Roelof van Ark Meets Peninsula Cities

Oct 23rd, 2010 | Posted by

California High Speed Rail Authority CEO Roelof van Ark met with Peninsula city leaders yesterday to discuss the HSR project, and the headline news from the meeting was that tunneling wasn’t going to happen on the Peninsula:

The boss of the California high-speed train project had a clear message to cities on the Peninsula on Friday: The state’s bullet trains won’t run through a tunnel or covered trench in the region.

In a two-hour meeting with California High-Speed Rail Authority CEO Roelof van Ark at San Mateo City Hall, the bullet train executive told officials from San Mateo, Burlingame and Millbrae that the covered trenches were not possible for anything other than very short stretches of track, city leaders who attended the meeting said.

The reason? Freight trains that currently run along the line can’t be closed off from the surface because they need ventilation.

The tunnels in many cases would cost billions of dollars for just a few miles and were several times more expensive than the above-ground options. But state officials had said that if the cities could raise the money, they could get the below-ground tracks they wanted.

The needs of freight rail users have gotten lost in the shuffle over the last several months as Peninsula cities demanded a long tunnel – which for numerous reasons isn’t workable for today’s freight rail operators. This isn’t a new issue, of course – at the September 2009 Palo Alto HSR teach-in Greg Greenway of the Peninsula Freight Rail Users Group told the audience that existing operating capacity had to be preserved so that Peninsula businesses currently depending on freight rail aren’t cut off – something Union Pacific has been saying about HSR more broadly (not just on the Peninsula). Freight trains are used to short tunnels, but nothing quite like the miles-long tunnel that has been discussed by many Peninsula cities.

Some Peninsula leaders called for “new ideas”:

Another attendee at the meeting, Millbrae Councilwoman Gina Papan — whose city is in favor of the project and will get a bullet train stop — said cities still might be able to get covered trenches if some new ideas are put forward.

“You have to understand that freight is going through (the Peninsula) right now,” Papan said. “If we can keep that above ground and a high-speed rail in a covered trench, there are alternatives.”

This is worth exploring, but has its own challenges – keeping freight rail at the surface might not provide improvements or benefits to the communities since they would not be able to recapture the surface ROW for development (whether as parks or as something else). And if they can’t recapture that surface ROW, then the Peninsula cities are going to have an extremely difficult time funding construction of a tunnel anyway, unless local taxpayers are just going to foot the bill directly. Still, it can’t hurt to examine the concept.

Van Ark also pointed out that the Peninsula cities’ lack of consistency has hurt efforts to provide a regional solution:

Another issue the officials said van Ark raised in the meeting was the lack of a consistent stance among Peninsula cities.

“We came out of this meeting with the hope that we’ll bring more cities on board, and we’ll be pursuing that actively,” Papan said.

Even between the “tri-cities” of Burlingame, Millbrae and San Mateo, there are plenty of disagreements. And the cities that have sued — Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton — have created an ever bigger divide in the region, he said, according to officials who were there.

This is undoubtedly true. Palo Alto, Menlo Park and Atherton have made it very difficult to provide any kind of regional consensus due to their elected leaders’ negativity about the project. By ignoring their constituents’ ongoing support for the project and preferring anti-HSR resolutions and lawsuits to more constructive solutions, they’ve only made it less likely that a regional solution can be achieved.

The Draft EIR is due in December – a milestone that will help clarify significantly the possible vertical alignment for the HSR project. Let’s hope that Peninsula city leaders are able to work more constructively to produce a solution their constituents can accept.

  1. Clem
    Oct 23rd, 2010 at 15:32

    Again, “recapturing” the land of the right of way (presumably to help finance tunnels) is an absolute non-starter. It doesn’t even begin to pencil out if you try to compare the development value of the land to the cost of a tunnel. They’re orders of magnitude apart, sort of like trying to finance a new car by opening a lemonade stand.

    Blaming freight is an interesting tactic. The problem isn’t so much freight, although that certainly complicates things… it’s cost, pure and simple. This does throw an interesting curve ball to the folks who are trying to use freight service as a foil against HSR.

    I’ve always maintained that rail freight on the peninsula has far greater costs than it has benefits. Perhaps if the cities realized this and took some unified action, they could help UPRR to quit this unprofitable operation and open up some additional design possibilities.

    Al Reply:

    Some numbers:

    If the usable space gained is 80 feet wide, you get 422400 square feet per mile of track.

    If the cost of the tunnel is $1 billion per mile, the resulting land gained would cost $2370 per square foot (I don’t know the actual estimates– adjust as necessary).

    The question for the locals, I guess, is “is that worth it?”

  2. Derek
    Oct 23rd, 2010 at 22:25

    Maybe they could use electric locomotives to haul freight up the peninsula. That would solve the ventilation problem.

    Joey Reply:

    And maybe we can limit axel loads and get rid of stupid 19th century-oriented CPUC regulations as well. Wouldn’t that be nice…

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    I checked that law; it does make provision for exemptions. Considering what is being attempted, those shouldn’t be too hard to come by.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Yeah, every country in the world with electrified lines has electric freight engines. They are really damn simple to build. This is ridiculous.

    J. Wong Reply:

    They’re not going to electrify all of the freight lines on the Peninsula or in San Francisco. It isn’t just the mainline but significant branches all up and down the Peninsula. They’d need diesel for that and since they can’t just leave them up there with no maintenance, they’d need some way to run them down to San Jose.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Why *not* electrify all the freight lines on the Peninsula? There aren’t THAT many of them — less than a dozen, plus a few yards — and they’re short. It’s been done in other countries. It would cost a fraction of the cost of electrifying the mainline.

    Engine change at San Jose for most traffic, possibly another change point north of the Dumbarton Bridge.

    Nathanael Reply:

    I actually challenge you to find a significant branch north of the Dumbarton Bridge. There’s several Ports with yards, a number of industrial sidings on the east side of the line, and if I remember correctly a sum total of one usable industrial siding on the west side.

    Joey Reply:

    There’s the Port of SF (which, by any practical measure, should be dead already) siding. It crosses over the T Line on Third Street, so electrifying it might be a challenge.

    Is the west side spur that one in SSF? Is that even used anymore?

    rafael Reply:

    Doesn’t sound like an insurmountable obstacle to me. Most electric locomotives have not one but two pantographs so there’s a backup in case of a malfunction. In this particular case, UPRR trains would be moving quite slowly anyhow. It would be possible to approach the intersection with the rear pantograph deployed. Just prior to crossing, the locomotive would be powered down and the rear pantograph retracted while the one in front was being extended, with neither making contact with the heavy raik OCS. The freight train would coast through the intersection and finish raising the front pantograph after it has cleared the light rail OCS.

    morris brown Reply:

    Van Ark simply used a ridiculous reason to justify telling the Cities why he isn’t going allow the project to go underground.

    I wonder, if as Director of the certifying agency for the EIR, if he hasn’t stepped over the line by essentially saying, the underground alternatives won’t be chosen, and won’t be chosen not on the basis of the studies, but on the basis that we simply are not going to go underground.

    J. Wong Reply:

    There’s no difference in environmental impact of an aerial structure as opposed to underground so it doesn’t really matter what ancillary reasons Van Ark states for it. You’re arguing that he must no matter what take your opinion into account and end up agreeing with you. Not going to happen, and the courts aren’t going to rule your way either.

    synonymouse Reply:

    @ morris

    I think you have discovered how PB thinks and works. I understand that it sounds nutty, but the reality is that brutalism – epitomized by aerials – ia a matter of dogma for them. They have a battery of cover stories as to why they can’t do anything but what they planned at the outset. The only way that any other alternative can be made possible is if PB is outta here. Sorry, but that is the way it is.

    Ditto for any fantasy of an “independent” judiciary. Hopelessly politicized. All one big happy self-congratulatory establishment. If anyone does not believe the Democratic Party machine totally dominates Northern California they qualify for a medical marijuana card on those psychological grounds alone.

    Peter Reply:

    “a matter of dogma”

    Based on exactly what? Your personal beliefs and biases?

    synonymouse Reply:

    44 years of observation of PB in action in the Bay Area.

    Simply read between the lines. They do not want to do a trench because it is more work for them. They want to take the easiest, but crassest, way out. They don’t want to do any trenches, depressions or anything other than an aerial. They don’t want to deal with undergound wate; they don’t want to deal with transitions from trench to aerial. Their one and only concession, in their own mind, is to offer berms instead of concrete elevateds.

    No surprise they loathe the very notion of base tunnels. Dump them.

    Peter Reply:

    Dude, for frak’s sake, PB will build whatever they are told to build.

    jimsf Reply:

    there’s a secret tunnel under the capitol in sacramento that lead directly to what is clearly PB secret underground headquarters

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    The Washington, Baltimore & Annapolis was an electric interurban running between its namesake cities. One of its routes crossed the main line of the Pennsylvania railroad, which was electrified in the 1930s. This meant there had to be a crossing between an 11,000 volt 25 cycle AC line and a 1,200 volt DC trolley line. The solution, which required a manned interlocking tower, was a gantry with swivelling overhead sections, alligning either the 11,000 volt or 1,200 volt sections as needed.

    Ironically, the gantry was in use for less than a year, following the very sudden abandonment of the WB&A.,_Baltimore_and_Annapolis_Electric_Railway

    This line had some beautiful cars; primary color was dark green, like a Pullman.

    The last piece of rolling stock from the WB&A is in California; box freight motor No. 1 was sold to the Central California Traction Company, becoming their No. 7. It is now in the Western Railway Museum at Rio Vista:

    That outfit at Rio Vista looks like something to see! Wish I could get out there, and ride on their chunk of the Sacramento Northern.

    J. Wong Reply:

    Been there, done that. It’s pretty cool. They even take requests for bringing out a particular motor (with significant advance notice, of course). We rode on the articulated behemoth they built during the war for the Key system using concrete!

    jimsf Reply:

    Joey hwere are getting the idea that the port of sf should be dead? what? I don’t think so. The port is an important part of the city, not to mention peoples jobs being on the line.
    Since you are the only other person on this blog besides me who actually lives in san francisco, I’d think you’d be a little more supportive of your home town

    Joey Reply:

    I’m just saying – from a practical standpoint, there’s a reason why freight tends to gravitate toward the other side of the bay. The Port of SF is poorly situated to handle significant amounts of shipping traffic.

    HSTSheldon Reply:

    Doesn’t mean you should surrender what little there is to the trucks. Under no circumstances should you want to kill freight rail from an energy security and environmental perspective. In fact, you want the opposite to occur. The more trucks you get off the highways, the better.

    Joey Reply:

    Shifting freight to different ports is different than shifting freight to trucks. Why do you think the port of Oakland is so much larger than the port of SF? Because it has vastly better access to the rail network.

    jimsf Reply:

    But they are good at handling specific kinds of freight. There are a lot of jobs, good jobs involved, and all the related support industries including the the railroad jobs. Retaining good working class jobs in sf is a priority. Certainly oakland is better for many things, but SF is important. To be a san franciscan you have to put san francisco first. Oakland schmoakland bleh pitooey…!


    note “We are independently owned and operated and our employees live and work in San Francisco.” that’s a big deal. They also switched their locos to bio diesel. I find it ironic that a pro rail blog would be pushing to put more freight on the highways rather than improving the use of rail just because it inconveniences a pet project.

    Joey Reply:

    Like I said above, this has NOTHING to do with shifting freight to highways. It’s simply a matter of consolidating shipping at larger ports, particularly those which have better access to the rail network.

    just because it inconveniences a pet project

    Sure, just the minor inconvenience of spending billions of dollars and sacrificing passenger service quality to maintain freight operations.

    Peter Reply:

    Jim, biodiesel is VERY greenwashed. The amount of fossil fuel needed to produce biodiesel is the same as would be spent if you just burned fossil fuel to begin with. Instead, you use the same amount of fossil fuel AND use up valuable ag land which could instead be used to produce food.

    Risenmessiah Reply:

    The port of SF is great for revenue considerations in the city…it’s terrible for regionwide planners that acknowledge the rest of the Bay Area exists. San Francisco already is growing in financial and media presence. It really doesn’t need heavy duty cargo traffic. Oakland should be the focus of other transportation improvements, including a bigger airport. All this has done is reinforce the notion that Proposition 13 has caused cities like SF to make poor strategic urban planning choices because they need other forms of revenue.

    jimsf Reply:

    tell that to the guys you plan to hand pink slips too.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Both of them? Or are they really gonna cut to the bone and fire three?

    jimsf Reply:

    damn new yorkers always poking their unsolicited opinions in.

    jimsf Reply:

    Bottom line is the port will conintue operations, and continue improvements and growth, as will the two railroads involved. So you may as well get used to that and come up with a solution based on that, that is mutually beneficial. End of story.

  3. John Burrows
    Oct 24th, 2010 at 00:44

    So how long a tunnel can you run a diesel locomotive through? Could you dig a trench and then cover sections, leaving ventilation spaces between? We would still have the issue of who would pay the extra cost.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Long, given adequate ventilation. The plans for a Jersey City-Brooklyn underwater freight rail tunnel, at about 6 km, call for diesel traction through the tunnel.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Ah yes, the ventilation plants scattered along the Peninsula will do wonders for property values. Especially when they run full blast in the dead of night… And the people and businesses they displace will do it cheerfully… I think a great place for one would be Stone Pine Line…

    Peter Reply:


    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Some info on long tunnels, operated for heavy freight in North America; please note that I do not advocate this for the Peninsula nor a proposed Redding-Eugene line due to cost, and also due to vetilation issues (the long tunnel on the BNSF, formerly Great Northern, has its capacity limited by the tunnel blowers taking up to 20 minutes to blow the diesel exhaust out of the bore before another train can pass through).

    Mount MacDonald was designed for eventual electrification, and Cascade was originally electrified, but Moffat was steam operated from the beginning, and has never seen electrict traction; it has always required blowers.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    !!#@$%&!! program!! No edit function! Unable to delete duplicate posts! !!@@#$%^^%$$#!!

    aw Reply:

    The longest railroad tunnel in the United States is 7.8 miles long. It used to be electrified, but they ripped out the catenary and added ventilation to allow diesel engines. It has limited throughput, because they ventilate the tunnel between trains.

  4. D. P. Lubic
    Oct 24th, 2010 at 06:54

    Off topic, but amazingly fascinating for me, and I would suspect doubly so for San Francisco residents.;photovideo

    The fim–but turn off the sound, the music picked for the soundtrack is awful! Equally bad, it just doesn’t fit.

    A little later–much better soundtrack, too:

    Enjoy. . .

  5. jimsf
    Oct 24th, 2010 at 08:05

    TIGER II grants: “Rail does very well”
    Thursday, October 21, 2010

    The U.S. Department of Transportation on Oct. 20 announced the recipients of $600 million in TIGER II Discretionary Grants, of which rail-related projects received $289 million


  6. jimsf
    Oct 24th, 2010 at 08:09

    capital grants by region

    and planning grants

  7. Andy
    Oct 24th, 2010 at 08:55

    Did Mr. van Ark comment on how property owners within the quarter mile or so either side of the corridor on the SF peninsula will be compensated for the decline in property values? Many of us have the bulk of our retirement savings (65% in my case) tied up in home equity. Property values already are being differentially affected near the rail corridor. In some cases it’s becoming nearly impossible to sell homes.

    So long as I can move to another state, I don’t care so much if Californians want to spend $50-100 billion on HSR. It’s totally uneconomic and I expect it will require significant ongoing operating subsidies on top of the massive construction debt. That means the state will need to raise taxes to cover both construction and operations.

    However, I do care if I end up trapped in a state with unaffordable income and property taxes because the HSR so destroys the value of my home that I can’t cash out my home equity to relocate to another state. Oh, and by the way, my county has already gone on record that they are unlikely to lower my property taxes without an actual sale – so I can’t afford to leave and I can’t afford to stay. Nice.

    According to my real estate appraiser HSR owes me about $600,000 as of today – before they’ve even started construction. If I could sell my house tomorrow where would I send the bill for the destruction of value? I didn’t see a reserve for this in the HSR business plan. My back of the envelope math tells me they’ll need around $20-30 billion to cover the affected property owners near the Caltrain corridor. Of course there is the possibility that the HSR’s plan is to tell us all to stick it. There’s enough value at stake that many property owners likely will find it economic to take the HSR to court over their losses if the authority doesn’t come up with an equitable plan.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Why should you be compensated? Why is it government’s job to protect your home value? Your house isn’t an investment and it shouldn’t be seen as a retirement nest egg. It’s a place to live.

    To be clear, I don’t actually believe that HSR construction will cause your home value to decline – it will likely improve it if you live next to the ROW due to the elimination of diesel emissions and loud horns. If you’re not right next to the ROW, you probably won’t see much impact one way or the other in the near term (though you may see a long-term improvement if your city sees increased passenger rail service as a result of electrification and grade separation).

    Still, you are not entitled to have any particular home value whatsoever. You have no reasonable expectation – at all – that the rest of California exists to subsidize your housing values. Or do you think that we should all spend tens of billions of dollars to compensate those Californians who saw their property values collapse when the bubble burst?

    Gianny Reply:

    That is soo ridiculous…These people already loud diesel trains running through their town. The train has been there from the very beginning. She should have never bought the house if he thought it the existing train was going to affect the value. The lost value of his house is due to the market for the last 2 yrs. Even Bel-Air, BH, Newport Beach and lots of higher end communities in So-Cal have lost value. These people are trying to recoup their loss through CHSR.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Of course significant operating subsidies will be demanded, at the very least for two blatant reasons. It will be a government-run railroad, of necessity because it cannot be profitable, which means the unions will run it, with the concomitant rich compensation packages. It cannot be profitable because its circuitous route and too many stops guarantee it won’t be competitive with airlines. Catch 22.

    On the other hand nimbys don’t stand a chance of compensation, justified or not, because the courts are an extension of the Pelosi machine. Nimbys: go for the PB-Palmdale jugular or fuggedaboutit.

    Joey Reply:

    Provide some actual numbers of GTFO

    political_incorrectness Reply:

    Who said Amtrak or the California government was going to run it? It is supposed to be privately run.

    synonymouse Reply:

    The unions which are the linchpin of the Pelosi machine will never allow private operation. They would go on strike over compensation, working conditions or work rules until the government was forced to step in. One wreck, any grievance, and they would be demanding a state takeover. But I doubt the state would ever even try to franchise it out, as it could not produce a profit even with deferred maintenance.

    Andy Reply:

    Robert – I wasn’t asking to be compensated for the market decline in property values. Only the differential change in value attributable to HSR – the taking of property value attributable to government action, not market forces generally. The effect is easy enough to calculate by looking at changes in real estate prices as a function of distance from the Caltrain corridor – subtracting out the broader market change in value.

    By way of example – if HSR requires that I give up half my yard, or have my house bulldozed is your position that I should just suck it for “the greater good”? I’m just trying to gauge how much you’re willing to take from others so you can take a subsidized train ride to Disneyland.

    Of course the value of any individual’s property losses pales in comparison to the massive sucking of cash from California citizens in the form of new taxes that will be required to fund the capital expenditures and operating subsidies to build and run HSR. The business plan for HSR doesn’t even pretend to try to pay back the construction cost – that has to come out of new, as yet unannounced taxes – or by taking spending out of the rest of the budget – primarily education. The ridership required to make the operating model break even are so inflated that it is a certainty that HSR will generate massive operating losses every year.

    Peter Reply:

    And yes, if you can prove that your property lost value due to the construction of HSR, then you are entitled to compensation through inverse condemnation.

    One of the foundations of our civil legal system is that every wrong can be compensated. In this case, as you are claiming a financial wrong, then a monetary payment makes it right. And that will be the end of it for you.

    I don’t see what the discussion is about here, other than that you’re now trying to make a broader argument about the program, no longer about your property values. That’s a much weaker argument, imho.

    Joey Reply:

    I expect it will require significant ongoing operating subsidies

    Then you know nothing about HSR.

    Andy Reply:

    Actually I’ve read the entire HSR business plan and studied the issue quite a lot. The ridership projections for HSR are ridiculously inflated, the competitive analysis vs air travel assume airfares that are 2.5 times current prices and they claim value accrues to people who don’t even take the train. It is a classic case of making up analysis to suit a desired conclusion.

    Of course it’s not just me – a group of transportation engineering professors (at UC Berkeley I think) came to the same conclusion. If you can’t convince the guys at Berkeley that your public works project makes sense you’re really in trouble on the merits.

    The assumption is that HSR can run a full train every 6 minutes between LA and San Francisco at an average fare that isn’t competitive with air travel – for a trip that takes three times as long. They make no allowance for the cost of renting a car at the destination – I guess they figure you’ll hitchhike or just stay at the train station. They assume the parking cost at the originating train stations will be $5 per day – last time I checked the benchmark was $35/day. That’s just a few of the moronic and self-serving assumptions they use to try to gin up a business model so it doesn’t bleed red on paper. But it will bleed red in practice. I’d be happy to bet you.

    Joey Reply:

    I don’t disagree on any particular point. None of this proves that HSR will require operating subsidies though. My statement was based on the fact that every intercity HSR system in the world (even the pathetic barely-hsr Acela) manages to cover its operating expenses without subsidy. Paying back loaned money is of course a different matter.

    Oh, and BART provides overnight airport parking at most of its stations for $5 per day. Maybe that’s where it’s coming from.

    Peter Reply:

    Right, because we all know airfares won’t go up at all in the next 10 years and beyond, even with fuel prices likely to skyrocket again.

    And of course our current freeway system will be able to handle any increase in traffic due to rapid population growth without any MAJOR (and VERY expensive) upgrades.

    Have fun continuing your life in the 1980s.

    Andy Reply:

    The trend in airfares has been down in real terms. The business plan analysis included inflation adjustments IIRC. It’s a common technique to argue that everything that matters will be different in the future in response to facts – then you can replace any objective view or reality with your own projection that suits the argument you are trying to make.

    I am at a loss how you think INTER-region bullet train service alleviates INTRA-region traffic congestion. Most of the traffic on California highways is short trips – mostly to work in terms of what drives congestion. Plus even with HSR you still have to drive to the train station in most cases. Explain to me how much of the traffic congestion you face in the morning commute you believe is people heading off to another city? Tell me about the last time you were in a traffic jam on I-5 in Bakersfield. That’s the highway capacity that HSR will help.

    You have half a chance at an argument on air travel, except the distances are all wrong. It’s just too far to be a good value proposition for business travel and that’s were all the action is (who is going to take a day trip to LA by train?). LA in particular is a terrible place to terminate train service because it is so spread out, so you need a car on the other end, which takes you back to driving if you are cheap and flying if you care about the time involved. Maybe if you strangle airport growth you can force some people on to trains out of scarcity, but then you also strangle travel from outside of California which puts a damper on business activity and tourism, which are vital to the economy, so you are cutting of your nose to spite your face.

    You really need to get of the logic that HSR is the answer for which you need to construct a problem. Better to start with the real problems and construct the solutions that really address them.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    I don’t know how long Andy has been following this, so please forgive me if you’ve seen this before, but I have been arguing for a long time that America, as we’ve known it as a world of cheap airfares and cheap gas, can’t last forever. There is only so much oil in the ground that easy and cheap to get to. Much of this is gone, and what’s left is harder to find, harder to refine, in hostile places climatically, geologically, and politically, and just more expensive all around. We won’t run out of oil as much as have it get too expensive to use the way we have.

    Electric and other powered cars have range limits and other problems gasoline cars don’t have; hydrogen presents handling and storage problems, along with the cost of obtaining it from natural gas (which still ties you to a fossil fuel of ultimately limited availability), or breaking it down from water (expensive in electricity, as water is one of the most stable chemical compounds around). You still have a problem of financing your highway system, which becomes worse as vehicles which don’t burn gas become part of the vehicle mix (in other words, you need a new business model for highway finance).

    In short, the whole vision of America as a “Happy Motoring utopia” (James Howard Kunstler’s description) is unsustainable. At the same time, I still like this country, and want to see it as a wonderful place to live, even if autos go away. That means we need alternative transportation that is oil-free, or can be. This means a return to rail transit, including local trolleys, regional and local rail, long-distance rail, and something we didn’t have before–high speed rail. I’ve been called a Communist for suggesting this, that this would be turning the clock back, and some other things I don’t want to repeat here.

    I will admit I am talking about turning the clock back, at least partially. But I also think we’ve gone down a dead-end alley; the only way out of that is to back up a little.

    In view of this, can we afford not to go with rail?

    Andy Reply:

    We’ll have to see what happens to oil supplies and over what time frame – the last I checked proven oil reserves we going up though I agree it can’t go on forever. The biggest consumer is the automobile, not airplanes and of course most of our power production is based on fossil fuels so you’d need to fix that too power electric trains and cars.

    You don’t have to run jet airplanes on kerosene. It would take a little work, but there are alternatives. I seriously doubt that our future includes going to Europe and Asia by sailboat because we couldn’t eventually figure out to power an airplane by something other than fossil fuels.

    If we don’t have air travel it would represent a significant reduction in economic growth and IMHO a threat to world stability as nations became more isolated and jingoistic. But that’s all speculation on top of your speculation.

    jimsf Reply:

    ITs simple enough to replace fossil fuel electricity with nuclear power electricity. We should have done it 30 years ago and we wouldn’t be in the mess we are in now.

    jimsf Reply:

    you realize there is a plan for a railroad all the way around the world don’t you?

    D. P. Lubic Reply:


    Does Andy sound familiar with Peak Oil theory to you?

    As to alternative electric power, well, at least in some places, that’s already being applied in rail transit (Calgary’s light rail line supposedly has its power contract with a wind farm), and then so does this “heritage railway,” the Western Railway Museum in Rio Vista, Ca.:

    It’s fascinating that trolley museums are demonstrating a combination of old electric cars and alternative power sources, in this case in Pennsylvania (but darn it, I wish I knew just how much their cars used, as it is they have only half of the equation):

    Other comments:

    Do you think Andy fits our demographic we have spoken of in the past?

    Finally, what is that plan about the global railroad? This is the first I’ve heard of it.

    The global railroad idea reminds me of a jovial debate among British rail enthusiasts about the Great Western Railway. Those who were enthusiastic enthusiasts of this line said its initials, GWR, represented “God’s Wonderful Railway,” while detractors, refering to a more roundabout route it had, called it the “Great Way ‘Round.”

    British railway humor. . .from a 1937 film, “Oh, Mr. Porter”

    Going to have to try to see this one–looks like a classic. . .just wish raising steam in a locomotive would be as quick and easy as this movie makes it look. . .

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    From the same film–this is for Clem, who, correctly, insists that a timetable is an essential starting point. . .

    This is what the HSR critics think of us:

    jimsf Reply:

    I saw it on some tv show, along with a global highway and being able to send ships over the north pole after it melts.

    jimsf Reply:

    what are california’s current rail passengers doing when they get to where they are going? total california station usage annually nearly 12 million they seem to have already figured it out.

    jimsf Reply:


    Peter Reply:

    And that’s just Amtrak. That doesn’t include Caltrain, ACE, Muni, BART, Metrolink, etc.

    Andy Reply:

    So there is no significant anticipated growth in ridership from HSR? That contradicts the contention that it is HSR that will save us from traffic congestion. It also contradicts the contention that lots of people will ride trains if only we build HSR. If they aren’t clogging the highways aren’t they parked at the HSR station? There are only a few HSR stations planned tens of miles apart so not many people can just walk to one.

    Peter Reply:

    And those HSR stations will have a LOT of feeder public transit. Just look at what’s already going on in Los Angeles, for example. San Jose will (maybe) have BART, in addition to improved BRT, and (hopefully) improved Light Rail. TBT will be within walking distance of the Financial District, and be within 1 block of BART and MUNI light rail, plus be a major bus station.

    political_incorrectness Reply:

    It was your decision to invest in a place near an active transportation corridor. Therefore, you assume the risk that property values might decrease. Also, does that include your recession total? Investments are a gamble, including property, sometimes we win, sometimes we lose. Of course everyone is freaking out even before a shovel is turned. Maybe wait a couple of years. If you are located within .5 miles of a station, that location becomes desirable. When commercial activity moves into the station area, then that will be a great selling feature. Gotta lose some to make some I suppose.

    jimsf Reply:

    Did Mr. van Ark comment on how property owners within the quarter mile or so either side of the corridor on the SF peninsula will be compensated for the decline in property values?

    High speed rail in SF is going to have a HUGE and I mean really HUGE impact on my neighborhood including traffic, crowds, and a completely unacceptable amount of development, most of which will be high end condo growth plans to far exceed the height and bulk limits demanded by san franciscans and which will put extreme upward pressure on existing rent prices possibly eliminating the ability of my and others ability to remain in our homes. Therefore I want to know what cahsr and the state plan to do to compensate me.

    Derek Reply:

    If you think rents in your area are going to go way up, then what CAHSR and the state are doing for you is providing you with a great investment tip! Don’t let this opportunity pass you by.

    jimsf Reply:

    working class people like me do not have money to invest. it all goes for rent and food remember? to live in SF on 50k is to live near the poverty line of survival. My point was of course, that I am going to support hsr, even though it is going to have what I consider to be unacceptable levels of impact on my neighborhood. ( and hope that a continued liberal city will retain existing rent control until I expire)

    Derek Reply:

    “I won’t invest because I can’t afford to” is circular logic.

    jimsf Reply:

    huh? if there is no money to invest then with what does one invest? good looks and personality?

    Joey Reply:

    The difficulty with investment is that people who have money can make more money, and people who don’t cannot.

    John Burrows Reply:

    I sense a growing opportunity to pick up some prime residential properties in Palo Alto, Menlo Park, and Atherton at rock-bottom prices—- particularly if a panic mentality develops among the current homeowners.

    political_incorrectness Reply:

    Exactly, then when Caltrain frequency increases and those towns are more desirable to live, you can resell for a higher price.

    Andy Reply:

    Again, someone is celebrating passage of Prop 19 a bit early.

    Despite subsidies Caltrain has massive operating losses and has been progressively curtailing service. It doesn’t even stop at my station on a regular basis – I used to ride it almost every day. They make an argument that HSR will allow them to switch to electric and make a big difference, but every analysis I’ve seen indicates that it won’t change their economics in a material way. They may think it’ll allow them to raise fares, but this also is unsupported by any facts or analysis. I believe the argument is just a ploy to try to get their hands on some of the HSR money to prop up a failing business and buy some time in the home that something will change. Unfortunately for Caltrain, hope isn’t much of a strategy.

    Al Reply:

    Halving the time it takes to get from SF to SJ is not material? Having the same frequency with fewer trains is not material? I say you’re the one who’s high.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    The locals will be faster, the expresses will be about baby bullet speeds … faster trains and no delays refueling means more services with the same number of sets, faster transits between all stations means higher patronage.

    wu ming Reply:

    i don’t know if you’ve noticed, but property rates have tanked all over the state and country. it’s called a deep recession.

    the thing is, i bet this guy complains about welfare recipients and state workers too, when he isn’t calling for public subsidies to support price levels for his investments. hey, man, if you don’t like trains, don’t buy a house next to a railroad.

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Yep. It’s the “government subsidies are for me and not thee” attitude that you see so often among privileged Americans.

    Andy Reply:

    If the government bulldozes my house you think I should just suck it?


    Spokker Reply:

    We really need to get to Disneyland.

    Joey Reply:

    If the government bulldozes your house they are required by law to compensate you.

    Peter Reply:

    You, yes. Others get paid.

    Andy Reply:


    jimsf Reply:

    Andy if you own a home in menlo park or atherton or palo alto, you can afford to move to just about any of the 49 other states in the union with no problem regardless of how much alleged equity ( equity that was a fairy tale to begin with) you have “lost”

    HSTSheldon Reply:

    I had to sign up and comment when I read your post. $20- $30 billion owed. That is humorous!!! My, you guys really have an inflated view of the value of your property, which as has been pointed by several others was built fully well knowing the location. An active transportation corridor in existence since the 18?? ‘s built by the SP I believe. You guys built your city around this line, in fact it is the reason there is a city there in the first place. You owe your “great little town” to the line along with all the other little towns along the corridor.

    You ever take a look at maps and wonder why the great cities are located where they are. Let me give you one guess. It’s called transportation links. There is either a
    1. port (river, lake or oceanic)
    2. railway
    3. major roadway/trail
    4. Canal

    The locations of these facilities are determined by major geographic factors.
    1. Mountain passes funnelling transportation links.
    2. Major rivers, river mouths/harbours etc. (think New York, Boston, Baltimore, Norfolk, New Orleans etc.)
    3. Major maritime lanes, especially if they intersect nearby (think LA, Long Beach etc., Panama City, Panama)
    4. Lakes and their tendency to converge transportation (think Chicago)
    5. Several or all of the above.

    Of course, in many instances several of the factors above converge and produce the greatest of the great cities.

    Now, knowing all of this, here is a proposal that will enhance the quality of life for the folks living nearest the corridor. No more 4000 HP diesels accelerating or rumbling through town that can be heard 2 miles or more away sometimes. (There is no way you can hear an electric locomotive more that 1/4 – 1/2 mile away excepting probably aerodynamic noise) No more horns that can also be heard from miles away on a quiet day. Lower vibration as you no longer have that heavy diesel rumbling around and the equipment is lighter weight which means lower track vibration. You are willing to give up all this because you are afraid of having an elevated structure/berm nearby and the aesthetics. Now considering the very real risk of oil issues in the near term, this reaction seems very shallow and short sighted to me.

    Andy Reply:

    Don’t forget the elimination of the bells at the at-grade crossings and the decline in train frequency because hardly anybody is going to ride the thing. I’ve looked at the diesel versus electric noise characteristics as well as wheel and airflow noise. If you can keep the trains below 100mph they will likely be quieter than Caltrain, but of course it’s critically important for proponents to save the 3 minutes, so they want 120mph. Noise goes up exponentially with speed.

    My estimate of property values was off the MLS – which includes the recent deflation. The critical assumption is how much of a change in value you assume from HSR – I assumed a decline of 30% within 1,320 feet of the tracks over 20 miles of corridor – you can certainly make other assumptions.

    My personal opinion is that if they don’t do a scorched earth, bulldoze everything in sight and pile tracks on top of a giant dirt berm the negatives of HSR structure will be more or less offset by reductions in noise (assuming SOME modest noise abatement and reasonable speed limits in residential areas). But the challenge is once the camel’s head is inside the tent you can pretty much guarantee you’re going to get the whole camel – meaning I have zero confidence the HSR decision-makers will do anything more than a slap-dash mess of a job leaving me holding the bag (and the bill).

    And of course is it is going to take 15-20 years to build the thing so whatever uncertainty there is about the effect on property values will tend to bias downward.

    It would be somewhat less painful if I thought there was some benefit to be gained from spending the $40-100 billion. Unfortunately it’s painfully clear that this is going to be the largest “build it and they will come” fiasco in modern history – worse than the Chunnel – which over-estimated ridership by more than double and underestimated costs by half (ultimate cost was $21 billion for the 31-mile rail line), or the Big Dig in Boston which underestimated construction costs by a factor of 8 ($2.8 billion estimated, $22 billion actual).

    jimsf Reply:

    how is this not an upgrade over what’s there.

    jimsf Reply:


    Andy Reply:

    More like this, with 30-foot electrical towers and (maybe) sound walls on top of it. Yours had below-grade crossings, which I don’t think is in the plan.

    jimsf Reply:

    thats just it, the final design hasn’t been settled and as far as I know, one option is raise the berm less and depress the roads some, where it can be done, to get half and half result. That is all suppose to be part of the input process that communities should be participating in rather than filing frivolous lawsuits

    Peter Reply:

    Some locations will still have below-grade crossings, though I believe only where already below-grade.

    jimsf Reply:

    If the communities involved would simply sit down and participate and decide which streets should be partially depress, which ones can be fully depressed, which ones can be dead ended, and which ones can go over on overpasses then they could get on with a plan that reduces the height impact of the elevated berm. In most cases, they should be able to lower the street some and raise the berm some and reach a compromise.

    Peter Reply:

    They’re actually no longer looking at berms for any residential sections, iirc.

    Andy Reply:

    Sorry – wrong link. Maybe this’ll work.

    Peter Reply:

    If the planners don’t take steps to mitigate the significant effects of noise that you’re worried about, the project can and will be stopped in court. They are obligated by CEQA to mitigate any significant effects that CAN be mitigated. Noise is one of them.

    The current lawsuits over the Bay Area – Central Valley Program EIR are premature and will lose in court, as Redwood City and Burlingame correctly concluded.

    However, a lawsuit challenging the Project EIR is more likely to be successful, and it SHOULD succeed if the planners do not mitigate properly. That’s the idea of the CEQA process.

    Andy Reply:

    I hear you Peter, but I am skeptical that if the reality doesn’t match the plan that anything will be done to fix it and I am also skeptical that the analysis in the plan will be anything more than the “here’s the answer we want, do some analysis that gets us there” – just like what was done in the business plan.

    I assume abatement can include buying me a set of earplugs.

    Peter Reply:

    That’s what comments are for in the EIR.

    Abatement could also include retrofitting the exposed houses with better sound-proofing, such as they do for communities around airports. It should be relatively easy along the Caltrain corridor, since you’d only have to retrofit the side facing the tracks.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Electric trains are quieter, much quieter, than diesel trains. You won’t need any abatement.

    Andy Reply:

    I’ve actually researched this a bit. The loudest thing about a train is the horn. They tend to point the horns down the track. So long as Caltrans or the other regulatory authorities don’t require HSR trains to blow their horns on general principle, the elimination of at-grade crossings should reduce or eliminate this noise (as well as the crossing gate bells). It is not clear to me, however, whether at 120 mph HSR trains won’t be required to blow horns almost continuously in residential areas as they pass Caltrain stations at all hours. That would be virtually impossible to mitigate – especially for outdoor activities. The next loudest part is the diesel engine. HSR is electric, so this is an improvement. The next loudest is either wheel noise or air noise, depending on speed, track and wheel design. This noise goes up exponentially with speed so 120mph is pretty damn loud, but 80-90mph is manageable without a lot of abatement. The question here is will HSR proponents be so selfish that they can’t tolerate a speed reduction that costs an additional 2-3 minutes on a three hour trip. So far the answer has been “we don’t give a damn”, as the projected speeds remain stubbornly at 120mph.

    The next issue is vibration. Lighter rail cars help, but again the real culprit is speed. A reduction to below 90mph would go a long way to helping. My initial research indicates that raised structures actually transmit more vibration, but I suspect it is a function of specific design, soil conditions and other factors too. Again I have heard nothing about proposals to put houses on springs to abate vibration – the general attitude seems to be “suck it – we’re putting this thing up the way we want”. I’ve gone to enough meetings to pick up the passive-aggressive behavior.

    I also don’t really trust the statements I’ve heard that sound a lot like “trust me”. Especially when my own analysis says that running these suckers at high speed is potentially a problem.

    Joey Reply:

    Most stations will not have platforms on the HSR tracks, so they will be far enough from the platforms that horn blowing will not be necessary. The exception is the actual HSR stations (Millbrae and possibly one other), where express trains will pass the platforms without stopping.

    J. Wong Reply:

    I ride Caltrain and the northbound trains, which travel with the engine in the rear, can really sneak up on you when you’re standing on the platform because they don’t make much noise traveling ahead (and even at 50 mph, they’re fast). As you might expect, there is a lot of wind when one passes and you notice that standing 8 feet away on the platform, but the majority of the noise is when the engine finally passes. If it were electric, you would barely hear it.

    Vibration is bad especially for the train itself. Vibration is wasted energy and slows the train down. Caltrain’s track’s were re-done about 10 years ago to be single-weld so that has eliminated a lot of the noise from the wheels (no clickety-clack). Again what I notice is the wind, not the noise of the cars (and currently, the engine of course).

    Finally, traveling at 125mph means that the train is abreast of you for barely an instant. Caltrain is less than 10 seconds at 50mph but they’re shorter trains. The HSR will be longer, but not so much. You’re going to hear a woosh for 20 seconds, but that’s about it. The freight that they will continue to run at night no less, are much longer and much louder than any HSR.

    Clem Reply:

    For the record, Caltrain travels at 79 mph, not 50 mph. Large objects appear to move more slowly than they are actually moving.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    I can confirm J. Wong’s comments about how this electric stuff can sneak up on you. I’ve observed electric Amtrak trains in the northeast corridor at over 100 mph, and they were indeed quiet; equipment at the time included Amfleet, Heritage, and a few Viewliner cars, all pulled by AEM-7 boxcab electrics, the latter variously nicknamed “toasters” for their boxy shape, “Swedish meatballs” for their design origins, and “Mighty Mouse” for packing almost 5,000 hp. (high at the time) into only 99 tons.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    This noise goes up exponentially with speed so 120mph is pretty damn loud, but 80-90mph is manageable without a lot of abatement.

    Electric trains going 125 are louder than electric trains going 90. Are they louder than diesel trains going 70? I doubt it. If whatever they finally decide on is quieter than what’s already there you don’t need any abatement. The switch to electric trains abated the noise.

    J. Wong Reply:

    You can sue for _actual_ loss, you cannot sue for potential loss. Courts deal in facts, and your feeling that your property values would decline with HSR is an opinion not backed up by any evidence. You don’t win law suits based on opinion, in fact, they don’t even go to trial because they get thrown out for a lack of evidence.

    That said, your property values are determined by the existing ROW (and you’re really delusional if you think that Caltrain will ever disappear) and HSR will make it no worse. And that’s an opinion I’ll stand behind.

    Andy Reply:

    I’m not delusional – I knew about Caltrain when I bought the place. I made sure to visit it when trains were running to understand first hand the exact vibration and noise profile I was dealing with and to make my own judgement as to the relative value versus a home further from the ROW. The price I paid included the effect of being a block from the ROW.

    The value issue would not be my feeling about it, it would be the actual effect of the HSR plan on relative changes (up or down) in property values close to the ROW versus farther away since the plan was announced. The HSR plan was put in place AFTER I bought my home and was not something that I reasonably could have forecast happening, therefore it is in my view a government taking of property. HSR doesn’t have to be completed to have an effect on real estate values – values include the expected value of future events, construction of HSR being a big one. It may be over-estimate or under-estimated, but the expectations affect the price you get paid in the end. There’s nothing as real as that.

    Again I wouldn’t look for compensation for general market movements, just the changes since the HSR plan was announced that DIFFERENTIALLY devalued property close to the ROW. Differentially means not counting the effects of the general housing bubble bursting.

    I know that most of you don’t care about what happens to people along the ROW so long as you get your subsidized train ride to Disneyland. I just wanted to to hear it directly – along with all the supporting rationalizations. It’s a great psychological study in moral hazard and free rider behavior.

    J. Wong Reply:

    Look, house values next to the ROW are already devalued relative to those farther away. You’re going to have a hard time teasing apart decline in value due to the HSR (if any) from the general market decline. And unfortunately, different market segments get affected differently. Lower value properties have suffered a greater decline than higher value properties in the current bust. So how do you tease apart all these factors? Is the decline in a specific property because of HSR or because properties close to the ROW were lower-priced to begin with and consequently had a greater decline than higher-priced properties farther from the row?

    Good luck with that!

    synonymouse Reply:

    Your chances of receiving any compensation or even any recognition in the local courts are effectively zilch. as they have been totally politicized. They are part and parcel of the reigning regional political machine.

    The only recourse open to the hsr-disaffected anywhere in California is to reject the scheme at the polls. You will have to go the initiative route. End of story. Looks like Meg is bound to lose – perhaps she might be approached to help with a revote campaign.

    Leaving the state is probably a wise move in the long run. California probably would have been better off if it had been split up in the 19th century. Maybe the movement for “Jefferson” will rise again.

    Peter Reply:

    You are correct in terms of result, but not in terms of reason. There are excellent reasons for not granting homeowners “compensation” for inverse condemnation. Read Robert’s next post on the issue.

    Accusing the independent court system of being in cahoots with some nebulous “political machine” is one of the more loony things you’ve written here.

  8. Risenmessiah
    Oct 24th, 2010 at 10:04

    I think you should have your appraiser over for a cocktail or two…because you both need a heart to heart.

    Did he or she also mention that your appraiser most likely wildly inflated the value of homes four or five years ago to ensure that the banks could charge exorbitant fees to originate loans for people who had no job, no income, and no clue, thus also probably costing you money? Did your appraiser ever pull you aside in 2005 and say that now would be a pretty good time to cash out and move to Colorado with your equity?

    Failing that of course, did your appraiser also mention that basically the US is strategically overbuilt with homes and that even if even if HSR was never thought of, built, or mentioned for your neighborhood that your nest egg’s value is going to collapses anyway because population growth in the US has screeched to a grinding halt and with the onset of climate change probably will stay where it is for the foreseeable future? Or that if you think Atherton has it bad, think about if you had moved to Florida, Arizona, Virginia, Michigan, Nevada and were underwater on your seven figure house and had abandoned foreclosures for neighbors.

    Cuz if your appraiser just said, “hey there’s a lot of uncertainty in the market out there caused by this HSR thing” you shoulc probably take your morning newspaper and whap him or her like a wet dog and find someone else that will level with you and tell you the truth.

  9. Brandon from San Diego
    Oct 24th, 2010 at 10:07

    Good post. And, I appreciate teh frankness of the CHSRA CEO, Roelaf.

  10. jimsf
    Oct 24th, 2010 at 11:05

    tbt progress…. things are moving right along!

    Joey Reply:

    I was just down there today. They’ve got large portions of streets closed off and much of the structure has already been removed.

  11. Emma
    Oct 24th, 2010 at 11:16

    Maybe we should build the peninsula section first. Caltrain would benefit from the new rails through higher speeds, some years before the first High speed trains would run. That would boost ridership on Caltrain.

    The whole section would be a preview for what is going to come to the rest of California at higher speeds. It would also silence the loudest NIMBYs.

  12. Jeff Carter
    Oct 24th, 2010 at 12:31

    How ironic, Mr. Van Ark points out the negative, possibly service ending; consequence of a tunnels effect on freight traffic, yet these anti-rail buffoons frequently cite UP freight (and ‘inter-city’) trackage rights as a means to stop High Speed Rail. It goes to show that the Nimbys will stop at nothing to spread their fear mongering lies and misinformation. While it may be possible to run electric freight in a tunnel, the fact is that freight customers are all on the surface, thus adding much more expense to the glorious nimby tunnel, also the freight spurs are not going to be electrified so diesels must still be used.

  13. J. Wong
    Oct 24th, 2010 at 14:56

    Actually, I’m starting to feel pretty optimistic about HSR. I don’t really think that the Peninsula cities are going to be able to stop it. They are grasping at straws now. The final EIR will come out in Dec. and the courts will look at it and then throw the cases out. Plans will be finalized next year and contracts put out to bid with working starting in 2012. Yay!

    Andy Reply:

    Party on! The bill comes later.

    Clem Reply:

    What comes out in December is the Draft EIR. It goes through at least one round of public review before getting finalized and certified. Until it’s certified, you can’t sue under CEQA. Once it is, you have 30 days to file.

    J. Wong Reply:

    It’s the final draft, as opposed to the preliminary drafts that have been out before.

    Clem Reply:

    The final isn’t a draft. DEIR is not FEIR and there is no such thing as a FDEIR.

    J. Wong Reply:

    So when does it get certified?

    Peter Reply:

    After the comment period is completed, the staff has responded to all comments, and made any necessary changes. Then, when the staff thinks it’s ready for release, the Board discusses it and can certify it.

    dfb Reply:

    According to CEQA, the board must give 45 days minimum for public comments. It can only extend the comment period an additional 45 days. I’m not sure about how long CHSRA has to actually prepare the final EIR/EIS but I would expect it to be limited to a reasonable time period. It is in the best interests of the agency to be quick because it can begin construction once the final EIR/EIS is certified (that is unless some poor soul is able to convince a court to slap an injunction on ChSRA to stop construction).

    Peter Reply:

    What’s been released so far for SF-SJ has been Preliminary and Supplemental Alternatives Analyses.

    political_incorrectness Reply:

    People have realized the Penninsula is demanding too much. However, this also brings out questions of the Authority’s handling. I would definitely clear up issues within the Authority in order to gain more support for the project and reduce skepticism.

  14. TomW
    Oct 25th, 2010 at 06:46

    Is ventilation really that expensive? I’m thinking of Box Tunnel in the UK ( ), which is just under 2 miles long, has passive ventilation (no fans), yet has 60+ diesel trains per day without problems. Surely a covered trench just needs a ventilation shaft (maybe with some fans) every 200m or so?

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Ah, yes, I. K. Brunel’s Box Tunnel, with the trivia tidbit about the sun shining though it on April 9, Brunel’s birthday!

    The PB crowd should be so talented to have so much fun. . .but all they do is make money. . .

    What’s the use of that money if you don’t have some play value with it? No wonder big business just seems mean anymore. . .the brass have forgotten how to have fun. They need to read up a bit on Lucius Beebe, including his book, “The Big Spenders,” although my personal favorite is his “Mixed Train Daily.”

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