High Speed Rail as “California’s Sputnik Moment”

Jan 31st, 2011 | Posted by

Redwood City councilmember and head of the San Mateo County Economic Development Association (SAMCEDA) Rosanne Foust has an excellent op-ed in Redwood City Patch this week calling support for high speed rail “California’s Sputnik moment,” a reference to President Barack Obama’s pro-HSR State of the Union address:

Here in the Bay Area, we’re having our own Sputnik moment on the California high-speed rail project. Since the Authority Board voted in December to begin construction of the system connecting Los Angeles to the Bay Area in the Central Valley, we’ve seen the departure of the lead engineer for the Peninsula Rail Program, the release date of the draft environmental impact report delayed, and stood on the sidelines watching commitments of state and federal funds head to Los Angeles and the Central Valley. In short, we’re getting beat.

If the Bay Area is to maintain its economic standing in a globally competitive world, we must regroup. To build a statewide system of high-speed rail connecting major metropolitan cities in California will require our region to redouble its efforts to earn the continued support of local, state and federal decision-makers and elected officials and the public at large.

Foust is making some very strong points here. High speed rail is indeed essential to maintaining global competitiveness. Metropolitan regions that enable cheap, sustainable transportation will have an edge over those that waste money on oil-based methods of travel. And as congestion increases on freeways, no amount of hybrid or electric vehicle innovation can overcome the far more cost-effective electric trains.

Some might argue that Foust is merely making a claim to economic benefits for HSR because she supports the project. But it seems likely that it’s the other way around – she supports the project because of its economic benefits.

Foust goes on to detail the economic benefits of HSR to San Mateo County – and then explains what she believes should be done to bring that about:

The Authority needs to finish and release the draft environmental impact report on the San Francisco to San Jose corridor but first taking the extra time to examine more closely trenching and other alternatives important to communities along the route, including the planning, design and construction of improvements to Caltrain on the corridor that will accommodate and serve both the near-term and long-term needs of the Authority and Caltrain for inter-city high speed rail service.

We can work more diligently towards the principles of sustainable growth and preservation of community character as we forge a path for California’s future. The Authority needs to continue to engage the public to craft a vision for our corridor.

It sounds like Foust believes, as many HSR supporters do – including Californians For High Speed Rail – that both the Authority and the community need to come together to look at all the options. I would add that they need to do so in a constructive spirit, and be mindful of the financial constraints on the project. I’ve never opposed trenching or tunneling, but we have to keep in mind that, as was brought home on Saturday at the Friends of Caltrain event, there isn’t exactly a lot of money lying around to build stuff. Just as the Caltrain event was dedicated to finding a funding source to keep the trains running, so too should any collaborative effort on the Peninsula include an effort to fund the construction of the desired infrastructure.

Foust’s op-ed is a good reminder that the discussion over HSR isn’t just about trenches, tunnels, and viaducts. It’s about San Mateo County and the rest of California being able to maintain its prosperity in the 21st century.

  1. Brandon from San Diego
    Jan 31st, 2011 at 22:08
    #1

    How about this site rename itself? I suggest, Bay Area High Speed Rail Blog, or California High Speed Rail Blog – Bay Area Edition.

    What do you think?

    swing hanger Reply:

    “it is the squeaky wheel that gets the grease…”

    bixnix Reply:

    “a baby that cries loudly is hoping for a pacifier” … besides, SCAL has synonymouse to keep us updated !

    Michael Reply:

    Brandon- Why don’t you offer a post?

    Peter Reply:

    I guess you missed the two months of Central Valley-only posts…

    Robert Cruickshank Reply:

    Apparently he did.

    dave Reply:

    Their’s not much HSR wise going down South Brandon. Especially day to day, so it would seem that way to you.

  2. frozen
    Jan 31st, 2011 at 22:50
    #2

    We just need someone in both the CV and the LA area to cover the data, analyze the reports and discuss its effects on current infrastructure much like Clem Tiller does for Caltrain– I would, but I haven’t been in California since I went out-of-state for college a while ago and hence I feel like I wouldn’t be qualified. (On the other hand, if they EVER get an HSR spur out to Phoenix, I m all on that one.)

  3. synonymouse
    Feb 1st, 2011 at 01:12
    #3

    The CHSRA has absolutely zero connection with anything Sputnik, which I remember very well. The first night everybody went out to see the blinking light in the sky. The old folks couldn’t believe the commies were capable of anything so impressive. And you know what Eisenhower did? For sure it was not throwing hard-earned dollars to a bunch of douchebag real estate developers in LaLaLand. They immediately gave iq tests to the kids in school(I was one of them) and put the high scorers in advanced “enriched” classes. Best thing that ever happened to me – it didn’t matter if your parents did not have any money or an academic pedigree the government wanted instant brainpower to compete with the Russians. You could never do anything like that today – the nannies and the ACLU would have a fit. Forget about competitiveness when your fearless leader Mark Lame-o wants to pass a bill requiring employers to hire stoners.

    Caltrain is likely a goner. The berm-aerial blitzkieg against PAMPA was llkely a PB-BART-MTC stroke of genius to outrage the locals and turn them to ring-the-bay. Damn good puppeteering.

    Forget about cutting the military budget. If you can believe it Pakistan is actually increasing its nuke arsenal at the moment. Now who in hell do the Pakis intend to go to nuclear war with? Go figure but it will likely be the US to go in and extract the nukes before somebody really gets hurt. Same applies to Iran.

    And as to the CHSRA the critics have tasted first and real blood. Too slow, too circuitous, labor costs too high. And let LA bankroll the Palmdale caper itself.

    Peter Reply:

    Rinse, repeat.

    Victor Reply:

    And Snyny is foaming at the mouth, As usual.

    Victor Reply:

    Who said Cut, Just stretch out the New hardware over a longer period of time.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Why assume that cuts to the Defense budget would have any negative impact on military preparedness. The Defense budget is honed to providing profits to corporations, lubricated by pork to Congressional districts ~ its quite common for more profito-politically appealing spending to go ahead even though the military does not need or even want it, while more effective spending does not go ahead if it is not as profito-politically appealing.

    Oh, and as to who the Pakistani bomb is targeted at: India, of course.

    synonymouse Reply:

    That’s the conventional wisdom, ie., India is the target. But it makes no sense as India cannot even deal effectively with the Punjab problem and is in no position to occupy Pakistan

    So no genuine threat from India. Apart from a runaway military bureaucracy(their own military industrial complex)selling nukes and related tech illegally is, I think, more the eventual intent. The weaker the US is perceived the more likely this is to happen.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Nah, Pakistan just wants nukes so it can “keep up with” India. It doesn’t need a target, it’s just a matter of national pride.

    I realize this is nuts, but this is how the sort of people who run military-backed countries think.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    The United States had decades of an arms race with the Soviet Union only to find out later, after Saudi Arabia, West Germany and Austria engineered the collapse of the Soviet Union, we had just made up a substantial amount of the threat.

    The driver of the arms race was internal politics, of course, but the Soviet Union was the target selected by the beneficiaries of the policies as the pretext. Same with Pakistan: India really is the target that is the pretext of the policy.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    You should have learned in those enriched science classes that what you saw wasn’t Sputnik. Sputnik was too faint to be seen easily.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Maybe a booster in orbit; but you could sure spot it the evening after the story broke.

  4. Richard Mlynarik
    Feb 1st, 2011 at 10:13
    #4

    CHSRA looks a lot more like California’s Space Shuttle moment.

    Mind boggling expense; no definable goals; establishment of a self-perpetuating bureaucracy and agency with no purpose other than to reward contractors and ensure its own continuation; near-zero real return (transportation for CHSRA, scientific for NASA) compared with the insane costs; utter, total lack of cost control; laughably fraudulent promises of development cost and schedule; laughably, over-the-moon fraudulent promises of operational frequency and operating cost; fraudulent gaming of the “alternatives” analysis; etc.

    High speed rail isn’t an R&D exercise. It isn’t a race against the commies for total war theater dominance.

    It’s a matter of hiring professionals who’ve done it all before and no how to do it (hint: none of them are Americans or Californians); copying what’s already been done; buying what already exists; hiring a bunch of local yokels to push around earth and pour concrete according to existing designs; and exercising absolutely ruthless project oversight and cost management at every single step (design, construction, operations) of the undertaking to avoid total capture of the project by a self-interested contractor mafioso.

    CHSRA is, of course, doing none of the above. Sputnik! (Or how about Mars Climate Observer?)

    thatbruce Reply:

    “Hello and welcome to the HSR Construction Round. Each of the contestants in this round has successfully constructed one or more HSR network segments, which is a pre-requisite for entry to this Game. The rules of this game are simple; each contestant will pull from this hat a segment to be constructed, and will either bid to construct that segment at a cost and time comparable to their past constructions, or ask for a different segment. Should the bid be accepted, taking into account various policies that need to be complied with, the CAHSRA will provide funding up to the bid price, based on successful completion of the segment within the stated time period. Contestants are free to seek additional funding in order to drive down the time of completion and the possibility of completion bonuses, yes, you heard me right, bonuses will be paid to contestants who complete segments ahead of time and under the bid amount!! Should the contestant fail to complete the segment within the time stated, they will lose out on completion bonuses, and will incur penalties. So, step right up sirs, put your hands in the hat, and see how your luck holds out!!”

    synonymouse Reply:

    You wanna right now offer PB a “bonus”(bribe, bennie, baksheesh)to induce it to find a route thru Tejon and save those oh so many miles and oh so many minutes?

    Victor Reply:

    What Yer advocating could be considered criminal, As doing what You suggest is illegal.

    synonymouse Reply:

    In California illegal or legal is whatever the subverted judiciary pulls out of their tuckus as they go along.

    Peter Reply:

    I’d love for you to call a judge “subverted” or “corrupt” to his face.

    synonymouse Reply:

    How about Ito, who was obviously “telegraphed” by the LA hierarchy to bend over backwards to let off OJ? It is a miracle of self-control that none of the family of the victims did not do what you suggest. I am sure they wanted to.

    The Pelosi patronage machine planted these judges and effectively owns them. Independent judiciary, what a joke. In every epoch somebody owns them. How do think we got corporations with the same rights as real, breathing citizens?

    Peter Reply:

    Did you even take a civics class in your “enriched” classes? If you had, you would know that in a jury trial, the jury decides whether the defendant is guilty or not.

    synonymouse Reply:

    They allowed the defense to destroy evidence. A guard overheard OJ scream to Rosie Grier that he did it. The authorities were afraid of a Rodney King so they let OJ go. Travesty of justice.

    Tell you what, I’ll challenge your hypothetical judge to a fistfight when we meet up in hell.

    Peter Reply:

    Oh dear, how to explain the hearsay rule and its exceptions to a conspiracy theorist.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Syn clearly doesn’t understand the justice system. A *good* example of a corrupt judge would be Mr. Scalia, who just writes opinions to please himself, and the law be damned. And he’s actually committed assault and theft and gotten away with it.

    synonymouse Reply:

    Let me put it in another way. Isn’t it notable that when the power elite, of whatever political persuasion in favor at the moment, wants something, it is legal. And when they don’t, that something is conveniently illegal or deemed laughably indefensible. At all times and all places, no matter what faction is in power.

    But if you might be interested in a little discussion I started on SMART’s doodlebugs, check out the Altamont Press site. Some good comments and a rumor that BART may have to reinforce its aerials to accommodate structurally heavier mandated cars.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    There’s a difference between a governing coalition agreeing that something should be legal and making it legal, and a system where whatever any individual member of the governing coalition might wish to do is deemed legal, unless it goes against what a higher ranking member wants.

    Rule by law does not mean perfect rules are in place, perfectly enforced, but rather that accepted rules are in place and being found to violate them has accepted consequences.

    Its too bad the LA Police Department didn’t realize early enough that they should treat OJ like a rich man rather than like a black man ~ if they had brought their “try to get a rich man convicted, cross every T and dot every I” game from the beginning, rather than their “throw the black guy in jail and break for lunch” game to the case, they might have won a conviction.

    synonymouse Reply:

    “a system where whatever any individual member of the governing coalition might wish to do is deemed legal, unless it goes against what a higher ranking member wants.”

    A fine description contemporary California politics. What renders this not obvious to the average citizen of the Golden State is the superb brainwashing, best in the country but appropriate since we are home to Hollywood. Other states, like New Jersey, Illinois or Louisiana, are quite aware of just how corrupt, perversely deceitful and manipulative are their respective regimes, but here it is dumb blond brain dead Disneyland pollyanna. Lawrence Welk meets Lilo and Charlie Sheen.

    These dumb****s will vote for Jerry’s tax in the delusion that he will cut his welfare and union base. How naive. If it were up to me I would cut the UC Chancellors personal take down to 200k tops and let them run off to Harvard if they don’t like it. And shut the door behind you.

    Jerry Reply:

    The Bob Hope Sputnik joke was that the Russians beat us with Sputnik because their German rocket scientists were better than our German rocket scientists.

    D. P. Lubic Reply:

    Gee, I love finding out that I am not the only nostalgia hound here.

    synonymouse Reply:

    But we got von Braun and most of the v-2’s, I believe. That was the essence of the failure; we arrogantly believed the Russians were incapable of greatness. I doubt it was Eisenhower – most likely John Foster Dulles. He always came off as a real a-hole. I believe he was the one to refuse to shake hands with Chou-En-Lai. But no problem with the likes of a Franco.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Wasn’t Dulles the one one that came up with the brilliant corporate system of cycling individual soldiers into and out of Vietnam, rather than units? Looked brilliant in the accounting, but esprit d’ corps has always been difficult to quantify.

    Alex M. Reply:

    The Space Shuttle was a very successful project. And of course our HSR system will designed with a lot of help from engineers of other countries who have done this stuff before. There’s really no other way since, as you said, no one here has the necessary experience.

    Nathanael Reply:

    Most of the problems with the Space Shuttle have been attributed to two things:
    (1) Top-down rather than bottom-up design; this is bad for a system where everything has to fit into a fixed envelope and is subject to tight weight limits (though it’s great for other types of systems); you end up having to fit parts into holes where they really shouldn’t be fit.
    (2) Congressional pork forcing parts to be built in REALLY inappropriate locations. The booster rockets were built in three parts and stuck together because Congress demanded that they be built in IOWA and they couldn’t be transported in one piece. This is of course the cause of the Challenger disaster.

    The basic space shuttle concept was excellent, most of it was really well-designed, and the Russians actually copied it, with a “debugged” design, prior to the collapse of the USSR; it’s pretty much the only way to repair something in orbit.

    Alon Levy Reply:

    Very successful. Two crews got killed, and the technology is such a dead-end that the next generation of spaceships is based on pre-shuttle designs.

    And let’s not talk about how NASA managed to make space exploration look boring.

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Making space exploration routine was, of course, an aim ~ if it had been more successful, space “exploration” to the well traveled reaches of earth orbit would have been even more boring.

    Peter Reply:

    We all know how routine space travel really is…

    BruceMcF Reply:

    Course, they were trying to go to the moon. Most space industry is focused on earth orbit.

    Peter Reply:

    Yeah, but the media and the country saw moon shots as “routine” by Apollo 13.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    If by routine means the world stopped and everyone watched it on TV.

    Peter Reply:

    No, by routine meaning no one was interested in the launch itself, just when things started going wrong.

    adirondacker12800 Reply:

    Everyone watched it’s launch on TV. It was the top news story of the day.

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