Californians For High Speed Rail in the Christian Science Monitor

Oct 27th, 2010 | Posted by

Daniel Krause and I have a short op-ed in today’s issue of the Christian Science Monitor on high speed rail, economic recovery, and transportation modernization. It’s part of their “one-minute debate” series, and our “opponent” is Robert Poole of the Reason Foundation. Because they were so gracious to accept and run our submission, I’m going to make you read it on their site instead of excerpting it here.

If you want more information on how you can help support high speed rail in California, get involved with Californians For High Speed Rail.

  1. Elizabeth
    Oct 27th, 2010 at 12:22

    morris brown Reply:

    From that link:

    In addition, auditors found that the California High-Speed Rail Authority spent another $90,000 for potentially duplicative public outreach efforts and $700,000 for a consultant who does not work for the project.


    Paying consultants who don’t work for you, while complaining that you have no funds to prepare business plans and adequate ridership studies. What a group. Boy this is gong to be real fun.

    John Burrows Reply:

    From LA Times—–sub-headline——“However, the Inspector General’s Office said management of the agency is improving under new chief executive Roelof van Ark”.

    Joey Reply:

    Oh yes – hiring Van Ark was the first major good decision they’ve made in a while.

    YesonHSR Reply:

    not the topic..PA online

  2. thatbruce
    Oct 27th, 2010 at 14:56

    Typical rhetoric from both sides, and unlike a debate, the crossing messages don’t have a chance to interact with one another.

    Taking apart the Reason Foundation’s message, we’ve got:

    Across the country, needed infrastructure projects are bogged down by politics and a system that prioritizes pork over mobility. But we need a 21st-century transportation system and here are several ways to get there:


    Infrastructure for trains, planes, and cars should be self-supporting.

    Excellent suggestion. Let’s hold all three to the same standard for funding operations and improvements, and have users of them pay the full cost for supporting them. No subsidies for any of them. So methods of going about that for roads:

    •Make greater use of congestion pricing, high-occupancy toll lanes, toll roads, and truck-only lanes that charge drivers and truckers the full cost of the transportation services they use.

    •Reduce waste. Reason Foundation’s Annual Highway Report finds states spend millions on bureaucratic costs, money that never reaches roads. California spends $93,464 in administrative costs per mile of state road.

    ie, the Infrastructure User pays full price. How about trains?:

    Ignore gimmicks like high-speed rail. America’s so-called high-speed trains won’t be high-speed at all compared with those in Asia and Europe and won’t reduce our “dependence” on cars. Trains will, however, require massive subsidies that worsen state and federal budget deficits.

    If only the new or improved rail systems could be set up to Tap private capital and public-private partnerships to finance … improvements, and have users pay the full costs for the services they consume like is suggested for highways. Sounds rather similar to what the CAHSRA is planning to do actually.

    Addressing Robert and Daniel’s message, particularly this oft-repeated point:

    High-speed rail will do for us what the Interstate did. It will increase access and stimulate economic activity at a transformative level.

    This implies that HSR will have as great an effect on the US economy as did the US Interstates from the moment any given HSR is completed. It won’t, as the touted benefits of any given HSR system will take a while to become apparent, and require actions from third-parties to realise the full benefits (eg, connecting transit, TOD etc), some of which won’t be done until far down the (sic) track, longer than it took for benefits from the Interstates to first start being seen.

  3. Scott
    Oct 27th, 2010 at 15:34

    Poole: “America’s so-called high-speed trains won’t be high-speed at all compared with those in Asia and Europe and won’t reduce our “dependence” on cars.”

    What basis does Poole have to say that our trains won’t be as fast as Asian and European trains?

    Peninsula Rail 2010 Reply:

    FRA weight requirements for “safety” will slow any train down.

    political_incorrectness Reply:

    Unless on separate ROW or obtaining an FRA wavier which Caltrain got

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    Unless on separate ROW or obtaining an FRA wavier

    Both options are insanely expensive. Separate ROW in urban areas is costly and disruptive. FRA waivers take years (if granted at all), and only then permitted in limited situations.

    So Poole’s comment is essentially correct. Unless agencies are willing to write blank checks (the way CHSRA is doing), speeds will be limited. The obvious solution is reform of the FRA; i.e. do away with all the steam-era regulations, just as Japan, Germany, France, etc. did when they started HSR development.

    Peter Reply:

    Or they could use temporal separation, the way Caltrain practically operates for the VAST majority of their trains.

    Marcus Reply:

    The real problem is the way freight operates in this country, which is very heavy trains and minimal signaling. As long as that continues to be the case and as long as passenger rail and freight rail share tracks, the FRA’s rules makes sense. Of course you could require the freight rails, which own most the tracks, to invest in better signaling instead, but the FRA is obviously reluctant to burden private industry with unfunded mandates. On most of the lines in this country, freight volume vastly exceeds passenger volume, so it would be stupid to optimize for the latter, at least for now.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Except on obscure branch lines better signaling means the freight railroads can move more freight with less labor and equipment.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Poole’s comment is not “essentially correct.” The FRA’s buff strength rule for HSR came about because the Acela was about to go online before there was PTC on the line. Within the FRA’s insular world, PTC means no crashes, but for crashes, high buff strength is necessary. CAHSR will have ETCS on the entire line, and has years to get a waiver anyway, so it’s not a problem.

    Of course in the real world, French trains do much better in collisions than American ones. But the FRA’s internally-consistent worldview ignores that while still recognizing that good signaling can be a substitute for passive crash safety.

    Daniel Krause Reply:

    This was Poole’s most blantant misrepresentation. He is probably referring to the numerous higher speed rail projects (i.e. upgrades to existing corridors for travel around 110mph). Of course he conveniently ignores that Florida’s project is now on track and will go 168mph. And the CA project, planned for 220mph.

  4. Nadia
    Oct 27th, 2010 at 17:55

    The Inspector General’s report can be found here:

    from letter to Van Ark
    “The Authority is not fully prepared to distribute and monitor ARRA funds. Currently, the Authority does not have funding plans approved by the Director of Finance as required by Prop 1A, which would be used to match ARRA. Additionally, the criteria to select a corridor or segment for funding has been drafted, but not approved by the HSRA board. Furthermore, policies and procedures to ensure the appropriate expenditure of ARRA funds have not been detailed and required language is not included in the contracts.”

    “While the Authority has not fully implemented all the recommendations included in the BSA’s April 2010 report, they have made significant progress on the majority of them in a relatively short period. The Authority continues to lack written policies and procedures for day-to-day activities such as contract administration, information security, and fiscal and human resources administration.”

    It goes on to list 10 things they expected to see completed and then detail where they are on each (they’ve implemented 5).

    One thing that caught my eye is Recommendation 5 – Track Expenditures by Type and Develop Long-Term spending plan. “The finding was that the Authority had no way to track expenditure categories to ensure the limits set under Prop 1A would not be exceeded.” It goes on to say they contracted with an IT consultant to develop a “a comprehensive database to store and track all documents and information related to the HSR project” – however this database isn’t expected to be completed until April 2011.

    What if they went over or under already on the amounts they were allowed to spend under Prop 1A?

    StevieB Reply:

    High-speed rail chief addresses criticism that his agency lacks accounting controls

    In a written response dated Monday, van Ark pointed out that Chick’s audit relates only to work done through June, and that the authority has “further improved” certain controls since then.

    Starting in July, van Ark wrote, the authority has required appropriate supporting documentation before invoices are paid. He also noted that the authority’s contract for public outreach has been amended to eliminate the potential for duplication of effort.

    Control has improved under leadership of Van Ark which is acknowleged by the Inspector General.

    Overall, the report was mixed. It found that although the authority needs to adopt policies ensuring it qualifies for federal stimulus money set aside for the project, there has been significant progress under van Ark’s leadership, including $2.6 million in savings resulting from renegotiated contracts.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    Van Ark appears to be trying to professionalize the organization. The problem is that all the fundamental decisions and all the big planning contracts were given out during the “operating out of a garage” stage.

    StevieB Reply:

    I see my link is broken. High-speed rail chief addresses criticism that his agency lacks accounting controls State Inspector General Laura Chick compliments Van Ark for renegotiating contracts.

    Overall, the report was mixed. It found that although the authority needs to adopt policies ensuring it qualifies for federal stimulus money set aside for the project, there has been significant progress under van Ark’s leadership, including $2.6 million in savings resulting from renegotiated contracts.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    While not nothing, it is about 1% of spending.

    The problem is the entire structure of contracting and the relationship between the government and the private consultants.

    Having 9 different prime contractors with all their own subs overseen by PB who is overseen by TY LIN is like hiring a different general contractor for each room of your house. Good luck with that.

    StevieB Reply:

    Recognizing staffing inadequacies the High Speed Rail Authority hired a contract manager. The $2.6 million saved will be in the 2010-2011 fiscal year due to the efforts. Additional future savings are expected. From the Inspector General Report:

    Since hiring a contract manager earlier this year, the Authority has been able to develop and implement better controls over the invoice review process and the negotiations of annual work plans with each consultant.

    StevieB Reply:

    As to the use of contractors instead of staff the Chief Executive Officer Van Ark explains that although 29.5 additional staff positions have been authorized they have not been filled.

    You should be aware that our inability to hire staff was linked back to the delay in the approval of the state budget, a further hiring freeze instituted by the Governor, and the fact that the Transportation Trailer Bill, (which included the approval for 6 exempt positions for the Authority), was not passed.

    With the passage of a state budget hiring should take place this fiscal year.

    thatbruce Reply:

    I rather suspect that frequent (and mostly correct) commentators on this and other blogs wouldn’t be able to get one of those 29 and a half positions with the CAHSRA, as much as it may seem to be needed at times ;)

    Elizabeth Reply:

    It is not about making sure bills are paid. It is about making sure the right work is done and not duplicated and much much more. It has created this PB “design standard” fiasco wrt station design.

    We are all for hiring more state employees, as long as you identify which contractors you will fire.

    If you keep the current 4 tired structure of contractors in place, you could hire 400 state employees and it won’t solve the fundamental issues,

    Elizabeth Reply:

    And by the way, the audit has revealed all the ways in which high speed rail cleverly through money under various contracts to get things done. If they had really wanted to do something, there were ways.

    Elizabeth Reply:

    I meant threw money

    YesonHSR Reply:

    That is not the topic…

    political_incorrectness Reply:

    As per usual, PATCH decided to make it seem like this “blasted” the Authority. This is like the Berkley ITS report, scandal, yet things are better than what they really look. We are in a transition phase and we’re going through the rough patches. Hopefully things will be settled soon though.

  5. YesonHSR
    Oct 27th, 2010 at 20:46

    Glad you guys were able to get our opinions about HSR heard instead of just the billionare funded mindwash think tanks

  6. Andre Peretti
    Oct 28th, 2010 at 04:49

    It’s funny how HSR opponents in the US and France have diametrically opposed ideologies.
    In the US, they think HSR will never be profitable and should be killed.
    In France, the anti-HSR people are leftists who hate the TGV because it is profitable. They consider it immoral for a state-owned public service to be run like a capitalist business.

    jimsf Reply:

    again, love the french.

    Victor Reply:

    Of course a good amount of people in the US are of French descent, As I am.

    Al-Fakh Yugoudh Reply:

    Same thing in Italy. It must be a European thing.

    Opponents to HSR are leftists who consider the investment in HSR a taxpayers’ gift to the rich business travelers (the Capitalists), who are in fact the heaviest users of it. In addition they complain that increasing investment in the HSR business, which is profitable for Trenitalia (the State owned operator), has come to the detriment of investment and improvement of regular commuter trains (The Proletarians’ trains), which are not profitable and require subsidy.

    That is in part a valid criticism since whereas the Frecciarossa (the HSR train) is nice and sleek, the commuter trains are often crowded, disgustingly full of graffiti and often malfunctioning.

    You may not realize it, but in Europe you’d be all labeled a bunch of Capitalist Pigs blogging to exploit the working classes.

    I wonder if US Republicans know that they could find some Marxists across the Atlantic who’d be willing to join them in their fight against HSR. That would be a strange pair of bed fellows.

    Andre Peretti Reply:

    We must admit that, in Europe, HSR is elitist. If you stand in the Gare de Lyon and watch the people going to the various platforms, you see an ethnic divide. Those heading for a TGV platform are nearly 100% white.

  7. jimsf
    Oct 28th, 2010 at 05:05

    What’s strange in the us is that things that are being proposed such as high speed rail, are not groundbreaking, experimental, or extraordinary in any way. Its just normal standard stuff. The arguments for it are based on common sense that any sane person can use and say, “oh yeh, it would be a good idea to move lots of people in this proven efficient manner.” Yet the arguments from the insane, ie the right, don’t even make sense. I they don’t even try to come up with something new and creative to back up their argument. Its just stuff like, “california isn’t dense enough” or “no one rides trains.” One wonders if they really think this because they have actually never been outside their house, or if they know they are lying, but just can’t think of anything else. I mean I don’t understand the fear and hatred of public transit and infrastructure. Its just not scary. A manned mission to Jupiter might be questionable, an undersea tunnel to Hawaii might be premature, but a run of the mill bullet train route?

    Victor Reply:

    It does seem that the Far-Right is Dense enough though, Reminds Me of Troglodytes still, They ought to go look in the mirror, Hopefully It won’t or shatter when they do though(ala: Herman Munster). California to those types means Jetsons, They equate HSR as Flintstones era junk.

    Peter Reply:

    Nah, there’s just a painting of each of them in the attic that is getting uglier by the day.

    Victor Reply:

    Well the frames are worth more than the junk they contain.

  8. Peter
    Oct 28th, 2010 at 09:30

    OT: SMART vehicle recommendation is an FRA-compliant, CEM DMU built by Sumitomo Corp of America. It is also Buy-America compliant, and by far the cheapest offer.

    nobody important Reply:

    What are you suggesting this be used for?

    nobody important Reply:

    Oh NM, for SMART, silly me.

    Peter Reply:


    Peter Reply:

    Are you asking how it is relevant?

    While CA4HSR and Reason Foundation duke out whether HSR (even passenger rail in general) is a worthwhile investment, smaller commuter rail projects are progressing at an impressive pace. Many of those projects, like SMART, are also managing to implement a very cost-effective design.

    Richard Mlynarik Reply:

    You’ve got be be joking.

    SMART’s rail vehicle consultant sleazebags (LTK) are the same idiots who are screwing up Caltrain forever.

    Unique special order extremely overweight and fuel inefficient HIGH FLOOR vehicles with intrusive, high cost, access-impeding, transfer-impeding HIGH PLATFORMS, along with gantlet tracks at every station to allow freight — all hail mighty freight, even if it never ends up running on the line ever again — to get around the high platforms.

    This isn’t an example of cost effectiveness by any remote stretch of the imagination. Rather it’s a prime example of incompetent and unethical consultants gaming the “requirements” to guarantee unique designs for which which extensive local “expertise” and “review” and “design” and “acceptance testing” will be required. SMART is just more of the same crappy high-cost FRA olde tyme railroading special needs consultant rewarding incompetent porkfest that we see everywhere around here.

    It was (like Caltrain) a golden opportunity to be a poster boy for a modern (read: non-US designed, post 19th century) new rail system which could have been implemented with bog standard and passenger friendly stations and vehicles, but instead it’s just another over-built over-cost disaster that will be obsolete 30 years before it opens.

    Really: high floor DMUs on a rural nothing line? What is this? East Germany in 1955 or something?

    synonymouse Reply:

    doodlebugs by any other name. You can take it to the bank that the Japanese government is subsidizing Sumitomo surreptitiously to bolster exports at a time of the soaring yen.

    SMART and the NCRA-NWP are threatening to sue each other as we speak. Byzantine local politics, with a well-known Sonoma County Democratic party figure backing the NCRA-NWP. The latter claims to have a roster of enthusiastic shippers lined up when a wheel if finally turned. Question is will it be in this decade.

    Peter Reply:

    “You can take it to the bank that the Japanese government is subsidizing Sumitomo surreptitiously to bolster exports at a time of the soaring yen”

    Any evidence, or just more conspiracy theories? Given the wording of your statement, I can safely presume the latter.

    Peter Reply:

    Other than low-floor vehicles and freight abandonment proceedings, what would you have done differently? I’m seriously curious?

    thatbruce Reply:

    I’m guessing temporaal separation of freight (if any) and some non-FRA DMUs off-the-shelf.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Or the Stadler ones already running in New Jersey or Texas. Nah wouldn’t want to do anything like that.

    jimsf Reply:

    It looks like they made the choice based on the highest technical score and the price and it says there that the highest technical also came with the lowest price. I was thinking larger orders mean lower prices, btut if there isn’t someone else getting ready to order the same thing with you, then there’s not point.

    Over all though, as someone who lived in sonoma county, I can say thank god they are finally getting rail service. any rail service at all.

    Peter Reply:

    Stadler’s offer was a lot more expensive than Sumitomo’s bid. Why would they go with that?

    Peter Reply:

    Especially given that SMART is now kind of strapped for cash in light of the fact that their sales tax funding is yielding enough.

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    Stadler’s offer was a lot more expensive than Sumitomo’s bid. Why would they go with that?

    Stadler bid was for a real train. You know, one that can be demo’ed, has proven service record, etc. The Sumitomo “bid” was for computer-rendering of something they propose to build. What exactly that would be is anyone’s guess. At any other transit agency, Sumitomo bid would not pass RFQ.

    The Stadler bid was more expensive, though in the staff report you will see the difference wasn’t as great as what is being reported in the press.

    Peter Reply:

    Let’s say you’re in charge of designing a new commuter rail line. The ROW already exists, and it is on a designated freight corridor, which happens to be inactive. The organization in charge of freight operations wants to operate freight in the corridor once the tracks are in good shape again. There are pretty strict FRA regulations to contend with. You’re in contentious negotiations with the freight operator over an operations agreement. Finally, you have a pretty tight budget and schedule.

    Do you:
    a) Initiate expensive and possibly lengthy abandonment proceedings, that may not come out with the result you wanted?
    b) Assume that you will be able to get a waiver of the FRA requirements?
    c) Assume that you will come to an agreement with the freight operator allowing you to implement temporal separation between freight and passenger service hours?
    d) Go with the safe bet of assuming that none of the above may actually come to fruition?

    Caveat: If you choose a, b, or c, and your plan doesn’t work, your project can be set back by a LONG time.

    Drunk Engineer Reply:

    I really don’t understand why you and others on this blog defend incompetent work by public agencies. This “designated” freight corridor has yet to identify one single customer, beyond a weekly garbage train. That is why the previous owners of the ROW all went bankrupt. If they had wanted to, the line would have easily qualified for abandonment (not that abandonment is required in this case).

    Marin is supposedly the wealthiest and most educated county in the USA. How is it that Texas, New Jersey, and San Diego transit agencies can figure out how to run modern, light-weight DMU on freight lines, but we cannot?

    synonymouse Reply:

    @ Drunk Engineer

    Doug Bosco plans to mine gravel online and ship via the NWP. Certain to outrage environmentalists.

    Victor Reply:

    That’s for Light Rail lines, Not HSR, But It’s an interesting idea for Light Rail use none the less.

    dfb Reply:

    Electric, not diesel.

    Peter Reply:

    You’d invest the amount required to electrify 70 miles for a planned 40 trains a day?

    dfb Reply:

    Yes. I’d rather pay the cost now than in degraded health later. Plus, if it is already paying to build out the corridor, it should pay to do it right the first time.

    Peter Reply:

    “degraded health”

    These are going to be EPA Tier 4 final compliant diesels. We’re not talking Caltrain/Amtrak/UPRR behemoth locomotives here. Are those even Tier 3 compliant?

    jimsf Reply:

    I think the long distance genesis are tier 2.

    jimsf Reply:

    the amtrak california locos are tier 0 but the new green one, is there only one? is tier 2.

    dfb Reply:

    Thanks, I missed that. Living near commuter trains running diesel, my knee jerk response is to avoid diesel, even so-called clean diesel.

    A few searches do not say whether Caltrain’s current diesels even comply with tier 1. Caltrain recently had an rfp to replace its old engines with new Tier 3 compliant diesel.

    Victor Reply:

    Yep, Electric is the way to go.

    Peter Reply:

    Aren’t there a number of other operators who want to purchase the same design that SMART chooses? How is that a “unique special order”?

    jimsf Reply:

    Too bad they couldn’t have teamed up with caltrain to order all the same thing. don’t they make some that can run on electricity and diesel?

    jimsf Reply:

    you really need to just move to europe. You’re going to have a stroke living in the US. its not going to change. This is how its done. just be glad they are getting some transportation. It took 30 years to even convince the population of the two counties that they needed any rail service. hell, they sat in traffic on a one lane each direction highway 101 for decades before they finally voted to let caltrans widen it.
    This is all you get. Its not that bad. America will never be japan. Ever.

    jimsf Reply:

    I like it. Although they all pretty much look the same.

  9. nobody important
    Oct 28th, 2010 at 11:43

    OT: A little something for a laugh.

    Peter Reply:

    Oh. My. God.

    ’nuff said.

    Al-Fakh Yugoudh Reply:

    The post is right.

    If Obama builds HSR, the terrorists have won.

    There were plenty of incidents (in UK and Spain) of trains targeted by terrorists. But you never hear of Al-Qaeda targeting private cars. Obviously private cars make the US much safer against terror.

    And if you hear it from an Arab like me, you know it must be true.

    We need more cars and fewer trains, to make America safe!

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Except when they turn them into car bombs. You may have heard of the infamous one they pulled off at the World Trade Center in 1993.

    jimsf Reply:

    or they start blowing up bridges.

    Peter Reply:

    Or Oklahoma City.

    Spokker Reply:

    We should install TSA checkpoints in every driveway.

  10. jimsf
    Oct 28th, 2010 at 15:54

    IS THIS NEW TODAYFeds allocate another $2.4 billion for high-speed rail
    Published October 28, 2010 – BizTimes Daily

  11. jimsf
    Oct 28th, 2010 at 15:56

    The $2.4 billion in federal high speed rail funds announced today also includes: $230 million to establish rail service between Iowa City, Iowa, and Chicago, through the Quad-Cities; $901 million for projects in California; $800 for the Tampa to Orlando corridor in Florida; and $161 million for the Detroit to Chicago corridor

    So it this 901 million on top of the 715 million? and in addition to the 8billion nationwide original?

    Peter Reply:

    No, the $715 million is HSR’s portion of the $901 million awarded to CA.

    Clem Reply:

    And the Feds specifically earmarked that money for the Central Valley, making a travesty of the CHSRA’s corridor selection criteria. My theory is that van Ark got the Feds to do this in order to get past the political machinations of his board of directors, which is dominated by LA and Bay Area interests.

    StevieB Reply:

    Another theory is that the money is going to the Central Valley so that the section to Mojave can be built soonest. Once the Las Vegas line connects to Victorville then the Mojave to Victorville link becomes feasible. After that it is on to Phoenix and Tucson!

    jimsf Reply:

    or because the valley section makes the most sense.

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