Tehachapis detour suffered a tunnel fire yesterday. Not your hated UP but the friendly Santa Fe.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:


    Two points:

    1. Passenger trains, not freight trains carrying hazardous materials, will be using tunnels through Tehachapis

    2. Tehachapi/Palmdale route has FEWER tunnels than I-5/Grapevine, so even if we did decide to spend billions more to route trains away from people and into tunnels in the middle of nowhere, and even if we did decide to send hazardous materials through said tunnels, Tehachapi is still safer than Grapevine as there would be fewer tunnel miles to cause potential problems like this.

    Peter Reply:

    Not to mention that Tehachapi allows the fault lines to be crossed at grade.

    Clem Reply:

    Bells and flashers will activate thirty seconds prior to an earthquake. :-)

    Matthew F. Reply:

    I’m not sure if you’re being sarcastic (my sarcasm meter is broken), but the Shinkasen has had an automatic breaking system for nearly 20 years now. It’s established technology.

    jimsf Reply:

    even bart has always automatically shut down when theres even a small earthquake

    synonymouse Reply:

    My understanding is the Grapevine could be done with two base tunnels somewhat to the east of the existing roadway. This route has been cited by a knowledgeable individual on the Altamont website. This is a case where engineering studies were tailored to fit an priori political decision. The Grapevine issue should be revisited by international experts not beholden to the CHSRA.

    You are missing the point that there are no freight rr’s on the Grapevine. An incident on the busy freight lines thru the Tehachapis could also force a closure of the hsr in the vicinity. Dumb.

    AndyDuncan Reply:

    Wait, so all this time your solution to the grapevine issue has been base tunnels? You’re going to dig two 35-mile base tunnels and you think that involves less safety issues than a couple miles of short tunnels?

    Please share your drugs.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    I’m pretty sure that refers to an alignment that would follow CA-138 to Palmdale and then CA-14 to Lancaster. I’ve still not seen anything to indicate this can be done without more extensive tunneling while generally following I-5 to Santa Clarita.

    Joey Reply:

    Base tunnels are no cheap endeavor, and you still have to worry about earthquakes.

    Roger Christensen Reply:

    Any consideration of the Grapevine is pointless at this time. The political reality is that the City and County is solidly, vocally, and unanimously behind Palmdale.

    synonymouse Reply:

    It is a little over 10 months to the election and the best “political reality” the CHSRA can hope for is that things remain pretty much the same.

    More than likely the LA is going to take a good drubbing in that its water grab is going down to defeat. Even Jerry Brown would have to see the message on the wall.

    I am hoping that the poster on the Altamont site gives more detail on his slightly east of the Grapevine alignment. I think it might be the very same that the CHSRA located. He is very railroad savvy, must be an insider, and I am sure his base tunnels would allow for a surface crossing of the San Andreas.

    You guys keep forgetting the 1952 quake.

    AndyDuncan Reply:

    The worlds longest tunnel, the Gotthard Base Tunnel is almost exactly the same length that a base tunnel through the grapevine would need to be (35 miles), and at $9b in today’s dollars would represent nearly 30% of the total cost of the project. What’s more, it has been under construction since 1993 and is expected to be completed in 2017, and it doesn’t have to cross the san andreas fault.

    Joey Reply:

    This event is not relevant to the Grapevine vs Tehachapi debate, which, by the way, is more dead than Altamont vs. Pacheco at this point.

  5. Leroy W. Demery, Jr
    Feb 21st, 2010 at 12:33

    Although I am tempted to use words similar to those uttered by other CHSRA critics, I will outline the specific “error” that I have seen for a long time – and leave it to others to respond, if they care to.

    The Authority has provided few details about how HSR would mesh with existing – and future – passenger rail services of “other” types. Note the word “service,” as in “service to passengers.” CHSRA could have produced a statewide passenger rail development plan, but chose not to. The excuse about the “legislative mandate” is just that – an excuse, and a rather lame one.

    Japan might as well be on another planet (… and, based on some of the things I’ve read on this blog, I suspect this might be true). But … HSR in Japan is very closely integrated – from the passenger’s standpoint – with “other” rail services. There are so many connections throughout major Japanese metropolitan areas that the location of shinkansen stations is almost beside the point. The same is also true away from major cities. If you live in a small community away from the shinkansen network, you can find information – easily – about connections to major destinations via shinkansen. Shinkansen services do not have the same “mystique” among most Japanese consumers as “HSR” does over here with some Americans. The “average Japanese” thinks of shinkansen trains as “premium” rail services – you pay more, but you get there faster and enjoy higher levels of comfort and customer service.

    French-style through working between HSR and “conventional” rail lines is rare in Japan, but it does exist. Standard-gauging of two segments in northern Honshu provided significant travel-time savings to passengers by avoiding the need to change trains. (This time saving was significant, on the order of 30 minutes.) Cross-platform transfers might have accomplished much the same thing – but the cost of providing this would have been very high because of the need for large-scale reconstruction of busy interchange stations. Benefits provided by the two standard-gauging projects were found to exceed costs – and to provide a higher b/c ratio than other “alternatives.”

    I believe that CHSRA adopted the “Japanese HSR model” not because it was best, or provided the greatest b/c ratio, but because of the issue of FRA compliance. Would the “French HSR model,” with extensive through working of HSR trains onto “conventional” lines, be a better “fit” for California? There’s more than one person in CA (other than da guy who owns a dog named Lucy) who believes this. The South Koreans have done remarkably well with the “French HSR model,” and are developing rolling stock suitable for 400 km/h. Sounds like something worth investigating to me.

    Joey Reply:

    There’s also the fact that the French (and other Europeans) already have a lot of double-tracked, electrified mainlines, whereas most of ours are single track freight railroads. Believe me, if this model was possible for California, I think it would be a great way to serve some of the farther corners of the state, at least until full HSR got build, but between the FRA and the fact that most of our track is in no position to serve even semi-frequent passenger service, let alone electric passenger service, it just doesn’t seem possible.

    Victor Reply:

    Yeah and so I guess We are left with the Japanese HSR model, Could be worse I guess, It could be more North-East corridor Accela tilt-train service, The UP doesn’t like Amtrak now and I’m not too sure that the BNSF is too thrilled either, But then DesertXpress says their line will end in Victorville as UP said they won’t share their line with anyone besides the BNSF… Of course DesertXpress(150mph, Victorville to Las Vegas) would need a Tunnel and large radius curved trackage, From what I’ve read the Ca-NV Interstate Maglev(186mph[urban]/310mph[rural], Anaheim to Las Vegas) could climb the pass as I think the Freeway doesn’t exceed 10% which is Maglevs maximum grade, People I’ve read like the idea of a Maglev line between Anaheim and Las Vegas and think a Victorville to Las Vegas route is just Dumb and would rather drive and so far Maglev has $7 Billion in Funding, DesertXpress has all of Nothing($0.00).

    Peter Reply:

    Only if the federal government issues a loan guarantee will maglev have $7 billion. I don’t see that happening, though.

    And DesertXpress only has “nothing” because they haven’t yet announced their funding sources.

    AndyDuncan Reply:

    Exactly, the Chinese loan is contingent on the US Govt backing the loan. In other words, the Chinese bank in question said “We’re willing to loan you money at a rate twice what we could get for US Treasuries, but only if you agree to give us the same level of risk as a US Treasury bond.”

    You can get a loan for anything whenever you want if the Govt. is going to back it.

    Maglev is a non-starter. Trips will be faster for most people with steel-wheel connections at Mojave and Ontario.

    Victor Reply:

    Actually It was said the loan was/is not contingent as is said below

    Possible loan from China bank keeps high-speed rail plan alive

    The Export-Import Bank of China is willing to lend the money with the knowledge that if the California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission is unable to pay it back, federal officials will.

    “This funding from the bank in China was never contingent on this round of federal funding,” said Fierro, adding that the agreement was sealed in November. “They’re willing to put up $7 billion, and that is a game changer. This is absolutely enormous.”

    The Chinese bank is familiar with the high-speed train technology and its potential, Fierro said. It is estimated that the train would carry 43 million passengers by 2025.

    Peter Reply:

    The contingency isn’t based on ARRA or other stimulus funding. It’s based on other possible federal guarantees.

    AndyDuncan Reply:

    This is not the first time you’ve posted that and claimed it backs up your point when in fact it does not:

    “The Export-Import Bank of China is willing to lend the money with the knowledge that if the California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission is unable to pay it back, federal officials will.

    “This funding from the bank in China was never contingent on this round of federal funding”

    They’re saying that the Chinese bank wants a federally guaranteed loan, and that they don’t care if that guarantee comes from the ARRA funds or not, but make no mistake, they want a guarantee.

    What else do you think this means: “if the California-Nevada Super Speed Train Commission is unable to pay it back, federal officials will.

    Victor Reply:

    And I sure don’t see any mention of the loan “hinging” on this or that and for those that say the technology is unproven, I say bah humbug, It’s been working there for 6 years.

    Backers of maglev train say Chinese bank prepared to fund project

    “It is a very positive development for Nevada’s employment picture and very telling that the financiers who are stepping up to bat are the Chinese, the people most familiar with Transrapid Maglev technology,” Neil Cummings, president of the American Magline Group, said in a press release announcing the loan.

    American Magline has contracted with the commission to build the system and is partnering with Transrapid, a German company that built a maglev system operating in Shanghai and has since developed upgrades to the technology that are proposed for the Nevada system.

    “In China, it has been operating flawlessly for six years, carrying 20 million passengers over 4.1 million miles,” Cummings said.

    dejv Reply:

    The lack of catenary doesn’t mean that one can’t run there last mile of electric trains. Other problems are lack of double tracking and sidings (caused by crazy property taxes) and those buffering strength regulations.

    Joey Reply:

    Plus, a lot of the tracks aren’t very well maintained.

    Peter Reply:

    Hehe, that’s how the ICE first got to Berlin, if I recall correctly. It may have been a different passenger train, but I can remember our train stopping at the former “border” between the two Germany’s and one of the massive BR 130-series diesel locos pulling us the rest of the way.

    Clem Reply:

    I agree. Here on the peninsula I believe we are about to see the full extent of the non-integration between HSR and Caltrain… the latter might as well be known is “Caltrain/freight”, which mucks things up to no end because of various and sundry FRA / CPUC regulations. There was a huge opportunity to build a system that functioned better than the sum of its parts, and all the evidence I’ve seen indicates that it’s being wasted.

    Joey Reply:

    Guess we’ll find out in less than two weeks.

    By the way, do your thoughts about no integration between HSR and CalTrain come, at least in part, from that thing in San Carlos where they apparently intend to run both HSR tracks on one side of the CalTrain tracks?

    synonymouse Reply:

    Build “Caltrain-freight”and forget the hsr for the time being. The hsr can always be located along the 101 alignment at a later date. If they can double-deck 405 in Socal they can do the same with 101 on the Peninsula and incorporate the hsr at the same time.

    Joey Reply:

    Forget about forgetting about HSR. We need it yesterday.

    Victor Reply:

    Yep, Let Freight do what freight does best, HSR was voted in by a majority of the people of the state of California, Not by a distinct Minority.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Leroy, the South Korean model is somewhat different from the French one in that unlike France, South Korea does not have a large conventional rapid rail network. Much of the legacy network in South Korea is single-track and diesel-only; the main lines are being double-tracked and electrified specifically in order to allow the KTX to use them.

    California is in an even worse position than South Korea. Because of the mountain crossings, there’s no good place to hook into the legacy network between Gilroy and Sylmar. And UP freight issues make it impossible to hook into the network between Gilroy and SJ, independently of FRA regulations. This forces the system to build new track between SJ and Sylmar, which means that the only opportunities for leveraging legacy rail are in the Bay Area and LA Basin, and of those the Bay Area is already being used for its legacy rail line.

    Joey Reply:

    I’d say you probably want new track anyway between SJ and Sylmar. This type of solution would best serve the areas that aren’t included in Phase 1, such as San Diego via the coast, and maybe Palm Springs. But we’re not really in a position to do either of those.

  6. Damien Newton
    Feb 21st, 2010 at 17:57

    Hi Robert etal. First time commenter, longtime reader :)

    When I hear HSR debated down here, the anti-HSR debate breaks down into one of four areas:

    1) The “Libertarian” anti-tax debate. If government wants to spend money on it, it’s bad.
    2) The local preferred route will all but end the LA River redevelopment plan
    3) The money could be better spent on local transit
    4) That the High Speed Rail Authority are too corrupt/incompetent to get anything done

    Now I guess you could call the second one a NIMBY argument, but I know a lot of the people making it and they like the idea of HSR, and the River isn’t their “back yard” per se. It’s just something they care about.

    The other debates are more about government and spending than transit policy and they get some play. Honestly, I thought Dyson came off a little out-of-it, but LaHood seemed genuinely shocked that anyone would say something bad about HSR in California. I might not agree with Dyson’s sentiments or statements; but someone at USDOT dropped the ball when prepping LaHood for this trip. Combined with his fixation on promoting the TIGER Grants as a demonstration of how effective Boxer is bringing home the bacon, the nearest grant was given over 50 miles away from LA County; there were a couple places where he could have been a lot sharper.

    But, great post, great blog, great project. In addition to clarifying, I wanted to just take the chance to throw some love this way.


    Alon Levy Reply:

    How big is argument #2 down in LA? On this blog the main NIMBY opposition seems to come from the Bay Area and Orange County, not LA. If you live in LA, you probably don’t have to care about Caltrain or about which pass trains take to go to SF.

    AndyDuncan Reply:

    It’s complicated, but mostly centered around plans for Taylor Yard. The redevelopment plan calls for that to be turned into a wetland/natural water treatment and park area. CHSRA wants to run trains through it and perhaps revive it as a maintenance facility. The overall redevelopment plan, however, is much larger than just the Taylor Yard area, and the plan itself calls for integrating with rail, including high speed rail.

    The NIMBY complaints so far seem to be limited to:

    1: The Aerial through the Arts District/Skid Row and Little Tokyo leading up to and out of Union Station
    2: Some complaints from Santa Fe Springs and Whittier about noise impact, which didn’t seem to take off
    3: The 50-foot ROW issues in Anaheim, which have been discussed here, and which some people are pushing for a tunnel, though not everyone, and not the people I know who live along the ROW in that area, they want grade separations for freight and metrolink, not just HSR, something a tunnel would exclude.

    Matthew F. Reply:

    Not skid row! Think of the property values!

Comments are closed.